Neil McLean (politician)

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Not to be confused with Neil Maclean (politician).
Billy McLean DSO
Member of Parliament
for Inverness
In office
Preceded by Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton
Succeeded by Russell Johnston
Personal details
Born (1918-11-28)November 28, 1918
London, England, United Kingdom
Died November 17, 1986(1986-11-17) (aged 67)
London, England, United Kingdom
Awards DSO and Two Bars
Distinguished Military Medal of Haile Selassie I
General Service Medal GVI 1
General Service Medal Palestine 1945-48 & Bar
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Scots Greys
Gideon Force
Special Operations Executive
Rank Lieutenant-Colonel
Commands 1st Albanian Partisan Brigade
Battles/wars World War II

Lieutenant-Colonel Neil Loudon Desmond McLean DSO, known as Billy McLean (28 November 1918 – 17 November 1986), was a British Army intelligence officer and politician who led a celebrated Special Operations Executive operation in Albania during the Second World War, and later attempted to overthrow Communism in the country. He served as a Unionist Member of Parliament for Inverness.

Family and education[edit]

McLean was born in London, the elder son of Neil Gillean McLean, who had made a great deal of money trading with India and owned an estate at Glencalvie. The family called him "Billy"; he went to Eton College, where he excelled in fencing,[1] becoming Captain of the school team.[2] and then to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Having spent his holiday periods hunting, he was a keen sportsman and won point to point races while at Sandhurst.

Army service[edit]

In August 1938 McLean was commissioned into the Royal Scots Greys on leaving Sandhurst. He was posted to Palestine in 1939 and spent the first two years of the Second World War there. In 1941 he was transferred to the Special Operations Executive, an unorthodox military unit which worked behind enemy lines on sabotage and espionage. He came into Col. Orde Wingate's Gideon Force in Ethiopia, commanding a mixed group of Ethiopian and Eritrean irregulars who were nicknamed "McLean's Foot" against the occupying Italian army. He was awarded the Distinguished Military Medal of Haile Selassie I in 1941.

Albanian missions[edit]

1942 saw McLean shifted to a staff job with the SOE, first in Cairo then in Syria and Palestine. He also worked for MI9 in Istanbul aiding resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied countries. In early 1943 he was selected to lead a mission in occupied Albania, for which he was promoted to Major. His team was parachuted in to the country in April 1943, where they made contact with the Partisans. McLean's team organised them into the 1st Partisan Brigade, and arranged their training and armament. After his evacuation from Albania in November 1943, McLean was awarded the Distinguished Service Order [3] and he returned to London, being promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel. However, the tension between the Partisans and the nationalists in Albania caused concern to SOE and the Foreign Office, and McLean devised a plan to unite them in a common struggle against the Axis forces. He returned to Albania in April 1944 with a small team ("The Muskeeters" included Major David Smiley and Captain Julian Amery), but could not persuade the nationalists to join with the Partisans. Meanwhile the Partisans grew suspicious of this outside interference, and eventually McLean and his team were withdrawn. British strategy was changed to recognise only the Partisans, who went on to convert Albania into a Communist state.


Early in 1945 McLean volunteered to work for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) against the Empire of Japan. He was made military adviser to the British consul in Kashgar, China, and was working there when the war ended. After some years travelling, in the late 1940s McLean resigned his commission and joined attempts by the United States and British intelligence agencies to undermine Enver Hoxha and the Communist government in Albania. His wife, Daška Ivanović, whom he married in 1949, was from Dubrovnik in Croatia. Daska had four children by her first marriage to Geoffrey Farrer Kennedy, twins Marina and Tessa, Alexander and Caroline. McLean's new brother-in-law, diplomat Vane Ivanovic, had coincidentally been a member of the Yugoslav section of the Political Warfare Executive (PWE), the propaganda arm of SOE during the war.

Entry to politics[edit]

At the 1950 general election, McLean was Conservative Party candidate for Preston South, a newly created constituency which was expected to be marginal. He was defeated by 149 votes, and stood again in the 1951 general election, but was again defeated by the extremely narrow margin of 16 votes. This was the smallest majority in any constituency in that election.[4] In the summer of 1952, McLean was chosen as the Unionist Party candidate for Inverness, where the sitting Member of Parliament Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton intended to stand down. He toured the constituency continuously, familiarising himself with its problems and speaking to local groups.[5] Lord Malcolm resigned in autumn 1954 and a by-election was called for 21 December. The Liberal Party was strong in the constituency and campaigned against the practice of "plural farming" by which landowners farmed multiple farms with a single labour force, and which was unpopular with agricultural workers.[6] McLean's work in nursing the constituency paid off as he was elected by 1,331 votes.[7]

Owing to illness, McLean did not make his maiden speech until March 1956, and he chose to speak about Egypt and Gamal Abdel Nasser whom he regarded with extreme concern.[8] McLean was a strong supporter of the decision to invade Egypt during the Suez Crisis, and an equally strong opponent of the decision shortly thereafter to withdraw. The Members of Parliament who took this view were known as the "Suez Group"; McLean did not join those who abandoned the Conservative whip in 1957, but did declare that he was in sympathy with them and that "the M.P.s who have resigned have raised the flag for many of us who have not resigned".[9] In general McLean's Parliamentary contributions were concentrated on foreign affairs. He also visited areas of concern, including French Indochina and Algeria to find the situation on the ground, and reported back to British newspapers. In September 1962 while visiting Algeria he was pinned down for an hour by a firefight between rival groups.[10] That year he also began to work with Muhammad al-Badr in resisting Egyptian efforts to install an ally as President of North Yemen; he became principal military adviser to the Royalist forces. He persuaded the Foreign Office not to recognise the Communist-backed government in the country; this achievement was described by McLean's biographer Xan Fielding as his "crowning achievement".[11] In June 1964 he introduced a Private Members Bill which aimed at protecting from nationalisation some paper mills, shipbuilding and cotton firms which had received government grants.[12] He found himself under severe pressure from the Liberal Party at the 1964 general election, and ended up losing his seat.

Final years[edit]

Being out of Parliament left McLean more time to travel, especially in the Middle East. He kept up his work in Yemen, and had contacts with most of the Muslim Arab states including Jordan where he had developed a close relationship with then monarch King Hussein. Fielding claimed that he was a kind of "unofficial under-secretary" of the Foreign Office,[13] and quoted a 1979 letter from Harold Macmillan which said "You are one of those people whose services to our dear country are known only to a few".[14] In his retirement he was appointed to the Royal Company of Archers, the Queen's bodyguard in Scotland.

McLean suffered from diabetes and septicaemia and died of heart failure in 1986.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Fencing", The Times, 8 April 1936.
  2. ^ "Eton College", The Times, 4 May 1936.
  3. ^ "Army Awards", The Times, 24 March 1944.
  4. ^ "Polls Apart", The Times, 27 October 1951.
  5. ^ "Speculation In Inverness", The Times, 4 December 1954.
  6. ^ "Dilemma In The Highlands", The Times, 13 December 1954.
  7. ^ "Inverness Stays Conservative", The Times, 24 December 1954.
  8. ^ "Parliament", The Times, 8 March 1956.
  9. ^ "Possible Tory Abstentions", The Times, 15 May 1957.
  10. ^ "No Rush To Vote In Algeria", The Times, 21 September 1962.
  11. ^ Xan Fielding, "One Man in His Time - The life of Lieutenant-Colonel NLD ('Billy') McLean, DSO" (Macmillan, London, 1990), p. 156.
  12. ^ "Parliament", The Times, 24 June 1964.
  13. ^ Fielding op cit, p. 170.
  14. ^ Fielding op cit, p. 208.
  • "McLean, Neil Loudon Desmond" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • The London Gazette
  • Who Was Who, A & C Black
  • Daily Telegraph Second Book of Obituaries
  • Amery, Julian, "Albania at War 1939-45", The Oxford Companion to the Second World War (1995), pp. 24–26.
  • Amery, Julian, Sons of the Eagle. A Study in Guerilla War (1948) Macmillan & C° Ltd, London. SOE in Albania by the third Muskeeter.
  • Dorril, Stephen, MI6 : Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service, (2000) The Free Press, New York, ISBN 0-7432-0379-8
  • Fischer, Bernd J., Albania at War, 1939-1945 (1999) West Lafayette, Purdue University Press
  • Smiley, David "Albanian Assignment" (1984) Chatto & Windus, London. SOE in Albania by the second Muskeeter, with foreword by Patrick Leigh Fermor
  • Smiley, David, with Peter Kemp, "Arabian Assignment" (1975) Cooper, London. Oman and Yemen.
  • Smiley, David "Irregular Regular" (1994) Michael Russell, Norwich ISBN 0-85955-202-0. Translated into French by Thierry Le Breton, Au cœur de l’action clandestine. Des Commandos au MI6, L’Esprit du Livre Editions, France, 2008 (ISBN 2915960275). The Memoirs of a SOE officer and MI6 agent.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton
Member of Parliament for Inverness
Succeeded by
Russell Johnston