John Buchan’s Family

JB was the eldest of six children. The others were Anna (1877-1947), William (‘Willie’)(1880-1912), (James) Walter (1883-1954), Violet (1888-1993) and Alastair (1895-1917). They were a remarkably close-knit and affectionate family, and Violet’s death, aged 5, of a stomach complaint was a great blow, especially to the Reverend John Buchan, with whom she had shared a love of flowers.

All her life, Anna looked up to her eldest brother and was hugely influenced by him. She began writing novels, mainly of Scottish domestic life, before the Great War, under the pseudonym of O. Douglas, and became both comfortably off and very well-known as a result. She never married but acted as housekeeper for Walter, when he became Town Clerk and Procurator-Fiscal of Peebles in 1907, living at Bank House at the end of the High Street in Peebles. Their mother joined them there, after the Reverend John died in 1911. Walter served the community in Peebles for many years, and was one of the founders of the Tweeddale Society. He was an historian in his spare time, writing books about Wellington and Napoleon, as well as a two-volume history of Peeblesshire.

Willie followed his eldest brother to Brasenose College in Oxford on a scholarship, then entered the Indian Civil Service, and was based in Bengal, where he became a much-admired and diligent administrator. He died, aged 32 in 1912, on leave in Glasgow, having picked up a streptococcal infection in India. There is a memorial to him in the ante-chapel at Brasenose, put up by JB.

The youngest Buchan, Alastair, was born after Violet’s death. He was educated at the University of Glasgow, then briefly joined an accountant’s firm in Edinburgh before volunteering at the start of the Great War. In 1917, he was a Lieutenant in the 6th Battalion, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and was killed on the first day of the Battle of Arras, 9 April 1917. He is buried in the military cemetery at Duisans.

JB’s father, the Reverend John Buchan, was a minister of the Free Church of Scotland. Born in Peebles, he was trained for the ministry in Edinburgh and met his wife, Helen Masterton, when, he stood in temporarily for the minister at Broughton, some seven miles from Peebles. She was only 17 when they married. They initially lived in Perth, but the Reverend John was called to a kirk in Pathhead, close to Kirkcaldy, on the Fife coast, when JB was only a few months old. Eleven years later he was called to the John Knox Kirk in the Gorbals in Glasgow, where he laboured unceasingly until ill-health caused his early retirement in 1907. He died in 1911 aged 64. His widow went to live at Bank House with Anna and Walter and survived him by 26 years.

The Reverend John Buchan was a gentle, kindly, scholarly man, who had learned many Scottish ballads and stories at his mother’s knee, and wrote poetry all his life. His wife, Helen, also a sincere Christian, was a dynamo of energy, keeping the household in good order and was adored by her children, despite her weakness for always thinking the worst would happen.

JB and his wife, Susan, née Grosvenor, had four children: Alice, born in 1908, John (Johnnie) in 1911, William in 1916 and Alastair in 1918.

Alice was an actress as a young woman, then a novelist and historian, who married a soldier, Brian Fairfax-Lucy of the Cameronians. When he inherited Charlecote Park in Warwickshire, with all its appealing Shakespearean connections, Alice became châtelaine, writing two books about the house and the Lucy family, and negotiating with the National Trust to take it over after the Second World War. She died in 1993.

Johnnie was an adventurer and explorer, and later a businessman as well as parliamentarian, who sat in the House of Lords. As a young man, he was awarded a military OBE for leading the daring assault on Assoro in Sicily in 1941, when serving with the Canadian Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment. His first wife, Priscilla Grant, became a Scottish Tory MP and Minister of State at the Foreign Office. Between them, the Tweedsmuirs saw the Protection of Birds bill into law in 1954.

William was a poet, novelist and memoirist, who spent most of his working life in public relations. During the war, he flew fighter planes in a variety of theatres, achieving the rank of Squadron Leader. He wrote a biography of his father: John Buchan: A Memoir. As Johnnie had no male heirs, William inherited the barony after his brother’s death in 1996. He died in 2008.

Alastair, who was named after his uncle who had died at Arras the year before he was born, fought with the Canadian forces during the Second World War, then became a journalist on The Observer, concentrating on defence and foreign policy, after which he was appointed Director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, then Commandant of the Imperial Defence College, and finally Professor of International Relations at Oxford. He died, aged only 57, in 1976.

JB’s children all wrote books – fiction and non-fiction – and several of his grandchildren are also authors in their own right.

JB’s family at Elsfield Manor, c1934: (L to R) Johnnie, JB, his mother Helen, William, his wife Susan, Alice, his sister Anna
Anna Buchan (O. Douglas)
John and Susan Buchan with baby Alice
JB with his wife and children, early 1920s
Anna Buchan writing as O. Douglas
David Weekes’s biography of JB’s younger brother, Alistair Buchan, available from Amazon.
The John Buchan Story has published a book about Anna Buchan (O Douglas), with contributions from Deborah Stewartby, Dr Andrena Telford and Shirley Nielson, available from the Museum.
William Buchan, writing about his brother, JB