Churchill's British Resistance - The Auxiliary Units


Captain John "Hamish" Watt-Torrance

Researched by Stephen Lewins, CART's Northumberland Information officer.

Page last updated at 9:03am on 27/1/14

Captain John Hamish Watt-TorranceHamish Watt Torrance was the very first Intelligence Officer for Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. He was involved at the very early planning and setting up stage under Colin McVean Gubbins.

He was born in Glasgow 4/9/16 and his parents were Percy Watt Torrance and Elizabeth Shanks Kennedy. Schooling took place in Glasgow at the Kelvinside Academy and then on to Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh. After his education he worked in the family Timber Trade business. During this time he found himself working abroad in Sweden 1935-36 and Finland 1936-37.

On return to Scotland Hamish joined the Highland Light Infantry, Army Number 74887. On 30/3/38 he received a Commission to 2Lt. taking up his new role as Platoon Commander with the 6th Bn HLI. Promotion came again on 26/2/40 to Captain and a move to the 24th Guards Brigade in March as WO1 and then I/O with M.I.(R) for the Norwegian Campaign between January and June. As this wound up Hamish was posted to the Auxiliary Units GHQ in July 1940. Here he stayed until April 1941. During this time he scouted out some of the sites later used for the OB’s and contacted the right sort of people to start up the organisation. John Anthony Quayle then took the reins as things got more organised and the patrols were set up.




In April 1941 Hamish moved again within SOE and went undercover in Finland and Sweden posing as a Timber Trade Inspector based in Kouvala, fortunately he was fluent in both languages. Come September he was moved to Norway. In Norway he was C/O for the Norwegian Commandoes again within SOE. In July he was M.I.(R) for Special Service, Norway then back to the Commandoes taking part in the Lofoten Island raid.





More activity with the Commandoes saw Hamish running landing parties in “Q” ships. At least two ships were sunk at this time slowing down the German war effort. Norway completed it was back to HQ in London and he spent January and February planning. During this planning stage he was promoted to Major (23/1/43).

Hamish Watt Torrance photos from SOE files

James Hamish Watt Torrance Official Secrets declaration

James “Hamish” Watt Torrance Official Secrets declaration

This planning was used for two l raids using the Small Scale Landing Force, one raid in France and a second in the Channel Islands. Both raids taking place between April and September 1942.

October saw another change of focus this time Africa. Hamish was 2I/C and later O/C of Brandon which was the Tunisian campaign. This ran from October 1942 until July 1943 with Hamish leaving for Gibraltar late in 1942 on route for Africa.

The next job was the Greek Campaign running from September 1943 to January 1945.  During this posting he was promoted to Lt/Col dated 20/4/44. Hamish moved to Cairo 6/8/43 as with the Tunisian campaign he started as 2 I/C and again to O/C. In February Hamish was back in Britain for more planning and his final move within SOE, a return to Norway on 8/7/45. Here he was to be “Specially used” this was within S.O.S and the Allied Land Forces, Norway. Some POW vetting and Nazi hunting was carried out.

Just before the posting back to Norway he managed to find time to marry Dorothy Moyra Brander at St. James Episcopal Church in Stonehaven.

John “Hamish” Watt Torrance was awarded several honours:-

  • The Africa Star
  • The Military Cross for service within Force B3 30/1/45 & in the London Gazette 9/8/45 (37213)
  • Greek Award 12/9/45
  • Italian Award 14/9/45
  • King Haakon’s Liberty Medal 19/3/48 in the London Gazette (38240)
  • Lastly he was awarded the M.B.E.

Hamish Watt Torrance died on the 30th September 1966 aged only 50 he is buried in Becklingen Cemetery.

The grave of James Hamish Watt Torrance

Hamish Watt Torrance in the family grave, photo from CWG

The National Archives at Kew, The Scottish War Graves Commission and local research.