Alastair Warren

By Lesley Duncan

Alastair Warren, who died in hospital in Dumfries at the age of 83, was editor of The Herald (or the Glasgow Herald as it was then known) from 1965 to 1974.

A scion of a long-established Glasgow business and engineering family, Alastair had a background in economics and commerce.

But he saw his youth overtaken by the Second World War. Volunteering for service, he rose from private to major in the Black Watch and Highland Light Infantry, fighting in various European war zones.

After Hitler’s defeat, he found himself, now in his early 20s, administering an area of Germany, and subsequently became a senior figure in the Territorial Army in Scotland.

He ran a quietly civilised regime in the Buchanan Street/Mitchell Street offices of The Herald, trusting his subordinates to work conscientiously and with respect for the paper.

Despite Army protocols, he was also the first Herald editor to let himself be addressed by first name by his staff (unthinkable in the days of James Holburn or Sir William Robieson).

Perhaps the outstanding moment of his editorship was the first moon landing. Journalists on duty in the small hours of 21 July, 1969, were invited into his office, with its Rennie Mackintosh fittings, to view the event on television.

"Man lands on the Moon" said Monday’s paper, the front page also noting the more down-to-earth "600 arrests in first three days of Fair".

In July 1974, Alastair relinquished the editorship of The Herald and became south of Scotland regional editor for the Herald’s sister organisation, Scottish and Universal Newspapers. Two years later he was appointed editor of the Dumfries and Galloway Standard and remained there until retiring in 1986.

Based in picturesque New Galloway, he found endless scope for exploring the region. He enjoyed taking bands of former colleagues and new friends on 20-mile hikes, to see the sun glinting on the white sands of Loch Enoch or on the boulder-strewn granite summits.

While we heaved our boots out of heathery bogs, Alastair marched on. He was tireless. Did he lead us over the hills with skillfully played, rousing tunes on his harmonica? Memory doesn’t record this fact, though it does the evening celebrations after these marathons, with bramble pies and other food provided by his wife, Ann.

Alastair was tireless, too, in opposing the proposed dumping of nuclear waste in Mulwharchar. In the late 1970s, he chaired a meeting at which a spokesman for the nuclear cause was trounced by the arguments of local protesters, including a scientist member of the Tolstoy clan. Alastair conducted the meeting with courtesy and objectivity, before venting his own views at the end.

In 1991, he suffered a stroke while walking near Gatehouse of Fleet.

Though he was less robust subsequently, ill health did not cramp his style.

At the age of 77 he had the pleasure of seeing two volumes of poetry published. The major one, Then & Now & Next, was launched in 2000 in Dumfries.

The poetry in it reveals much of the private inner man and the impact of his wartime years. One poem, For the Risen, announces bleakly: "I killed a man for God / and King: / Peculiar thing". There is no facile consolation at the end with its reference to: "Pre-atomic man, whose moral cause / Exploded with Hiroshima’s new laws."

Alastair belonged to that vanishing generation whose lives as young men were subsumed by war.

Those who survived brought to their peacetime careers perspectives and wisdoms that touched their endeavours and, in some sense, set them apart from their less tested successors. Alastair was one of that remarkable band.

This obituary originally ran in The Herald.

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