Former Black Watch officer who served in Kenya dies aged 88

Brigadier Adam Gurdon
Brigadier Adam Gurdon

Adam Gurdon, a Black Watch officer who served in Kenya and helped steer Rhodesia towards independence has died aged 88.

Born in Suffolk, Adam Brampton Douglas Gurdon was the elder son of Major General Edward Gurdon. After attending Rugby School he intended to do his national service in the Black Watch, his father’s old regiment.

After a year with the 1st Battalion in Berlin he was sent to Korea and was involved in the defence of The Hook, a strategically important piece of terrain which had to be held as the Chinese could have marched unhindered into Seoul, the capital of South Korea. 

Service in Kenya followed during 1953, when he was tasked with helping patrol the Mau Mau uprising before returning to Berlin as regimental signals officer, subsequently serving in Cyprus and Tanganyika with the King’s African Rifles.

In 1958 he married Gillian, daughter of Colonel Charles Thomson of the Black Watch, after the pair met at the wedding of a fellow officer in the Black Watch. They had four daughters: Miranda Barclay, a teacher at Woodbridge School, Suffolk; Madeleine (Lady Lloyd Webber), a company director who is married to Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer; Melanie Gurdon, a horse physiotherapist; and Mary-Lou, wife of John Aitchison, the wildlife photographer.

Adam Gurdon with his wife Gillian in 1958
Adam Gurdon with his wife Gillian in 1958.

He also played a vital role as chief of staff for the Commonwealth Monitoring Force (CMF) during the protracted negotiations that led to the handover of power in Rhodesia in 1980, has died aged 88.

Rhodesia had declared Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) and considered itself a sovereign state in 1965, but the subsequent internal strife persisted and in 1979 the Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith revoked UDI and appealed for help from the British government.

Following lengthy talks in London, the black majority parties agreed to the interim return of British rule on condition national elections were held and to ensure the elections were fair, the CMF was created.

Gurdon was appointed as the Foundation’s chief of staff due to his experience of African politics.

Internal strife and economic woes had left the country in dire straits but after managing to persuade the Soviet Union backed guerrillas who had crippled the Smith administration to trust the CMF, Gurdon and his superior officer Major-General John Acland set up camps so voters could assemble to vote.

Tensions ran high and Gurdon, long with his CMF colleagues which included Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, had to employ the utmost tact and diplomacy to overcome years of distrust.

He was appointed the principal coordinator between the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London and visiting parliamentary delegations which added to his workload.

The election passed off peacefully and Robert Mugabe, who was then accepted by the international community, was elected prime minister.

Brigadier Adam Gurdon
Brigadier Adam Gurdon

Gurdon was appointed CBE with the citation stating that the pressure on him over the three months was enormous but that he constantly found solutions to apparently insoluble problems and proved himself to be the linchpin of the organisation at Government House.

Other postings included Hong Kong before Gurdon spent six years at the Ministry of Defence in the Military Operations directorate, for which he was appointed OBE in 1973.

In 1982, he was promoted to brigadier. Moving to the Cabinet Office, he was put in charge of the co-ordination and publishing of intelligence which proved to be a particularly testing appointment as it included the duration of the Falklands conflict.

Retiring from the army in 1985, Gurdon became a stalwart in his community in Suffolk where he was deputy lieutenant and managed the Open Churches Trust of Suffolk. He also served on the board of his son-in-law, Lord Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group.

Brigadier Adam Gurdon died at the age of 88 in May this year, leaving behind his wife, four daughters, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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