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Major Ruaraidh E M R Hilleary ERD
Late Scots Guards

by Alasdair Hilleary

Ruaraidh travelled up from Eton to RHQ and was given a glass of port at 10:00 in the morning by the Lieutenant Colonel Commanding … he was accepted into the Regiment without a second thought after he correctly guessed that the Port was a Taylor’s ’28!

Ruaraidh had enjoyed a wild upbringing on the Isle of Skye where he shot or poached almost anything that moved but perhaps his finest day was four stags in the larder at the tender age of twelve.

He tolerated a privileged education at Sandroyd and Eton College during the war years where his exploits and high spirits continued to be a perpetual headache for the powers that be.

Having watched those whom he looked up to fight in the war, he himself could not wait to play his part, however, to his eternal regret, as he passed out of battle school, the war came to an end and he was denied his chance to fight.

He did his Brigade Squad with Bill Macpherson and David Airlie, who remained friends for all his life. Following officer training, he went to the battle school in Wales where, after a particularly exhausting march and shoot on a hot day, he marched his entire platoon into the sea with all of their kit on.

He was firstly posted to an almost totally destroyed Cologne and then joined the 3rd Battalion in Trieste where he spent a great deal of time climbing in the Alps with his Company Commander Major Peter Balfour. To supplement his diet, Ruraraidh kept a goat which he milked daily, without knowing that the Guardsmen were feeding cigarette ends to the goat which gave the milk an even more unpleasant flavour.

Ruaraidh often sailed with his brother officer Rory Fraser. After they were de-mobbed, they travelled to Rhodesia to seek their fortune, shooting crocodiles and selling their skins, a venture which did not fill their pockets as expected. Whilst checking into an hotel in Salisbury (now Harare), they had a high-spirited fight involving a fire extinguisher which led them to falling through the roof of the hotel on top of a startled resident wearing green silk pyjamas.

Ruaraidh tried working for the family business, The White Heather Laundry which had a Royal Warrant and he became one of the first people to introduce laundrettes into the country, however this did not suit him and he took up a promising career in Lloyds of London where he worked for five years. Whilst there, he joined 21 SAS (TA) as a trooper, and was later to be commissioned. He thrived under their banner for the 16 years that he served with 21 SAS and helped to keep the unit alive at a time when its role was not so well defined.

In 1952, Ruaraidh married Sheena Mackintosh, who had twice skied for Great Britain in the Winter Olympics. Sheena had two brothers, Douglas and Charlach, who both served in the Scots Guards.

In 1960, determined to bring his family up in Scotland he started Salmon and Game Services of Scotland Limited in the days when wild Scottish smoked salmon sold at a premium price. The business failed when a Frenchman made the mistake of swindling him. Ruaraidh’s French special forces friends were deployed and eventually found the culprit. Drawing on his entrepreneurial skills, he then started Silver Sands Holiday Park which remains a thriving business to this day. It was here that he introduced sand yachting, stock car racing in the dunes, and a ‘rave cave’ night club underneath the cliffs of Lossiemouth.

The pull to return to his native Isle of Skye had, in the meantime, become ever stronger. Ruaraidh and Sheena parted company in 1983 and he then went into the salmon farming business on the Isle of Skye, forming an unlikely partnership with Ian Anderson, the Jethro Tull star. This was a welcome addition to the small crofting estate, Edinbane, that he had inherited.

Winter sports remained a regular activity, largely funded by smuggling smoked salmon to the local hotels, and in 1979 this included a lifetime’s ambition of riding the Cresta Run which inspired his offspring to follow suit.

Ruaraidh took over the secretaryship of the Skye Gathering from his father and served 45 years overseeing the balls, upholding and maintaining the traditions and enormous fun of Scottish country dancing. One of the more memorable adventures was when Ruaraidh organised a trip for 250 members and guests of the Skye gathering to dance in the Bezberodkov Palace in St Petersburg.

His final and most successful venture was in overseeing the construction of 11 wind turbines on the common grazings at Edinbane estate in 2006 after a 20-year battle to obtain permission. This has enhanced the community and remains a wonderful legacy. 

Ruaraidh eventually noted his memoires in a book which went by the wonderful title of Whatever you’re doing don’t! published on Amazon that had to be severely vetted by his children. The book recounts many more splendid stories of Ruaraidh’s life.

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