Obituary of Maj.-Gen. Sir Allan Henry Shafto Adair
[Name and date of publication unknown, but may be from The Times]
MAJ-GEN SIR ALLAN ADAIR [b 3 November 1897, d 4 August 1988]
Wartime Liberator of Brussels
Major General Sir Allan Adair, Bt, GCVO, CB, DSO, MC, who commanded the
Guards Armoured Division which advanced 100 miles in a day to liberate
Brussels in September, 1944, died on August 4 at the age of 90.
This was one of the dramatic feats of the Second World War, but Adair
will also be remembered as a gallant and successful leader in many
tougher, though less spectacular, actions.
Known familiarly to his guardsmen as "General Allan", he took command
of the Division in September 1942, the year after it became the Guards
Armoured Division, and led it to victory from the Normandy Beaches to
Cuxhaven on the estuary of the Elbe.
In 1954, on the tenth anniversary of that liberation, Adair had the
satisfaction not only of taking part in an Allied ceremonial parade in
Brussels but also receiving the freedom of the city.
Crossing with his men to Normandy in 1944, he had commanded the
division with conspicuous success in the heavy fighting around Caen and
Vire in July and August, which prepared the way for the break out from
When the German Armies began their retreat to the Rhine, the Guards
Armoured Division was the right fland formation of the British Army. It
was then that Adair issued his famous order, "My intention is to
advance and liberate Brussels," adding, "That is a grand intention."
Advancing from Douai with tanks at great speed against resistance, the
Guards Armoured Division crossed the Belgian frontier on September 3,
and, before nightfall, was in the capital.
The advance beyond Brussels was held up by the advent of winter and
increasing German resistance, and the division was involved in much of
the hard fighting which ensued, including the ground attacks in
connection with the Arnhem airborne operation in September, and the
repulse of the Germans from the Ardennes salient in December.
At the crossing of the Rhine in April 1945, Adair's division was once
more a spearhead of attack. When the task alloted him had been
discussed at an army commander's conference some days before the
battle, he was asked for his comments, he only laughed and said, "It
looks like being quite a party, doesn't it."
It was a tough assignment, and many at the conference table doubted his
ability to bring it off. But not one single man in his division had a
doubt, for it was impossible to serve under him without realizing that
his diffident, light-hearted and sometimes vague manner was only a
disguise which concealed professional competence, inflexible
determination and dauntless courage.
Like everything else he did, the crossing was a triumphant success. He
carried out a rapid advance of 150 miles to Cuxhaven, an operation in
which the division was held up more by the difficulty of negotiating
passages through towns that had been "over-bombed" by the Allied Air
Forces than by the weakening resistance of the enemy.
Allan Henry Shafto Adair, sixth Baronet of Ballymena, Co Antrim, where
his family has been established since the beginning of the 17th
century, was born on November 3, 1897, the son of Sir Shafto Adair,
fifth Baronet, and Mary Bosanquet.
He was educated at Harrow, and was commissioned in 1916 in the
Grenadier Guards, going to France just after the Battle of the Somme.
He won the Military Cross in 1918 and Bar in 1919.
Between the two wars Adair served as regimental officer.
In 1940, after spending some months in France without seeing any
action, as second in command of the 3rd Battalion of the Grenadier
Guards, he was appointed to Sandhurst as Chief Instructor.
Hardly had he taken over this post when the Germans invaded Belgium,
and the British Army advanced to meet them. The very next day Adair
turned up in Brussels by taxicab, having "wrangled" his way back to the
fighting zone; he joined his old battalion, and took over its command.
He had travelled by train, Channel boat and chartered the cab, driven
by a French prize-fighter from Boulogne, to get to the scene of action,
dismissing his Sandhurst post as "too schoolmasterly a job" for such
times. He was promptly nicknamed "the taxi-cab officer."
In the next few pre-Dunkirk weeks he won his DSO during heavy fighting,
when his battalion fought five separate actions in five days during the
withdrawal, beating off the enemy each time.
Back in England, Adair commander, in succession, the 30th Guards Brigade and the 6th Guards Brigade in 1941 and 1942.
Adair laid down command of his division in October 1945. To have
commanded it for so long and so successfully under such an exacting
commander as Montgomery had indeed been something of a tour de force
for an officer who had not passed through the Staff College and had had
little to do with tanks until comparatively late in his career.
Adair was Colonel of the Grenadier Guards from 1961 to 1974 for he was
a deeply respected and beloved figure. He had been president of the
Grenadier Guards Association from 1947 to 1961. In 1986 he wrote his
memoirs, entitled A Guards General, its success requiring reprinting.
He was an eminent Freemason and was Assistant Grand Master; he made a number of overseas visits as a delegate of Grand Lodge.
He was Lieutenant of The Queens Bodyguard of the Yeomand of the Guard
from 1951 to 1967. He was Deputy Lieutenant for Antrim, and was a
Governor of Harrow School from 1947 to 1952.
He was made a GCVO in 1974, CB in 1945, and he was an Officer of the
Legion of Honour, and Commander of the Belgian Order of Leopold.
He married Enid, daughter of W.H. Dudley Ward, in 1919 who died in 1984. They had one son and three daughters.
His son was killed in action in 1943 while serving as a captain with
the Grenadier Guards at Mount Camino in Italy. His body was never
found, and hopes that he might have been taken prisoner were not
abandoned by his family for many months. It must have taken all Adair's
courage to bear so bitter a blow, but he appeared to be undaunted.