The Chocolate Soldier – Major Patrick Telfer Smollett and his lovely wife, Gina, pictured at Cameron House, Loch Lomond.
By Bill Heaney
Queen Elizabeth II had links with Dunbartonshire going back to her childhood. One sweet memory for HRH involved Major Patrick Telfer Smollett of Cameron House on Loch Lomondside.
Major Telfer Smollett, a serving soldier with the Highland Light Infantry in India and later Palestine and Egypt, was the son of Major General Alexander Telfer Smollett, a highly decorated soldier, who was Lord Lieutenant of Dunbartonshire, the official representative of King George VI, the late Queen’s father.
It is Major General Smollett who is pictured elsewhere in this issue of The Democrat presenting the keys of Dumbarton Castle to Queen Elizabeth during an official visit following her coronation in 1952.
The Smollett family are descended from a brother of Tobias Smollett, the celebrated eighteenth-century novelist, and Patrick’s maternal grandfather was Herbert Strutt, a member of the wealthy cotton family.
As a result, Patrick was born into substantial wealth, his family having homes and estates in England as well as at Kingairloch in Argyll and Cameron House on Loch Lomond.
Each summer his parents and their guests would sail up the west coast to Oban in the family yacht, first the Sanda, before the war, then the Galma.
It was an indulged and privileged childhood which Patrick spent in the company of some of the world’s richest people.
In 1936 he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Highland Light Infantry and dispatched almost immediately to India. Among his fellow subalterns was the actor David Niven, with whom he forged a lasting friendship.
In 1938 he was sent to Palestine and found himself in the midst of the Arab revolt. Shortly afterwards, following the outbreak of the Second World War, Telfer Smollett was serving in the 5th Indian Division with the HLI when he was sent to the Red Sea port of Massawa, in Eritrea.
There he found himself in an absurd situation, where the British and Italian military commanders were in daily telephone communication with each other.
In Telfer Smollett’s opinion, the ensuing battle was entirely unnecessary and a waste of human life, but for ”dash and leadership in the face of enemy bombing” he was awarded the Military Cross.
In 1942 he was sent to Egypt as part of the British Military Mission. Being only five years older, he gained the confidence of the young King Farouk.
The King persuaded Telfer Smollett to return to the UK with a giant 130 lb box of chocolates for the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret from Princess Feriel, Farouk’s daughter.
King Farouk decided – and he was not wrong – that the young royals would appreciate a box of chocolates, especially since just after the Second World War all luxury goods were rationed in Britain.
So, being a man of considerable style and great wealth, the king ordered the biggest box of chocolates in the world for the Queen and her sister.
There was just one problem though. The weather was so warm that there was a real chance the chocolates would melt before they reached their destination at Buckingham Palace.
his was in the days before refrigeration was as sophisticated as it is today, and there was none adequate available in Alexandria, Egypt, where Major Telfer-Smollett was to fly from with the chocolates to London. There was certainly none on the aircraft.
Major Telfer Smollett and his fellow subalterns, who include the film star David Niven, devised a cunning plan however to keep the chocolate in mint condition.
That is still a well-kept family secret and Patrick was, on completion of successful delivery of the chocolates, able to send back a “mission accomplished” message to a delighted King Farouk.
Inevitably Patrick Telfer Smollett ended up with a nickname in the HLI Officers’ Mess – The Chocolate Soldier.