James D.G. Davidson                                                                                                                    Contact  



James Duncan Gordon Davidson, son of  a naval captain from Nairn, and a wartime nurse from Queenscliff, Victoria, was born at the naval port of Chatham on 10th January 1927, where his father was commissioning a destroyer for service in the Mediterranean.

3.  September 1940 - newly selected Naval cadet.jpg He spent the fIrst two years of his life in Malta (where he learned to swim).  Between 1930 and 1940 he attended various schools within reach of naval ports and in June 1940 took the competitive exam and interview for entry to the Royal Naval College Dartmouth as a Naval Cadet, ‘passing in’ 8th out of 30 successful candidates.

James became a Cadet Captain, was awarded his ‘Colours’ for rugby and boxing, and won the open 440 yards and 880 yards in the annual sports.  The R.N.College was bombed in 1942 and evacuated to Chester.  In March 1944 he ‘passed out’ 5th out of 30 with prizes in History and English, and joined the battleship HMS Anson at Scapa Flow as a Midshipman, serving in the North Atlantic until after D-Day. He was then transferred to the cruiser HMS Newfoundland and served  in the Mediterranean and Pacific until August 1945, entering Tokyo harbour in a frigate on the day Japan signed their surrender.

Between 1945 and 1947 James passed his technical courses for the rank of Lieutenant and in 1947 was appointed senior Sub-Lieutenant of HMS Vanguard for the Royal cruise to South Africa. He was awarded the MVO by King George VI. 

On leave between courses and after joining HMS Vanguard, he climbed widely in Scotland and the Alps,  including a new  winter route up the NE buttress of Ben Nevis, the traverse of the Cuillin Ridge in Skye in a day (including the Inaccessible Pinnacle), and  seven major alpine peaks, among them the Matterhorn, the Schreckhorn and the Eiger. He also represented the Royal Navy against the Army and the RAF as a middle distance athlete in 1948 and 1947 .

 Late in 1947 he was appointed gunnery officer of a frigate in the Persian Gulf Division. He sailed across the Gulf in a whaler with a volunteer crew to test the reaction of men in an open boat to temperatures in excess of 100º F.   While the ship was refitting in Malta he played rugby for the Royal Navy against the Army (Middle East) and as  a centre three-quarter gave the pass to the wing who scored  the winning try. He also passed the Preliminary Interpretership Exam in Russian which he had studied at Dartmouth.  He left the Persian Gulf in 1949 having been selected by the R.N. to study Russian at Cambridge University and in Paris.

 Having passed the requisite exams, he went back to sea in 1951 as a Training Officer in a frigate of the squadron based on Rosyth which took successive groups of boy seamen for 8 weeks sea training, interspersed with Fishery Protection duties.  

 In June 1952, he was appointed Assistant Naval Attaché at the British Embassy in Moscow and in the Legation in Helsinki.  In his two years in the Soviet Union he had many interesting experiences, saw Stalin alive and dead, and travelled as widely as was permitted:  three journeys to Murmansk on the Barents Sea, numerous trips to Leningrad (St Petersburg) and Helsinki on the Baltic coast, a train journey to the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, and a  boat trip down the Volga from a river port near Moscow to Baku on the Caspian.  While in Moscow he married the private secretary to the Canadian Chargé d’Affaires and in June 1954 he and his wife were the first westerners since the Second World War to leave the Soviet Union by the Trans-Siberian Railway and Nakhodka, returning to the UK by way of Japan, the USA and Canada.

23.  Grampian TV 1977 Annual Report. Presenter of Country Fo.jpg James’ next appointment was as navigating officer of a Battle Class destroyer based on Plymouth.  In the following year, however, he inherited from an uncle a small hill farm in West Aberdeenshire which had belonged to the Davidson family since 1773.  Faced with the choice between taking it on himself, or a long-term let to a tenant, he asked to be placed on the Royal Navy’s Retired List.

James worked for a year on a farm in Easter Ross, taking a correspondence course at night, and in 1956 became a full-time hill farmer. For the next eleven years he was his own cattleman and shepherd, establishing a herd of Blue-Grey hill cows, (shorthorn/Galloway crosses), a registered flock of North Country Cheviot sheep, and  producing baconers for Lawsons of Dyce.

In 1964 he was adopted as Prospective Liberal Parliamentary Candidate for West Aberdeenshire.  At the 1964 General Election he increased the Liberal vote by approximately 7,000 and in 1966 won with a vote of over 16,000 – the first Liberal to win the seat for 35 years.   In Parliament, Jo Grimond appointed him spokesman on Defence and Foreign Affairs. Perhaps the most notable of his many speeches and parliamentary questions was an impassioned plea for Britain not to get involved in the war in Vietnam which Prime Minister Harold Wilson was contemplating.  James’ carefully researched speech was applauded from both sides of the House.

In 1968, James announced that he would not be defending his seat at the next General Election because of his wife’s serious  ill health.  With three young children at school, the situation had become increasingly difficult.  The election came in 1970.  He turned down the offer of a peerage and a seat in the House of Lords.

 While in Parliament, James had entered into partnership on the farm, where there was no room for two managers. Offered the choice of four jobs, he accepted appointment as Chief Executive of the Royal Highland & Agricultural Society of Scotland  and for the next 22 years he was responsible to a board of 52 Directors for the organisation of the Royal Highland Show and for the establishment and operation of the Exhibition Centre at Ingliston.   He presented the Grampian tv programme Country Focus for 12 years between 1970 and 1982.   In 1984 he was awarded the OBE for services to agriculture.

 On retirement in 1992,  James set up the Flower of Scotland Campaign, designed to raise awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

22nd January 2005 004.jpgJames visited and spoke in 127 secondary schools from Shetland to Galloway and in deprived areas in all Scotland’s main cities. Money was raised with the help of outstanding role models from the worlds of sport, the arts and tv, by direct appeal, by Burns Suppers and by various other means such as his first solo parachute jump at the age of 66.  Copies of an inspirational video and a lifestyle handbook were placed in every Scottish secondary school. The Campaign ran for six years.

 James was the founder chairman of the Newtonmore Community Woodland Trust which manages  45 hectares of woods and plantations and the increasingly popular Wildcat Trail – a wonderfully varied 10km walk around the village.

In 2000, James took part in an Earthwatch project to study river otters in Chile and, on his return, created a book for children at Primary Schools along the Spey.




 James is happily married to his second wife.  He has two sons, two daughters and five grandchildren.   He has lived in Newtonmore for  nearly 30 years. 

You can purchase a copy of his autobiography  Thinker, Sailor, Shepherd, Spy via www.amazon.couk  rrp £7.99 sterling .