Captain Walter Elliot Elliot

Biography of Captain Walter Elliot Elliot

Walter Elliot Elliot was a successful, progressive Conservative politician who, as Scottish Secretary, worked hard to improve Scotlandís housing stock and the health of its citizens between the wars. He was born on 19th September 1888 in Lanark, the eldest son of William and Ellen. His father was a livestock auctioneer. His mother died in childbirth, and Walter, along with his younger brother and two sisters, was brought up by her family in Glasgow. Walter was a pupil at Lanark High School and Glasgow Academy before going to Glasgow University to study Science and Medicine in 1905.

One of his contemporaries at the Academy and at University was Osborne Henry Mavor, who became a lifelong friend. The two embarked on almost a decade of student life, both graduating in medicine in 1913, both serving as medical officers in the Great War and both surviving to enjoy very distinguished careers. Osborne Henry Mavor, better known by his pseudonym James Bridie, became Scotlandís most important playwright between the wars. Elliot became Secretary of State for Scotland in a Conservative government in 1936, and held that office until Neville Chamberlain appointed him Minister for Health in 1938. While Mavor wrote for the stage, Elliotís life was spent on the public stage of politics and power, and at one time he was tipped as a future Prime Minister.

Walter Elliot made the most of his student years to enjoy university life, to debate and socialise and get involved in campus life and literature. He was president of the Union in 1911-1912, and editor in 1909-1910 of the Glasgow University Magazine, to which he contributed poetry. Somehow he combined this busy life with his classes. When he began his studies in 1905 he took classes in Natural Philosophy and Chemistry, passing both on a third attempt in 1907. Success in the life sciences seemed to come more easily to him, and with first-time passes in Zoology and Botany he graduated with a BSc in 1910, by which time he had also settled into the study of Medicine. After a little difficulty with the Second Professional exam he made steady progress towards graduation with an MB ChB on 21st April 1913.

Life took a serious direction thereafter. War broke out and in 1914 Elliot was mobilised to serve with the Royal Army Medical Corps (Special Reserve) attached to the Royal Scots Greys. Serving at the Western Front he was awarded the Military Cross (MC) in April 1917 for his gallantry at Wancourt, near Arras. A bar was added to this decoration as a result of further action at Cambrai in November 1917. His younger brother Dan was killed at Gallipoli in 1915. Although Walter was wounded in the leg in October 1918, the family was spared further tragedy and he returned safely from the war to start in a new direction. While recovering from his wound he was asked to stand for Lanark as a coalition unionist and won the seat. He remained an Member of Parliament (MP) or that constituency until defeated in 1923. It was a brief interval. In May 1924 he stood at a bye-election in Kelvingrove, and was returned to Parliament for that constituency which he represented until he was defeated in 1945.

Walter Elliot was a centrist who acquired a reputation for progressive politics. He supported devolving powers to Ireland in 1920 in the Ireland Act, was an enthusiast for the Empire Marketing Board, free milk for schoolchildren and greater intervention by the state to improve peopleís lives. He had an impressive record of fighting Scotlandís corner, especially in housing, where he set up the Scottish Special Housing Association to stimulate more action on building and design. On the national stage, as Minister for Agriculture he helped pull farmers out of a period of slump in the markets. As Minister of Health he made a major contribution towards preparedness for war, both in hospital reorganisation and in the planning of an evacuation scheme that was put into action. On the international stage, he was tarnished by association with Chamberlain and, although he was not in favour of appeasement, he did not resign. He was not invited to join Churchillís wartime cabinet.

Honours were heaped upon him. He was Rector of both Aberdeen University (1933-1936) and Glasgow (1947-1950). He became a Companion of Honour in 1952, a Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and an Honorary LLD of Aberdeen, Manchester, Leeds, St Andrews, Edinburgh, and of course Glasgow. After he left Parliament he farmed, ran a family business and did some writing and broadcasting.

Walter Elliot died of coronary thrombosis on 8th January 1958 and is buried in Hobkirk churchyard.



Captain Walter Elliot Elliot
Rank: Captain
Regiment: Royal Army Medical Corps - Special Reserve
Degree: BSc MB
Awards: Military Cross and Bar
Comments: N/A
Note/Press Clipping: N/A
Photo ID: N/A


University of Glasgow Registry, Faculty and General Council Records

Gordon F Miller, 'Elliot, Walter Elliot (1888-1958)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press: 2004)

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