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Belfast wartime agent Fred Baillie dies on Skye aged 96

Obituary

By Allan Preston

A wartime intelligence officer turned Army padre from Belfast has passed away, aged 96.

The Reverend Canon Dr Fred Baillie's remarkable life saw him fighting off Italian forces in Iraq, countering German espionage in Europe and serving faithfully in the church.

The great-grandfather died on March 13 in the Isle of Skye town of Portree, where he moved to in 2000.

His funeral will be held in All Saints' Parish Church at Eglantine, Lisburn, on Thursday at 11.30am.

His son Peter paid tribute to a thoughtful man who considered himself a "perpetual apprentice" who never lost his passion for learning.

Born in Stranmillis in 1921, he left Royal Belfast Academical Institute to join the RAF aged 16 in a scheme for boys showing special promise.

With a flair for boxing and languages - learning Arabic, French and German - by 19 he was posted to the RAF base of Habbaniyah in Iraq.

The Iraqi army, with promises of independence by the Germans, decided to attack.

"The Italian air force supported the Iraqi army," said Peter.

"Within days the base was encircled by the local tribesmen supported by Italian forces.

"The RAF formed a defensive perimeter manned by everyone from cooks to padres. My father manned a Lewis machine gun on the perimeter. He got fragged (hit with shrapnel) by a bomb dropped by an Italian Savoia-Marchetti plane."

Fragments of shrapnel were still being removed from his back decades after.

He was later posted to Europe in a field recovery unit, recovering damaged aircraft after the D-Day invasion.

Intelligence work followed due to his skill as an interpreter.

"He crossed the Rhine looking for Germans masquerading as Americans behind enemy lines and changing road signs," Peter added. "He didn't go into detail about his intelligence work, as you might expect, but he certainly was involved in some cloak and dagger stuff."

On a later holiday, Peter met friends of his father who fought with the French resistance.

The Rev Baillie returned to Northern Ireland and left the RAF in 1949, having reached the rank of flight sergeant.

He met his late wife Freda through the YMCA gym in Belfast, keeping up a correspondence during the war, and the couple went on to have four children together.

Although an atheist in his younger years, his experiences led him to life as a Church of Ireland minister and Army padre.

"He learned the hard way that war isn't the answer and he wanted to change the way people saw life," said Peter.

"The influence of my mother also drew him towards becoming more academic.

"During the war, he kept meeting a padre from Northern Ireland in bizarre places like the desert and the jungle - he was very influential on my dad."

When Freda became ill the couple moved to Portree, where their late son Roger was in the coastguard and daughter-in-law Linda still runs a care home.

"He became a focal point for people wanting to discuss theology and philosophy," said Peter.

"He was very keen to promote rationality. He didn't like the sort of ignorance that perpetuated people's views during the Troubles; people shouting whatever they heard others shout without thinking it through. He was always learning and trying to find out more."

Belfast Telegraph

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