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John Murray, 11th Duke of Atholl, dies in South African hospital

The 83-year-old commander of Britain's only private army passed away on Tuesday.

The 11th Duke of Atholl.

John Murray, the 11th Duke of Atholl and commander of Britain's only private army, has died in a hospital in South Africa.

The 83-year-old former land surveyor, who inherited the title in 1996, visited Blair Atholl, Perthshire, from his home in South Africa every year for the Atholl Highlanders' parade and gathering held at the end of May.

He last visited in 2010 but was unable to return in 2011 due to ill health. Officials said this year's event, planned for the weekend of May 26-27 would go ahead as planned.

Blair Castle, the family seat since 1269, flew the Duke's standard at half mast as a mark of respect.

An official from Atholl Estates said: "It is with great sadness that we report that John Murray, the 11th Duke of Atholl, died peacefully in hospital in the early hours of Tuesday May 15, 2012.

"As a mark of respect the Atholl flag will fly at half mast, at Blair Castle.

"The Duke was Colonel-in-Chief of the Atholl Highlanders and over the years had become a well known figure on Atholl Estates. He visited Scotland every year for the Atholl Highlander's parade and gathering held at the end of May.

"As he would have wished, the parade will be held this year as usual, at Blair Castle on Saturday May 26 and the Gathering on Sunday 27.

"A service of remembrance will be held at Blair Castle when the Atholl Highlanders and local friends will have a chance to remember the Duke."

The Duke, who was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, inherited the title as third cousin of the 10th Duke. At the time he was a retired land surveyor, and his relationship to the 10th Duke had only recently been discovered.

Friends told how, in the Duke's early visits, he stayed at Blair Castle. But he and the Duchess made so many friends that they later stayed in local people's homes.

Friend Edna Mackay, a former employee at Blair Castle, said she and her husband Alistair had shown the Duke and Duchess around Scotland. In return, the Duke had invited them for holidays at his home in South Africa.

She said: "We are very sad. He was a very dear friend. He would visit us when he was in Scotland and we would spend a lot of time together. We took him to various places and showed him some of Scotland, and he did the same for us in South Africa.

"He was proud to be the Duke of Atholl and he carried out his duties very well. We are a small community and he will be greatly missed by the many friends he made here."

The Duke will be succeeded by his eldest son Bruce Murray, the 51-year-old Marquess of Tullibardine.

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