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Authors: David Waddington

David Waddington Memoirs

BOOK: David Waddington Memoirs
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Dispatches from Margaret Thatcher’s Last Home Secretary



To my parents, whose love and support never faltered.

friend of mine wrote a book about his life and forgot to make any mention of his wife. I have not fallen into that error and Gilly appears on page after page, not in order to buy peace at home but because she has played a central part in the story. Without her I would have got nowhere. So thank you, Gilly, from the bottom of my heart.

I am also enormously grateful to my children for putting up with all the inconveniences which come from having a politician for a father and for making me so proud of them.

I hope all those others who appear in the story feel I have done them justice. I think I have been very lucky to know them and I have received many kindnesses from them.

I give my heartfelt thanks to Jane Wilson, my secretary, without whom none of this would have been possible. In writing the book I have not had any diaries to rely on. Much of the content is based on memory. So if I have got the odd date wrong I hope I may be forgiven.

was born in Burnley, Lancashire, as were both my parents. My mother came from a cotton-manufacturing family. Her grandfather, Robert Pickles, born in 1816, worked for many years as weaver before, in 1859, going into business on his own. Once a month he walked to Manchester – a round trip of fifty-four miles – to buy his yarn and sell his cloth, and he prospered. He was an inventor of some note and devised the check-strap which allowed looms to run at twice the speed which had previously been possible. My mother’s father was his eldest son Thomas, who greatly expanded the business which eventually included a linen mill in Belfast.

The family had a house in Wigtownshire called Tonderghie and Thomas fell in love with and married one of the girls who worked in the house, the daughter of a local farmer. The Pickles family thought he had married below his station, but you would not have thought so from family photographs. In those Thomas’s wife looks dignified, indeed rather imperious, and I was the only person who suffered from the union, being required as a little boy to wear a kilt at parties. We once visited a house in Wigtownshire to meet a Scottish relation and the son of the house on meeting us uttered only one word: ‘Scram!’ This enabled me many years later to face Scottish devolution with equanimity.

My mother, the youngest of seven children, spent most of her
childhood at Tonderghie. She went there with her mother in the spring and did not return to Burnley until the autumn. As a result she only went to school for a few months each year, which seemed to do her no harm at all. When she told her mother she had received a proposal of marriage from Charlie Waddington, her mother said ‘Oh no! Not one of the wild Waddingtons.’

The Waddington grandparents lived in a house called Westwood in Padiham Road, Burnley. There was a grand piano in the
room and when seeking to ascertain what went on underneath it my sister Zoe and I discovered that, suspended from a hook screwed into the back of the instrument, was a string bag full of currant buns.

Grandma assumed, no doubt rightly, that there was little chance of the maids dusting below waist level and that there was no better place to store emergency rations. My mother thought Grandma rather mean because it was only after a lot of coaxing that she was prevailed upon to produce her handbag and cough up half crowns for the children on their birthdays; but when the butcher’s boy ran into her on his delivery bicycle she gave him half a crown for his trouble. Two hours before my grandfather’s death in 1935 she decided he needed cheering up and went to the butcher’s to buy him a pork chop. She could not decide which of two chops was the more toothsome so she asked the butcher if she could take both home on approval. When she dangled them in front of Grandpa’s nose, he expired. After the funeral the family and one or two others went back to Westwood to ‘bury him with ham’. The vicar got carried away and said ‘Mr Charles, this calls for an oration’. ‘Two minutes, Mr Veale,’ said my father.

Grandpa’s father had been in the cotton industry, eventually owning Bridge End Mill and Orchard Mill in Padiham; and after the First World War Grandpa decided that he also would try to make some money out of cotton and acquired two other mills in
Padiham. But he was first and foremost a solicitor and a very good one at that, having passed out top in the Solicitors’ Finals. For a time he was an ardent Liberal, being election agent for Mr Jabez Spencer Balfour when he won Burnley for the Liberals in the 1892 general election, but it does not seem that he was ever minded to make a career of politics and he soon had a flourishing law practice. He was a great worker and anyone coming down Manchester Road, Burnley at dead of night was likely to see a light still burning in his office in Imperial Chambers. Some said he worked late because he was a perfectionist and no case placed in his hands received other than the most meticulous attention. Others less charitable assumed he was there to escape from his wife, but there is no doubt that the business was run with great efficiency. He was on the doorstep at ten to nine in the morning to remind those arriving on the hour that by then they should already be at their desks – and without lipstick, which he believed had no place in an office. Somehow or other he found time not only to run the office but to look after his mills. He also bought and took a close interest in the running of a number of farms including two in the village of Read, six miles from Burnley, where my parents in 1931 bought The Old Vicarage. J.C. (as my grandfather was known) excelled in farming as in the law. He kept some of the best shire horses, had a magnificent dairy herd and was a breeder of Wensleydale sheep.

My sister Nancy, now going on for ninety, remembers J.C. as being very strict, particularly when it came to good manners at Sunday lunch. ‘All joints on the table will be carved’ was his
saying; but once when Nancy, sitting on his knee, smashed to pieces one of the best dinner plates with her spoon, all Grandpa could think to say was ‘If you do that again you will find yourself in the “Tounty Tourt”.’ I certainly do not remember him as being at all fearsome, but rather a nice old chap who clearly meant no harm when he insisted on my following him round his greenhouses.

When he died Grandma went to live in a hotel at Blackpool. She said she never wanted to see Burnley again, but luckily for her no one believed her and when, at the beginning of the War, she decided to come back to Burnley, her old house Westwood was there waiting for her with nothing changed. She died during the War; my father learned of the event when his sister, Aunt Dot, rang him at the office. She said ‘Mother’s dead, but just hang on a moment while I run upstairs to make sure.’

My father was one of five children and the second of three brothers. He was sent away to the preparatory school at Sedbergh and there made the painful discovery that his eldest brother George was the school bully. From Sedbergh he was sent first to Skipton Grammar School and then to Kelly College, Tavistock. In 1913 he went to Oxford where he enjoyed such a boisterous first year that he failed Divinity Moderations. Early in 1914, however, he had joined the Territorial Army, and the outbreak of War and a posting to France enabled him to escape his father’s wrath.

My father was very lucky to survive the War. He was loath to talk about those years, but on a visit to the battlefields of Flanders in 2010 I met a man who was willing to do some research, and the record which follows was found in the National Archives.

On 15 August 1914 Charles Waddington was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 3rd battalion East Lancashire Regiment. On 5 January 1915 he went to France and fought in the second battle of Ypres. On 7 July he was wounded in the fighting in Boesinghe and evacuated to a hospital in Boulogne before being sent back to England.

(He lost a chunk of his right foot which, in the Second World War, would almost certainly have resulted in his being invalided out of the army.)

In March 1916 he returned to France, was promoted to captain and served on the Somme front. At one time he was in temporary
command of the battalion and took part in the attack on Redan Ridge. The attack was a costly failure with heavy casualties – some 5,752 officers and men were killed or wounded. With such heavy losses the division was moved up to the Ypres Salient for a ‘rest’ and to refit with drafts from England. However, they were soon back on the Somme, in time to fight in the Battle of Le Transloy Ridge in October 1916. On 17 October the ground was in an appalling condition. Heavy rain had fallen for weeks, and in front of the British trenches there was a vast lake of mud, pitted with
. For this reason a postponement of the attack was requested by the Brigade commanders, but the request was refused.

The night was pitch black and the enemy’s line was extremely vague. German trench maps had been issued but they were of little use as the German line really consisted of detached machine guns in shell-holes. At zero hour a barrage was put down on one of the objectives, Dewdrop trench. The battalion then began to flounder in no man’s land. The men, wearing full equipment and carrying extra bombs, were utterly exhausted and were shot down, drowned in shell-holes or rounded up by the Germans. Eventually the remnants were withdrawn to the original front-line trenches.

After dark on the 18th the attack was resumed, but ‘casualties were heavy’ says the report and included all the officers in the two leading companies. ‘In “C” company 2nd Lt E.W. Graham was killed, and Captain Waddington (O.C. Company), 2nd Lt Quayle and Wilks captured. CSM Ashcroft and Cunliffe were killed, CSM Vaughan made prisoner; the total casualties in the other ranks were killed twelve, wounded fifty-eight, missing 292.’

That is the end of the official report, but in his own report made after his release from a prisoner of war camp in November 1918 my father explained how, when the attack started in pitch dark at 3.30 a.m., the line was not maintained and the men went forward in bunches, and with a few men he must have gone right through the
German lines. After realising he had gone too far he decided to dig in. At dawn he saw no sign of trenches, but Germans walking about the place as bold as brass and some British soldiers being marched away as prisoners. He decided to lie low and await developments, but eventually he and the others were discovered. His parents got a telegram saying he was missing believed killed, but some months later, they were told that he was in a prisoner of war camp.

In the camp Pa got into trouble for failing to spring to
when a German officer entered the barrack room while he was shaving. The officer said he was under arrest, but my father asserted that under the Geneva Convention no officer could be placed under arrest without an escort of two soldiers with fixed bayonets. This threw the Germans off balance and they retired in disorder. Months went by and my father had entirely forgotten the incident when at six o’clock one morning two soldiers with fixed bayonets arrived to take him before the Camp Commandant. The Commandant, having awarded him twenty-eight days’ detention, went on to say that all the cells were full of other British officers serving punishment and my father would have to wait his turn. After more months had gone by two soldiers with fixed bayonets again turned up – a vacant cell was waiting.

After the War my father decided not to go back to Oxford but to become articled to my grandfather so that he could qualify as a solicitor in the shortest time possible. In a year or so he married my mother and the two of them went down to London and lived in lodgings in Notting Hill Gate while he studied at Gibson & Weldons, the law crammers who were still in business when I read for the Bar thirty years later.

My mother’s and father’s relations gave my sisters and me much innocent amusement; the game being to award points for sanity to each uncle and aunt and, by this quite scientific means, determine which family was dafter than the other. It was usually a very
thing. Aunt Edith, one of my father’s sisters, may have been unfairly marked down because of the unpopularity of her husband, Donald Harris. At a Christmas party, he turned on one of my sisters and shouted: ‘Don’t call me Uncle Donald. You all think I’m beastly so call me Uncle Beastly.’ And from that day forward Uncle Beastly was his name.

Our favourites were aunties Gertrude and Isaline (Robinson) who were, in fact, my father’s cousins, and were by then living at Sunnyside, Simonstone. One of my family relics is a caution
in his own hand by the Chief Constable of Burnley following Auntie Isaline’s apprehension for riding her pedal cycle without lights. They were, I imagine, typical of many women who would have married but for the death of tens of thousands of men of their generation in the Great War. Instead, they gave their lives to caring for their father and they made a particularly good job of it. At the age of eighty-two Doctor Robinson, known to us as ‘Uncle’, was forced to retire as Medical Officer of Health for Burnley. He claimed that there was a war on and his country needed him, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. He then lived on until nine days short of his 102nd birthday.

The other great friend of the family was my godfather, Harold Parkinson, known to us all as Nunky. After marrying Evelyn Green, the only daughter of a wealthy cotton manufacturer, he was soon running the Green business and made a great success of it; and just before the Second World War he bought Hornby Castle, outside Lancaster, and much land round it. During the War he became first a colonel in the Home Guard and then vice-chairman of the National Savings Movement, a job which eventually earned him a KBE.

My parents had moved to Read in 1931. The Old Vicarage was a long, ivy-covered house which stood directly on the side of a quiet lane overlooking the church. So quiet indeed was the lane that
on summer evenings we used it for cricket and, throughout the year, for hockey on bicycles; and only very rarely were our
disturbed by passing traffic. If cars did come along, the drivers waited politely for half time or the fall of a wicket.

We all loved the Old Vicarage, but it was not a particularly comfortable home. The room known as the nursery, in which we spent our time during our school years, and which my parents also used during the War because it was easier to keep warm than the drawing room, had a floor covering of linoleum: so had the kitchen in which we normally ate. The scullery housing the gas cooker and sink had a concrete floor and in winter was appallingly cold. In one corner of the pantry, which was even colder, there was, during the War, an earthenware vat to hold pickled eggs and on the stone slab were arrayed dozens of tins of mixed vegetables, obtainable off the ration because of their unpopularity. There was no refrigerator; on winter nights my father put a saucer of water out in the backyard in the hope that the temperature would drop below freezing point and there would be ice for his cocktail.

One oddity upstairs was that the bath in the family bathroom was in the middle of the floor; and when my father was required to administer punishment, the bathroom was the place where the deed was done. The dignity of the occasion was, however,
marred when the offender sought to escape by running round the bath and my father had to set off in pursuit, vainly trying to bring the back of the hair brush into contact with the sinner’s behind. There was a second bathroom for Gladys the cook and Rhona the maid but this was commandeered for use as an operating theatre when tonsils had to be removed and other minor operations performed.

BOOK: David Waddington Memoirs
6.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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