Friday, 13 July 2018

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an old Lord who fought in war and served in peace with chivalry and valour called Peter Carrington

Peter, who has died at the age of 99, was part of a Britain we have lost, where old nobles conducted themselves with courage, honour and dignity in the face of military danger and political defeat.

Like Winston Churchill, he was every inch an English aristocrat. In fact, he was 32 when Churchill phoned him in 1951 to ask him if he would like a post in his Administration as a Junior Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, he was out on a pheasant shoot.

Peter was rather proud of his artisan antecedents and said : "My family were smiths, able- smiths, and we started the first provincial bank outside London in about 1650, before the Bank of England and it did very well and they spread to London and were very successful in London My forebear who was made Lord Carrington was Robert Smith and he was quite distinguished and he was a Member of Parliament and was made a peer in the 1790s and everybody in the House of Lords got up and walked out because he was in trade. He was a banker." 

Winston Churchill had performed so badly in exams at his prestigious, public school, Harrow, his father, Lord Randolph Churchill insisted that he follow a career in the Army and he got into the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst on his third attempt. By the same token, Peter at his prestigious public school, Eton, also failed to shine and also left school for Sandhurst. Peter recalled : "The reason I went into the Army, was not because I wanted to go into the Army. When I was 16 my father (the 5th Lord Carrington) said to me : "What d'you want to do?" and I said : "Well, I don't know" and he said : "Well you'd better go into the Army." This was confirmed by his housemaster who advised him : “For a really stupid boy, there are three possible professions: farming, soldiering and stockbroking.”

He became a 'gentleman cadet' at Sandhurst at the age of 18 in 1937 and a 'peer of the realm' when his father died the following year and also became a subaltern in the Grenadier Guards. He was still too young to see action when the Second World War broke out in 1939. He was 25 when serving in Guards Armoured Division in the thick of operations in Normandy, the Low Countries and eventually Germany. When the bridge over the Rhine at Nijmegen, held by the Germans, was assaulted by his Battalion, as a tank commander he drove his tank on to the bridge, which was heavily mined and held off the defenders on the opposite shore, knowing that the bridge could easily be blown up underneath him.

He later said, with perfect understatement that it was all "rather disagreeable”. For this gallantry he was awarded a Military Cross, specifically for : holding a bridge at Nijmegen with his tank when the Germans were threatening to cut off his troops from comrades across the River Waal.

The levelling effect of War broadened Peter, the young aristocrat, who found himself sleeping in a hole beneath his tank with his crew of four. For the first time in his life he found himself rubbing shoulders with working class lads from poor backgrounds who, unlike him, had suffered hardship during the prewar years. The experience shaped his politics and he later said : “You could not have got a finer or better lot than they were. They deserved something better in the aftermath of the war.”

He was 63 years old, serving as Foreign Secretary in Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Government, when Argentina invaded the Falklands Islands in the South Atlantic in 1982. In the style of a Roman patrician he fell on his sword and resigned his position three days later despite her strenuous efforts to dissuade him. He himself bore little blame for the Government’s failure to avert the calamity, when Argentina, encouraged by cuts to the Royal Navy and ambivalent signals from the Foreign Office, invaded and captured the Islands, but, as he wrote in his autobiography : "The nation feels there has been a disgrace. Somebody must have been to blame. The disgrace must be purged. The person to purge it should be the minister in charge. That was me.”

Interviewed by Jon Snow in 2014 :

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