Talk:Louis Le Bailly

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Cornish Guardian

September 1, 2005

An officer and gentleman

SECTION: Features; General; Columnist; Pg. 41

LENGTH: 1096 words

Writing a profile of Vice Admiral Sir Louis Le Bailly is a daunting prospect. Truth is he has packed so much into his life. You feel nothing less than a chapter in a book will do. He is, in fact, the author of three perceptive volumes.

A Gloucestershire man - Walter Hammond was his cricketing hero - he and his wife Pamela live in retirement in Guardian Country. I came to St Tudy, one of the most elegant villages in all Cornwall, on a grey morning.

Hereabouts are manor houses of slate and granite, narrow twisting lanes and wooded slopes, almost an air of secret Cornwall.

To begin at the beginning he joined Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, in 1929, an episode he did not enjoy: "It was a brutal regime in those days." After service as a seaman midshipman in HMS Hood, he transferred on eyesight grounds to naval engineering: "Keyham was an altogether more civilised experience.

At Dartmouth you were trained. At Keyham you were educated," his Keyham CO later becoming his father-in-law.

War service was again in HMS Hood, Home Fleet, HMS Naiad, Home and Mediterranean Fleets, and HMS Duke of York, the British Pacific Fleet, where he witnessed the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.

He also helped rehabilitate Hong Kong after its recapture. It was a war experience "with alarming dynamics of being bombed, torpedoed and mined..." Interviewing him, shortly after his 90th birthday, was an extraordinary experience. He has a marvellous recall.

He reckons the best practical guide to leadership was given to HMS Hood's officers by Captain later Vice Admiral Sir Francis Pridham in 1937: "Your endeavour should be to inspire in your men a feeling of respect for you and confidence in your sympathetic interest and understanding of their problems, as well as in your professional ability. This is the sure basis of discipline and leadership." Meeting the Vice Admiral is stimulating; he talks and writes from a broad perspective, viewing the Royal Navy against a background of Drake and the reforming zeal of Lord Fisher. Or leadership in war against the backcloth of Winston Churchill. His views therefore have the ring of authority.

A walking stick is his only outward admission of age: "I've had a long and lucky life," he said with a smile, "and my luckiest part is my wife Pam. I must keep going until 2006 when we shall celebrate our 60th wedding anniversary." Sir Louis told me "Mr Correlli Barnett, lately Keeper of the Archives at Churchill College, had read my first two books and asked me if I would leave my papers in his archive. To my wife's relief I agreed and the papers went to Cambridge.

"In the sorting out though I was surprised by the volume of advice I'd seen fit to inflict on my elders and betters!" His conversation is laced with diamond-sharp observations: "In war time fear of people in lonely jobs is very real. It's important to look after them..." You sense there is something of the Nelson spirit about him - a man of bravery and vision and, above all, genuine concern for his men. He did much to improve the life of stokers.

It was sheer coincidence our interview took place on the day that a Trafalgar Way plaque was unveiled at the Blue Anchor, Fraddon, in Guardian Country.

During the war, as Professor of Marine Engineering at the Naval Engineering College, he studied petroleum technology at Birmingham University before becoming secretary of Lord Geddes' Oil Committee and chairman of NATO's Oil Standardisation Committee.

Service in HMS Bermuda was followed by personnel training and administration and engineering design.

He was secretary to Lord Murray's committee on naval officer entry and naval assistant to Third Sea Lord and Controller of the Navy, before a year at Imperial Defence College.

Then there were all but three years as Naval Attache in Washington DC, followed by promotion to Vice Admiral and early retirement to become civilian Director General of Intelligence at the MoD.

After that and so-called "final retirement", Sir Louis served on Civil Service Selection Boards, including police and fire service promotion boards, as Vice-Chairman of the Institute for the Study of Conflict, now Research Institute for the Study of Conflict and Terrorism, as Chairman of Governors of Rendcomb College and as Vice-President of Sea Cadet Ship Hood.

Here in Cornwall he is Deputy Lieutenant and has a real interest in Cornish affairs. Across the Tamar he deeply regrets the closure of Manadon: "The Navy, perhaps more than any other of the services, depends on high quality engineering." He knows all about the importance of sport in the community but is saddened by the fact that nowadays young men play football on Sunday mornings instead of going to church.

In his book Old Loves Return, an Anthology of Hopes, Fun and Despair, published in 1993 he wrote "In this topsy-turvy world where even loyalty to the Queen seems now to be questioned, service life provides an anchor to example and leadership which neither the Church nor the political establishment are able to do." Though the son of a Jerseyman, the Admiral is strongly anti-EU: "My basic objection to the political EU stems from the betrayal of our fisheries by Heath, a bribe to Pompidou... I profoundly believe that our fishermen proved the foundation on which our maritime heritage is based.

"Heath told me in a personal discussion, when I accused him of destroying our shipbuilding industry, 'that shipbuilding was a Third World industry!' "I suppose it is the EU corruption, as revealed by Connelly and others and the constant flow of Soviet-style regulations, destroying all freedoms and personal responsibility which, I believe, are ruining our nation.

"Churchill's dictum was that we are OF Europe and not IN Europe.

"The present policing of Europe will be a great help in the anti-terrorist war and there are peaceful cultural ties, music particularly, which must not be broken.

"But the aim to bring together nations of different cultures and languages who have been fighting each other for over 1,000 years is madness and is driven by a Marxist ideology.

"But my scattered wits profoundly disagree with UKIP.

"They should be a movement, not a political party.

"Our Anglo Saxon-Celtic genes were mixed with those of Normandy. When St Tudy got its first rector, our King owned half of France." Despite his disappointment - often deep - over aspects of national and European life, Sir Louis remains the perfect English officer and gentleman: "Hope is virtue. Despair is a sin."

LOAD-DATE: September 2, 2005