hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

China: Power, Payback and Statecraft

“We are not dealing with the China of the 1990s or even the 2000s, but a completely different animal that represents a clear challenge to our democratic values”.

Francis Fukuyama

One China, One System

One China, Two Systems? No, One China, One system. For President Xi Jingping the 1947-29 Chinese Communist Revolution will not be complete until Hong Kong and Taiwan are brought fully under Beijing’s writ. Xi’s senses the moment might be fast approaching when the ‘correlation of forces’ are sufficiently in his favour for him to forcefully unify China. The imposition of National Security Legislation over Hong Kong by Beijing could well be but the beginning of the forced unification of China. Indeed, Chinese military exercises near the Taipei controlled Paratas/Dongsha islands could also signal stage two of the Plan is coming soon. This would involve the forced unification of Taiwan with Mainland China far earlier than the stated date of 2049, the centennial of the Communist Party’s seizure of power.

Critically, President Xi’s power exploitation of the COVID-19 crisis has shone a light on how Beijing really sees power and its determination to extend its writ across China, East Asia, and much of the rest of the world. There was something tragically quaint about Chris Patten bleating this week about a new dictatorship in Hong Kong.  Britain’s last governor of Hong Kong would have suspected even in 1997 at the time of the Handover that Beijing would at some point move to impose Chinese sovereignty over the Special Administrative Region long before the fifty years agreed. Like so much of British foreign and security policy these days the Handover was merely a device for a Britain in retreat to save face.

Xi’s rise to power

Fukuyama is right; Xi’s China is not the China of his predecessor Hu Jintao. The process of projecting power abroad is changing the very nature of the Communist Party, which now relies for its power base more on Han Chinese nationalism than ideology.

Whilst Hu was never more than primus inter pares, Xi is distinctly primus. In the wake of the Communist Party’s brutal 1989 suppression of the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square Beijing opted to re-build social cohesion by focussing on economic growth.  The policy was overseen by a cautious oligarchy which was focused on China’s domestic stability. Whilst it proved spectacularly successful it also led to a period of relative calm in China’s foreign policy. 

All that changed in November 2012 when Xi Jingping became General Secretary of the Party. For eight years Xi has focussed on three policy goals. First, consolidation of his own power and that of the Party through anti-corruption drives and the establishment of greater censorship.  Second, a more aggressive policy of forced unification and military expansionism, particularly in and around the South China Sea. Third, the development of the People’s Liberation Army into a power projection force. The latter policy was accelerated in March 2018 when this Princeling of the Party became the de facto President-for-Life.

As President-for-Life Xi has far more in common with the Chinese emperors of old or Mao Zedong in his later years, than either Marx or Lenin. Indeed, under Xi the Chinese Communist Party is fast becoming a Chinese Nationalist Party, which is historically ironic given that it was the Communists that in 1949 defeated Chiang Kai Shek and the Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang) at the end of (Part One?) the Chinese Communist Revolution. Chiang Kai Shek and the Nationalists retreated onto the island of Taiwan and have been there ever since.

Kow-towing to history

How the Han Chinese see the world and China’s place in it is thus central to any understanding of Beijing’s contemporary foreign and security policy. The Han Chinese represent some 92% of the Chinese population and a shared culture and historical narrative that dates back some four thousand years.  They tend to be deeply patriotic, bordering on the nationalistic, with a particular view of Chinese history and the role of foreigners in it. Central to the Han Chinese world view is the idea of the Middle Kingdom or Central Kingdom that goes back to their origins as a series of communities clustered around the Yellow and Yangtse rivers.  For many Han Chinese it is the emergence of Imperial China and the Xia dynasty in the third century BC which fires the imagination.  Thereafter, China was at the forefront of technology, economy and philosophy for centuries.

This glorious (and often glorified) epoch of Chinese history sits in stark contrast to the humiliation the Chinese suffered at the hands of foreigners, mainly the West, from the mid-eighteenth century to the recent past. Indeed, there is a profound shared and collective sense of China having been mistreated and disrespected by European imperialists, Japan and US. Several tragic events stand out for the Chinese. The so-called ‘unequal treaties’ when Imperial Britain forced the Chinese to cede control of Hong Kong in 1842. The 1901 crushing of the anti-imperialist, anti-Christian and anti-foreign Boxer Rebellion which also saw the defeat of the Imperial Army by an eight nation alliance of Austro-Hungary, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States was deeply humiliating. The rise of Imperial Japan, the 1931 invasion of Manchuria, and the 1937 Japanese Rape of Nanking, in which up to 300,000 Chinese may have been murdered, are further compounded by a continuing sense of outrage over further Japanese atrocities committed during the occupation prior to 1945.  US backing for Chinese nationalists during the Revolution, the 1949 Amethyst Incident and China’s decisive October 1950 intervention in the Korean War against US-led United Nations forces all help to shape the world-view of many millions of Han Chinese.


That same history also informs Xi Jingping and much of China’s contemporary civil, and in particular, powerful military leadership, which is also Xi’s power-base within the Party.  Consequently, a toxic mix of historical nationalism and power hubris is taking hold, reinforcing the sense in Beijing that the twenty-first century will be China’s century and pay-back time for all the many indignations and humiliations China has suffered at the hands of foreign powers. Critically, behind the Grand Overseas Propaganda Campaign, aggressive espionage and massive and routine cyber-attacks China is offering an implicit choice to the democratic world: embrace China’s rise or be crushed by it.   

The paradox is that Xi is fast turning China into a very nineteenth century, twenty-first century imperial power in which balances of power and spheres of influence dominate policy choices and nationalism is routinely instrumentalised as insurance against economic decline and any domestic challenge to the Party’s untrammelled power. There is also little reason to believe Beijing will change course for the simple reason Xi thinks he is winning.  For that reason alone China is likely to remain inherently autocratic, periodically confrontational and routinely coercive when it believes such action will be to its advantage.

Statecraft and the Chinese Dual Track

What to do about Xi’s China? Statecraft is essentially the art of making others believe one’s own interests are their interests whilst avoiding shooting oneself in either the foot or worse the head in the process.  As such, statecraft concerns the constant adaptation of state postures and behaviours. Given Chinese assertiveness both before and during the COVID-19 crisis the relationship between China and many of the world’s democracies is in need of rebalancing, with European states to the fore.  Too many Europeans are too dependent on China for too many vital things and Beijing will not hesitate to use such dependence as leverage as and when it suits. However, talk of hard decoupling is also misguided because it might well precipitate the very outcome everyone should be seeking to avoid: war.  Like Imperial Japan in the face of the ruinous pre-war US oil embargo if Beijing believes there will be no better moment to act than now then military action might seem the only option for fear of Xi’s historic mission being denied.

Therefore, given the stakes and the scale of the challenge a China strategy worthy of the name would need to involve all the world’s major democracies (the Global West?) and balance realism, reason and resolve.  Any such strategy would also need at least ten basic tenets that equally balance defence and dialogue:


1.             Unless hard proof emerges of malfeasance agreement that China will not be blamed for COVID-19 and recognition of all and any efforts by the Chinese to assist in combatting the pandemic.
2.             Renewed efforts by European and other US allies to convince China to use the UN to resolve all grievances and conflicts through international law, with arbitration to deal with specific disputes in the South China Sea. .
3.             Acknowledgement that China is a Tier One power and will be accorded the respect that such power commands.
4.             Acceptance that globalisation will continue and that whilst some reshoring will be needed to ensure supply chains are not reliant on one source no purposeful effort will be undertaken to damage the Chinese economy.
5.             Agreement to work with China on the creation of a new arms control architecture relevant to twenty-first century technology.

Realism and Resolve:

6.             A shared understanding of the minimum deterrence needed to challenge the assumptions of hard-liners around President Xi keen to seize a perceived opportunity.
7.             Systematic and aggressive countering of Chinese digital warfare, espionage and cognitive warfare through expanded deterrence across the conventional, digital and nuclear spectrum.
8.             Active and collective support for the US in its efforts to ensure the UN Convention on the Law at Sea (UNCLOS) is upheld, specifically when it concerns freedom of navigation in international waters.
9.             Determination by the US and its allies to respond to Chinese military activity and ambitions in the air, sea, land, cyber and space domains and actively respond to Chinese efforts to exploit new technologies in warfare from hypersonic weaponry to artificially-intelligent tactical and intercontinental systems.
10.         Identification of all strategic technologies from semi-conductors to systems architectures such as 5G and its future developments that must be fully sourced from within the community of global democracies.

The price of failure

Statecraft at times also involves the deliberate combining of obfuscation with consequence. The right of Taiwan and Hong Kong to self-determination will be the most challenging issue for the democracies.  For the moment, the safest course of action for both must be support for the status quo; autonomy short of independence.  Support for any other outcome when it is highly unlikely democratic powers would fight for either would be dangerous.  At the same time, Beijing must also be clear that aggressive action against either would see China be designated an aggressor and trigger a determined reaction from the democratic powers across the political, economic and, indeed, military spectrum. However, clarity is also needed with regard to consequence. Unfortunately, with hard-liners seemingly in control in Beijing it is hard to see how a war to force Taiwan under Beijing’s yoke can be avoided unless Xi’s China dramatically changes course.  The alternative is that Taipei accepts One China, One System, which is extremely unlikely given that the Chinese civil war never really ended. That stark reality begs two further enormous questions. Would the US go to war to defend Taiwan?  What would be the implications for US power and influence across the Indo-Pacific and, indeed, the wider world if it did not?

However, demonization of China would also be self-defeating and thus poor statecraft. The West must neither under-estimate the scope of China’s challenge, nor the extent to which Xi and much of the China he leads sees itself locked in a power or perish struggle. This is particularly the case now that COVID-19 has stripped bare the false politesse of power.

The Great Twenty-First Century Power ‘game’ is afoot. How we play it, and how well we play it, could well decide peace and war. If the ‘game’ is to be played at all it must be based on respect.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 22 May 2020

COVID-19 and the Disease of ‘Spinitis’

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Strategy and planning

What is strategy and what is planning? Let me start with a spoiler alert. This is not one of those many commentaries one reads these days in which a writer with no responsibility criticises those doing their utmost to cope with an immense crisis in the face of uncertainty and imperfect knowledge. To them I pay tribute. However, COVID-19 has again revealed the dearth of effective strategy and planning in Europe, as well as a lack of strategic culture and an inability or unwillingness to consider the worst-case and prepare for it. 

Helmut von Moltke’s dictum on planning has passed into history: “No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength”. He saw strategy as the practical art of adapting means to ends to ensure a balance between action, resources and environment.  And yet, like Eisenhower, he famously questioned the utility of a plan given that most events are dynamic and conceal and generate a myriad of unknowns. 


During the COVID-19 crisis most European governments have been desperate to demonstrate to their respective publics that they have a ‘plan’.  In fact, much of the ‘plan’ is political spin – the appearance of considered, concerted and cohesive action when in fact there is none.  Crisis management has thus become a crisis of governance. For example, whilst the British government has not performed as abjectly as some of its critics claim, the crisis has revealed the extent to which ‘spinitis’ has penetrated government to the point where many policy-makers and practitioners seem unable to distinguish between the two. It has also left millions of Britons, for example, wondering why there often seems little relationship between the stated goals of government and actual reality on the ground. 

There has also been routine high-level confusion over strategy and planning. In essence, strategy in a crisis concerns the pulling of big levers of power in the right sequence and at the right time in pursuit of an overarching goal: in this case a return to a secure, stable and relatively prosperous society.  Strategy thus involves hard policy choices at times between those three end states. Planning should be an adaptive process that constantly fine tunes forces and resources to ensure strategy and the goals it supports can be realised.  However, if ‘strategy’ is in fact a political mechanism for the avoidance of such choices, it is spin.

Spinitis and strategic fragility

For the past twelve years, in the wake the economic and financial crash, most of Europe has been desperately trying to reduce deficits and public debt to restore balance whilst often avoiding hard choices, although the Greeks might beg to differ. This is primarily because politicians have avoided doing what was necessary for fear of being punished. The result is a Europe locked into a form of low-level crisis psychosis in which politicians give the impression of strength and stability where little or none exists.  The masking and protection of fragility has thus been the purpose of strategy.  
Cue COVID-19 and the effective collapse of a fragile edifice.  The coming consequence will be seen in the very hard policy choices European governments will soon be forced to make.  The very kind of choices elected politicians have spent their entire careers trying to avoid. However, the very nature of Europe’s political elite raises a further profound question: are they equipped and able even to make such choices?

Spin, power and strategy

The paradox of strategy is that whilst it is ultimately about power and resource, it is far more important for the weak than the strong. COVID-19 is changing the all-important balance between risk, stability, security and defence.  It will also demand that European leaders are called upon to do far more with far less.  This is because COVID-19 has critically weakened the assumptions upon which traditionally strategy and planning in Europe has been based.  Europe is no longer a region of relatively powerful states.  The problem for Europe’s political leaders is their wish to maintain the appearance of power where little power exists. Spin.

The coming and consequent political crisis will be made more intense by the public clamour to ensure ‘this never happens again’. Such clamour will almost certainly mean much limited resource is wasted giving the impression that government is far better prepared to deal with any such future pandemic.  However, better protection against the past offers little or no protection against an inevitably different future. In other words, spin will be king and real strategy and planning subordinated to it. 

What makes spin so dangerous is the purposeful sacrificing of strategy for politics. Both strategy and planning depend on sound analysis, and such analysis can only be generated by government machinery free to make analyses.  When spin is king such analysis becomes inconvenient and the virus of ‘spinitis’ spreads like a pandemic across all organs of government.  Thereafter, the main purpose of government becomes the maintenance of spin, with governments hoping desperately that all the other risks and threats of which they are also aware remain quiescent, at least on their watch. Specifically, any balance between health security and other critical public investments will probably be abandoned as political leaders embark on the policy equivalent of ambulance chasing.  Standing policy will thus be sacrificed to meet the short-term goal of being seen to deal with COVID-19-type threats, critically undermining national defence and the ability to respond to any and all other threats.   
Future consequences

The appearance of a plan when in fact neither strategy nor planning really exists has profound consequences for Europe’s future. Spin kills strategic analysis and strategic thinking and destroys any hope of a strategic culture.  Paradoxically, Europe does not lack for strategic analysis, thinking or thinkers, it is simply very little such analysis and thinking is close to power. For example, Britain’s inability to see the risks posed by Xi’s China is not simply a consequence of mercantilism and the allure of Chinese investment.  There is simply no strategic thinking in government in London about China or, frankly, much else these days.  If Britain no longer thinks strategically, then there is little chance the rest of Europe will. France retains some vestigial strategic culture, but it lacks the weight to convince the rest of Europe of Paris’s admittedly often parti pris thinking.  Berlin, the natural leader of contemporary Europe, lacks any such culture. This lacuna represents perhaps the greatest danger to the transatlantic relationship. It is not simply that Germans increasingly disagree with the Americans, they are simply unable to understand how and why the Americans think the way they do.  The irony is that Germans in many ways invented the idea of strategy and planning.

Moltke also understood the relationship between strategy, planning and complexity. Specifically, in a complex environment force and resource must be able to act autonomously from each other, even as they act upon each other.  Consequently, absolute control from any one centre is impossible because no commander can be aware of all the factors that are acting upon strategy. Consequently, effective strategy and planning depends on the capacity to generate great means efficiently and apply them both systematically and flexibly, which in turn demands devolution of authority to trusted subordinates. Spin destroys any such trust because the maintenance of a big political lie relies on absolute control.

Ends, ways and means

Moltke saw the ultimate purpose of planning and the application of resources as the reduction of risk to strategy. Ends, ways and means are thus the Holy Trinity of strategy and planning and are themselves dependent on a mix of capability, decentralisation and redundancy and the forging of a robust relationship between strategy and planning, control and desired effect. In the real world European governments would together now consider four lines of planning action in support of a new strategic balance between human security and national defence: a broad post-COVID-19 scan of the threat horizon; proper consideration of the nature and likelihood of risk; prioritisation risk and the apportioning of resources accordingly; adaptation of structure to ensure responsiveness and readiness across a range of contingencies. The Euro-world?

Will Europeans ever learn? More importantly, can Europeans learn in time?

Julian Lindley-French    

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Reflecting on NATO 2030

May 13th, 2020

This Analysis is the guidance I am about to give to the Secretary-General’s NATO Reflection Group concerning my vision of NATO 2030.

“Power is as power does”.
J.K. Galbraith

Ladies and Gentlemen, good afternoon. Let me begin by quoting J.K. Galbraith, “power is as power does”.

This briefing has five elements germane to your mission: 1. a strategic appreciation; 2. the worst defence-strategic consequence of COVID-19 for NATO; 3. NATO’s strategic paradoxes and dilemma; 4, NATO’s critical needs; and 5. (and finally) my vision for NATO 2030. Given the importance of your mission I will choose my words carefully. You have the text of my remarks to assist you and all the arguments herein are much more deeply-developed in my forthcoming Oxford book Future War and the Defence of Europe, co-written with Generals Allen and Hodges.

Core messages

1.      Far from adding more tasks to NATO’s already wide but shallow capabilities and capacities, the Alliance should be ditching tasks that do not conform to its core mission of the defence and deterrence of the Euro-Atlantic area. Indeed, adding new tasks shorn of significantly increased resources would profoundly undermine the credibility of the Alliance. 

2.      Even as NATO re-focuses on its core mission it must also properly consider the changing nature of that mission in the face of the revolution in military technology underway and how the future hybrid, cyber, hyper war mosaic will affect the Alliance’s ability to defend and deter.

3.      If the Alliance adapts together NATO could continue to be organised around a North American and a European political pillar. If not, function and capability will become the new organising Alliance principle, with NATO divided between a high-end, hi-tech, digital future pillar, and a low-tech, analogue, legacy force ‘pillar’.

4.      Or, in an emergency, NATO’s stronger members will simply step outside of the Alliance framework and function as a coalition of the willing and able.

Strategic Appreciation

Europeans are in denial about the nature, scope and speed of strategic change. COVID-19 could be the tipping point towards conflict for an increasingly precarious global balance of military power. However, whilst COVID-19 will doubtless accelerate change, it is unlikely to radically transform the nature of change itself. Indeed, if the strategic consequences of COVID-19 conform to past pandemics far from ending the threat of war, it could well accelerate it.

2030? Europeans are locked in a virtual Ten Year Rule. They do not believe a major war could happen in the next decade. COVID-19 could further detach Europe’s virtual world from strategic reality by creating a profound tension between human (health security) and national defence.

Critically, few Europeans understand the revolution in warfare underway, nor the implications of the growing over-stretch of US forces for the Alliance and European defence. Europeans, I fear, have also lost the political capacity to consider the geopolitical worst case. Specifically, the danger that the Alliance could face a simultaneous multi-theatre crisis in the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East and North Africa, as well as on the Alliance’s Eastern and Northern flanks across the conventional and nuclear, and the analogue and digital spectrum.

At the very least, Europeans must begin to grip the implications of fast-shifting military power purchasing parity. First, by 2030, on current trajectories, the relative military power of China and Russia could have surpassed the Western democracies unless Europeans drastically improve their future war, future defence effort. Second, China and Russia will be able to exert pressure on the US and its allies at the weakest seams of the Alliance. Third, such power could well do what it can. Beijing and Moscow are not European liberal democrats.

Worst defence-strategic consequence of COVID-19 for NATO

If Europeans effectively abandon the modernisation of national defence for health security in the face of a changing military balance of power they will force the Americans into a dangerous choice: defend Europe by offsetting European military weaknesses, and thus make their own armed forces relatively weaker, or effectively abandon Europe for the Indo-Pacific. As COVID-19 has demonstrated: shock happens!

NATO’s Strategic Paradoxes and dilemma

NATO suffers from a series of strategic paradoxes and a strategic dilemma that the NATO Reflection Group should consider:

NATO’s strategic paradoxes:

-   - European defence under-investment will likely deepen post-COVID-19, but the scope of NATO missions will likely expand;
-      -  China’s military rise will exacerbate US military over-stretch, but European military capability and capacity will be unable to meet the challenge of a European worst-case military emergency;
-         -Deterring Future War should be the centre of gravity of Alliance Adaptation, with a specific mandate to consider the impact of new technologies in the battlespace, such as artificial intelligence, machine-learning, super-computing etc and et al. However, too many Europeans either want to fight past campaigns better, or adapt NATO to managing crises for which it is ill-suited (such as terrorism and assistance to civil authorities);
-      - Future war will demand an Alliance deterrence and defence posture that stretches across complex strategic coercion and 5D warfare from deception to disinformation, from disruption to destabilisation, and destruction. That, in turn, will require a deep strategic partnership with the EU and the nations. Such synergy simply does not exist;
-       -  Real Adaptation would see a new and critical balance struck between the digitalised military power projection upon which all credible 2030 Allied defence and deterrence will depend, and far more assured people protection via a more secure home base. There is no such ambition apparent.

NATO’s Strategic Dilemma:

Crises will not come in single packages. The specific dilemma is thus: how to ensure NATO has the tailored mass and high-end manoeuvre to simultaneously defend and deter on its Eastern and Northern Flanks and support Allies on its Southern Flank in the event of chaos across the Middle East and North Africa?

NATO’s Critical Needs

Given the defence and deterrence challenge NATO’s critical needs now are thus: 
-          Drastically improved European force interoperability with their US counterparts;
-          Far faster political consultations over what constitutes an attack;
-          Far faster and more nuanced indicators, better shared analysis, much faster responsiveness, with forces and resources constantly at a higher state of readiness and able to seamlessly rotate during a crisis; and
-          Above all, much greater devolved command authority to SACEUR and SHAPE from the earliest stages of a crisis and throughout the conflict cycle.

My vision for NATO 2030?

1.    A new strategic concept that prioritises future-proofed Allied defence focused on a new system of deterrence across the hybrid-cyber-hyper war mosaic which intelligently adapts existing conventional and nuclear counterforce deterrence with digital counterforce.
2.    A Euro-centric twenty-first century Allied Command Operations heavy mobile force that closes the posture gap from which Alliance forces suffer and which could assure defence and deterrence in an emergency and when US forces are engaged across multiple theatres and multiple domains.
3.    Allied Command Transformation is charged with properly developing such a European high-end, first response digital-centric future force that can also act as a development platform for a future AI, big data, and increasingly robotic-enabled defence, via such programmes as the NATO Unmanned Systems Initiative.
4.    That such a force can also meet the interoperability challenge with the US future force.  The European future force must, therefore, also be able to operate with US forces or autonomously across air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge, and critically able to gain comparative advantage in contact.
5.    A NATO-EU strategic partnership worthy of the name that can project power and protect people by moving forces and resources quickly in and around Europe in an emergency to underpin deterrence, mount a defence, and respond to consequence.


The tendency since the end of the Cold War, and indeed for much of it, has been to place political compromise before defence and deterrent effect. The 2019 NATO Military Strategy was reflective of such a tradition. However, NATO and its nations will soon face hard choices and it is those choices the NATO Reflection Group should address.

NATO is ultimately strategic insurance against war in an unstable world in which strategy, technology, capability and affordability are combining for allies and adversaries alike.  NATO must thus be a high-end, warfighting military deterrent.  It is NOT a military EU. 

Above all, Europeans must realise that in the coming decade a hard-pressed US will only be able to ‘guarantee’ Europe’s future defence if Europeans do far more for their own defence. COVID-19 or no! For once, the future of NATO really is at stake. If we fail to modernise our Alliance one day power really could do to some of us, what malicious and malevolent power can, indeed, do if not deterred.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 8 May 2020

My VE Day

“We kept our faith with ourselves and with one another: we kept faith and unity with our great allies. That faith and unity have carried us to victory…”

His Majesty, King George VI, May 8th, 1945

May 8th, 2020. Britain’s two minutes silence has just Fallen. My VE Day is a very personal affair. My extended family served in a variety of capacities during World War Two, but let me focus on two of them, my paternal grandfather Clifford, who survived the war, just, and my great-uncle Walter, who did not. My thanks also to my father who helped me prepare this piece.

My grandfather finished his long and original service in either 1937 or 1938 serving aboard the destroyer HMS Mallard.  However, as he was on the Naval Reserve he was recalled, probably in May 1939 as hostilities became likely after the Nazi occupation of Prague. He served mainly on destroyers doing escort duties in the Channel and during the war he was sunk twice, each time by mines. He was invalided off active service in 1943 due to health problems caused by swallowing fuel oil whilst fighting for his life in the sea. For the rest of the war he was confined to shore duties where he did spells at the Signal Station on Plymouth Sound Breakwater, then at Mount Wise Signal Station overlooking the entrance to the Dockyard.

Interestingly, during a visit to the Royal Marines a couple of years ago I was just below where he ended his many years of RN service. He left the ‘RN’ just before the end of the war in 1944 and we went to live in Dulverton, Somerset, from where my great grand-parents hailed.  My father thinks he may have been at Dunkirk. The only occasion my father was taken to see him depart was at Millbay dock in Plymouth and at the time he was seconded to a merchant ship that was transporting Canadian troops to France to relieve the troops there. When he got back my grandfather looked absolutely shattered, after having picked up as many survivors as he could.

My great-uncle Walter was killed on HMS Quail, which he had joined when she was newly commissioned in Glasgow in January 1943. He had previously served on HMS Kandahar, a K class destroyer that was part of a squadron commanded by Lord Louis Mountbatten aboard HMS Kelly, which was sunk in the Channel. HMS Kandahar was mined in December 1941 escorting a convoy to Malta and eventually scuttled. HMS Quail was mined outside Bari Harbour (my family seemed to attract mines), and may have been involved in a clandestine operation. Nineteen were killed, including Walter, who is buried in a in a military cemetery near Bari.

There is a twist to this tale. During a visit to Dulverton a few years ago an old gentleman kept looking at my father and me because it seemed he saw the family resemblance. We eventually got talking and he told us he had been one of Walter’s closest friends and had spent the night before my great-uncle’s return to Devonport Dockyard in a Dulverton pub. Walter never returned. Today, his name is on the Plymouth Naval Memorial, which I have had the honour to visit on many occasions.

Faith and unity in Great Allies is as important today as it was then. Belief in friends, once enemies.

In Memoriam

Julian Lindley-French