Don Shirreff: Intelligence officer dismissed for his anti-nuclear stance

On 6 April 1956 the intelligence officer Don Shirreff was dismissed without pension rights because of his fierce protests about performing work for the identification of targets in the Soviet Union for nuclear attack. He complied, but his anger was deemed to be politically incorrect and hence he lost what had been a distinguished career during the war and post-war on a matter of principle. Shirreff, a man of huge integrity, became a prominent member of the Council for Nuclear Disarmament and a Labour Party activist.

Francis Donald Shirreff was born the son of Alex Shirreff, district officer in the Indian civil service and later financial advisor to the governor of the United Provinces. In 1926, aged eight, he was sent home from India to spend five years at the Langton Matravers prep school before going on to Marlborough College, where he got the top open scholarship and spent five years from 1931-1936. At Oriel College, Oxford he was a senior Classical Scholar.

On the outbreak of war he was called up for training in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry and in 1940 transferred, on becoming an officer, to the second special wireless group of the Royal Signals. In March 1941 he arrived at Heliopolis, which was a junior equivalent of Bletchley Park outside Cairo.

That summer he spent in the western desert with the mobile sections of 30 Armoured Corps, where he remained until the end of the war. He was involved in the battles of Alamein, the pursuit to Julius, landing in Sicily, and Salerno. He was called home to take part in the Normandy landings and ended his war in the battle of Arnhem.

Returning to Oxford, he left Classics for Philosophy, Politics and Economics and in 1947 joined the intelligence division of the Control Commission for Germany. He was involved in de-nazification duties and was a prominent member of the documents research team, editing reports by German experts on Russian industries, oil, railways, education, military engineering. Their reports formed the basis of a book published by Joint Intelligence, which was influential in Truman's Washington.

From 1951-53 Shirreff was a member of a small research team working on espionage and security cases, real or more often alleged, in which they collaborated with MI6 and MI5. In 1954 he was made head of an interrogation team debriefing late returnees from the Soviet Union as a result of Chancellor Conrad Adenauer's visit to Moscow in 1954.

It was in 1956 at the headquarters of the Intelligence Division that he was ordered to compile a list of bombing targets in the USSR, chosen on account of his work between 1948 and 1950. Shirreff, ever willing to speak his mind, harangued his superiors on the wickedness of what they were asking him to do. Such was his language and forthrightness that he was dismissed without pension rights.

This left a bitterness which was with him until the end of his life, but ever resilient he became a teacher at Milton Abbey School for boys, specialising in Latin and German. Because he had won a half blue at Oxford for athletics and cross-country he became a vice-president of the Dorset Amateur Athletic Association and was welcomed as the schoolmaster/coach.

In 1966, after becoming involved in the Swindon Labour Party, he began 18 years in the state sector. He told me: "I came to the sad conclusion that in areas of social deprivation, in the parts of Swindon where I taught, that GCEs and GCSEs were often a waste of time, and that any efforts to encourage athletics or indeed other school activities were more likely to succeed."

In his retirement he wrote extensively on the way in which Germany was coming to terms with the Russians and added his voice to arrangements so that the Germans would feel less threatened. He and his wife visited the author of an article in Der Spiegel which he discovered was written by a man who was in the Afrika Korps opposite him in North Africa. They became firm friends, and Shirreff did translations for him – his work was taken seriously by the German general staff and historians.

In the evening of his life Shirreff was an active member of Wanborough Parish Council and Devizes Constituency Labour Party, for whom he was a delegate at two Labour Party conferences, proposing motions in favour of the nationalisation of banks and building societies, and proportional representation. He was active in the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and treasurer of the Swindon and North Wiltshire group.

Francis Donald Shirreff, intelligence officer and teacher: born Nainital, United Provinces 4 June 1918; Oriel College, Oxford 1936-1939, 1945-46; Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry Royal Signals served 1939-45; Intelligence 1947-1956; teacher, at Milton Abbey School 1956-66; Swindon state schools 1966-1984; died Swindon 26 May 2010.

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?