Eric Cullingford: Manpower expert who aided Germany’s resurgence

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The Independent Online

Eric Coome Maynard Cullingford was born in Clapham Common on the Ides of March, 1910. This meant that his first experiences of Germany were the Zeppelin raids over London, and the antiaircraft guns that blazed up at the airships.

Despite this, he always held an interest in Germany due to his fascination in the rival navies, and in history generally. He spent several holidays there and also married a German, Friedel, in 1938. Her family had come to England to get away from Hitler’s regime, which they despised.

Cullingford’s wife was attending a missionary training college when they met and he showed great determination in persuading her away from her calling, particularly when in doing so he was acting against the wishes of his relations and friends. Germans were particularly unpopular in England at the time; even Cullingford’s father was wont to say that “the only good German is a dead one”.

Cullingford’s choice of wife was all the more interesting as he was working at the Ministry of Labour, travelling the country to organise manpower planning, particularly in munitions and shipbuilding. He had joined the Ministry on going down from Cambridge in 1932, and after experience in Birmingham and the Black Country, he joined the headquarters’ labour inspectorate. He had drawn up a report on the experiences of the First World War, when all ablebodied men, whatever their skills, were sent to the front. This had proved to be a terrible mistake, since there were major problems with the production and supply of arms and material.

Cullingford advocated the development of protected occupations and thereafter was responsible for putting the policy into practice.

Cullingford’s experiences of Germany and of his wife’s family reiterated the distinction between the Nazi regime, powerful as it was, and ordinary citizens. He and his wife were deeply shocked at what they saw was happening in Germany, but their understanding of the difference between Nazis and all Germans was not shared by many. The occasional policeman sometimes rather apologetically visited to say that he had been informed by the neighbours that Friedel was a Nazi spy sending secrets learned from her husband back to her political masters. There was a general suspicion of foreigners, especially Germans, but despite this, Cullingford would read his favourite authors – including Theodor Fontane and Goethe – in German, on the train.

Shortly after the end of the War, Cullingford joined the Control Commission in Germany, part of the military government. At first, there was a great deal of suspicion of all Germans, still based on the assumption that they were all Nazis who had collaborated in the most hateful of regimes. There was a non-fraternisation order which, in the case of Cullingford, was even more absurd. In fact, his knowledge of what many Germans thought, and how easily an oligarchy can seize power, became powerful aids to his work.

Cullingford knew that the organisation of labour, the recreation of a work force and the development of industry were vital programmes, as opposed to the scorched-earth policy of reducing Germany to a primitive agricultural state, which was strongly advocated at the time. The German trades union had been quickly abolished by Hitler, but there were many experienced people who had either left the country or had lain low. Cullingford argued that these were the people around whom a new democratic state should be based.

One of Cullingford’s greatest achievements was the setting up of the new German Trades Union and the Trades Union Federation. He had learned the importance of good employer/employee relations during the War, particularly in the shipbuilding industry, and he always believed in the importance of decency, tolerance and mutual understanding. Cullingford’s work in Germany proved that there was an alternative to the British trade union model, which was rife with antagonism and costly strikes.

He was particularly interested in the works councils, where all involved in a particular factory were represented, to their mutual benefit. The understanding (“Mitbestimmung”) led to increased productivity, shorter working hours, more security and financial success. Cullingford subsequently wrote a book, Trade Unions in West Germany (Wilton House 1976), in which he typically drew no attention to his own crucial work.

Cullingford won the trust of the Germans with whom he worked. There were many people who were suspicious of an official who was “fraternising” with the natives, and crossing into the American or French zones to carry out his diplomatic activities could be quite dangerous.

On the other hand, to his own embarrassment, he carried the official rank of Brigadier, and this could be an advantage.

Although he worked for many years in Whitehall, rising to become controller of the southern and eastern sectors of the Department of Employment, his interest in Germany remained. He was Labour attaché at the British Embassies in Bonn and Vienna from 1960-64 and 1968-72.

His colleagues were impressed by his understanding of Germany and many trade unionists were astonished at the way that this Englishman’s wife was even more fluent than him in their language.

At the heart of Cullingford’s achievements were his diplomatic skills, his concern for others, and his belief in integrity and decency as essential to any task. He was also modest about his own achievements.

Cullingford retired to Malvern, Worcestershire, where, until the death of his wife in 2003, he enjoyed the most contented time of his life. After she pre-deceased him, he gradually declined, to his own distress. His books no longer comforted him, but he remained to the last interested in other people, always rejoicing in anyone else’s success.

Cedric Cullingford

Eric Coome Maynard Cullingford, manpower expert and author: born Clapham, London 15 March 1910; married 1938 Friedel Fuchs (died 2003; two sons, one daughter); died Malvern 6 April 2009.