Lord Denman: Businessman and philanthropist

 

An act of selfless bravery in the Western Desert was to set the course of the rest of Charles Denman's life. He shot three German attackers and escorted a wounded soldier to safety at the Battle of Bir-el Harmat in 1942, winning the Military Cross, and out of the desperate nine-day battle carried an affection for that region that never waned. His experiences heralded nearly 70 years in which he would tirelessly advocate British trade and cultural relations with the world beyond Europe.

From marrying in Cairo in 1943 to being received in his nineties by the Emir of Qatar with a hug as an old friend, Denman considered the Middle East an inspiration for these ideals. Yet his reputation as a man on whom British governments could call for diplomacy, and whom business could trust to get large projects off the ground, was hard-won. The boy who left Shrewsbury School without a qualification to his name began his working life in the 1930s as a lowly jobbing gardener. His illustrious family, of which past generations included a Lord Chief Justice and a Governor-General of Australia, shook their heads about his future.

His academic difficulty would probably now have been diagnosed as dyslexia. Nevertheless, the young horticulturalist had charm and an ability to persevere, and was soon the owner of a small market garden. While working in Cornwall he even found love, meeting Sheila, daughter of a decorated Scots Lieutenant Colonel, who had been left an orphan and was being brought up by cousins. She would later become his wife.

He joined the Territorial Army, the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, and on the outbreak of the Second World War was posted to India and Baghdad before the ordeal that made a hero of him. This was on the evening of 5 June 1942, when a hand grenade hurled from a German armoured troop carrier exploded, wounding both Denman and a private soldier named Kent in their slit trench, Kent seriously.

Denman stayed in his position and dressed Pte Kent's wounds. After nightfall he led the party carrying the casualty 12 miles back through a captured position, going east. He went on ahead to seek assistance when the party could no longer carry Pte Kent. Only after a car of the 3 Royal Horse Artillery picked them up was Lt Denman taken to a field ambulance and his own wound attended to.

"Throughout the engagement this officer displayed the utmost gallantry and devotion to duty with complete disregard of self", the recommendation, signed by General Claude Auchinleck, Commander in Chief, Middle East Forces, says. Pte Kent died of his injuries, but the night-long patience and ingenuity Denman displayed in trying to save him were qualities quickly recognised by others.

Denman attended Staff College, was promoted to Major, and on 11 September 1943 in the cathedral at Cairo married Sheila, with whom he had been reunited when she was by chance posted to Cairo headquarters as he recovered there from his Bir-el Harmat wound. After the war he considered following his father, the MP Sir Richard Denman, first baronet, originally Liberal, into politics; but he failed to take Leeds Central, where he stood in the 1945 general election as a Conservative candidate.

Instead, he entered merchant banking, and on joining C Tennant and Sons Merchants, jumped at the chance for a business trip to the Middle East. Being aged conveniently between generations of the Tennant family, he soon became a director. "He was a real boy scout," a family member said. "He loved people, it didn't matter who they were, from all walks of life; he was interested." Colleagues considered him a fine public speaker and a good listener. He acquired some knowledge of Arabic, and was well-versed in courtesies and customs.

Projects in which he played an important part included the development of the Mahd adh Dhahab ("Cradle of Gold") gold mine in Saudi Arabia in the mid-1970s, and the modernisation of Cairo's water system and sewerage from 1979 onwards by companies including British Water and Wastewater, of which he was a director. To his death he remained President of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, and was chairman of the trustees of the Arab-British Chamber Charitable Foundation, helping Middle Eastern nationals study in Britain.

He spoke in Middle East debates in the House of Lords, telling the House on 15 January 1998: "In the appalling conditions in the Gaza Strip, it was essential to make it possible for the products of Gaza – citrus crops – to get out to the world markets. The first essential was a port and the second an airport... We should take an example from the Second World War and build a temporary port which would, with the help of ro-ro ships and caissons, enable the movement of goods." Denman was a trustee of the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians.

After the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt of 1967, the British government sent him to negotiate with President Nasser of Egypt, the release of vessels including four British ships stranded in the Great Bitter Lake area of the Suez Canal, which was blocked. However, the ships were stuck until the canal re-opened in 1975.

Denman advised the government of Edward Heath – which in 1973 took Britain into the European Economic Community – on trade with the rest of the world. He became a champion for the interests of New Zealand, which risked being shut out by European tariffs, and forged links for its businesses, both with Britain and the Middle East.

He was chairman of the Committee for Middle East Trade, part of the Overseas Trade Board, from 1971 until 1975, and in 1976 was made CBE for his services to export. Denman also inspired the Kuwaiti government's decision to give £1.5m to fund a new wing of the Tank Museum at Bovington in Dorset, as thanks for the expulsion of Saddam Hussein's forces from its territory in the First Gulf War of 1991. The Queen opened the Museum's Kuwait Arena in 2009.

The decision of Tony Blair's government to send forces into Iraq in 2003 greatly upset Denman, as did the long-drawn-out conflict in Afghanistan. So concerned was he to find out about Afghan conditions that he travelled there on the eve of his 90th birthday. He visited Kabul and, with an uncertain local escort following him on his departure, crossed the Khyber Pass.

He reserved a special care for Windlesham House School, a preparatory school which the family allowed to move in to Sir Richard Denman's vast country pile, Highden House near Washington in West Sussex, and for many years served as a governor.

Denman succeeded his father as 2nd baronet Denman of Staffield in Cumbria in 1957, and became the fifth baron Denman of Dovedale in Derbyshire in 1971 on the death of his cousin, Thomas, 4th Baron. Sir Richard's elder brother, Thomas, 3rd Baron, had been Australia's Governor-General from 1911-14, and the first Baron, also named Thomas, Lord Chief Justice from 1832 until 1850. Denman's son, Richard Thomas Stewart Denman, succeeds him.

Charles Spencer Denman, businessman and philanthropist: born Penrith, Cumbria 7 July 1916; married 1943 Sheila Anne Stewart (died 1987; three sons, one daughter); MC 1942; CBE 1976; Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Francis I 2004; died Highden, West Sussex 21 November 2012.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
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

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf