Obituary: Major Sir Patrick Wall

MAJOR SIR PATRICK WALL was a politician of unbreakable independence of mind, taken by some to be stubborn and blinkered, and by his party's whips to be simply infuriating.

When I joined the Conservative Research Department in 1969, I was given responsibility for acting as secretary to the party's backbench Home Office Affairs Committee. The department's director, Brendon Sewill, told me, in the course of his briefing: "It is a British tradition, sanctioned by our history, to make young men responsible for subjects they know nothing about. You will have to learn about immigration and Commonwealth policy, and you will have, from time to time, to deal with Enoch Powell, Ronnie Bell, and Major Patrick Wall. And they are a formidable trio."

Powell and Bell I already knew, albeit slightly. Wall I knew from his ferociously right-wing reputation. He was an ardent anti-Communist, a proponent of mining the approaches to the Baltic Sea in order to restrict the movements of the Soviet Navy, a pillar of the apartheid-based government of South Africa, an enthusiast for the cause of the Portuguese empire in Africa, and a friend of Chiang Kai-shek, the ruler of what he called the "Republic of China" and what most people called Taiwan. He was also, Sewill warned me, no cardboard man of the right, but a fiercely intelligent and learned man, and only too willing to confound the arguments of any tyro such as myself.

It was not, therefore, without trepidation that I accepted an invitation to lunch with Wall. I found a most genial and humorous host, most firm in his opinions, not at all evidently docrinaire, and certainly having about him nothing of the wild-eyed ideologue I had feared.

Wall held staunchly to many beliefs throughout his life, but he was above all staunch in his religious beliefs. Educated in Switzerland and at the famous Roman Catholic public school Downside, he rose in later life to become chairman of Pro Fide, the well-known international Catholic organisation. The son of a well-to-do engineer, he had demonstrated an early bent for matters technical: he was only seven when he built his first model ship, and he had a collection of thousands by the time of his death. It was no great surprise to his family when he enlisted in the Royal Marines in 1935.

It was Wall's settled early decision to make his career in the armed services. It was not until after the Labour Party's triumph at the general election of 1945 that he evinced any serious interest in politics, and not until 1950 that he left the Marines to seek a Conservative parliamentary nomination. He fought Cleveland twice, in 1951 and 1953, before winning Haltemprice (later Beverley) in 1954: this constituency he served until his retirement in 1987.

It is important to remember Wall's distinguished record as a fighting man. He served in several ships including the (for him) appropriately named Iron Duke, Valiant, and Vanguard. He won the Military Cross in 1945 and the same year was made a Member of the American Legion of Merit in recognition of his vital role with American supply ships at Omaha beach during the Normandy landings.

Nor was he simply a gallant warrior: in the Marines he learned to fly, became an expert in the theory of long-range gunnery, and rose to become second-in-command of 48 RM Commando. The Conservative parliamentary party thus gained, in 1954, an astute, educated and experienced MP who was over the years to lend lustre to many debates on defence and foreign policy.

Early on, however, Wall learned that he was unlikely ever to gain serious political office: he was too opinionated for that and, in the two brief periods in which he held the most junior of jobs - as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture (1955-57) and the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1958-59) - he found the diplomatic practice of discretion imposed on him irksome. He was, after all, a man who relished political combat. In one of his books, Student Power (1968), he regaled one set of readers while aggravating another with the acerbic nature of his commentary.

Meanwhile, he busied himself with a whole host of activities. He maintained contact with his old service through the RMFVR (Royal Marine Forces Volunteer Reserve), was secretary to or chairman of a bewildering variety of international committees all of which expressed aspects of his interests in European defence, Anglo-American relations, and Africa. All the while he wrote voluminously and elegantly, inspiring his supporters and (greatly to his pleasure), angering all who opposed him. Publications included the Royal Marine Pocket Book (1944), Defence Policy (1969), The Indian Ocean and the Threat to the West (1975) and Southern Oceans and the Security of the Free World (1977). When he was knighted in 1981, he felt that his political career was coming to an end, and in 1987 he retired from the House of Commons.

Patrick Wall was a man of the right, but never of the unthinking right - indeed in 1970 he resigned from the Monday Club on the grounds that its members were incapable of the serious thought their policies required. For myself, I never read anything by him, nor had any conversation with him, from which I did not learn a great deal. There are, I know, many on all sides of the political divide who would attest to the same.

Patrick Cosgrave

In British politics, people are all too often assigned to boxes with labels, writes Tam Dalyell. Extreme right-winger. Ferocious anti-Communist. Generally anti-immigration. Fervently for capital punishment. Stalwart of the Monday Club.

None of these assignations was exactly inaccurate about Patrick Wall. But somehow they do not cumulatively present an accurate picture of a parliamentary colleague I knew well for 25 years and who, from the opposite end of the spectrum, participated with me in every defence debate and services estimate debate from 1962 to 1987. His contributions, always lengthy, were not resented on that account, because they were serious and full of informed constructive content.

Brickbats across the floor can sometimes boomerang. Shortly after the election of the Labour government in 1964, one of my new colleagues, a left-winger, chided the previous speaker as being "the honourable member for Haltemprice and the Royal Marines". My colleague thought that he had wounded Patrick Wall. Afterwards, I hadn't the heart to explain to Wall, chuffed at what he took to be an extreme compliment, that it had not been so intended. Indeed, championing the Royal Marines was the top priority of Wall's parliamentary existence.

Time and again he returned to the problems of recruiting in the Marines. He saw it as a vicious circle which worked as follows. The teeth to tail figures of the Royal Marines were better than those of the Navy as a whole. This meant that a greater proportion of the men were employed on operational tasks and fewer at home in barracks, training establishments and other administrative tasks. This was largely due to the fact that the Marines had adopted the functional system, as opposed to the old home port system of the Royal Navy.

It was very satisfactory to have more men in the operational teeth than in the administrative tail but that led to increased disturbance and no assurance that when a man had finished his foreign service and come home he would be stationed near his home port, where probably his wife had established a home. So we had the vicious circle: more on operational tasks, more disturbance, less home service and inevitably fewer recruits.

The Marines were the Navy's handymen who, at short notice, could be turned into soldiers, sailors or parachute troops. But for Wall it had to be borne in mind that if so small a corps accept too many commitments it meant more foreign service, more disturbance and strain all round, which in turn would reflect on recruiting figures. Wall believed that the contented man was his service's best recruiter, and therefore detained the Commons at length as to how the lot of the marine could be improved.

His great friend Sir Patrick Duffy, the former Labour MP for Sheffield Attercliffe, like Wall a brave war hero, described to me their joint visit to the Marines in the Arctic during training: "I take my hat off to any man over the age of 60 who could go through the Arctic rigours in a way that Patrick Wall would subject himself, to be with his beloved Marines."

Patrick Henry Bligh Wall, politician and Marine officer: born 19 October 1916; commissioned in the Royal Marines 1935, Acting Major 1943, Major 1949; MC 1945; MP (Conservative) for Haltemprice Division of Hull 1954- 55, for Haltemprice Division of East Yorkshire 1955-83, for Beverley 1983- 87; Chairman, Monday Club 1978-80; Kt 1981; married 1953 Sheila Putnam (died 1983; one daughter); died Chichester, West Sussex 15 May 1998.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own