Obituary: Sir Bernard Ledwidge
Thursday 26 February 1998
Ledwidge spent the first 10 years of his career either in India or concerned with Indian affairs. After graduating with distinction at King's College, Cambridge, he joined the India Office in 1939 as an assistant principal. He went out to India, first in the Royal Artillery and then in the Indian Army, in which he served until the end of the Second World War. It was only in 1948 that, after returning to the India Office and acting for a time as private secretary to the Permanent Under-Secretary, he was first seconded to the newly established Commonwealth Relations Office and then transferred to the Foreign Service.
His first appointment in the service was as consul at St Louis, Missouri, but from the mid-Fifties onwards he gravitated towards the mainstream of Foreign Office posts. He was political adviser to the General Officer Commanding in Berlin at a critical period from 1956 to 1960 and he then became head of the Western Department of the Foreign Office, 1962-65, responsible for policy for the whole of Western Europe.
From there he went to Paris as minister (number two) in the Embassy, first under Patrick Reilly and later for one year under Christopher Soames. He was appointed ambassador to Finland in 1969, his first post as Head of Mission.
I first met Ledwidge when I took over from him as Head of the Western Department of the Foreign Office in 1965. I then followed him to Paris in 1967 and served with him there for two years until we both went off to our respective embassies. In his early fifties, he was a tall, heavy man with a somewhat ponderous manner and speech. His French, though good, was guttural to the point of being Teutonic. His manner was far from smooth, indeed rather on the rough side. But he had charm, wit and a formidable intellect. He was also something of a bon viveur (listing his hobbies as talking and drinking).
It came as a surprise to me and to many of Ledwidge's friends and colleagues when his first marriage broke up at the end of his time in Paris. His first wife, Anne, had been a loyal consort and was the mother of two attractive children. After his divorce he married Flora Groult, a well-known French writer who had distinguished herself in the Resistance, and it was she who accompanied him as ambassadress to Finland and after to his final post, Tel Aviv.
Ledwidge's career as a writer after his retirement from the Diplomatic Service was varied and also successful. His first book, Frontiers (1979), was a well-written novel based on his experience in India. He then embarked on something altogether different and very ambitious, a biography of de Gaulle, published in 1982, the first to be written in English. De Gaulle was an important book which drew on new documentary sources and comprises a full and well-judged assessment of the general's achievements. It was widely acclaimed, especially in France and in Canada.
A further less substantial book followed in 1984, De Gaulle et les Americains, written in French and based largely on US archives. Finally there was yet another kind of work (again in French): Sappho, la premiere voix de femme (1987).
In these literary activities Ledwidge was encouraged and assisted by his very talented second wife, Flora. They lived partly in Paris and partly in London and both continued writing until Ledwidge's health deteriorated seriously in the early Nineties.
At one time in his career Ledwidge may have felt aggrieved that, because of his belated entry into the Foreign Service, he had lagged behind others less able than himself. However I think the Foreign Office soon recognised his merits; he was rewarded at the end of his career with the important embassy to Israel, as well as a knighthood. He might perhaps have aspired to even more prestigious posts such as the Hague or even Bonn but others were judged more suitable.
Bernard Ledwidge could be justifiably proud of his achievements both in the public service and perhaps still more as a writer. His best book, De Gaulle, owed much of its merit to knowledge of the international scene derived from his own experience as a professional diplomat.
William Bernard John Ledwidge, diplomat and writer: born London 9 November 1915; Private Secretary to the Permanent Under-Secretary, India Office 1946; Secretary, Frontier Area Committee of Inquiry, Burma 1947; British Consul, St Louis 1949-52; First Secretary, Kabul 1952-56; Political Adviser, British Military Government, Berlin 1956-61; CMG 1964, KCMG 1974; Minister, Paris 1965-69; Ambassador to Finland 1969-72, to Israel 1972-75; Chairman, United Kingdom Committee for Unicef 1976-89; married 1948 Anne Kingsley (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1970), 1970 Flora Groult; died London 20 February 1998.
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