Sir Arthur Hockaday

Distinguished civil servant and energetic director of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
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The Independent Online

Arthur Hockaday was a distinguished senior civil servant in the Ministry of Defence and at Nato in testing times for the defence of the Western world. He was subsequently an energetic director of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and more recently made notable contributions to the ethical examination of defence issues, drawing on his career experience and a deep religious faith.



Arthur Patrick Hockaday, civil servant: born Plymouth 17 March 1926; Private Secretary to successive Ministers of Defence and Defence Secretaries 1962-65; Nato International staff 1965-69, Assistant Secretary-General for Defence Planning and Policy 1967-69; CMG 1969; Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence 1969-72, Deputy Under- Secretary of State 1973-76, Second Permanent Under-Secretary of State 1976-82; Under-Secretary, Cabinet Office 1972-73; CB 1975, KCB 1978; Secretary and Director-General, Commonwealth War Graves Commission 1982-89; married 1955 Peggy Prince (died 1998); died London 21 August 2004.



Arthur Hockaday was a distinguished senior civil servant in the Ministry of Defence and at Nato in testing times for the defence of the Western world. He was subsequently an energetic director of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and more recently made notable contributions to the ethical examination of defence issues, drawing on his career experience and a deep religious faith.

Arthur Patrick Hockaday was born on St Patrick's Day 1926 in the naval town of Plymouth, the elder son of William and Camilla Hockaday. His schooling at Merchant Taylors' in Hertfordshire was interrupted in 1940 by osteomyelitis, treated by the new sulphamonide drugs in Mount Vernon Hospital, where a fellow-patient was Maldwyn James, later a mining engineer, Welsh international rugby hooker and Hockaday's life-long friend.

Following family interests, he enlisted in the Royal Navy for his National Service, but found himself allocated as a "Bevin Boy". He served in the Welsh pits, on Maldwyn James's advice that they had taller tunnels, but his health problems curtailed his work underground.

As a classical Scholar at St John's College, Oxford, he graduated with a double First in Greats in 1949 and won a high place in the civil service entrance examination and chose to enter the Admiralty. His eagle eye, incisive mind and steady commitment to the task in hand were recognised in the successful negotiations to return the Simonstown naval base to South Africa and in the reshaping of the procurement structures of the Royal Navy.

In 1962 Hockaday was appointed Principal Private Secretary to the Minister of Defence, Sir Peter Thorneycroft, at the critical time of the amalgamation of the three service departments into a single ministry. Denis Healey, who became minister in the 1974 Labour government, records in his memoirs how he won his essential first battle with the bureaucracy to retain the services of Hockaday, of whom he had a high opinion.

In 1965 Hockaday was seconded to Nato and, when President Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from it, was promoted to succeed a Frenchman as Assistant Secretary-General for Defence Planning and Policy. His calm efficiency and diplomatic skill in that important post at a critical time of political and structural upheaval did much to ensure that the UK held it permanently thereafter.

In 1969 he was appointed CMG and returned to the MoD, where he was much involved in the early days of the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland, in which the Army was required to undertake a range of new and sensitive tasks in very difficult political circumstances. He served briefly in the Cabinet Office as head of the defence section, and in 1973 returned to the MoD on promotion to the key post of Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Policy and Programmes.

For the next three years, including the period of Labour's 1974 defence review, he had the lead responsibility for balancing the armed services' programme requirements, including their input to Nato, with budget constraints. He was appointed CB in 1975 and promoted to Second Permanent Secretary in 1976.

His six years in that post coincided with those of an awe-inspiring Permanent Secretary, Sir Frank Cooper, and the different abilities of each complemented the other's to make a formidable team. Hockaday's talent for engaging with people and issues in an enquiring and interested way made for close and easy friendships, and he had good relations with all three services as a member of their boards. He was advanced to KCB in 1978.

He left the civil service in 1982 on appointment as Director-General of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, where he put his heart into ensuring that our military cemeteries around the world are maintained to the highest standards. He was particularly conscious of the Commonwealth participation at Gallipoli and other First World War fronts, and he travelled extensively to foster contacts and secure help from governments and others. He radically reformed the commission's own organisation and finances and was proud to hear the many well-deserved tributes to the commission's work.

In recent years Arthur Hockaday was deeply involved in articles and discussions on the ethical issues raised by international defence affairs, such as nuclear deterrence, arms sales and the notion of a just war. He was chairman of the British Group of the Council on Christian Approaches to Defence and Disarmament for 10 years from 1989, and a well-known and respected figure in defence and religious circles.

Although small in build, he was a wiry bundle of energy and excitement, and a keen fell-walker in the Lake District or when bagging Munros in the Highlands. Devoted to his former college and the Old Merchant Taylors' Society, of which he was a Vice-President, he was a regular attender at meetings and dinners, at which his company was eagerly anticipated and enjoyed. He was a rugby referee at a high level, a member of the London Referees' Society and an active Vice-President of the Civil Service Rugby Football Union.

Arthur was distinguished throughout his life by his sharp geniality: his enthusiasm and Christian sympathy made him a pleasure to be with, but his original and challenging perceptions, keen intellect and high standards kept his companions on their toes.

He married in 1955 Peggy Prince, an Admiralty colleague, whom he looked after in infirmity before her death in 1998. They had no children, but he was a devoted uncle to two nieces and a nephew.

Michael Partridge

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