Obituaries : Sir Arthur de la Mare
Saturday 31 December 1994
-70; Ambassador to Thailand 1970-73; KCVO 1972; married 1940 Elisabeth Sherwood (died 1992; three daughters); died Jersey 15 December 1994.
Arthur de la Mare was one of a group of four young Jerseymen who entered the Diplomatic Service, as it in time became, just before or shortly after the Second World War and who all rose to become ambassadors with knighthoods. What distinguished de la Mare from the other three was that he was born into a family owning a smallholding in the north of the island, where he grew up taking his place in the family team and assuming that his life, like those of his father and ancestors, would be directed to continuing the traditional family practices in that most beautiful corner of the island.
Dis aliter visum. The headmaster of his local school spotted that his ability was above the average and put him in for a scholarship to Victoria College, the local grammar school. Here he won all the French prizes on offer, followed by an open scholarship to Cambridge, a First in Medieval and Modern French and an appointment as a probationer in the Consular Service.
In those days the Consular Service, which merged with the old Diplomatic Service to form the Foreign Service just after the war, attached great importance to assuring a regular supply of officers trained in "hard" foreign languages and new entrants were offered the choice of the language they should take. De la Mare opted to go to Tokyo, a choice which largely determined the pattern of his future career.
Before going up to Cambridge de la Mare followed what was then the common practice among candidates for the foreign services of attending language courses during the long vacation to improve their knowledge of modern languages. In 1935 de la Mare attended such a course in Santander, to sharpen up his Spanish. Among the others on his course was an American girl, to whom he became engaged. He was forbidden by the rules of his service from marrying until he had completed his probation. So when his probationary period was completed, while he was in Tokyo, his fiancee went out from California and they were married in the Embassy. I have heard her described by one who knew her well as "Betty Grable with brains". Certainly she took easily to diplo matic life and was a great support to him, particularly later in his career when he was Head of Mission.
De la Mare's career followed the usual pattern, alternating periods at home in the Foreign Office with periods abroad. He did not enjoy service in the FO, least of all his period as head of the Security Department, a job which threw him into frequent contact with the Secretary of State, George Brown, with whom, perhaps inevitably, he had frequent rows.
He was altogether happier in his last three foreign posts: Ambassador in Kabul, High Commissioner in Singapore, and finally Ambassador in Bangkok, where he was in his last year of service when the Queen paid a state visit.
De la Mare had never tired throughout his working life of expatiating on his love for Jersey and his regret (with tongue at least halfway in his cheek) that as a young man he had opted for the Consular Service rather than the family farm. So his friends assumed that once retired he would come back to his beloved island. It was therefore with real surprise that we learnt he had settled in the Thames Valley, and it was not till 1988 that he bought a home within a stone's throw of the family farm, now dilapidated and abandoned, and settled there with his wife Betty, who predeceased him.
Arthur de la Mare was really two personae in one person. The profound affection and pride which he felt in his Jersey ancestry led him at times to exaggerate the virtue and values of the system of which he was a product. He has recorded in his memoirs that when he found himself sent up as a young Vice-Consul from Tokyo to take temporary charge of the Consulate in Seoul he explained to visitors seeking advice that he had no consular experience whatever, "but that I was a Jerseyman and a farmer and that aJersey farmer was the best source of advice that you could get anywhere in the world."
It was, too, this same strain in his character that led him to be extravagantly and unreasonably critical of the British influence which was steadily - and inevitably - diluting the traditional culture of the island, and of the French and of all things French in general. But, while to the end of his life he liked to speculate, seriously or not, whether 60 years earlier he had chosen right in opting for the scholarship to Victoria College which opened to him the gates to the wider world, he gave every indication in his other persona of setting more store than many do on the trappings and titles which accompany high public office.
Some two years ago he suffered, by his own carelessness, a serious and most painful accident which left him crippled for the rest of his life. He bore this setback with outstanding fortitude and cheerfulness.
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