Obituary: Admiral Sir David Hallifax
Thursday 27 August 1992
NOT TOO many years ago, a distinguished British diplomat commenting in his diary on the visit to his 'bailiwick' abroad of one of Her Majesty's ships with a senior flag officer embarked, noted that there was a certain 'sameness', a certain 'dullness', amongst admirals. David Hallifax was never dull. He did not, perhaps, 'stand out in a crowd'; he was not that sort of man. But he had few peers, either as a leader in command at sea or as a staff officer ashore and afloat.
However fraught the situation, however deep the differences of opinion that it was his task to resolve, Hallifax dealt with events in the same calm, thoughtful way that he conducted his life. His strong sense of humour, often rather puckish, was always to the fore - and always at the appropriate moment. His manner seemed almost hesitant at times, but he was never indecisive. He was a man of many parts. He had a deep love of the sea - and of sailing. He was a skilled carpenter. He was a craftsman of people - for his quiet, unobtrusive influence affected all with whom he came in close contact, and found its way personally and professionally through many strands of post-war naval life.
David Hallifax was born of a naval family. He joined the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth as a Special Entry Cadet in September 1945, just a few days before his 18th birthday. I did not know him during the early part of his career. He specialised in torpedo and anti-submarine warfare; and, as all lieutenants of that time, had the benefit of serving under those who had been schooled in the harsh realities of the Second World War and at a time when British fleets still sailed the oceans of the world. As a commander in 1964-65, he commanded HMS Agincourt, a Battle Class destroyer; and, as a captain in 1974-75, HMS Fife. Fife was a guided-missile destroyer; a ship that was a good deal larger, and vastly more complex than many of the Navy's pre-war cruisers. These very successful appointments provided the practical experience of command at sea which is so necessary for the effective discharge of the duties of a staff officer ashore.
Hallifax's appointments also included courses at the Army Staff College at Camberley, the Nato Defence College in Rome, and the Royal College of Defence Studies in London, of which he was later to be Commandant in his last appointment on the active list. These courses, backed by senior appointments in the Ministry of Defence, dealing both with defence policy and operational requirements provided the ideal background for his most important and successful appointments as a seagoing flag officer, as Chief of Staff to the Commander In Chief, Fleet in 1980-82 and as the Nato Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic in 1982-84.
He was well settled into the task of running the peacetime operations of the British Fleet from the Headquarters of the Commander in Chief at Northwood, in Middlesex, when in 1982 the Argentinians invaded the Falkland Islands. As is well known, Britain had no well- formed national war plans to meet such a contingency. War plans were linked to Nato - and Northwood, which was a combined national and Nato headquarters exercised regularly only in Nato war in the maritime field. It therefore fell to Hallifax as the Chief of Staff to organise, without warning, the staff for the command of a tri-service national operation to be carried out in the South Atlantic, some 7,000 miles away; and to get the fleet, with its logistic support, underway. This was an immense and complex task. At such times, there are bound to be great stresses. It is to the Chief of Staff that both the higher and lower echelons of command turn for counsel; and also in the moments of their inevitable deep frustrations.
This was Hallifax's great professional challenge. It was as if his whole career had been but a training ground for this moment. He was not in any way found wanting. The success of the operation was in part a measure of his own success - for which he was duly and rightly rewarded. In his subsequent two appointments in more relaxed surroundings, he was able to pass on his own experience to those who must continue to face the possible use of military force.
He retired from the active list in 1988, but continued to serve his Queen in his appointment as Governor of Windsor Castle. This presented new challenges, which David was happy and very well equipped to meet. It was here that he was struck down with the disease which was far too prematurely to end his life. Perhaps it took its first hold before many recognised that he was not well. He and his wife bore this final challenge with characteristic great courage and spirit.
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