Obituary: Col Clive Harston

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Clive Harston, soldier and educationist, born Brough Cumberland 27 November 1912, King's African Rifles 1945-48, Instructor Imperial Ethiopian Army 1945-48, UK postings 1948-53, BAOR 1st Corps 1953- 56, Nato (Copenhagen) 1956-58, Director of Education Ship-School Dunera 1961-63, Director Church Schools Company 1963-77, married 1938 Kathleen Grace (one son, one daughter), died London 27 January 1993.

BRITISH India Steam Navigation Company's Ship-Schools, Dunera, Devonia, Nevasa and Uganda carried over one million 11/17-year- olds on fortnightly educational cruises between April 1961 and April 1982, when the Uganda was requisitioned to become a hospital ship in the Falklands war. Many of those now in their late twenties, thirties and forties had their first taste of going abroad when they went ashore from the dormitories of the converted troopships at ports such as Bergen, Copenhagen, Leningrad, Corunna and Iraklion. And many of them will recollect the tall, cheerful, authoritative figure of the first Director of Studies, Colonel Clive Harston. Like others who worked with him on board Dunera, the Captain, later Commodore Ben Rogers, the late Captain Ivan Bowerman, and on shore, the late John Sharpe, Tony Moores and John Rees, I regarded Harston with respect for his organisational capacity, and affection.

Harston's earliest years were spent at Brough in Cumbria, where his father was a mine and brickworks manager. The family moved to his mother's area of North Yorkshire, where her relations, the Bradleys of Ayton, were well respected in the prosperous farming community. Harston was sent as a boarder to the Cathedral School at Durham, a strict regime in which the Dean of Durham, 'Bunny' Welldon, took a deep interest. A slice of hardship and adversity at school was no bad thing, he would say. Harston always tried to be fair to pupils, but often reflected that an early discovery by pupils that life itself was unfair was a salutary experience.

At 16-and-a-half Harston, pretending to be 18, took himself to Kenya, the beginning of a lifelong relationship with East Africa. He found a job at a prep school, Kenton College, near Nairobi, returning to England in his early twenties to embark on a degree in Latin at Durham University. Here he met Kathleen Grace, great- niece of the cricketer, 'WG', and they were married at Nairobi Cathedral in 1958, the beginning of a happy 55-year marriage.

The Second World War intervened. Harston, already a reserve officer, joined the King's African Rifles. He saw action in the successful eviction of the Italians from Somaliland and Eritrea in 1940, and Ethiopia in 1941. His regiment, as part of the 11th East African Division, was despatched to defend Burma, against the hitherto all-conquering Japanese Army. Whenever some difficulty arose on the Dunera, Harston would say to me, 'If I could cope with the monsoon in the Kabaw Valley, while fighting alongside the rest of the 14th Army, I can manage this difficulty.'

In 15 months of working with Harston in experimental circumstances on board the Dunera, I never saw him rattled. The quality that he valued most in others was that elusive gift of 'leadership' - plenty of which he himself had had to display as a young man, leading African soldiers in fighting the Japanese.

At the end of the war, Harston, then a major in the King's African Rifles, went back to Ethiopia to train officers for the Emperor Haile Selassie.

From that charming and romantic Conservative MP, the late Colonel Neil Maclean, of whom it was said wryly that he spent more time in Ethiopia than in Westminster and his Inverness constituency combined, I learned that Harston had been outstanding, in his approach to Haile Selassie's officers. Indeed, Harston over lunch in the House of Commons in 1966 berated me for not taking an interest in Ethiopia, and predicted that that wonderful country would lapse into chaos, if the Imperial authority was eroded. He was all too prescient.

After tours of duty in BAOR, which were valuable to him later when Dunera frequently called at Kiel and Hamburg, Harston left the Army in 1958, after a course in education. His experience in tough schools in Notting Hill was invaluable, when he was chosen, on the advice of Dr Alec Hay, Chief Inspector in the Education Officers' Department at London County Council, as Dunera's first Director of Education.

As his Number Two, with particular responsibilities for making sure that some educational work was achieved in written form to take back to Local Education Authorities, and for discipline (no- nonsense]), I admired Harston's meticulous organisation, and his capacity to foresee and circumvent trouble. Truth to tell, Harston's military approach did not go down well with all teacher party- leaders, properly aware of their own status. But Harston was in his element, and quite superb with tough teenage boys.

In 1963, having helped significantly to give school-cruising in term-time a good start, Harston returned to Middlesex, as Director of Education for the Church Schools Company, which involved the administration of five girls' day schools. At Durham, he had been a chorister, and in his last job, and as Chairman of the Governors of Lady Eleanor Holles School, at Hampton in Middlesex, he encouraged the teaching of music as a central, not a peripheral, subject.

For the last eight years of his life, Harston fought against cancer, with nonchalant defiance. As soldier, educationist, and outstanding organiser of any project he undertook, Harston was a life- enhancer for others.

(Photograph omitted)