Obituary: Dick Duffield

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The Independent Online
Sometimes one can imagine one knows a man well, and then discover by chance that modesty has kept hidden an entire sector of his life. For two decades, 1962-82, I had a working and friendly relationship with Dick Duffield in his capacity as joint manager of the West Lothian Co-operative Society. Prompted only by the Falklands War, and inevitable talk of the role of submariners, did Duffield reveal that for two years he had himself been a submariner in the most perilous of conditions.

With little of the sophisticated equipment of the 1980s, Duffield and his mates had risked their lives, time and again, on active service off the Norwegian coast, and in the icy waters of the Arctic, in defence of the convoys carrying vital supplies to Murmansk. As he wryly observed to me, "Yes, life in a submarine off the North Cape in wartime conditions does put the trials and tribulations - real though they are - of managing branches of the Co-operative Wholesale Society into perspective!"

Dick Duffield was born in South Normanton in Derbyshire, into a family working in the retail trade, and attended Normanton Parish School. Volunteering for the Navy in 1941, as soon as he was eligible, he saw service in destroyers in the Mediterranean, Gibraltar, and off the West African coast, in the protection of the landings of the First Army.

Lithe and small of stature, Duffield volunteered for the demanding and dangerous life of a submariner in the spring of 1943. He joined an old American-built submarine, H44, as signalman to the commander, Lt (now Lt-Cdr) Rawdon Bannar-Martin DSC.

When Bannar-Martin was posted in June 1943, as the first captain of the newly-commissioned 545-ton HMS Viking, built by Vickers Armstrong at Barrow, he asked for Duffield to go with him. The "V" class submarines were 200 feet by 16 feet; they were armed with one three-inch "pop" gun, and four torpedo-tubes, with 16 torpedoes in all.

Commander Bannar-Martin recollects: "Dick was a damn good chap. He gave totally loyal and very efficient service in Viking from June 1943 until May 1945. Despite severe bouts of sea-sickness, he was ever determined to receive and tap out his signals". (Charlie Askew, a fellow crew member on the Viking, said of him: "Typical signalman. Ordered us all around. But we adored him.")

Bannar-Martin told me that commander and signalman had a special relationship in submarines of that era, since one opened the hatch, and the other immediately followed.

The naval historian Captain S.W. Roskill in the third volume of his great history The War at Sea (1961), records that on 14 October 1943, Viking sank a 1,300-ton ship (The Standard) in a convoy which she encountered off Bodo, south of Narvik, but in the Arctic Circle. Three years earlier, it was up the Bodo fjord that the 30,600-ton battleship Warspite had gone during the evacuation from Narvik.

Conscious that the German escorts might well have sunk Viking with depth- charges, Duffield remained full of compassion for any sailor, German or of other nationality, catapulted into the sea.

During a brief stay at the Campbelltown base in Argyllshire in December 1943, Duffield married Wren Jenny McNish, who was based in Machrihanish at the time; they were to be extremely happily married and supportive to one another for 54 years.

While Duffield recovered from a motor-bike accident shortly after being demobbed, she returned to service on the Keir estate at Thornhill, Dumfriesshire.

Recovered, Duffield got a job with the Co-op in Dumfries, being promoted to Thomas Carlyle's village at Ecclefechan, and then the highest village in Scotland, Warnlockhead, with its unique (and well-preserved) lead-miners' library.

Duffield steeped himself in local history, wherever he worked, and like many dedicated people in the Co-op Movement of the day, he was widely and well read.

Promoted as manager in Carstairs, he came to Broxburn, the heart of the shale- oil industry, in 1962. Working in harmonious tandem with the late George Brown, manager of the Bathgate Co-op Society, I witnessed at first hand how Duffield and his partner revived an ailing organisation, and enthused a down-hearted staff.

He led by example of hard work and care for the customer. Such dedication is a massive service to a community such as West Lothian.

In retirement, Duffield devoted much time to helping organise the Submariner and Comrades Association.

One of his last successes was to see a stone memorial erected, and a joint service held in memory of HMS Untamed, built in 1942 by Vickers Armstrong on the Tyne, as P58, and sunk while on trials with all hands (later salved and renamed Vitality); and HMS Vandal, ex P64, sister-ship of Viking, wrecked mysteriously in the Firth of Clyde in 1943.

Tam Dalyell

Richard Arthur Duffield, submariner signalman, grocer: born South Normanton, Derbyshire 21 October 1923; joint manager, West Lothian Co-operative Society 1963-88; married 1943 Janet McNish (two sons, two daughters); died Livingston, West Lothian 20 June 1997.

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