Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Disconsolate on the pavement

On the day that a future Prime Minister was writing in his diary about Churchill’s General Election victory (see below - We are in easily), Evelyn Shuckburgh, a career diplomat and future ambassador, was doing the same. ‘Just as I was shaking hands with [Herbert Morrison, outgoing Foreign Secretary], he was recognized by the crowd, who booed him the whole way down Downing Street; they had come, of course, to see the new men, not the old. I felt very sorry about this but assumed politicians are used to this kind of thing. I, on the contrary, was disconsolate on the pavement.’ Earlier that year, Shuckburgh had been appointed Principal Private Secretary to Morrison, a position he then retained with the new Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden. Some 30 years later, Shuckburgh would publish his diaries under the title Descent to Suez.

Charles Arthur Evelyn Shuckburgh, born in London in 1909 to an aristocratic family, was educated at Winchester and King’s College, Cambridge. He joined the diplomatic service in 1933 with postings in Egypt and Canada. He married Nancy Brett in 1937 and they had three children. For most of the Second World War he was Charge d’Affaires in Argentina, but after the war he was posted to Prague as First Secretary before returning to London and the Foreign Office as Head of the South American and, later, the Western Department.

In 1951, Shuckburgh was appointed Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, then Herbert Morrison. Later that year, Churchill won a General Election and appointed Anthony Eden as Foreign Secretary. During the three years that followed, Eden and Shuckburgh were involved in the post-war reorganisation of Western Europe which led up to the creation of the Common Market, as well as in making an agreement with Egypt over the withdrawal of British forces from the Suez Canal Zone. 

Subsequently, after a period at the Imperial Defence College, Shuckburgh served at the headquarters of NATO in Paris, in 1958, as Assistant Secretary-General. He was British Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Council from 1962 to 1966, and, finally, Ambassador to Italy from 1966 to 1969. After retiring, he became involved with both the National Trust and the Red Cross. He died in 1994. Further information is available from Wikipedia, as well as obituaries in The New York Times and The Independent.

Shuckburgh kept detailed diaries from 1951 until his retirement in 1969. According to Archives Hub, ‘The diaries give a vivid impression of the inner workings of the Foreign Office, and later, of NATO, including descriptions of international conferences, working with politicians, and of the life of a diplomat abroad, as a junior member of staff, and as Ambassador. [. . The] diaries offer valuable comment on Eden’s character and achievements, offering an eyewitness account of events leading up to the Suez crisis in 1956 and of British Middle Eastern policy in the decades after the Second World War.’ Extracts from the diaries - focused on the events that led up to the Suez crisis - were published in 1986 as Descent to Suez: Diaries, 1951-1956 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1986). The full US edition can be freely borrowed online at Internet Archive.

In his introduction Shuckburgh says: ‘The diaries which form the substance of this book cover the period from the autumn of 1951, when I was appointed Principal Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, to December 1956, the morrow of the Suez debacle. For the first three years - to May 1954 - I was Anthony Eden’s closest diplomatic assistant and for two years after that Under-Secretary in charge of Middle East Affairs at the Foreign Office. I was released from the Foreign Office on 20 June 1956, to become Senior Civilian Instructor at the Imperial Defence College. By that time, as the reader will not fail to notice, I was badly in need of a rest. The diaries fall naturally into these two parts, though certain themes run through them both: the relationship with Eden, for example, and his relations with Churchill, the defence of Britain’s interests in the Middle East and the search for a Palestine settlement. Taken together, they offer a sidelight on the events which led to the Suez tragedy of 1956 and this justifies the title which I have given them here - Descent to Suez. They were not intended to be a continuous account of events. I had no clear idea why I was keeping a diary at all, unless it was to interest my wife (for many of the entries took the form of letters home) or just to let off steam. I do know that, in the later stages especially, the thought of being able to write about it all in private before I went to bed was a consolation for the daily stresses of the job.’

Here are the first two entries in the American edition.

26 October 1951
‘By 3 o’clock in the afternoon it was clear that the Conservatives would probably have a majority, though it would be a very small one, and we all assumed that the weekend might be spent in discussion as to whether Mr Churchill would form a Government at once or whether there might be some delay. The Secretary of State (Morrison) came back from his constituency to No. 11 at about 5 but showed no inclination to come to the Foreign Office. I went over to get a decision from him about expelling some Italian Communists from Libya but he (rightly) would not take responsibility for this in view of his knowledge that the Government were almost certainly defeated. He said that if there were any delay in the appointment of a new Foreign Secretary, he would take the decision on Monday.

Half an hour later we were informed by No. 10 that Mr Attlee had resigned and Mr Churchill had been invited to form a Government; also that the King would hold a Council the following morning at 10.30 to swear in new Ministers. It was therefore clear to me that there was a risk that a new Foreign Secretary might walk into the Foreign Office during the course of the next morning. Meanwhile Mr Morrison had gone to Miss Donald’s flat announcing that he would go straight home to bed and did not wish to be woken before lunchtime on Saturday.

Obviously, therefore, I had to get him back and had a painful half-hour at No. 11 in which I stripped him of his Foreign Office key, box, and pass and obtained authority to send over the seals to Buckingham Palace. He was plainly feeling very deflated and very tired. He asked whether it was constitutionally right of me to take away his keys, etc., before the new Foreign Secretary had been announced. I said, ‘no’; he remained Foreign Secretary until his seals had been handed over the following morning. But, as he wished to sleep the following morning, I had to perform the operation tonight. He accepted this and was very friendly about me. He is clearly disappointed at leaving the Foreign Office just when the job is beginning to intrigue him. I accompanied him downstairs and through the communicating door into No. 10 and out through the front door into his car. Just as I was shaking hands with him, he was recognized by the crowd, who booed him the whole way down Downing Street; they had come, of course, to see the new men, not the old. I felt very sorry about this but assumed politicians are used to this kind of thing. I, on the contrary, was disconsolate on the pavement.’

27 October 1951
‘We learned from No. 10 this morning that Mr Eden was the Prime Minister’s appointment for Foreign Secretary and, although the King’s approval had not yet been obtained, I got in touch with his secretary, Mrs Maltby, at 4 Chesterfield Street and offered my services. He at once invited me to join Sir William Strang and Jim Bowker at lunch with him. He also said that he would like to come into the Foreign Office after the Council (postponed till 3 p.m.) and hoped Mr Morrison would agree to this. We did not wake the latter up until 12.15 but he of course agreed, and it was arranged that he would come and see the new Secretary of State on Monday.

When Strang, Bowker and I arrived at 4 Chesterfield Street, we found Eden having a heated telephone conversation about whether or not he was to be described as Deputy Prime Minister in the forthcoming announcement of the new Government. We thought he was talking to Winston. He was protesting strongly that he had been promised this title, that Attlee had had it during the war and Morrison in the recent Government and he did not see why he should not have it, and that it would give him the authority he needed over his colleagues. He did not seem to be getting very far and eventually said he was thoroughly unsatisfied with the situation. There was a pause and Winston came to the ’phone. At once he agreed and there was a great deal of ‘thank you, dear’. Eden then told us that it had been Norman Brook (Secretary to the Cabinet) and the King’s Private 

Secretary (Lascelles) who had been arguing against the appointment. They had alleged that it was an infringement of the King’s prerogative that a man should be named Deputy Prime Minister; the King was free to choose whoever he liked to succeed a PM. William Strang told Eden he thought he was perfectly justified in insisting.’

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