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The Irish Hares are an off-shoot of the much older Hare family in Norfolk. They go back to a certain Michael Hare ‘of Monktown in County Dublin’, who had come to Ireland from Norfolk in the 17th Century, and died without issue in 1685, leaving a large fortune in a Will dated 1684 to his nephew John Hare, ‘a native of Norfolk’. There is evidence of the relationship between the Irish and the Norfolk Hares in [the] similarity between the family coat of arms, particularly in their shields, which can be traced back by the Norfolk branch of the family to the Norman family of D'Harcourt which is believed to have fought in the Crusades.
I was born in London at Wilton Crescent on September the 28th, 1906 almost within earshot of Bow Bells, the definition of a Cockney. The following notice appeared in the press the day after my birth.
There was born yesterday an heir to the Irish House of Hare in the person of the son of Viscount and Viscountess Ennismore. Lord Ennismore, who married Lord Derwent's grand-daughter only a year or so ago, is the eldest son of the Earl of Listowel. In addition to his Irish estates, Lord Listowel is the fortunate possessor of a fine, if not large, London property. It is situated near the Albert Hall, and close to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. It comprises Kingston House and Ennismore Gardens. There are scores, if not hundreds of houses on the estate, and probably not one yields a ground rent of less than one hundred pounds per annum, while some of the larger mansions produce hundreds a year in ground rents. It is to this property that the Earl of Listowel's grandson, born yesterday, is the ultimate heir, as well, of course, as to the Irish estates.
Although I had never been unhappy and in fact enjoyed my public school, the transition from public school to university was altogether delightful. There is a psychological uplift about being treated by adults as an equal instead of an inferior, as a rational being instead of a child, which no-one can understand who has not experienced it. I felt for the first time like a mature person, who could be persuaded by argument but not ordered about like a domestic pet. As my main interests at Eton had been history and philosophy, I decided to take my degree in what was then the new school of Modern Greats. This included the trinity of history, philosophy and economics, and covered much the same ground as is covered now by PPE. My tutor was Humphrey Sumner, who took what was thought to be the brightest of the new intake of undergraduates. No-one could have given a stronger visual impression of dedication to the true and the beautiful than Humphrey Sumner. His glowing eyes and parchment complexion suggested a reincarnation of Savonarola. To complete the picture he wore a flowing black cloak and a broad brimmed black hat. When you went in for a tutorial he was puffing his pipe and working indefatigably on an obscure period of Russian history. I saw him once again after I left Oxford. He descended on me one afternoon at Magdalene, Cambridge, and asked to be taken around the College and the Pepys Library. I did so with trepidation as I knew he would expect the expertise of a professional guide. I lost touch with him before he became Warden of All Souls, the crown of a great academic career.
My first visit in a parliamentary capacity to Republican Spain was in the autumn of 1934. I had heard on reliable authority that a rising of the miners in the Asturias had been suppressed with extreme brutality. The Spanish Foreign Legion had been brought over from Africa, and they had meted punishment on wives and families as well as on the militant miners. It was therefore suggested that Miss Ellen Wilkinson M.P. and I should go to Spain on a humanitarian mission, and to point out to the Spanish authorities that much harm was being done to our relations with Spain by the atrocity stories appearing in the British press.
When I decided to join the Army I thought I should first seek guidance as to how membership of the armed forces could be squared with my parliamentary duties. So I wrote to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Simon, better remembered as Foreign Secretary in the 1930's, to ask his advice. Lord Simon stated that: ‘[t]he same point arose, of course, in the last war and I remember the discussions about it when I was serving’; and summarised his views as follows:
The first point is I think, that a member of either House who joins the armed forces, must in the main be his own judge as to what is proper and appropriate. No-one can restrain a member for doing his full duty as a member of the legislature, and he is under no reproach for doing so. Of course if he offers to take active military service and is accepted this must be some restraint upon his political activities, but how much is I think, for him to say.
In the spring of 1944 I was asked to join an all party Parliamentary Delegation organised by the Empire Parliamentary Association to visit our opposite numbers in Australia and New Zealand. The object of the exercise was to strengthen Empire ties at the Parliamentary level. The delegation was to consist of British and Canadian Parliamentarians, who would be the guests of the Australian and New Zealand Parliaments. The British Delegation was led by a senior Conservative member of the House of Commons, Colonel Wickham, and, as I was the only representative from the Lords, I was asked to act as the Deputy Leader. This arrangement also helped to keep the balance between the parties.
I arrived home from Australia at the start of the summer recess. I was told that the Prime Minister could not see me until the House sat again in the autumn but that the only qualification that Churchill insisted on for his junior Ministers was that they had served at some time during the war in the Armed Forces. I was fortunately able to satisfy this requirement by my short period of service in the R.A.M.C and the Intelligence Corps.
I think we were all astonished by the result of the election in the autumn of 1945. Never before had the Labour Party won a clear majority of seats in the House of Commons. Churchill had gone to the electorate as the victorious war leader, far superior to a mere Party Leader, to whom the people of Britain owed more than to anyone else in the competing political parties. But the war had held up the progress of social reform and economic advance, and the men coming home from the front were looking for a new deal. This had been forecast in the vision of the future adumbrated by Sir William Beveridge in his famous Report on post-war society.
As a Junior Minister at the India Office, I joined as an observer the India and Burma Committee of the Cabinet under Attlee's chairmanship in autumn 1944. The agenda of our meetings was a mirror image of the conflict between Wavell, who had succeeded Linlithgow as Viceroy the previous year, and Churchill. He had been sent to India by Churchill as a professional soldier who would keep India quiet until the end of the war, without meddling in politics. It was intended as a strictly law and order job. It must have been a rude shock to the Prime Minister when he soon found out that this professional soldier, not only understood politics, but took a strong view about the immediate necessity for constitutional advance, without waiting for further progress until after the war.
The Japanese had given Burma ‘independence’ in August 1943 and appointed Ba Maw as Head of State, U Nu as Foreign Secretary, and General Aung San as Minister of Defence; after releasing them from jail where they had been put after the Japanese invasion in 1942. However, the Burmese resented the Japanese as much as the British and Aung San was biding his time before turning his Burmese National Army [BNA] against the Japanese.
My appointment to the Colonial Office, as the very first Minister of State, was a far better reward for me than the honours that had been showered on the Viceroy and many others after Indian independence. I was thankful to Attlee, not only for giving me another post in his Government, though outside the Cabinet, but particularly because it gave me a chance of doing something constructive about my concern for the inhabitants of the many dependencies whose lands we had taken in ‘the scramble for Colonies’ – the words are those of Lord Derby, Colonial Secretary in 1884.
The first intimation that I might be asked to go to Ghana as Governor General came in a 6d Air Letter hand-written by Kwame Nkrumah from the Prime Minister's Office in the Castle at Accra, and dated May 5th, 1957. There was something rather pleasantly informal about the use of the cheap Air Mail service for such an important communication. The letter, in green ink, read as follows:
My dear Lord Listowel,
It is the intention of the Government of Ghana to appoint the next Governor-General from the United Kingdom. I know the part you have played in the socialist struggle in Great Britain. I also know of your services as Chairman of the Fabian Colonial Bureau while I was in London during my student days. In these circumstances, I would be very pleased to know whether it would be possible for us to consider your name among those from whom we might choose a Governor-General. It would a privilege for Ghana if we were able, by appointing you, to honour the work which you did in the achievement of Indian Independence and which you have done in the cause of colonial freedom. As you will realise the matter is urgent and I should greatly appreciate an early reply.
Soon after I left Ghana I found myself with another and much more difficult and challenging assignment in Africa. This was a mission to Uganda to sort out the differences between the Kingdoms of Buganda and Bunyoro before the country became independent in October 1962.
The House of Lords when I took my seat shortly after my father's death of pneumonia in 1931 – which took place a few years before the discovery of penicillin and other antibiotics – was a very different place from what it has become over 60 years later.