“It’s deliberate Tory policy to create high unemployment to weaken the unions.” This was an unusual mantra for a retired lieutenant colonel, but my father, David Davies, who has died in September 2011 aged 93, was an unusual army officer. He was born in Yorkshire to the unlikely union of a coalmining, former Welsh rugby international, Howell Davies, and the daughter of a mill owner, Mary Wood. For a sport-obsessed young man at a time of high unemployment, the army offered opportunities for cricket and rugby, as well as travel, and he joined up in 1935.
David saw second world war service as a private in the the Royal Army Medical Corps, attached to the Desert Rats. He was shocked when, in the 1990s, he recognised a former soldier who had suffered severe burns, talking of his north African experiences on a documentary. David had administered what he thought at the time was futile first aid to the same man in 1941, before the soldier was transported back to field hospital. Now, here was the casualty, 50 years later, alive and well on television.
His outlook as a lifelong member of the Labour party was crystallised by his experiences in wartime, and he recalled a Welsh private delivering a lecture on the evils of capitalism from the back of an army canteen wagon, based on Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.
War demanded a more meritocratic approach to promotion, and David moved up the ranks quickly. He served on the Gold Coast of west Africa and was appointed MBE for his work in the development of the Ghanaian health system. Shortly afterwards he was commissioned.
During the 60s he kept his Labour party membership to himself, and some of the officers’ mess whisperings about Harold Wilson being a closet communist caused him a good deal of anger. He served in Germany, and his final posting in the 1970s was as admin officer of the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot. A career army man he may have been, but above all my father was a peaceable, gentle man who rarely raised his voice in anger.
He is survived by his partner of the last 13 years, Joyce Ovens; his sons, me and Russell, from his marriage to Bernice Graham, who died in 1989; and his grandsons, Max and Jacob.