William Jeffrey Smith, KES 1927-34

William Jeffrey Smith died on 19 October 2011. William’s daughter, Jenifer Cross, has provided the following tribute:

William Jeffrey Smith CB died on 19th October 2011, a few days after celebrating his 95th birthday. Having come up to University College, Oxford, in 1935 with an Open Scholarship in History, he changed course to read PPE. He rowed for the college first eight, played soccer and, according to John Maud, held office in one of the “intellectual” clubs. He was the last-surviving member of a close trio of friends from King Edward VII who arrived together in 1935: Sidney Sentance, otherwise known as “Tubby” (Merton) and Horace Fletcher (Corpus). His son Timothy came up to University College in 1966.

William was born in 1916 in the toll house at Ringinglow, a village on the edge of the Peak District in Derbyshire, hills which gave him an enduring love of walking in the English countryside. The second oldest of a family of eight children, living in straitened circumstances, he was the first to go to University. He won an entrance scholarship to his grammar school at the age of eleven, and subsequent state and town trust scholarships, and the Founder’s Exhibition from his school, enabled him to take up the offer of a scholarship from Univ. in 1935.

William was employed from 1938–40 by the Calico Printers’ Association in Manchester. He enlisted in 1939 (before conscription) and saw active service with the Royal Artillery and promotion to Captain (York and Lancaster Regiment) in North Africa, Sicily and Italy from 1942–6. His return from the war was delayed by involvement as an Interpreter Officer in Italian and German and in closing a POW camp at Tuturano in southern Italy.

After the war, and Civil Service exams, he joined the Dominions Office, achieving an appointment in 1953 as First Secretary of the Office of the U.K. High Commissioner in South Africa, a post he held until 1956. His family retain vivid memories of adventures on the move, as the government transferred seasonally between Cape Town and Pretoria. Subsequently he worked mainly in the Commonwealth Relations Office, where he eschewed the offer of further far-flung postings in order to have a family life based in England. In 1964, when on secondment to the Department of Technical Co-operation, he headed the British Delegation to a meeting of the Executive Board of the United Nations Children's Fund in Bangkok. While working at the Ministry for Overseas Development, later the ODA, he was appointed in 1969 as the U.K Permanent Delegate to UNESCO in Paris, a post he held for four years.

He returned to Whitehall in January 1972 to act as Secretary to the Widgery Tribunal, the first official investigation into the events of “Bloody Sunday”. Typically, although well into his eighties, he did not shrink from giving evidence over three days in 2002 to the subsequent Saville Enquiry, his last contribution to public service. Later in 1972 he was appointed as an Under Secretary in the newly-formed Northern Ireland Office, under Willie Whitelaw, dealing with economic and social affairs. According to a former colleague “he gained the respect both of the British Ministers who found themselves responsible for a part of the United Kingdom of which they had known little and of the senior members of the Northern Ireland Civil Service who could easily have resented the loss of their almost independent policy-making role. He frequently travelled between London and Belfast by modes including antiquated RAF Andovers and equally antiquated passenger ferries from Heysham or Liverpool. He was a very civilised man, who believed that if those working for him had to stay for meetings long after normal office hours, they deserved a glass of sherry.”

William was made a CB in the 1976 Birthday Honours List.

A long and happy marriage to Marie (née Hughes) whom he had married in Oswestry in 1942, just ten days before going off to war, continued in retirement to Berkshire, giving him more time for his extended family. He became Treasurer to the PCC of St Andrew's Chaddleworth, a keen bell-ringer and a supporter of the Prayer Book Society, and he kept up his life-long enthusiasm for scrambling up hills, theatre, and literature. His sense of humour and his habit of writing in verse to his grandchildren is remembered with great affection. He is survived by his son Timothy, his daughter Jenifer and by five grandchildren.