HL Deb 05 May 1955 vol 192 cc807-12

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, the sad honour has fallen to me, in the absence of my noble friend the Leader of the House, to pay tribute to the memory of a distinguished Member of this House who has just died, full of honour and of years. No words of mine could adorn the late Lord Gowrie's life. The tale of it reads like a story from a modern chronicle of the Knights of the Round Table. His record as a soldier was one of matchless courage and devotion to duty. He won his Victoria Cross with a deed of spectacular bravery when serving with the Camel Corps in the Sudan at the close of the last century: the record says, for snatching a wounded Egyptian officer away from advancing dervishes and carrying him to safety. It was the first time that a Militia officer had won this coveted decoration. He was three times mentioned in despatches during the same campaign. He served his country again during the First World War, both in France and at Gallipoli, and was severely wounded and awarded the D.S.O. and Bar; added to which he was mentioned in despatches no fewer than five times.

After this wonderful career on active service, he was appointed in 1928 to the Governorship of South Australia, where he was held in the highest esteem. When he and Lady Gowrie left for the United Kingdom in 1934 there were quite remarkable demonstrations of the affection in which they had been held. He was at home for only a short time, for a few months afterwards he became Governor of New South Wales; and he was appointed Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1935, in that office presiding over Australia's immense war effort for almost the whole of the Second World War. He left Australia, publicly hailed as a beloved Governor-General. When he relinquished this appointment and returned home, this did not mean retirement, for he then became the Deputy-Constable and Lieutenant-Governor of Windsor Castle. He took much pleasure in welcoming to his very distinguished home there many Australian visitors and friends, and it was very appropriate that in 1948, when he was President of the M.C.C., he welcomed the visiting Australian team and made a presentation to their captain, Don Bradman.

His life story is one to inspire and ennoble the aspirations of young people of our great Commonwealth which so largely depends upon the devotion and service of men and women of outstanding capacity and unquestionable integrity. Indeed, Lord Gowrie had everything—looks, courage, ability, and the noble simplicity of a Christian gentleman. Success could not spoil such a character. He loved his fellow men; he enjoyed their company; and, quite naturally, they returned it all, and loved him. Above all, he was fortunate in the happiness of his home life, though it was clouded by the death from wounds in action of his eldest and only surviving son in 1942. My Lords, the nation mourns a brave soldier and a shining example to us all of what is meant by a public servant. To his devoted widow, after nearly fifty years of happy partnership, and to his grandson, a boy at Eton, who succeeds him, I am sure all your Lordships will wish to send their deepest sympathy.

3.16 p.m.


My Lords, it seems to me fitting that, before this Parliament comes to its end, we should pay tribute to the memory of one of our most beloved Members, and bear witness to the loss we have sustained by his recent death. The military service of the late Lord Gowrie was indeed pre-eminent. Those who served with him can speak of his almost legendary courage, which was such an inspiration to the men he led. But it is not merely, or indeed mainly, as a soldier that we think of him to-day. He went out to Australia in the first place, I believe, as Military Secretary. In due course he became Governor of South Australia. He was appointed Governor of New South Wales, and finally became Governor-General of the Australian Commonwealth. Never was a man more ideally fitted for the rôle he had to play. Australians are, I think, somewhat discriminating people, slow, perhaps, to give their affection; but, when once given, that affection is unswerving and unbounded. So it was in the case of Lord Gowrie. I should doubt if in all her long history Australia ever had a Governor-General more dearly and universally loved.

To what was this success due? He was essentially a modest man, inclined rather to underrate his undoubted abilities; but he was a great diplomat, always willing to listen to other people, always sympathetic to other people's troubles, always doing his utmost to bring them to a happy solution, and always inspiring those with whom he came in contact with his own simple idealism. No one who knew him could doubt for one moment his complete honesty of purpose and his utter unselfishness. His retirement, so long as good health prevailed, was very happy. I had the privilege of seeing him from time to time at his house at Windsor when he was Deputy-Constable of the Castle, and I can bear out what the noble Viscount has said, for I always found it to be a happy meeting place for any Australians who were visiting this country. They were always welcome, and he dearly loved to entertain them. He often told me that he appreciated the honour and distinction of being made President of the M.C.C., and this appointment was in itself a striking tribute to the regard and affection which was so universally felt for him. In everything that he did he was most splendidly assisted by his gracious lady, to whom our hearts turn to-day in deep and respectful sympathy.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, I desire to associate the Liberal Peers with the tributes that have been paid to the distinguished Commonwealth servant whose memory we are honouring this afternoon. I have one, and only one, qualification for the task, and that is that in the winter of 1943–44 I went on an official mission to Australia and was therefore in that country during the closing weeks—I think they may properly be termed the climax—of Lord Gowrie's long and distinguished period of service as Governor-General. It was a heartening experience to see what a hold he had acquired over the hearts and minds of the people of Australia, and to discover the qualities of character, of understanding and of friendliness that had given him so secure a place in their affections.

It was not an easy moment. Australia, like the rest of the Commonwealth, had been fully committed to the war from the outset. Her troops had been sent to fight in distant theatres of war. Her industrial and financial resources were strained to the utmost. Then Japan entered the war, and very quickly Australia's own territory was itself threatened—and, indeed, under fire. The nearest available help was in the United States. General MacArthur was welcomed as a saviour at Melbourne, and after the honeymoon period was over he took up his quarters in Brisbane. In 1943 Australia had to face and resolve at home all the inevitable difficulties of an alliance and the presence of large numbers of troops from another country. These are times that demand wisdom and forbearance.

No man was better fitted for that task than Lord Gowrie, by his personal qualities, by his long tradition in Governorship and by his deep understanding of the people of Australia. By general consent, he did a superb job during those two difficult years in the double task of maintaining the confidence and good will of the American authorities while preserving to the full the traditional good relations with the Mother Country. When he left, the Sydney Morning Herald said of him that the South Australians who welcomed Lord Gowrie in 1928 as their Governor perceived in him qualities that inspired instant trust and liking, and ultimately came to regard him as the pattern of the King's representatives in the Dominions. Since then their judgment has been endorsed by the people of the whole Commonwealth. The Melbourne Agesaid of him: Lord Gowrie's name has become a synonym for dignity, distinction and eminent service. In appealing to Parliament for less immersion in Party aims and more thought for the national good, the Governor-General expressed the hopes of countless Australians. People in foreign countries who admire, and sometimes envy, the stability and poise of the British Commonwealth often ask what is the formula that holds it together. It is difficult to give a short answer, but high among the causes which will ensure, as I believe, its permanent survival I would put great Commonwealth servants like Lord Gowrie, who by their life and work create and foster, under the Crown, confidence and mutual understanding; for that is the cement which holds these scattered people together. There are few more important contributions that a man could make to the well-being of humanity than this.


My Lords, I should like to add one or two words to the tributes which have been so well and so fittingly paid to Lord Gowrie, a greatly loved Governor-General, a very gallant soldier and a great gentleman. Anyone who has travelled widely in Australia will find that in every State, in town and country, the names of Lord and Lady Gowrie are household words. Lord Gowrie is remembered up and down the whole of that continent, not only as an outstanding Governor-General but as a personal friend. Almost everywhere I went in Australia I met men and women who had been guests of Lord and Lady Gowrie in this country. There must be thousands of Australians who made their pilgrimage to Windsor, and they received always a warm welcome at the Norman Tower. Lord Gowrie's name will be forever green in Australia. At Lord Gowrie's age, in the words which were used by Sir Winston Churchill of another great public servant, "Death comes as a respectful friend"; but to-day the sympathy of countless friends, both in Australia and here, goes out to Lady Gowrie, the untiring partner with him in all his great career.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will allow me to add a few words in tribute to Lord Gowrie, because I had the honour to serve as his A.D.C. during the short period when he was Governor of New South Wales. Never in the whole of my life have I come across a happier household than that of Lord and Lady Gowrie. We on their staff felt that we were indeed part of their family. Whether it was a formal social occasion or one of the rare occasions when a Governor gets a little relaxation, he was always kind and courteous to his staff. I remember particularly many happy afternoons on the golf course with him, and I am proud to say that I was present when he did a hole in one. He had a wonderful sense of humour and so had his dear wife, Lady Gowrie; together they made life very happy in their household. The noble and learned Earl opposite has said that Lord Gowrie was the finest Governor-General that Australia has ever had; and I entirely agree. I am proud to have served him during a short part of his Viceregal career.