My Grandfather, Oliver Kemp, was born in 1916 and raised in Stanley, Wakefield, as part of a mining family. His father, Walter, was forced into retirement after breaking his pelvis while working down the pit, an event that no doubt ensured that neither Oliver nor his older brother, Albert, chose to follow that particular career. While Albert entered teaching, and ultimately became a headmaster, Oliver was unusual in that, despite his background, he won a scholarship to Oxford University, after leaving Wakefield Grammar which he attended between 1927 and 1935. At Oxford he studied Classics, which included Latin, Greek and ancient history. He was a proficient linguist, and despite not studying in the Department, won a “German language” competition, for which the prize was a trip to Germany, just before the outbreak of the war. However, despite his academic capabilities, his first love was for music. He was an accomplished classical pianist, having played the piano since the age of 5 or 6, and later tutored by the Yorkshire based and world famous Fanny Waterman. Schumann was one of his favourite composers. What might have been a career in music, however, was ended at the start of the war when he was enlisted into the East Yorkshire Regiment. During the war he fought in the Western Desert and Middle East campaign against Rommel, the Desert Fox, and the Afrika Corps, where it was, “so hot you could fry an egg on the bonnet of a car”, and gained the rank of Captain. Towards the end of the war he was promoted to Major, after being posted to Bletchley Park where he worked in Block D, Hut 3. Operations in Hut 3 developed with a vast increase in information traffic after the fall of France, and focused on intelligence analysis of the decrypted army/air force material. Bletchley Park shaped developments in the Cold War era, and at the end of the war Block D activities played a critical role in preparations for D-Day (e.g. Double Cross operation of misinformation and turning spies).
After the war, Oliver joined the Foreign Service (1945) and gained the experience on which these memoirs are based. They were written over many years, but finalised in the early to mid- 1980s, and provide retrospection of his career, and the many postings he secured with his wife, Henrietta (née Taylor from Portobello in Wakefield, married in Wakefield in 1940). Their first posting was to Moscow in 1946, where, according to the account of another Foreign Office employee (J.P. Waterfield) Oliver was the 2nd secretary in the Chancery and, “Small, untidy, moustached, with a strong Yorkshire accent and garrulous….. But he had a good heart”. According to this account, Oliver “had an astonishingly varied career in the most remote and difficult situations which the unkind Personnel Dept. could find, including being Ambassador to Togo [1962-1965] and to Outer Mongolia [1967-1968]”. In addition, he served in Egypt, Indonesia, the Yemen (Charge d’Affaires 1957-58), Laos (Head of Chancery, 1958-60), and Luxembourg (Deputy Head of the UK Delegation to the European Communities, 1965-67). What follows is Oliver’s account of his and Henrietta’s experiences during these postings, providing a narrative that ranges from interesting descriptions of the life of the people of the countries they visited, to their duties as representatives of the Foreign Office under the shadow of the Cold War, and personal observations of the everyday challenges they faced, including creating gardens and protecting piano’s under difficult climatic and environmental conditions. These memoirs are followed by a series of short stories, intended to describe the more humorous elements of their experiences. Often with names changed, they present amusing details of the trials and tribulations of various activities, including golf, gardening and the diplomats most important of engagements, hosting dinner parties. Throughout their story that describes life in the far flung and fascinating regions of the world to where they were posted, there is frequent reference to Yorkshire, their home and place to which they returned to retire and spend the remainder of their days.