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Flight Lieutenant Ian Samuel

Flight Lieutenant Ian Samuel

 Born: August 20th 1915, Colchester. Died: December 26th 2010 Age 95.

Served with RAF Coastal Command during the Second World War before embarking on a diplomatic career in which he was a trusted adviser to two Foreign Secretaries.

Adrian Christopher Ian Samuel, educated at Rugby and St John’s College, Oxford, where he read Modern Languages. Deciding on a career in the Foreign Service, he learnt Arabic to add to his French, German, Spanish and Turkish; his first postings were to Beirut, Tunis and Trieste.

The war interrupted his progress, and in July 1940 he enlisted in the RAF Volunteer Reserve to train as a pilot, later joining No 206 Squadron in its anti-submarine operations over the North Atlantic.

On March 27 1943, Samuel was captain of a Fortress on a patrol 200 miles west of the Hebrides when a U-boat was spotted three miles away. Despite heavy anti-aircraft fire from the surfaced submarine, he dived from 2,000ft and dropped depth charges. His rear gunner saw the U-boat heel over and submerge. Then, as Samuel circled above, the submarine reappeared with its bows at an acute angle. He attacked again, and U-169, which had left Kiel to join a Seewolf group, sank vertically with all hands.

Soon afterwards Samuel converted to the Liberator, and in June he was escorting an Atlantic convoy when he was forced to ditch. He managed to land close to a destroyer, and he and his crew were soon picked up.

After serving for 15 months at Headquarters Coastal Command, in November 1944 he was released from the RAF as a flight lieutenant to return to duties with the Foreign Service.

Samuel had spells at the embassies in Turkey, Egypt and Syria – recalling that, while in Damascus, he stayed up drinking one night with Kim Philby, who lamented (entirely cynically, as his later unmasking as a Soviet spy would prove) the loss of British operatives behind Soviet lines.

In 1956 Samuel returned to the Middle East department in London and three years later was appointed Principal Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary, Selwyn Lloyd, and then to his successor, Sir Alec Douglas-Home.

He accompanied both ministers on trips to Washington DC, staying at John F Kennedy’s White House in 1961.

It was a difficult period for Anglo-American relations, with Macmillan’s administration split over whether or not to share British nuclear secrets with the French, thereby helping Britain’s entry into the Common Market.

Samuel warned the Prime Minister’s office that encouraging French ambitions to become an independent nuclear power risked annoying the United States.

In the end the British went ahead, but ultimately failed to win over de Gaulle and succeeded only in irritating the Americans.

In 1963 Samuel embarked on a two-year posting as minister at the embassy in Madrid, after which he left the Foreign Service.

He then started a new career representing various industries in their dealings with foreign governments and international organisations.

He was also director of two British trade associations in the chemical and agrochemical fields.

A man who enjoyed good food, good wine and genial company, Samuel was a popular member of the Garrick club.

He suffered an unfortunate setback when, after winning a wine tasting competition, he lost much of his ability to taste and smell.

These senses only partially returned over the years; in 1987 he wrote an article for The Spectator, “A Taste of Ashes”, in which he described the experience.

In retirement Samuel published An Astonishing Fellow, a biography of General Sir Robert Wilson (1777-1849).

Samuel enjoyed reading, music and the theatre, and was a keen and competitive sportsman, playing hockey, cricket, tennis and golf. He also shot and skied and sailed his boat, Donna Sol, on The Solent.

He was appointed CMG in 1959 and CVO in 1963.

He married, in 1942, Sheila Barrett, who survives him with their three sons and a daughter.


Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.

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 • Last Modified: 01 January 2014, 00:00