Rear-Admiral Sir Morgan Morgan-Giles, who has died aged 98, was a naval officer highly-decorated in the war and went on to become a colourful Conservative MP for Winchester.
Source: The Telegraph
He was mentioned in despatches four times and, in September 1941, awarded the George Medal for “gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty” during bomb and mine disposal work while serving at HMS Nile, the naval base at Ras el-Tin Point, Alexandria. At the end of a war during which he was recruited by Fitzroy MacLean to run arms to Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia, Morgan-Giles was awarded a DSO for “courage, outstanding leadership and devotion to duty” – notably during an attack on the Croatian island of Lussino.
From 1964, on the benches at Westminster, such feats saw him greeted by affectionate Labour cries of “Send a gunboat”; the genial Morgan-Giles duly steamed into action with all guns blazing on behalf of his beloved Service. He condemned the decision to withdraw East of Suez “as a sop to the Left wing”; roundly advocated a British presence beside the Americans in Vietnam; and supported the construction of a fifth Polaris nuclear submarine.
Such views won him acclaim on the Tory back benches, but after the Conservative election victory in 1970 Edward Heath failed to offer him a junior post. Apart from cosmetic changes, Morgan-Giles found that Lord Carrington’s defence policy differed little from that of Labour, particularly after it had endorsed the scrapping of the aircraft carrier Eagle.
He was no less forthright when Labour resumed power four years later. While in hospital after a riding accident, he wrote to James Callaghan, the prime minister, of “the cold, silent, teeth-clenched fury” among servicemen about a pay review board which “did not seem to know, in blunt nautical language, whether it’s on its arse or elbow. A previous ‘Former Naval Person’ [Churchill] used to ask for and achieve ‘action this day’. Is there any reason why you cannot do the same?”
In lighter tone, he complained that Wrens only received threepence extra a day after four years’ good service: “That is not much to give a girl for saying ‘Yes, Sir’ all day and then ‘No, Sir’ all night.” Yet he opposed Wrens serving on warships because “woman’s eternal role is to create life and nurture it; a fighting man must be prepared to kill. Women do wonderful things to men but combat duty to defend us should not be one of them. Vive la difference.” As for homosexual law reform, this was “a queers’ charter”, he declared bluntly, and further evidence of Britain’s degeneration and loss of influence.
Morgan Charles Morgan-Giles was born plain Morgan Giles on June 19 1914, elder son of FC Giles, a racing yacht architect. Young Morgan’s earliest clear memory was of a small boat his father had built him while on sick leave from the Navy after the First World War. He was educated at Clifton, where he demonstrated his ability to work the system when he wanted to crew for his father in a sailing race but was told that he must attend a cricket match between Clifton and Tonbridge. After dutifully passing through the turnstile at Lord’s, the boy took the train down to Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, where father and son won the Prince of Wales Cup.
Joining the Navy at 18 under the public schools’ cadetship scheme, Morgan first sailed in the training cruiser Frobisher to the West Indies and the Baltic. He was then appointed to the Australian destroyer Voyager before serving in Cumberland, Suffolk and Cornwall on the China station before returning home to join the torpedo school at HMS Vernon.
After the declaration of war in 1939 Morgan-Giles was in the cruiser Arethusa when she covered the evacuation of Norway, and then took part in the attack on the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir .
He was next involved in an eccentric plan to launch fireships against German transports massing at Calais and Boulogne – which was abandoned – before being sent to coordinate mine disposal work in the Suez Canal. During six months at besieged Tobruk, he laid mines and landed guardsmen for special patrols. It was during this period in North Africa that he was awarded the GM.
After an encounter in Cairo with MacLean, who was liaising with Tito’s partisans, Morgan-Giles was posted to run arms supplies from Bari, on the Italian coast, to the Dalmatian island of Vis, 120 miles away. There he had responsibility not only for the incoming supplies but also for the co-ordination of commandos and motor gunboats which attacked the enemy at night – as well as liaising with Tito’s naval commander. The partisan leader made such an impression that Morgan-Giles named one of his horses “Broz”.
As the war in Europe ended Morgan-Giles was posted to the Far East. On leave in Australia, he married Pamela Bushell, a nurse whose later inheritance of £500,000 was to give him a security and freedom of action rare for naval officers. This also enabled her to join him with their six children on many postings when most other naval families would have stayed at home. “Yes. Morgan does have a wife in every port,” she would say. “And I am that wife.”
In 1947 he was sent on a joint Services staff course, then had two years in Trieste as naval liaison officer at the British Army headquarters in the disputed territory.
From 1950 to 1951 Morgan-Giles found himself commanding Chieftain in the First Destroyer Flotilla during the Persian oil crisis; he was next appointed captain of naval intelligence, Far East, and then of the Dartmouth training squadron. His final and proudest seagoing command was the cruiser Belfast, flagship of the Far East Fleet, though there was a slight cloud when two Chinese were found to have brought a large cache of drugs on board.
On being promoted rear-admiral and appointed president of the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, Morgan-Giles realised that further promotion was doubtful. He had already bought a house and a farm in Hampshire, and was musing that being an MP must be “a jolly good occupation for someone who has retired and has nothing else to do,” when Peter Smithers, the MP for Winchester, announced that he was stepping down.
The Admiralty warned that Morgan-Giles could not seek adoption as a serving officer and that, if he left only to be rejected, he could not expect to return to the Service. Nevertheless, in what he described as “a moment of madness”, Morgan-Giles handed in his resignation to the Ministry of Defence, having performed his official duties as Admiral President of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich that morning. He then spent an agonising evening in Winchester awaiting the outcome of the selection process.
In the by-election campaign that followed, he had the advantage of being a local man in a safe seat . After election, the new member drew a high place in the ballot for private members’ bills. Although he first considered a bill amending the law on abortion, which David Steel was to introduce a couple of years later, he eventually decided on one to permit postal voting; it was blocked by Labour members.
Within six months there was a general election and, duly returned, Morgan-Giles was regularly on his feet harrying Harold Wilson’s defence secretary Denis Healey. Since he supported Ian Smith, the rebel leader in Rhodesia, and backed Enoch Powell after his “rivers of blood” speech, there was no place for him on a Heath front bench. However he played an important part in “Operation Sea Horse”, which created a trust to save and run Belfast until she was steered into the reassuring embrace of the Imperial War Museum.
He was also notably diligent in constituency matters, pursuing problems with the same zeal as he showed over naval issues. He campaigned for government financing of structural maintenance of the nation’s cathedrals, but met with considerable opposition for his support of the M3 motorway.
After retiring from the Commons in 1979, he continued to be as outspoken as ever in pithy letters to The Daily Telegraph. He told Heath to “pipe down – or jump overboard” during the Thatcher years, and expostulated that it was no wonder the prisons were so full when a man received a month in jail for pinching a nurse’s bottom, adding “Our nurses are so pretty.”
Morgan Morgan-Giles was appointed MBE in 1942, OBE in 1943 and knighted in 1975. After the death of his first wife died in 1966 he married Marigold Lowe, who died in 1995.
Rear-Admiral Sir Morgan Morgan-Giles, born June 19 1914, died May 4 2013