Baroness Park of Monmouth, CMG, OBE, 1921-2010
Memorial for Daphne Park
St Margaret’s, Westminster
26 October 2010
Shortly before she died, Daphne was giving attention to the order of this service. She asked me to say something about what, she often said, was the proudest and gladdest aspect of her life – her time in the Service. She spoke of ‘The Service’ rather than ‘The Office’ – as did my generation. And this was because Daphne was no bureaucrat. She was greatly impelled by other values, chief among them a dynamic sense of service.
Daphne was creative and, operationally, she didn’t miss a trick, but her fundamental flair was generosity.
Daphne’s generosity of spirit came of confidence. Hers was no defended personality. Happy in her own skin, she was not easily disconcerted. Her commitment to her purpose was infectious. Her love of her own country could lead others onto a higher plane in their thinking about theirs.
I suggested to her, just before she died, that she might think of spending her heaven arranging for confidence to be given to young people. It was a gift she had herself received in plenty. Her years as a young woman, whether due to, or in spite of, the extraordinary circumstances of her childhood, were quite simply years of conquest.
Earlier in the year, I had received a message that there was some concern about the gun in Daphne’s jewellery safe. We had a long lunch and, at the end, I said, ‘I think it’s time to let go the gun.’ ‘Oh?’ I said that, if she went into hospital and it was discovered, well, this could be awkward. ‘Oh, OK, then.’ The gun wasn’t in the safe; and we searched the flat. I was looking for a large service pistol, possibly with a lanyard. Finally, Daphne called out, ‘Got it!’ As she handed it to me, an exquisite, tiny revolver with an inlaid grip, she said it had been made for her by the armourer of SOE himself.
She told me once how she had had to pass a grim and deeply sensitive message to her ambassador in Moscow. I asked where she had done this. ‘Oh, it was on the dance floor – I thought we shouldn’t be overheard there and I could keep a good hold of him’.
Years of conquest indeed.
In the Service, Daphne loved its foibles and the human factor. She loved the Service’s - by the standards of our own politically-correct day – spirit of adventure... and also its good sense that values and skills are best learned by watching people, rather than by listening to them. The Service aimed to recruit those who could get this. And may it long do so.
Daphne was not short of an instinct for excellence. When in Moscow, she had to receive a delicate briefing and was summoned to West Berlin to hear it. She was told that her cover for the journey was to be a visit to the dentist. And her new controller made her go to the dentist. This was no parade ground discipline, but his cat-like attention to the importance of detail. And Daphne got the point.
That controller was a major figure in Daphne’s formation. How she admired him and was grateful to him. With a distinctively feminine insight, she noticed that his gift for leadership was simply to inspire a determination that we should not let him down. I think Daphne would allow me to say that it was also the genius and spirit of the Service which helped her become the Daphne we remember today.
Daphne had a strong sense of fairness. Fairness transcends language and culture. Heart speaks unto heart and engages powerfully with the rational. It makes friends. For Daphne, this moral dimension of human contact was a fascination, a compass bearing, a demanding standard and even a calling. It made her a powerful operator. And it cannot be denied that power interested Daphne greatly – not by any means for herself, but as the focus of the Service’s work.
She rather tartly explained to a member of the uniformed branch that while he would undoubtedly become an ambassador and she would not, he would be consumed by so much secondary business. She, on the other hand, though thought more lowly, would still be fortunate enough to be dealing with the heart of the matter – the riddles of power. Years later, landing at the centre of a crisis, she had the chance to ask him if this had not proved to be so; and with great grace he gave her a broad smile.
In this sense, Daphne’s work was vocational: she knew she was made for it; she was very good at it and grew a great love for it. Consequently, she became a remarkable person. More personal than a heroine, her influence was personal, yet vast.
Contrary to much Mandarin belief, the Service depends on the integrity of its staff. The English can recognise integrity but we find it difficult to be articulate about it. We just call it by name and esteem it. Daphne showed us that her integrity was simple: she integrated her faith and values into her personality and into her behaviour. She was what she believed: she was a living value. Her friends could not but think, ‘if all this matters so much to Daphne, why doesn’t it matter like that to me?’ Hence her own power of leadership.
Thus her own challenges to her friends and colleagues were, of course, formidable. But they were challenges to others which were always an encouragement, an encouragement to reach out for what, she could see, was really within their own grasp. It was Daphne who first taught me the wisdom that it is pointless to ask someone for what he hasn’t got to give. It’s no way to make friends. Daphne had so many friends because to her everybody was of interest – she did not recognise the category of ‘ordinary person’.
For all these reasons, Daphne was an inspirational figure in the Service and greatly loved in return. On the Service’s very important occasions, three ancestors would be brought in to represent the generations past. Daphne’s controller was one; and she was another.
I mentioned Daphne’s instructions about this service. She also asked me to read to you the lines which occurred to Tennyson one evening while setting out on the ferry from Portsmouth for the Isle of Wight, a landscape so familiar to members of the Service. On an impulse, Tennyson took a piece of paper from his pocket and, without hesitation or alteration, wrote the following verses.
As we think of Daphne now in our prayers, I think we may be sure that she is praying for us.
Crossing The Bar
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning off the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep,
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face,
When I have crosst the bar.