It is hardly an odd notion for a man approaching 80, who has held office as Minister of Education, President of the Board of Trade and Paymaster-General, to look back to the beginnings of his public career and to see what he can make of it, at a distance of forty years or more. And nothing could be more natural for any man, after the death of a wife to whom he had been married for 50 years, to turn out a heap of old letters which had been exchanged between them long ago. It must be highly unusual, however, for these two retrospects to come together to the extent that they have done for David Eccles, who now publishes both sides of his correspondence with his wife in 1939-42, which was the epoch of his first start in public life, at the age of 35. My Who's Who is silent as to what Eccles was doing before the war, but we learn from one of the introductory pages he has written for this book that since 1932 he had been chairman of a company which had built, and was operating, the Santander-Mediterraneo Railway in northern Spain, with its main station in Franco's old headquarters, Burgos. Hardly surprising, then, that he should be listed as someone whose knowledge of Spain, where, as he says, 'Franco was winning the Civil War,' might come in handy. We are told that early in 1939 the Foreign Office asked Eccles to 'transfer from the reserve of officers to the skeleton staff of the Ministry of Economic Warfare' - a department for which he entertained some contempt while adoring the Foreign Office where his Winchester contemporary Roger Makins had already made a name for himself.
LRB 3 March 1983 | PDF Download