Story 62

It was a privilege

I worked for Group Captain Cheshire, whom we all called GC, for a year. The job of Secretary to the Manager of the Maunsel Street office, Arthur Bennett, had been advertised in the Times.

Amanda Tempest-Radford

He interviewed me and then told me that the Group Captain was also looking for a PA, and so I found myself working for the great man instead.

When I started in July 1988, GC was just setting up his new charity, the World War Memorial Fund. There was a huge amount of work for the new charity as well as my routine duties — typing up his audio tapes, sending letters and talking to people who were waiting to see him and, from time to time, even making breakfast for early meetings. GC seemed to be constantly dealing with so many things at the same time that it was a relief when he met and took on a highly efficient volunteer — Gillian Graham. She and I shared a very small office and luckily got on very well — although we didn’t always agree about filing!

GC was immensely busy and yet, when considering any one project or scheme, he was completely focused and an eternal optimist. The Maunsel Street office was a rabbit warren of small rooms, with a garage in the basement. The ground floor housed the offices of, amongst others, Simon Hardwick, solicitor and general secretary, Molly Roe, the personnel manager, and Dennis Lacey, the office manager, who sorted out our then primitive and confusing new computers.

A lift took us past Lynette Learoyd and Ronald Travers in their international office on the first floor. At the top of the house, a long corridor housed Wally Sullivan, Marjorie Lawton, Virginia Goldie and other essential members of staff. GC’s office and mine were at the end, in his private flat. There he received a fascinating variety of the great and good of the time, such as Group Captain Peter Townsend and Imran Khan.

He was a notable convert to Catholicism and I have a vivid image of him walking around Vincent square with Cardinal Basil Hume. The Cheshire Homes sent a group every year on pilgrimage to Lourdes; I took part in one of these – as a Handmaid of the Lord! I have always had an interest in helping disabled people — in 1971 my former husband and I established Ferrier’s Barn at Bures, on the Essex/Suffolk border, which still runs as a day centre for young disabled adults.

On official occasions GC would wear all his military medals which included his Victoria Cross, DFC and DSO — both with bars — and reminded one of his extraordinary Second World War record in the Royal Air Force.

In spite of his busy schedule, GC, who was a keen sportsman, would regularly ask me to ring Ken Fletcher to book a game of tennis with him at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. At weekends, he usually joined his wife, Sue Ryder, at their home in the remarkable centre she had founded for displaced persons in Cavendish, Suffolk.

When Leonard Cheshire started his own Foundation there was little provided to improve the lives of disabled people who were frequently left in geriatric wards day after day with nothing to do. Added to which, access to facilities and transport was then almost non-existent for those with limited mobility. Cheshire Homes offered varied, friendly and positive surroundings; their Founder did an enormous amount to change the lives of many severely disabled people.

It was a privilege to work for Group Captain Cheshire and I shall always remember that busy and inspiring year at Maunsel Street.

It was a privilege to work for Group Captain Cheshire and I shall always remember that busy and inspiring year at Maunsel Street.