Laurence Giles, 12 Aug 1909-12 Jan 2007

A Tribute

Laurence Cranmore Giles was born in 1909 and raised in Erdington, a suburb of Birmingham, where his family owned a brass foundry. He had two younger sisters and an older stepsister, all of whom he outlived. He was educated at King Edward VI Grammar School in Birmingham and in 1928, aged 19, he won a newspaper competition to tour Canada in a group of 50 young People as an "Ambassador of Empire". Introduced to Winston Churchill before their departure, this trip opened his eyes to a world outside middle England.

He was awarded a scholarship to Queen's College, Oxford to read Classics, from where he graduated with a double first, ("Mods & Greats"). He retained his ability to translate Latin and Greek well into his nineties, a skill which proved particularly useful in his local history researches post-retirement. On the same staircase at Queen's were Enoch Powell and Geoffrey Trease, the children's author. Whilst at Oxford, one of the key events in his life took place. His study of Philosophy led him towards becoming a Roman Catholic. He sought advice from Fr. Ronald Knox, himself a convert, who was then the Oxford University Chaplain. He took instruction after graduation from the Dominicans at Blackfriars, who received him into the church. Blackfriars became a spiritual home for him whenever he and the family lived or stayed in Oxford. His strong faith and the practice of it were always to remain a fundamental part of his life.

He joined the Colonial Service in 1932 and was posted to Nigeria in 1933. Initially, he served his first three tours in Zaria Province as a District Officer. T4e emphasis in those days was on improving the local infrastructure, such as roads, schools and hospitals, as well as acting as an intermediary in local disputes. This called for going into remote areas on horseback and having to cope with snakes, scorpions, wild buffalo and occasionally wounded lions. Malaria, tsetse fly (sleeping sickness), and river blindness were endemic and western medical treatment for tropical diseases was still primitive and hard to come by.

Despite all this, he delighted in this life, learning the Hausa and Fulani languages so well that he could banter happily with any Northern Nigerian he met. For recreation he took up Polo and loved the sport, never losing the ability to falloff things without hurting himself.

Home on leave in England in 1937, Laurence visited friends and fell for their Swiss 'au pair', Ariane. His leave was extended when he broke his arm and thus had time to become engaged before returning to Nigeria. There he launched the Hausa monthly newspaper Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo ("Truth is worth more than a penny"). He was always justly proud of this achievement.

He came back to Switzerland to marry Ariane in Geneva in July 1939, just before the start of the Second World War. Unable to return to Nigeria by boat, as sea passages for wives were cancelled, undaunted they crossed the Sahara by bus, arriving in Katsina (Northern Nigeria) in November – clearly an unorthodox introduction to married life!

During WW II, being fluent in French, Laurence, having already enlisted in the Royal West African Frontier Force Reserves, was posted to military intelligence in order to liaise with the French, West African countries, endeavouring to ensure they remained loyal to the Allies, rather than to Vichy France. He worked closely with Eboué, the Governor of Chad and visiting Free French Officers, such as Generals De Gaulle and Leclerc. Later Laurence was awarded the MBE for his services.

Managing to get some leave in 1942, he and Ariane went overland to South Africa by river steamer down the Congo and by rail, stopping off at the Victoria Falls on their way to Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Their first child, Jacques, was born in Kano in December 1942, only the third white child to be born there. Monica, their daughter was born in Geneva in 1946 but despite the difficulties in bringing up two children without electricity and running drinking water, the whole family returned by boat to Nigeria.

Laurence worked for another ten years in Northern Nigeria, except for two years when he was seconded as Supervisor of Colonial Service Courses in Oxford (1948-1950). When the family returned to Nigeria from Oxford, Jacques remained behind in school. There he discovered his father's talent for writing and his skill as an artist. On the last page of his regular airmail letter Laurence would often draw or paint some event, or news, that may have occurred and amused his dry sense of humour. Some of these have been collated and incorporated in his Nigerian memoirs, which are incredibly detailed, thanks to the diaries he kept.

They returned to England permanently in 1956, partly for the children's education and partly due to lack of prospects in the service as Nigeria was heading for Independence. Laurence was deeply touched when, unknown to him, his staff pooled their money together to ask some Moslem elders to pray for his promotion. He left Nigeria on February 26th 1956 and was very moved when the then Kano Resident, (provincial administrative officer) arranged for the buglers of the RWAFF to blow the 'Hausa Farewell' – a great honour.

Laurence always considered he was lucky to land another interesting job with what was then ICI. At Millbank (1956-1970), ICI's London headquarters, Laurence was engaged in running management training, including staff courses using actual ICI case studies, profits and management, public speaking, techniques for instruction, overseas courses and Head Office French lunches at which French only was spoken! When not running these courses he was involved in all sorts of advisory work from training apprentices to all aspects of teaching science and the current American theories of man-management. In 1969, when aged 60, he was invited to go either as the first-ever Training Manager to ICI Europa in Brussels or to ICI Plant Protection Ltd in Fernhurst, Hampshire. In the long run Laurence considered PPL the better bet as he and Ariane could eventually retire with a house in the country, so they moved to Liphook in 1970 where he took up his new post setting up PPL's first Education and Training Department.

Laurence loved Liphook and the surrounding countryside and when he retired four years later, he threw himself into local activities and, in particular, the Bramshott & Liphook Preservation Society, ending up as Vice-Chairman. Examples of his activities included writing books on local history, such as Liphook, Bramshott and the Canadians, Liphook Remembers and Liphook Calendar. He also gave lectures, lobbied for local issues, and even appeared on Canadian TV when new trees were planted to commemorate the Canadians' involvement with Liphook during the war. The Preservation Society now has 97 boxes of research and historical material, all meticulously catalogued by Laurence, awaiting installation for public reference.

In 2004, when he was in his 95th year, Laurence and Ariane decided to move to Puckeridge, to be near their son Jacques and his family, but they were both saddened to leave so many friends in Liphook. Prior to their departure Laurence was thrilled that he and Ariane received the Diocesan Medal for long and faithful service in the Church.

His family and friends will always remember him fondly as a thoroughly good man, unfailingly kind and courteous to anyone he met. Despite being intellectually very clever with a fantastic memory – typically public speaking without a single note in his hand – he was modest to a fault. He died after a short illness in hospital on the morning of Sunday 28th January 2007. He leaves his wife Ariane, their two children Jacques and Monica, and three grandchildren.


For a sample of Laurence's work for the Bramshott & Liphook Preservation Society, see the Ludshott Manor Court Rolls