Duncan Sandys

Duncan Sandys
The Right Honourable
The Lord Duncan-Sandys
Minister of Defence
In office
14 January 1957 – 14 October 1959
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
Preceded by Anthony Head
Succeeded by Harold Watkinson
Secretary of State for the Colonies
In office
13 July 1962 – 16 October 1964
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Preceded by Reginald Maudling
Succeeded by Anthony Greenwood
Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations
In office
27 July 1960 – 13 July 1962
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
Preceded by The Earl of Home
Succeeded by Arthur Bottomley
Member of Parliament
for Streatham
In office
23 February 1950 – 23 February 1974
Preceded by Sir David Robertson
Succeeded by William Shelton
Member of Parliament
for Norwood
In office
14 November 1935 – 5 July 1945
Preceded by Sir Walter Greaves-Lord
Succeeded by Ronald Chamberlain
Personal details
Born 24 January 1908(1908-01-24)
Died 26 November 1987(1987-11-26) (aged 79)
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Diana Churchill (1935–1960)
Marie-Claire Schmitt (1962–1987)
Relations George John Sandys (father)
Winston Churchill (father-in-law)
Children Julian (1936–1997)
Edwina (b. 1938)
Celia (b. 1943)
Laura (b. 1964)
Alma mater Eton College
Magdalen College, Oxford
Profession Diplomat
Military service
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1937–1946
Rank Lieutenant-Colonel
Unit British Expeditionary Force
Battles/wars Norwegian Campaign

Edwin Duncan Sandys, Baron Duncan-Sandys[1] CH PC (24 January 1908 – 26 November 1987) was a British politician and a minister in successive Conservative governments in the 1950s and 1960s. He was for some years the son-in-law of Sir Winston Churchill.


Early life

Sandys was the son of George John Sandys, a Conservative member of parliament (1910–1918) and was educated at Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford. He entered the diplomatic service in 1930, serving at the Foreign Office in London as well as at the embassy in Berlin.

He became Conservative Party Member of Parliament (MP) for Norwood in South London in 1935. In the same year, he married Diana Churchill, daughter of the future prime minister (after being opposed at Norwood by a candidate put up by Randolph Churchill).

In May 1935 he was in effect saying that Germany should have a predominant place in central Europe, so as to avoid clashing with Britain as an Imperial Power.[2]

The Duncan Sandys case

In 1938 Sandys asked questions in the House of Commons on matters of national security. He was subsequently approached by two unidentified men, presumably representing the secret services, and threatened with prosecution under section 6 of the Official Secrets Act 1920. Sandys reported the matter to the Committee of Privileges who held that the disclosures of Parliament were not subject to the legislation though an MP could be disciplined by the House.[3] The Official Secrets Act 1939 was enacted in reaction to this incident.[4]


In 1937 Sandys was commissioned into the 51st (London) Anti-Aircraft Brigade, Royal Artillery, Territorial Army. During World War II he fought with the British Expeditionary Force in Norway and was wounded in action in 1941, giving him a permanent limp. From this time he had a desk job as the Finance Member of the Army Council. His father-in-law gave him his first ministerial post during the wartime Coalition Government. While a Minister he was also Chairman of a War Cabinet Committee for defence against German flying bombs and rockets, where he frequently clashed with the scientist and intelligence expert RV Jones.[5] However, he lost his seat in the 1945 general election. He resigned his commission as a Lieutenant-Colonel in 1946.


Sandys was responsible for establishing the European Movement in Britain in 1947 and served as a member of the European Consultative Assembly in 1950 to 1951. He was elected to Parliament once again in 1950 for Streatham and, when the Conservatives regained power, he was appointed as Minister of Supply in 1951. For most of his time as Minister of Supply, his Private Secretary was Jack Charles. As Minister of Housing from 1954, he introduced the Clean Air Act and in 1955 introduced green belts. He was appointed Minister of Defence in 1957 and quickly produced the 1957 Defence White Paper that proposed a radical shift in the Royal Air Force by ending the use of fighter aircraft in favour of missile technology. Though later Ministers reversed the policy, the lost orders and cuts in research were responsible for several aircraft manufacturers going out of business. As Minister of Defence he saw the rationalization (i.e. merger) of much of the British military aircraft and engine industry.

He divorced his first wife (Diana Churchill) in 1960 and married Marie-Claire (née Schmitt, previously married to Viscount Hudson) in 1962, the marriage lasting until his death. It has long been speculated that he may have been the 'headless man' whose identity was concealed during the (then considered) scandalous divorce trial of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll in 1963.[6]

Sandys continued as a minister at the Commonwealth Relations Office, later combining it with the Colonies Office, until the Conservative government fell from power in 1964. In this role he was responsible for granting several colonies their independence.

He remained in the Shadow Cabinet until 1966 when he was sacked by Edward Heath. He had strongly supported Ian Smith in the dispute over Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence. He was not offered a post when the Conservatives won the 1970 general election, but instead served as Leader of the United Kingdom delegation to the Council of Europe and Western European Union until 1972 when he announced his retirement. The next year he was made a Companion of Honour.

In 1974 he retired from Parliament and was awarded a life peerage. He followed the example of George Brown and incorporated his first name in the title Baron Duncan-Sandys, of the City of Westminster. He was an active early member of the Conservative Monday Club.


Children of Diana Churchill and Lord Duncan-Sandys:

  • The Hon. Julian Sandys (19 September 1936 – 15 August 1997)
  • The Hon. Edwina Sandys (b. 22 December 1938)
  • The Hon. Celia Sandys (b. 18 May 1943); married firstly Michael Kennedy and secondly Dennis Walters (divorced 1979).

He has another child, Laura Sandys, Conservative Member of Parliament for Thanet South, by his second wife Marie Claire Schmitt, although Laura is often reported incorrectly to be 'related to Winston Churchill'.


Among his other interests were historic architecture. He formed the Civic Trust in 1956 and was its President; the Royal Institution of British Architects made him an honorary Fellow in 1968, and the Royal Town Planning Institute made him an honorary member. He was also a trustee of the World Security Trust.

His business activities included a Directorship of the Ashanti Goldfields Corporation, which was later part of Lonrho of which he became Chairman. He was therefore caught up in the scandal in which Lonrho was revealed to have bribed several African countries and broken international sanctions against Rhodesia.[citation needed]


  1. ^ The name Sandys is pronounced sandz (like the plural of sand).
  2. ^ Hansard, 2 May 1935, cols.595-598.
  3. ^ House of Commons Paper 101 (1938-1939)
  4. ^ Clive Ponting, The Right to Know: The inside story of the Belgrano affair, Sphere Books, 1985
  5. ^ RV Jones, Most Secret War, Hamilton, 1978
  6. ^ 'Headless men' in sex scandal finally named, The Guardian, 10 August 2000


External links

Career summary

  • Coalition Government
    • 20 July 1941 - 7 February 1943 Financial Secretary to the War Office
    • 7 February 1943 - 21 November 1944 Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Supply
    • 21 November 1944 - 25 May 1945 Minister of Works
  • Caretaker Government
    • 25 May 1945 - 26 July 1945 Minister of Works
  • Conservative Government
    • 31 October 1951 - 18 October 1954 Minister of Supply
    • 18 October 1954 - 13 January 1957 Minister of Housing and Local Government
    • 13 January 1957 - 14 October 1959 Minister of Defence
    • 14 October 1959 - 27 July 1960 Minister of Aviation
    • 27 July 1960 - 13 July 1962 Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations
    • 13 July 1962 - 16 October 1964 Secretary of State for the Colonies and Commonwealth Relations
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir Walter Greaves-Lord
Member of Parliament for Norwood
Succeeded by
Ronald Chamberlain
Preceded by
Sir David Robertson
Member of Parliament for Streatham
1950Feb 1974
Succeeded by
William Shelton
Political offices
Preceded by
Antony Head
Minister of Defence
Succeeded by
Harold Watkinson
Preceded by
New creation
Minister of Aviation
Succeeded by
Peter Thorneycroft
Preceded by
The Earl of Home
Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations
Succeeded by
Arthur Bottomley
Preceded by
Reginald Maudling
Secretary of State for the Colonies
Succeeded by
Anthony Greenwood

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