From The Daily Telegraph 27 December.
David Heaton, who has died aged 94, took the unflappable temperament acquired in wartime service and as one of the last servants of Empire to form a long and reliable career in the Civil Service.
David Heaton was born in Oxford on September 22 1923. His parents were Dr Trevor Heaton, Student of Christ Church and Irene Heaton, the sister of the historian John Wheeler-Bennett. David grew up at Garsington Manor, which his parents bought from Lady Ottoline Morrell in 1928, and was educated at Rugby School. He enlisted in the Navy in 1942, and trained at HMS Collingwood.
He took part in the North Africa landings, and subsequently received a commission in 1943 as midshipman (later lieutenant and anti-submarine officer) in Blankney (Hunt-class destroyer). He saw active service at the Sicily, Salerno and Normandy landings.
After demobilisation, he was posted to Gold Coast in 1948 and served as a district commissioner in the towns of Ho and Kpandu. Heaton administered an extensive territory.
Heaton was a naturally very funny man, popular and with a gift for friendship, but without any great urge to be clubbable or join societies. He had an unpretentious devotion to duty and, in his phrase, “the common good” or “The Common G”. During his war service, an aggrieved serviceman in another hut was overheard asking: “Why don’t yer arsk us to do things, like ’Eaton does?”
He spent 11 years in the Gold Coast, later Ghana, approaching the post not in the spirit of imperial subjugation, but in a Fabian spirit of helping Ghana in the first steps of its independence. He was often called upon to act with a good deal of independent initiative, recalling later that when a maternity home was needed, he designed and commissioned one himself.
In his capacity as Treasurer, he found the money for it; he put it out to tender and, as administrator, accepted the most suitable. He supervised the building of it, and, as Inspector of Buildings, passed it when finished. In due course, as the Queen’s Representative, he opened it, to the accompaniment of the National Anthem, which was, however, played by other people.
Ghana had its own flavour, which Heaton relished. Once he walked three or four miles off a road to visit a remote village, and heard strange sounds coming from the village schoolroom. The children had been persuaded to make an attempt at On Ilkley Moor Baht’At.
The Ghanaians sometimes had an elevated sense of dignity, responding to any unwelcome instruction with the lordly response: “Yo, we have heard.” Once, a British vet told some village elders that they were “foolish” for not inoculating their cattle. “Excuse me,” the offended headman said. “We may be stupid, but we are not foolish.”
David Heaton lived his professional life according to a favourite proverb: “Hold the egg firmly, or it will fall: but not too firmly, or it will break.” During his time there, Ghana was largely self-governing under an administration led by the charismatic Kwame Nkrumah. Independence came in 1957; it was the first European colony in Sub-Saharan Africa to win independence.
Heaton was fondly remembered, and Kpandu in Ghana now contains a Heaton Gardens to commemorate a town-planning initiative of his, to its author’s lasting mortification.
In 1959 he returned to the UK. He worked in a branch of the War Office concerned with security, and then at the Cabinet Office, as secretary to the Joint Intelligence Committee. In the late 1960s he transferred to the Home Office. He retired in 1983.
Full obituary with photographs.
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The life and times of the Greatest Generation, the heroes (British and Allies) of WWII.