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The Right Honourable
The Lord Duncan-Sandys
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 – 16 October 1964
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
Preceded by The Earl of Home
Succeeded by Arthur Bottomley
Minister of Aviation

In office
14 October 1959 – 27 July 1960
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
Preceded by Office Created
Succeeded by Peter Thorneycroft
Minister of Defence

In office
14 January 1957 – 14 October 1959
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
Preceded by Anthony Head
Succeeded by Harold Watkinson
Minister of Housing and Local Government

In office
19 October 1954 – 4 January 1957
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Sir Anthony Eden
Preceded by Harold Macmillan
Succeeded by Henry Brooke
Minister of Supply

In office
31 October 1951 – 19 October 1954
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by George Strauss
Succeeded by Selwyn Lloyd
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 March 1935 – 5 July 1945
Preceded by Sir Walter Greaves-Lord
Succeeded by Ronald Chamberlain
Personal details
Born (1908-01-24)24 January 1908
Manor House, Sandford Orcas, Dorset
Died 26 November 1987(1987-11-26) (aged 79)
London, England
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Diana Churchill
(m. 1935–60)

Marie-Claire Schmitt
(m. 1962)
  • Julian (1936–1997)
  • Edwina (b. 1938)
  • Celia (b. 1943)
  • Laura (b. 1964)
Alma mater
  • Eton College
  • Magdalen College, Oxford
Profession Diplomat
Military service
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1937–1946
Rank Lieutenant-Colonel
Unit Royal Artillery
Battles/wars Norwegian Campaign

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

Early life

Sandys, born 24 January 1908 Manor House, Sandford Orcas, Dorset, was the son of George John Sandys, a Conservative member of parliament (1910–1918) and Mildred Helen Cameron.[1] Sandys parents divorced in January 1921 when he was 12 years old.[2][3] His mother married Frederick Hamilton Lister in October the same year becoming Mildred Helen Lister.[4][5] He was educated at Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford.

Early career

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 a by-election in March 1935, 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 that Britain could be free to pursue her colonial interests without rival.[6]

The Duncan Sandys case

In 1937 Sandys was commissioned into the 51st (London) Anti-Aircraft Brigade, Royal Artillery, of the Territorial Army (TA).[7] In 1938, he asked questions in the House of Commons on matters of national security that reflected his TA experience. 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.[8][9] The Official Secrets Act 1939 was enacted in reaction to this incident.[10]

Wartime career

Duncan Sandys, publicity caricature produced by the British Ministry of Information during World War II.

During World War II he fought with 51st (London) HAA Regiment in the Norwegian campaign and was wounded in action, causing him to suffer a permanent limp.[9]

His father-in-law gave him his first ministerial post as Financial Secretary to the War Office from 1941 to 1944 during the wartime coalition government. From 1944 to 1945 he served as Minister of Works for the remainder of the coalition and in the Churchill Caretaker Ministry. 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 R.V. Jones.[11] However, he lost his seat in the 1945 general election. He resigned his TA commission as a lieutenant-colonel in 1946.[9]

Post-war career

Sandys was responsible for establishing the European Movement in Britain in 1947 and served as a member of the European Consultative Assembly from 1950 until 1951. He was elected to parliament once again at the 1950 general election for Streatham and, when the Conservatives regained power in 1951, he was appointed Minister of Supply. For most of his time in that role, his private secretary was Jack Charles. As Minister of Housing from 1954, he introduced the Clean Air Act and in 1955 introduced the 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 British aircraft manufacturers going out of business. As Minister of Defence he saw the rationalisation (i.e., merger) of much of the British military aircraft and engine industry.

Sandys continued as a minister at the Commonwealth Relations Office, later combining it with the Colonies Office, until the Conservative government lost power in 1964. In this role he was responsible for granting several colonies their independence and was involved in managing the British response to several conflicts involving the armed forces of the newly independent countries of East Africa.[12]

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. As the title of Baron Sandys was already held by another family, 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.

Personal life

In 1935, Duncan Sandys married Diana Churchill, daughter of the future prime minister Winston Churchill. They divorced in 1960.

In 1962, he married Marie-Claire (née Schmitt), who had been previously married to Robert Hudson, 2nd Viscount Hudson.[13] The marriage lasted until Sandys' 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.[14]

He died on 26 November 1987 at his home in London.[15]


From his first marriage, with Diana Churchill:

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

From his second marriage, with Marie Claire Schmitt:

  • The Hon. Laura Sandys (born 5 June 1964). She was a Conservative Member of Parliament for South Thanet. She is often incorrectly referred to as being related to Winston Churchill.


Among Sandys' other interests was 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.

1969-1984 he was President of Europa Nostra and acted for the preservation of the European cultural and architectural heritage.

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, as well as the "unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism" episode involving 8 Directors being sacked by Tiny Rowland.[citation needed]

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


  1. Ludlow, N. Piers (2004). "Sandys, (Edwin) Duncan, Baron Duncan-Sandys (1908–1987)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198614128.  Template:Subscription or libraries
  2. "Politician divorced". The Argus. Melbourne, Victoria. 14 January 1921. "LONDON, Jan. 13. Mrs. Mildred Helen Sandys, who is a daughter of the late Mr. Duncan Cameron, of Springfield, Canterbury, New Zealand, has obtained a decree divorce against her husband, Mr. George John Sandys, who was member of the House of Commons for the Wells division of Somerset from 1910 to 1918 on the ground of the respondent's misconduct. Mr. Sandys served with the Guards in the South African and European wars. He was married in 1905, and has one son." 
  3. "Former M.P. for Wells Divorced". Gloucester Citizen. Gloucestershire, England. 13 January 1921. 
  4. "Frederick Hamilton Lister". The Peerage. 
  5. "Lt. Col. Frederick Hamilton (I6209)". Kindred Britain by Stanford University. 
  6. Hansard, 2 May 1935, cols.595–598.
  7. Monthly Army List 1937–39.
  8. House of Commons Paper 101 (1938–1939)
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Richard Holmes, Soldiers: Army Lives and Loyalties from Recoats to Dusty Warriors, London: HarperPress, 2011, ISBN 978-0-00-722570-5.
  10. Clive Ponting, The Right to Know: The inside story of the Belgrano affair, Sphere Books, 1985
  11. R.V. Jones, Most Secret War, Hamilton, 1978
  12. "Britain's Small Wars". Facebook. Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  13. "- Person Page 10623". Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  14. Sarah Hall. "'Headless men' in sex scandal finally named". the Guardian. Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  15. Mark A. Uhlig (27 November 1987). "Lord Duncan-Sandys, 79, Dead; Smoothed Way to End of Empire". The New York Times. 

Further reading

  • Cowling, Maurice, The Impact of Hitler – British Policies and Policy 1933–1940, Cambridge University Press, 1975, p. 415, ISBN 0-521-20582-4.

External links

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
1950–Feb 1974
Succeeded by
William Shelton
Political offices
Preceded by
Antony Head
Minister of Defence
Succeeded by
Harold Watkinson
New office 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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