The Bridge Interviews

Brigadier Clendon Daukes

September 2020

If you wanted to find someone who would lead an expedition across the Sahara, launch a new magazine or raise money to build an archive, you would need someone like Clendon Daukes. During a 30 year military career and a further 26 years working in civilian appointments he has seized many projects and seen them through to a conclusion.


Clendon comes from a military family. He was born between VE and VJ Day and his mother was a WRNS officer during the Second World War. His maternal grandfather served in the Royal Navy in the First World War and rejoined (over age) in the Second. His other grandfather was an officer in Indian Army during the First World War and then served in the Indian Political Service for the rest of his career. Clendon’s father was an officer in the Royal Artillery before becoming a senior administrator in NATO’s international headquarters. For some 13 years from when Clendon was 2 ½ his father served in turn in Tripolitania (now part of Libya), Germany, Paris and Brussels. As a result Clendon spent much of his childhood abroad though he was sent to school in England, first to Cheam School (where he was later the Chairman of Governors) and then on to Charterhouse. Although he says that it was not preordained that he would join the Army, he was impressed by seeing a marching military band and at the early age of 16 took and passed the Regular Commissions Board. On leaving school he was not able to go straight to Sandhurst so he enlisted as a private soldier in the Queen’s Own Buffs for a sort of military gap year. During that time he took and passed the Civil Service exam which entitled him to join the Civil Service or any of the three armed services. He opted for the army and spent two years at Sandhurst before being commissioned in 1965.


He decided not to follow his father into the artillery and instead joined the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards (now the Royal Dragoon Guards). This is a cavalry regiment and at that time was equipped with armoured cars. After three months of armoured training he was sent to join his regiment on active service in Aden. This was an exciting introduction to army life but in retrospect (and now as a father) he didn’t appreciate the dangers. He was blown up on a mine but saved by the robust construction of his 16 ton, six wheeled Saladin armoured car. Perhaps the fact that it was called a Saladin had upset the locals!


The regiment was then posted to Northern Ireland and was based at Omagh under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Nigel Bagnall who later became a field marshal and head of the British Army. This was before the Troubles began and was a peaceful time. He hunted three times a week, shot and fished. The hunting was with the Fermanagh and the South Tyrone Fox Hounds. “The master of the latter said they had not seen a fox for 14 years.” As for shooting, “We were told that there was a pheasant somewhere in Northern Ireland but we never managed to find it.” The regiment remained in Northern Ireland for the first few months of the Troubles but was then transferred to Germany and re-equipped with Chieftain tanks (main battle tanks in military jargon). During the Cold War these were part of the British Army on The Rhine (BAOR) ready to repel a land attack by Warsaw Pact countries. They were based at Sennelager, near Paderborn.


Clendon met his wife Camilla in 1973. “I ran our regiment’s ski team. We went to Klosters in Switzerland to train for the divisional skiing championship. Camilla came out to manage a chalet. She had met my sister on a course on how to run a chalet, who told me that Camilla was coming to the same place. It was a good job I knew in advance as otherwise the other officers would have been all round her like bees round a honeypot.” Perhaps this foreshadowed Camilla’s later career as a beekeeper. It turned out that her father, two uncles and a great uncle had served in Clendon’s regiment. They were married in 1974. Among her other skills she is a qualified Cordon Bleu cook and an expert in packing and unpacking as a result of 15 postings in 20 years. They have three children: Anthony, a director of an American bank; Tom is a director of Leconfield Property Group, a company he and a friend set up in 2010; and Rosie is a lawyer specialising in energy at law firm Simmons & Simmons.


Clendon’s next job was as ADC to the general commanding the 2nd Division in Germany after which he returned to his regiment which had moved to Catterick in Yorkshire where they trained Armoured Corps soldiers and NCOs in specialist disciplines. From there he assumed command of the Independent Armoured Squadron in Berlin, a city which was still then divided into four zones of occupation controlled by British, American, French and Russian forces. The unit was based at Spandau Barracks which shared a boundary wall with Spandau prison in which Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s former deputy, was incarcerated. The duties of guarding Hess were shared between the occupying powers on a monthly rotation so the squadron had Russian soldiers as next-door neighbours one month in every four. During this period Clendon devised the Berlin camouflage pattern or “Berlin camo” which was intended to break up the outline of a vehicle in an urban setting. This was adopted by the British Army as a whole and by NATO allies, and was later copied by Warsaw Pact forces.


After a year in Berlin Clendon was selected to attend the Army Staff College. His first appointment after the staff college was as war planning officer for the United Kingdom Mobile Force, a divisional size force of 11,000 available to provide rapid support to NATO allies in time of war. Two years later, on promotion to lieutenant-colonel, he was posted on to the teaching staff of the Australian army staff college. He and his family spent two happy years in the sunshine of the Victoria coast, 60 miles south of Geelong. Command of his regiment, now based at Detmold in Germany, followed. At that time the regiment was equipped with 54 main battle tanks costing at least £2m each.


After two years in command during which he took an Open University degree he was promoted to full colonel and posted to the Ministry of Defence where his job involved researching the sort of equipment that might be needed in 25 years’ time. In 1991 he was appointed as a member of the Royal College of Defence Studies. “This was a highlight of my career”. This organisation comprised a mixture of military, intelligence and civilian officials from a wide range of countries. It provided a forum for discussion between those from, for example, Israel and Egypt and India and Pakistan to get to know each other and establish working relationships. While at the RCDS he led a group of eight on a tour of a number of African countries.


In 1992, by this time a brigadier, he went to the Ministry of Defence as Director NATO and European Defence with the unfortunate acronym of D NED. This, he says, gave him two very busy years as his responsibilities included Bosnia and Croatia where NATO forces were heavily involved. “This was my most stressful job apart from being the chairman of a prep school! There was what we called the CNN factor. Sometimes the world knew what was happening before we did. We had to work out our responses very quickly.”


In 1994 Clendon decided to take early retirement from the army. “I was 49 and had had a good run. I could foresee that my remaining career would be as a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Defence or Army Headquarters”. The family home was in Hampshire and he was spending every week in London which he found tiresome. He enrolled at the Manchester Business School to learn about profit and loss. “I had had heavy financial responsibility in the army but had never dealt with profit and loss. My first job was a short-term consultancy with Marconi and I am sure that my involvement there contributed significantly to their subsequent downfall! Then out of the blue I was invited to join a small team to help set up a new national magazine.” The Week was founded in 1995 and is still going strong. “At the start there were two journalists and me. They did the creative work while I was the ‘office boy’.”


A longer-term job came his way when he was appointed in 1996 as a fellow and the estates bursar/treasurer of St Peter’s College, Oxford. He and Camilla sold their house in Hampshire and moved to Signet, just south of Burford, where they still live. He enjoyed working with world experts in their respective fields. “The college was poor. It was founded in 1929 for … ‘the sons of clergy and schoolmasters’... The richest (invariably the oldest) colleges need only draw down a small percentage of their investment income and reinvest the rest ”. He was a member of the Estates Bursars’ Committee and helped to introduce a contribution scheme whereby richer colleges supported their poorer siblings. He retired from Oxford University in 2006. Between 2004 and 2009 he was chairman of a couple of Service charities and held the position of colonel of his regiment.


Those are the bare facts of Clendon’s career but he has many other facets. Perhaps the most important of these is travel. He took part in an expedition across the Sahara Desert while he was still at Sandhurst, in summer temperatures that rose to 105 ° F (40°+C). “I am fascinated by ancient archaeology and classical ruins. The North African littoral has some of the best classical ruins in the world as long as they have not been blown up in a civil war.” In pursuit of this he and Camilla have travelled throughout Europe and visited Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria. Other trips have included Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand and Uzbekistan. His recreations include fishing, shooting, gardening and electric trains. He and Camilla have an extensive garden and he is assistant keeper of her half million or so bees. “I am a country bumpkin at heart. I don’t like cities.” He is a voracious reader and often has ten or more books on the go at a time.


Locally he has been on Burford’s Parochial Church Council (PCC) and is also a guide for visitors to St John the Baptist Church –“One of the dozen or so finest churches in the land”. He and Camilla are now active members of Swinbrook church. He was chairman of the Burford & District Society for six years and is on the committees of the Tolsey Museum and the Burford Archive Project. He serves on the Patient Participation Group of Burford Surgery and is a volunteer guide at the National Trust’s Lodge Park. “I write letters to the Daily Telegraph but only have a hit rate of about one in four.” His involvement with this magazine arose when the previous vicar asked him to create a community magazine rather than a parish newsletter. He found volunteers to edit it, others to arrange advertising and still more to distribute it. Ten years on some 60 people in the community are involved. His main role now is to encourage and support those who put it together each month, organise the distribution and keep a wary eye on the finances. A man, therefore, of many parts. One question remains. How does he ever find time to sleep?

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