Magazine article The Spectator

The Macmillan Generation

Magazine article The Spectator

The Macmillan Generation

Article excerpt

A LITTLE BIT OFF THE TOP: A BIOGRAPHY OF S. S. HAMMERSLEY by Barbara Jill Poloniecka

The Book Guild, L15, pp. 192

For a few months during the war, my mother took her two young sons out of doodlebug range to Sussex. There she stayed at the house of a colleague from work, the daughter of a Conservative MP, Sam Hammersley.

Another of Hammersley's five daughters, Barbara Jill, has now written an affectionate biography of her father, relying heavily on his well-preserved personal and business correspondence, and on his words in Hansard. Given my slight family connection, I took up the book with interest. It provides a valuable portrait of the Macmillan and Boothby generation of Tory MPs, men of business who fought in the first world war and who occupied positions of influence in the second.

Hammersley, like Macmillan, was a brave soldier, and was extraordinarily lucky to survive his years of war service. Many of his friends perished at his side at Gallipoli. Though badly wounded, he made a full recovery and became a pioneer member of the Tank Corps, digging the cumbersome prototypes out of the mud at Ypres.

Tanks became one of his main interests. In secret sessions of the House of Commons during the second world war he deplored Britain's absolute failure to develop anything to match the German Tiger or the American Sherman. Even in the victory of Alamein Montgomery relied heavily on American models to supplement his British-designed tanks.

Sam's other wartime concern was the Jews. His constituents in Willesden had led him during the late 1930s to express anxiety about the Nazi persecution. After the war, though no longer an MP, he became a noted British Zionist.

He had a lifelong obsession with cotton. Hammersley was born into a cotton manufacturer's family in Oldham, and he took on the business and remained in it till his death, always lamenting the industry's sorry decline. …

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