Captain William Douglas-Home

William Douglas-Home (pronounced Hume) was a younger brother of the Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home. He was a well-known dramatist and politician, the 3rd son of the 13th Earl of Home and Lady Lilian Lambton daughter of the 4th Earl of Durham. He lived from 3rd June 1912 to 28th Sep 1992. He was educated at Eton and New College, Oxford. On 26th July 1951 he married the Hon Rachel brand who became Lady Dacre. They had 4 children. He stood as an independent and a Liberal candidate during World War 2, but was never elected. As a playwright he wrote 50 plays, mostly comedies in an upper class setting, the most well-known being The Reluctant Debutante, The Chiltern Hundreds and What a Girl Wants

He joined the army in July 1940 having been conscripted although he objected to the war which he thought was unnecessary. By 1944 he was an officer in the 141st Regiment, RAC (7th Btn The Buffs) in the Normandy campaign. The regiment was equipped with Churchill Crocodile flame-thrower tanks. However, Douglas-Home was regarded by many of his fellow officers as being a reluctant soldier.

Second Lt James Wareing said: "He did not go into any action as far as I am aware and when we were not in action he did nothing. I really don't know how he came to be there at all in such an elite regiment. In the field he ate by himself and slept under a tank. He did not seem to be in charge of anyone."

When the Allies were mopping up after the invasion of Normandy in 1944 they had to besiege the towns of Le Havre, Calais and Dunkirk. The first action, at Le Havre, became a matter of great controversy because it resulted in the death of thousands of French civilians through Allied aerial bombardment. The German commander was SS Colonel Wildermuth who had been ordered by Hitler to defend Le Havre to the last man, but he petitioned the British to allow the French civilians to vacate the town first. This was refused and the RAF and Canadian Air Force dropped 50,000 tons of explosives over a period of four nights, killing 2,000 civilians and 19 German soldiers. Le Havre was flattened but the objective had been achieved. Before the bombing William Douglas-Home had refused to obey his orders to act as Liaison Officer and was placed under supervision. He was not arrested at this stage, but he wrote a letter to be published in the Maidenhead Advertiser explaining the situation. This incensed the War Office and William was arrested and court-martialled. His CO Colonel H Waddell was also court-martialled and demoted to major, but later re-instated.

Douglas-Home was cashiered and sentenced to one year's imprisonment with hard labour. He served 8 months at Wormwood Scrubs and Wakefield Prison. But as a result of all this the French civilians at Calais and Dunkirk was spared.

After the War his career as a playwright flourished and some of the plays were made into films. In 1988 he petitioned the War Office to overturn retrospectively the court-martial ruling but it was rejected. He died in Winchester at the age of 80 on 28th Sep 1992.

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by Stephen Luscombe