2nd Lieutenant Duff Cooper DSO

Alfred Duff Cooper was born on 22 Feb 1890, the son of society surgeon Sir Alfred Cooper and Lady Agnes Duff, who was descended from King William IV. Sir Alfred had royal connections, was a specialist in venereal disease and was a noted clubman. He was also the great grandfather of the present (2015) prime minister David Cameron. Young Alfred was always known as Duff, the youngest of 4 children. He was educated at Eton and went on to New College Oxford where he was friends with the Hon John Nevile Manners, the subject of a well-known child portrait by Millais. This friendship brought him into the Coterie, the famous circle of bright young things pre-Great War. There he met Lady Diana Manners who he later married. He was well known for his literary skills, being a poet and author, but he was also a heavy drinker and womaniser.

He missed out on military service in the early part of the war because he had an important job in the Foreign Service, but he joined up in 1917 and entered the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards. He was a 2nd Lieutenant commanding 10 Platoon in no.3 Company. At the battle of Moyenneville on 21 Aug 1918 he lost his way leading his platoon through thick fog but managed to reach the objective at Halte and captured it from the Germans. He then made a reconnaissance with Capt Fryer's Company and attacked several enemy posts. Duff Cooper's capture of one of these posts enabled no.2 Company to make significant progress. He was mentioned in despatches and awarded the DSO for his bravery and leadership.

While he was serving in the trenches of the Western Front he sent wooing letters to Diana in which he foolishly wrote "I hope everyone you like better than me will die very soon." Unfortunately the members of the Coterie that he was referring to, rival admirers of the beautiful Diana, were Patrick Shaw-Stewart, Raymond Asquith, Sir Denis Anson and Edward Horner, who were all killed in the Great War. After the war he married Lady Diana in 1919. She was a famous beauty who was a journalist and actress. Her parents had hoped to marry her off to the Prince of Wales but had to settle for Duff Cooper. Diana had to be very understanding and tolerant of her husband's womanising which did not stop after he was married. He had affairs with Daisy Fellowes, Gloria Guinness, Louise Leveque de Vilmorin, Susan Mary Alsop, Diana Capel, Maxime de la Falaise and others.

He returned to the Foreign Service as private secretary playing a significant role in the Egyptian and Turkiskish crises. His political career flourished from the early 1920s. He was Tory MP for Oldham, and was a friend of Winston Churchill, Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the 1930s he was Financial Secretary to the War Office and then War Secretary in the Cabinet in 1935. He served as First Lord of the Admiralty from 1937 and was critical of the appeasement of Hitler, named by the Nazis as one of 'the 3 most dangerous warmongers'. In World War 2 he was at first posted to Singapore then in 1944 he was the British Ambassador to France. This post was a success and lasted until 1947.

His life after France was devoted to writing: Old Men Forget (1953), a classic autobiography being the most well known. The Duff Cooper literary prize was established in his honour. He was created Viscount Norwich in 1952 but he died on the 1st January 1954. He and Diana had one legitimate child who was John Julius Norwich. The photo shows Duff and Lady Diana Cooper on their wedding day in 1919.

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by Stephen Luscombe