Fusiliers of Interest
Sir John Gilbert Laithwaite
Lancashire Fusilier, civil servant and diplomatist, was born on 5 July 1894 in Dublin, the eldest in the family of two sons and two daughters of John Gilbert Laithwaite, of the Post Office survey, of Dublin, and his wife, Mary, daughter of Bernard Kearney, of Clooncoose House, Castlerea, co. Roscommon. He was educated at Clongowes, whence he won a scholarship to Trinity College, Oxford, of which he became an honorary fellow in 1955. He obtained a second class in both classical honour moderations (1914) and literae humaniores (1916).
During the First World War, Laithwaite served in the front line in France in 1917-18, as a second lieutenant with the 10th Battalion The Lancashire Fusiliers, and was wounded. In 1971 he published (privately printed in Lahore) a record of part of this service in The 21st March 1918: Memories of an Infantry Officer, which includes a lively, detailed account of the German attack at Havrincourt, near Cambrai, on 21 March 1918.
In 1919 Laithwaite was appointed to the India Office, and thus started a long career involved with the subcontinent. He became a principal in 1924 and in 1931 he was specially attached to the prime minister, J. Ramsay MacDonald, for the second Indian round-table conference in London. Two important secretaryships followed, of the Indian franchise (Lothian) committee under R. A. Butler, which toured the subcontinent in 1932, and of the Indian delimitation committee from August 1935 to February 1936. From 1936 to 1943 he was principal private secretary to the viceroy of India, the second marquess of Linlithgow. It was a time of growing political tension following the India Act of 1935 and with provincial autonomy in 1937 imminent. The strains and stresses were greatly increased by the approach of war. Laithwaite gave staunch support to the viceroy and his policies and deserves to share with Linlithgow the credit for ensuring that India's vital role as supply centre for the war effort, as well as a source of military manpower, was quickly and efficiently organized and maintained.
In 1943 Laithwaite returned to England with Linlithgow and was appointed assistant under-secretary of state for India. He was then appointed an under-secretary (civil) of the war cabinet (1944-5) and secretary to the Commonwealth ministerial meeting in London in 1945. As deputy under-secretary of state for Burma in 1945-7, he twice visited Rangoon and had a formative share in the negotiations leading to Burmese independence early in 1948. He was deputy under-secretary of state for India in 1947 and for Commonwealth relations in 1948-9, and he acted as one of the official secretaries of the conference of Commonwealth prime ministers in 1948.
In 1949 Laithwaite became the United Kingdom representative to the Republic of Ireland, a post upgraded to ambassador in 1950. In 1951 he was sent as high commissioner to Pakistan, where he already had friendly relations with members of the government, officials, and other leaders. He steadfastly promoted the British policy of friendship with both India and Pakistan in their disputes over the future of Kashmir and the distribution of the canal waters of the Punjab, and supported the efforts of the United Nations to reconcile the two countries. He left Pakistan in 1954 to be permanent under-secretary of state for Commonwealth relations from 1955 to 1959, first visiting Australia and New Zealand. From 1963 to 1966 he was vice-chairman of the Commonwealth Institute.
Laithwaite was also a governor of Queen Mary College, London, from 1959; president of the Hakluyt Society, 1964-9; vice-president of the Royal Central Asian Society in 1967; president of the Royal Geographical Society, 1966-9; and a member of the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries from 1959 to 1971. After retirement in 1959 he played an active part in the life of the City as a director of Inchcape and of insurance companies. He was admitted a freeman of the City of London in 1960 and was master of the Tallow Chandlers' Company in 1972-3.
Laithwaite was an industrious and efficient worker, with an impressive grasp of problems and a reputation for fairness. He was rather tall and solidly built, dignified and precise in manner, but exceptionally friendly in a social context, even on first acquaintance, though still with a trace of formality. His outstanding qualities and affability, together with his sense of humour, made him many friends both at home and abroad. His diverse interests included a strong appreciation of fine artefacts and while in India and Pakistan he collected carpets and rugs with discrimination.
Laithwaite came from a Lancastrian Roman Catholic family and adhered
devoutly to that faith, which contributed to his success in the embassy
in Dublin. In 1960 he was appointed a knight of Malta. He was appointed
CIE (1935), CSI (1938), KCIE (1941), KCMG (1948), GCMG (1953), and KCB
(1956). Laithwaite was a homosexual and unmarried. He died in London
on 21 December 1986.