British High Commissioner who retired to Dacre

Date: Friday 5th August 2011
Norman Aspin
Norman Aspin

RETIRED diplomat Norman Aspin, of Dacre, whose work for the Foreign Office culminated in him being appointed British High Commissioner to Malta, has died at the age of 88.

Through his diplomatic work, Mr. Aspin served in London, India and Africa, and was made a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG). Awarded by the Queen, this accolade is bestowed on individuals in recognition of their important service in relation to foreign nations. Mr. Aspin received the CMG for his work in Israel during what became known as the Six-Day War, when his role included helping to evacuate British citizens from the country as tensions between it and neighbouring states escalated.

Following his retirement from the Foreign Office, he and his wife, Elizabeth, moved to Dacre and became active members of St. Andrew’s Church. Mr. Aspin served on the parochial church council and was a valued member of its finance committee, being responsible for claiming Gift Aid on donations made to the church. He also wrote a 30-page guide book about St. Andrew’s.

Mr. Aspin was a voluntary treasurer at the National Trust’s Acorn Bank, Temple Sowerby, and a member of the quiz team at the Horse and Farrier pub, Dacre.

He was born at Darwin, Lancashire, in 1922. His parents were Eleanor and Thomas Aspin and he had a younger sister, Audrey. He was educated at Darwin Grammar School and at the age of 18 enrolled at Durham University’s St. John’s College, where he studied geography.

The outbreak of the Second World War came just 12 months into his three-year course and he volunteered to join the Royal Navy. He became a second lieutenant and served abroad on HMS Emerald. He spent much of his time around East Africa and carried out Met Office weather forecasting for the forces.

When the war ended, Mr. Aspin returned to Durham University and graduated with a first class geography degree in 1947 before starting his diplomatic career at the Commonwealth Relations Office, which later became known as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

His first posting was to India in 1948 and he served in Bombay soon after the country had gained independence.

During the same year he married Elizabeth Irving in her native Tyneside and she remained in England for around 12 months before joining her husband in India. It was there that their first son, David, was born in 1950.

The family returned to England when Mr. Aspin was posted to the Commonwealth Office at Whitehall and the couple’s second child, Richard, was born in London. Mr. Aspin moved to Africa soon after and served in the Central African Federation, which comprised Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which later became Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi, respectively.

His next posting abroad was to Freetown, Sierra Leone, and it was during a three-year spell there that a third son, Robert, was born.

Israel was Mr. Aspin’s next destination. He served as head of chancery and was the number two to the British ambassador. The Six-Day War broke out in June, 1967, as the Israelis sought to counter what they saw as a pre-emptive attack by Arab nations which surrounded the country. His crucial role during the chaotic week led to him being awarded the CMG, which was presented at Buckingham Palace. He was the last surviving member of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, which has a spiritual home in a chapel at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and had his name on a chair within the building.

Mr. Aspin became head of the Africa department at the Foreign Office in London before being appointed High Commissioner equivalent of ambassador to Malta. His main role was to oversee the withdrawal of British troops and the Royal Navy from the island. He also represented the interests of Britain in Malta and promoted its trade and tourism.

In 1979, Mr. Aspin retired from the Foreign Office. For several years he was president of the East Africa Association, a private non-government group for which his role was to promote British trade in that part of the world.

In was in 1980 that he and his wife bought their home in Dacre.

Mr. Aspin is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and sister Audrey Bradbury, who lives at Lytham St. Annes. He also leaves three sons, David, of Essex; Richard, of Chiswick, and Robert, of Milford, Massachusetts, USA, two granddaughters and three grandsons.

His funeral service and interment were held at St. Andrew’s Church, Dacre, on Monday. Walker’s, of Tynefield House, Penrith, had charge of the arrangements and donations in Mr. Aspin’s memory can be made to Penrith Day Hospice Amenity Fund.