The Home Secretaries (16): Sir Donald Somervell

Donald_Somervell_1945Sir Donald Somervell, 1945

Conservative, in Churchill’s caretaker government

Sir Donald Somervell was, briefly, home secretary in Churchill’s caretaker government. Having been to Harrow, he then took a first in chemistry from Magdalen College, Oxford, before becoming the first chemist to be elected as a fellow of All Souls. He became a barrister, though not before serving in the First World War in India and Mesopotamia.

By 1929, he was looking to enter politics. He was from a Liberal background, but given the party’s collapse, and his admiration for Baldwin, he entered parliament in 1931. He was made solicitor-general in 1932 and then attorney general in 1936. As such, he played significant roles in the passing of the Government of India Act of 1935, and the abdication crisis. He was a strong supporter of Chamberlain, and of appeasement. Though he had crossed swords with Churchill in the ’thirties, he stayed on as attorney general in the national government. In 1945, Churchill made him home secretary in his caretaker government.

Somervell had been offered a safe seat in 1935, but chose to remain as MP for Crewe: that cost him his seat in with the Labour landslide of 1945. The following year, Attlee made him lord justice of appeal; in 1951, he had strong claims to be lord chancellor, but his claims were overlooked.

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