In Memoriam, Christopher Duffy, 1936-2022

The 1980s. A distinguished scholar kindly comes at the invitation of his junior to speak at Durham. It is the old days of sociability. You are putting him up for the night and giving him dinner. He is arriving too late for lunch but shows up at 2.45, the most impoverished time of the day – too late to still be at lunch (at Durham at any rate) and too early to think of tea. He arrives at your office (as cubby-holes – actually mine was very large but dark. You could have held an orgy in there. Indeed I am surprised Rogister did not want the room) and, instinctively, you open a filing cabinet and easily extract, for they are not hidden, a bottle of scotch and two generous glasses. You might then expect an addition, but this was the North Bailey, not so much crepuscular castellations as university grunge. No facilities, so no mixer readily available unless you fancied piss and that would have made scant difference [to the strength, not the taste, well you know this. I am an eighteenth-centuryist and this is by way of my making a joke of the period: far from being polite or the modern public’s view of Austenish – a condition of bleak modern ignorance – it was all conversation about piss and wind, as it were].

Christopher, well a classic. Great scholar, clear personality, said what he thought, true patriot. Actually, the most obvious point was  that he was a thoroughly nice man.

A Balliol product who was the intellectual heavyweight at Sandhurst (Keegan was largely froth), providing an ironic counterpoint to pomposity (he had a fake name-sign on his office door as Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge Stewart) and leaving generations of cadets impressed as well as enlightened, Christopher was Secretary-General of the British Commission for Military History, and author of 21 books, most notably on eighteenth-century German and Austrian armies. He ranged more widely to include a study of the Somme from the German perspective, a strongly archival work which argued that the offensive put far more pressure on the Germans than generally appreciated. His The Military Experience in the Age of Reason was also of wider importance. An inspirational historian at many levels, whose work on modern defence and both world wars is underestimated, and who suffered from the general academic neglect for military history. A great scholar, Christopher, predictably, was not an FBA.

We directly overlapped in a number of areas. Senior scholars can be shits to those who, as they see it, move into ‘their fields’ (a hilarious concept), but I found Christopher consistently helpful and supportive. We complemented each other, he on the ’45 being more strongly operational and yours truly more strategic and political, while on fortifications he was more technical and I stronger on the non-Western dimension. He was a great inspiration to those who knew him and I and others both European and North American were very pleased to contribute to his festschrift which is a lasting memorial to the affection and respect he so richly earned.

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