John Hannam discovers some major surprises in the life of David Langford. From being a cold war warrior planning for World War 3 to briefing Margaret Thatcher, a hive of 60,000 bees and shooting for Great Britain.
If the Island’s new High Sheriff, David Langford, had followed the family tradition he might well have been a Freshwater grocer. Instead, he joined the Army and became a cold war warrior and ended up briefing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on many occasions. Ironically, she was the daughter of a grocer.
David grew up in the West Wight and still has so many fond memories of schooldays at All Saints Primary and being marched to Colwell Bay to learn to swim in the sea. His thirteenth birthday was a sailing milestone when he became the proud owner of his own dinghy. It was built by George Weston in the upstairs room of the Forrester’s Hall, in Yarmouth. Before it could be launched they encountered just one small problem. It was too big and in the end they took the window out and used a crane to lower the boat into the road.
Prior to this momentous moment young David had been a typical boisterous schoolboy roaming the West Wight with catapults and bows and arrows.
In 1965 he went to Sandhurst and remained in the Army until 1993 when he retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Probably the most exciting part of his service life was being an instructor in nuclear weapons and he spent twelve years in Germany. Every year he was vetted by both the British and Americans.
“My life was a total open secret and I am still not able to talk about certain things. I still can’t go to certain places, like the old Soviet Union. I had to get the Army’s nuclear weapons organised, pointing the right way and making sure they were capable of doing it. In reality, I was planning for World War 3 and it was not a happy scenario,” revealed David.
Life was certainly exciting but, he assured me, nothing like the movies. Another major aspect of his job was to have regular briefing sessions with the Prime Minister at 10, Downing Street, which proved an eye-opener. “Margaret Thatcher was a very interesting person and had been briefed before I got there and so some of her questions were very technical and I was surprised by her depth of knowledge. She kept you on your toes. I certainly pushed through, with her, the downgrading of some of our nuclear weapons which were more dangerous to us than the opposition. They were getting old,” said David.
How times have changed in modern warfare. These days David gets e-mails from soldier pals on the front line and he can reply to them. “Wars are now fought with TV cameras over their shoulder. We had reporters but there was always a time lag before the stories broke. Now what you see on television or hear on the radio may have happened but it’s been dramatised into making it more widespread than it possibly is.”
Rifle shooting has always been his passion since being at prep school. Quite recently he finished his twelve year reign as the secretary of the West Wight Rifle Club. David Langford shot for Great Britain as a schoolboy and went on to represent both Great Britain and the Army at top international level. A far quieter relaxation for him is bee keeping and this has been a great love of his for many years and he is completely amazed at what bees get up to. “You really don’t own bees. They are wild and you look after them to the best of your ability. It’s amazing to see what they do throughout the year and how they find and store food and reproduce.”
When I visited his Thorley home, where he resides with his lovely wife Sue, the queen bee was not far off getting ready to lay an incredible three thousand eggs a day. In the peak summer his hive will be home to sixty thousand bees.
Since retiring from the Army David has undertaken many posts in Island life. In 1997 he was appointed the IW Regional Director of the Country Land and Business Association. For twelve years he worked with the IW Healthcare NHS Trust, particularly in the mental health field, and has also been a key member of the Red Cross Council.
Each Island High Sheriff has his own personal theme for his year in office. In David’s case he has given much thought to his idea. “My aim is to obtain more recognition for many more of the local Island voluntary groups, of which they are nearly two thousand. Too many of the volunteers hide their light under a bushel and I want to shine a little more light on some of these voluntary groups and, hopefully, give them a little boost.
“There are so many doing really good work that we don’t know about. I feel they need far more recognition,” said David. He is looking forward to a busy year in office and the previous High Sheriff, Peter Grimaldi, has made his diary available as a guide.
David Langford has come a long way since his early days in his beloved West Wight. He began life as one of the local youngsters who mischievously annoyed the Army personnel at Golden Hill Fort but ended up briefing the country’s Prime Minister.