Sir Patrick Duffy’s memoirs: a story of survival and statesmanship

Sir Patrick Duffy’s memoirs: a story of survival and statesmanship

At the age of 103, Britain’s oldest parliamentarian reflects in his memoirs on history, contemporary issues and friendships

Sir Patrick Duffy

SIR Patrick Duffy, former Labour MP and government minister, has just published his memoirs  - From Wigan to Westminster: Hot Wars, Cold Wars and the Carrier Strike Groups - capturing the many and varied aspects of his long life.

He is now 103 years old (he'll be 104 next month) and is the oldest living former MP.

Sir Patrick Duffy was Labour MP for Colne Valley, then later Sheffield Attercliffe, serving as a defence minister and later as opposition defence spokesperson.

This is the second volume of his memoirs, an autobiography focusing on his impressive parliamentary and political career, including his presidency of the NATO Assembly in the 1980s.

Before politics, the young Duffy — born in Wigan to Irish parents from Mayo — experienced an eventful career as a young pilot in Fleet Air Arm in the Second World War, crashing into a Scottish mountain in bad weather and lying undiscovered in the wreckage for two days. He is likely the only surviving member of the Second World War squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm.

During his war-time service he received the Last Rites twice - and due to devastating injuries underwent experimental plastic surgery , before, remarkably, taking to the skies once more.

The Second World War left its mark on Sir Patrick — literally; he still receives treatment to his various battle scars at Doncaster Royal Infirmary.

As a politician he witnessed the Cold War at close quarters as President of the NATO Assembly - a key role during the tense years of the 1980s, when the threat of nuclear war loomed large and a steady hand was needed at the top of the defence organisations.

During his diplomatic and political career, Sir Patrick discussed global affairs with prime ministers and presidents, with diplomats and military leaders. In his book he also recalls a private encounter with Pope John Paul II, who batted away the Italian Prime Minister in order to talk to him into his private office. He needed to lobby him about development spending.

Sir Patrick, a Catholic, received a Papal knighthood from Pope John Paul II.

The reference to ‘carrier strike groups’ in his memoirs refers to Sir Patrick’s role in retirement, when he chaired an influential group of naval experts (which included the odd admiral) to advise the British government about future warship requirements.

He also details some of his exchanges with the late Queen Elizabeth II, of whom he professes a great warmth and admiration.

But there many other aspects covered in his book from Wigan to Westminster, some of them personal, reflecting Sir Patrick’s unique status as a war hero, member of parliament, government minister, knight of the realm, but, above all, a quintessential Irishman.

Indeed, he writes movingly about his first-ever visit to Ireland as a 12-year-old boy, despatched from his home in Doncaster back to Raith in east Mayo.

The journey took him 30-hours, returning to his real ‘home’.

He offers an evocative, first-hand recollection of an Ireland from nearly a century ago.

Sir Patrick still has a home in Co. Roscommon.

What is striking about Sir Patrick’s writing is the clarity and precision. He is blessed with a pin-sharp memory and can recall events across the rich tapestry of his life as if they were yesterday.

And the book is not only a reflection over a long and eventful career, but also an incisive commentary on contemporary issues like Brexit, Covid and Boris Johnson.

An assiduous reader, Sir Patrick is phenomenally well-briefed on current affairs.

The launch of his book at Doncaster’s new Danum Gallery, Library and Museum, saw family and friends gather to celebrate a remarkable achievement from a remarkable man.

Among those present were Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, Rosie Winterton, Sir Patrick’s local MP and longtime friend.

The elected Mayor of Doncaster, Roz Jones introduced him, while Sarah Mangan, Consul General of Ireland in Manchester also spoke.

Leading business figures attended the launch including John Kennedy and Andy Rogers —who helped produce the book, along with Irish Post’s publisher, Elgin Loane.


From Wigan to Westminster: Hot Wars, Cold Wars and the Carrier Strike Groups

available on