Douglas Valder Duff

1901 Born Rosario de Santa Fe, Argentina. Douglas was the eldest son of Arthur Joseph Duff, then British Consul in Rosario, and Florence Valder. Douglas Duff’s godfather was Roger Casement of High Treason fame

1906 the family came home to England and then Douglas and his younger brother Lewis went to school at the Convent of the Visitation in Bridport, Dorset.

1914. At the age of 13 he began his training on the cadet ship HMS Conway, moored on the River Mersey. By the time he was fourteen he was really at sea, serving during the First World War and, at the age of fifteen, his ship was torpedoed by the Germans.

1916 At the age of 15 he joined the Merchant Navy as a cadet. He was sent to the “ Thracia” trading between Liverpool and the Mediterranean. For nearly a year he sailed between Britain and the Mediterranean with cargo of iron ore from Spain and phosphate rock from Tunisa.

1917 Mar 27. The Thracia was torpedoed in the Bay of Biscay by German submarine UC-69 on route from Bilbao for Ardrossan carrying a cargo of iron ore.. He was one of only two survivors and, for a while, was posted as “killed in action”. The Thracia was 10 miles N.N.E. of Belle Isle (off the French Coast) , travelling at a speed of 7 knots, at 8.15 p.m. She was suddenly torpedoed without warning by a German submarine, being struck forward of the stokehold. The explosion burst her boilers, killing an engineer, a greaser, and two firemen. Immediately after the explosion the steamer went down by the head to starboard before any attempt could be made to lower the boats.


Her crew of 38 all lost their lives, except two men, one of whom was Douglas V. Duff, acting fourth officer. At 10.30 next morning Duff was picked up by a French fishing boat, and afterwards transferred to a French torpedo boat.

The only other survivor was picked up by a Norwegian steamer, the Nordborg, and landed at Barry. Le "Nordborg" recueille le canonnier H Mass, le patrouilleur Ardent repêche Douglas Valderduff et le corps du second William B. Chadnick. Ce sont les deux seuls survivants des 38 hommes d'équipage.

1918 Jun. After recovering at the family home in Ireland Duff went back to sea. This time he served as a midshipman and, in an encounter with German U boats, he had his leg broken. He was still only 17 years old at the time. Next he was sent to the Black Sea and was involved in the rescue of many fugitives from the Bolshevists. This was a part of his life he never talked about except to say it was “indescribable”.

When shipwrecked from the Thracia he had made a vow to dedicate his life to God if he was saved. So when the war ended he became a novitiate in a teaching order of monks at Deeping St James in Lincolnshire. However, after 22 months he left, for he discovered that he had no vocation for that kind of life. In addition he found that he had no liking for the discipline and that he resented the vow of celibacy.

1921 Apr 1. He joined the Royal Irish Constabulary and served in Galway. I assume as a Black and Tan rather than Auxiliary as he had not been an officer, and I cannot find him in ADRIC

1922 Feb 2. Joined the Palestine Police. Served Palestine Gendarmerie, British Section (1922-25),

1925 Transferred to the Palestine Police in 1925 as an inspector and rising to the rank of superintendent. He was in command of the police in Jerusalem .

1928 Apr 11. Served as ADC to HRH Princess Mary, Viscountess Lascelles during her 4 day visit to Jerusalem. He is not mentioned in Times reports

1928/1929. Duff was an inspector in the Palestine Police Force during the Western Wall controversy in 1928 He is not mentioned in Times reports. The Wailing Wall, or Western Wall of the Haram al- Sharif in Jerusalem, is sacred to both Muslims and Jews. In the 1920s, tensions mounted between Palestinian Muslims and Zionists over ownership, control, and access to the Wall. The Western Wall incident of September 1928 sparked rivalry and violence that spread across Palestine.

1928 Sep 24 On their Day of Atonement the Jews erected a screen across the alley that ran along the Wall. Inspector Duff visited the Wall area with the District Commissioner of Jerusalem, Edward Keith-Roach The Jewish leader. Rabbi Noah Baruch Glasstein, promised to have the screen removed by the next morning, but this did not happen. The following day, Inspector Duff, sent a few of his local police down to remove the screen. They were prevented by the Jews so he sent ten British officers, in battle gear, from nearby Mount Scopus. Four of the ten were apparently former RIC. They went to the Wall, and removed the screen. Duff was accused by the Jews of throwing the remains of their screen down into the Tyropean Valley.

1931 Oct 22. A criminal charge was brought against Duff in 1929. But it was not until two years later that action was taken. On 22 October 1931, the Executive Council with the High Commissioner reviewed the results of a criminal court case against Duff. He was found guilty of having “counseled [sic] and procured Sergeant Ishak Ahmed Nejib,” a member of the Palestine Police, to “exercise ill treatment and to do acts which occasioned bodily distress to Farid Muhammad Sheikh Ibrahim.” The High Commissioner affirmed the court’s ruling and decided to dismiss Duff from public service immediately and report it to the Secretary of State.

After Palestine Douglas expected to get a post in the Jamaican Police but he had contracted malaria and was not fit for that sort of tropical duty. Instead he set up home in Dorset . He needed to earn a living and so took up writing and journalism . His first book appears to have been his memoirs "Sword for Hire. The saga of a modern free-companion" published in 1934. The novels followed mainly from 1936 to 1962

1932. He met his future wife, Janet Wallace, who was a nursing sister in Nazareth. He first heard of her when she was reported as repelling an attack on her hospital with a broom ! They were married in Scotland in 1932.

1940 Jan 3. Appointed Temp Lt.

He joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. At first in command of “Grey Mist” as part of the Dover Patrol. Next he was then appointed to the Staff of Admiral Andrew Cunningham, Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. Under Cunningham he carried out various duties, serving as Naval Officer in charge at Derna, and then as officer in command of the Western Desert Schooner Flotilla running sailing schooners which were breaking the Tobruk blockade.

He was next put in command of H.M.S. Stag (N) whose duties included netting the Suez Canal. In 1943 he was transferred home and appointed Staff Officer Operations (2) in Falmouth. From there he went to the Irregular Warfare Department of the Admiralty stationed at Teignmouth.

1941 Mar 39 MID. For enterprise and seamanship while serving off the Libyan Coast: brought HM Yacht Eskimo Nell from Derna to Alexandria

1943 Jun 28. Appointed Temp Lt. Commander

1945 Nov. He was demobilised.

1960 His first wife, Janet, died. He later married Eveline Rowston who had been a major in the Q.A.R.N.N.S. (Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service.)

He continued writing, broadcasting and television work until his death in 1978. He wrote about 100 books in his lifetime as well as 2 autobiographies ‘ May the Winds Blow’ and ‘Bailing with a Teaspoon’.

1978 Sep 23. died. Dorchester, England

Palestine Police