Sir Frank Nelson SOE Chief

Sir Frank Nelson KCMG (1883-1966), who was responsible on the executive level for the creation of the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War, died on Thursday (11 Aug 1966) in Oxford at the age of 83. Frank Nelson was educated at Bedford Grammar School and Neuenheim College, Heidelberg. As a young man he went out to India as an assistant in the firm of Symons, Barlow and Co, rising to be the senior partner, though his service was interrupted by the First World War, when he was an officer in the Bombay Light Horse. In 1922 and 1923 he was Chairman of the Bombay Chamber of Commerce and in the latter year President of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of India and Ceylon. From 1922 to 1924 Nelson was a member of the legislative council of Bombay. In 1924 he was knighted and returned to England, being elected Conservative MP for the Stroud division of Gloucestershire that year. He was re-elected in 1929 but resigned in May 1931 in order to go into business, being for some time joint managing director of the Lamson Paragon Supply Company.

Shortly after war broke out in 1939 he was employed as Consul in Basel, but when the Special Operations Executive was created in July 1940, by order of the War Cabinet with Lord Dalton as the responsible Minister, Sir Frank Nelson was appointed as its chief.

With his past experience as a member of Parliament and in international commerce he was well qualified for the task. Although never very strong physically he threw himself into his new task with all he had to give and it needed everything. The establishment of a new and secret deparment, responsible to no existing department and with a charter of almost limitless scope, naturally aroused hostility, veiled or open thoughout the length and breadth of Whitehall. That he was able before his retirement through ill-health in the spring of 1942 largely to overcome this inherent animosity and to get his organisation accepted and recognised as an essential development in modern warfare was due entirely to his force of character, his patent honesty of purpose and complete unselfishness. He wore himself out in the process but left a solid base on which his successor could build. Frank Nelson was a man of grim but unshakable determination, with a strong sense of loyalty and of organisation.

Nelson was created KCMG shortly after he retired from the SOE in 1942 and subsequently he held appointments in Washington in the Air Intelligence Branch and later in Germany, retiring with the rank of Air Commodore. He married firstly, in 1911 Jean, who died in 1952, only daughter of Colonel Patrick Montgomerie, and they had a son; secondly Dorothy Moira Carling, who with unfailing devotion nursed him though his last years. (Times Obituary 13 Aug 1966)

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