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James Callaghan

British Prime Minister

Died when: 92 years 364 days (1115 months)
Star Sign: Aries


James Callaghan The honourable james callaghan Leonard James Callaghan was born at 38 Funtington Road, Copnor, Portsmouth, England, on 27 March 1912. He took his middle name from his father, James (1877–1921), who was the son of an Irish Catholic father who had fled to England during the Great Irish Famine, and a Jewish mother. Callaghan's father ran away from home in the 1890s to join the Royal Navy; as he was a year too young to enlist, he gave a false date of birth and changed his surname from Garogher to Callaghan, so that his true identity could not be traced. He rose to the rank of Chief Petty Officer. His mother was Charlotte Callaghan (née Cundy, 1879–1961) an English Baptist. As the Catholic Church at the time refused to marry Catholics to members of other denominations, James Callaghan senior abandoned Catholicism and married Charlotte in a Baptist chapel. Their first child was Dorothy Gertrude Callaghan (1904–82). James Callaghan senior served in the First World War on board the battleship HMS Agincourt. After he was demobbed in 1919, he joined the Coastguard and the family moved to the town of Brixham in Devon, however he died only two years later of a heart attack in 1921 at the age of 44, leaving the family without an income, and forced to rely on charity to survive. Their financial situation was improved in 1924 when the first Labour government was elected, and introduced changes allowing Mrs Callaghan to be granted a widow's pension of ten shillings a week, on the basis that her husband's death was partly due to his war service. In his early years, Callaghan was known by his first name Leonard. When he entered politics in 1945 he decided to be known by his middle name James, and from then on he was referred to as James or Jim. He attended Portsmouth Northern Grammar School (now Mayfield School). He gained the Senior Oxford Certificate in 1929, but could not afford entrance to university and instead sat the Civil Service entrance exam. At the age of 17, Callaghan left to work as a clerk for the Inland Revenue at Maidstone in Kent. While working as a tax inspector, Callaghan joined the Maidstone branch of the Labour Party and the (AOT) a trade union for those in his profession; within a year of joining he became the office secretary of the union. In 1932 he passed a Civil Service exam which enabled him to become a senior tax inspector, and that same year he became the Kent branch secretary of the AOT. The following year he was elected to the AOT's national executive council. In 1934, he was transferred to Inland Revenue offices in London. Following a merger of unions in 1936, Callaghan was appointed a full-time union official and to the post of Assistant Secretary of the Inland Revenue Staff Federation (IRSF), and resigned from his Civil Service duties. During his time working as a tax inspector in the early-1930s, Callaghan met his future wife Audrey Moulton, and they were married in July 1938 at Maidstone. His union position at the IRSF brought Callaghan into contact with Harold Laski, the Chairman of the Labour Party's National Executive Committee and an academic at the London School of Economics. Laski encouraged him to stand for Parliament, although later on he requested Callaghan several times to study and lecture at the LSE. Following the outbreak of World War II Callaghan applied to join the Royal Navy in 1940, but was initially turned down on the basis that a Trade Union official was deemed to be a reserved occupation. He was finally allowed to join the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as an Ordinary Seaman in 1942. While he trained for his promotion his medical examination revealed that he was suffering from tuberculosis, so he was admitted to the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar in Gosport near Portsmouth. After he recovered, he was discharged and assigned to duties with the Admiralty in Whitehall. He was assigned to the Japanese section and wrote a service manual for the Royal Navy The Enemy: Japan. He then served in the East Indies Fleet on board the escort carrier HMS Activity and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in April 1944. Callaghan would become (as of 2021) the last British prime minister to be an armed forces veteran and the only one ever to have served in the Royal Navy. Whilst on leave from the Navy, Callaghan was selected as a Parliamentary candidate for Cardiff South—he narrowly won the local party ballot with twelve votes against the next highest candidate George Thomas, who received eleven. Callaghan had been encouraged to put his name forward for the Cardiff South seat by his friend Dai Kneath, a member of the IRSF National executive from Swansea, who was in turn an associate and friend of the local Labour Party secretary, Bill Headon. By 1945, he was serving on HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Indian Ocean. After VE Day, he returned, along with other prospective candidates, to the United Kingdom to stand in the general election.
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