Intelligence leads Bill to 60-year doubles partner

A retired intelligence officer and the daughter of a famous botanist will be celebrating 60 years of wedded bliss this Sunday.

Christine Leslie, 89, and Commander William Mark Harlock, 90, from Camperdown Terrace can still be spotted every morning walking arm in arm to the sheltered bench overlooking the slipway for their breakfast of thermos coffee and ‘proper’ jam sandwiches.

William – nicknamed affectionately as ‘The Admiral’ – and Christine first met during a doubles game at Budleigh Salterton Tennis Club.

They married at East Budleigh Church in 1951 and had six children and six grandchildren.

Born in 1921 in Fiji, Bill’s father was police commissioner and his Australian mother was hospital matron. He spent his childhood on the beaches of Sydney and Alexandria.

He picked up fluent Arabic playing with the local boys, and, curiously, was hauled to school on a reluctant donkey by none other than a young Kim Philby, one of the Cambridge spies.

In April 1939, aged only 18, he joined Dartmouth Royal Naval College and trained alongside Prince Philip.

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A midshipman on board HMS Cornwall he emerged from the war with blasted hearing, a neatly reattached but paralyzed right hand, and medals including the Malta George Cross and a Gorbachev-signed, 40-year victory in Russia jubilee medal.

His fluency in Arabic took him into naval intelligence, where he was one of only three Arabic interpreters, and then into GCHQ Cheltenham where he became head of Arab section.

Christine’s background is just as fascinating – her grandfather, John Henry Lace, was a famous botanist who became chief conservator of forests in Burma.

His collections are still held today, at Kew, and in the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh.

He owned Maerbrook House on the Maer, once the only house on the flat dunes near Orcombe Point, from where Christine’s mother walked daily to Southlands Girls’ School, later to become Rolle College.

After his death in 1918 – he lies in Littleham Churchyard - Christine’s mum then moved her and her two sisters to Drewsteighton.

Daughter Angie Harlock said: “Together they have weathered many a storm themselves, the sort that come with having a large family.

“They believe in living a modest and frugal life, indeed, he has been recycling his bathwater down a hosepipe into a waterbutt for decades!

“Though even they may be tempted to raise a small glass of red on reaching such a precious milestone.”

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