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Ince, Sir Godfrey Herbertlocked

  • Rodney Lowe

Ince, Sir Godfrey Herbert (1891–1960), civil servant, the eldest son of George Alfred Reynolds Ince, solicitor's clerk, and his wife, Emma Budgen, was born at Redhill, Surrey, on 25 September 1891. From Reigate grammar school he went with a county major scholarship to University College, London, where he graduated BSc in 1913 with first-class honours in mathematics. He was a keen games player and excelled at football. He organized and captained the first University of London team and, as he never tired of recalling in his later life, took it to Moscow, returning triumphant.

In the First World War Ince held commissioned rank in the East Lancashire brigade of the Royal Field Artillery, and was wounded in action while attached to the Royal Engineers. In 1918 he married Ethel Dorris, daughter of Charles Maude, of Northallerton, Yorkshire, with whom he had three daughters. The following year he entered the Ministry of Labour, where he was to remain for his whole career. His early years were concentrated on industrial relations, and he acted as secretary to a number of courts of inquiry including, ironically, that on dock labour (1920) where Ernest Bevin made his reputation as the ‘Dockers' KC’. In 1928 Ince was transferred to the employment and insurance department where his phenomenal memory and mathematical brain enabled him to become quickly an expert on unemployment insurance. Two years later he was appointed principal private secretary to the minister, Margaret Bondfield, and acted in a similar capacity to her immediate successors. In 1933 he was appointed chief insurance officer with the rank of assistant secretary and in that capacity was loaned in 1936–7 to the commonwealth government of Australia to advise on national unemployment insurance. For his comprehensive report, which fully reflected his delight in analytical tables, he was rewarded with an honorarium of £400 by the Australian government.

In 1939 Ince was put in charge of the military recruitment department where, under the Military Training Act and then the National Service (Armed Forces) Act, he was heavily involved in the call-up. The success with which he handled this exacting task was recognized by Ernest Bevin, who became minister of labour in May 1940. Ince was first given the delicate task of integrating the old factory department of the Home Office into the ministry, and was then appointed director-general of manpower in June 1941. This new post was designed to bring under a single control the national service, military recruiting, and labour supply departments with their related problems. Under the permanent secretary the director was made immediately responsible to the minister for all matters affecting the call-up to the forces and the supply of civilian labour. This was work for which, as a strong-willed man of action who was imperturbable and indefatigable in times of crisis, he was admirably suited. Crucially, he and Bevin were also able to enjoy an exceptional mutual trust. Ince was in close sympathy with the aims and ideas of his minister, but he was not afraid to criticize his schemes when necessary. Bevin on his side valued Ince's judgement, and found it easy to work with a man whose advice was plain and direct and not hedged about with debating subtleties.

In the following three years of constant strain and ever-expanding responsibilities Ince's gifts found their greatest fulfilment. However, H. M. D. Parker was correct to write in the Dictionary of National Biography that:

with an innate streak of vanity and personal ambition he enjoyed the power which fell into his own hands and the wide appreciation of his achievements. Convinced of the soundness of his own judgements he was not always an easy person with whom to negotiate. He was at times unwilling, or perhaps unable, to admit the honesty of opinions running counter to his own, and the strident tones in which he tried to dominate a conference tended to exacerbate, when a little persuasiveness might well have reconciled, his opponents.

It was because of these defects that many of his colleagues doubted whether, beyond a mastery of manpower policy, he had much to contribute to the wider responsibilities of the ministry.

In November 1944 Ince was nevertheless chosen to succeed Sir Thomas Phillips as permanent secretary of the ministry, and this post he held until his retirement on 1 February 1956. The plan for demobilization owed much of its success to his insistence upon a procedure which would be simple, equitable, and intelligible. He was also personally much involved in plans for the resettlement of service personnel in civilian life and, in particular, for the provision of careers advice and vocational training for the young. He chaired a committee of educationists and industrialists to inquire into the working of the Juvenile Employment Service and its report in 1946 helped to lay the foundations of the Youth Employment Service.

As wartime controls were gradually relaxed or removed, there were calls for reductions in the ministry's large staff. To its ultimate detriment, Ince did not take kindly to these suggestions. He had built up a departmental empire and he was loath to accept any diminution of its powers. There was another and more commendable reason for his intransigence. He was always deeply interested in the welfare of his staff, and encouraged social gatherings and athletic contests in which he liked to take part. He was therefore anxious to ensure that as far as possible they should continue in post until reaching the normal age of retirement. This concern for his staff, however, met with little apparent response. His fairly frequent visits to local offices, for example, tended to frighten rather than stimulate. This was because, apart from his work and sport, Ince had few if any outside interests, and he had no small talk. He was shy and taciturn, he neither drank nor smoked, and he was a little intimidating to a stranger or a junior. This was particularly true if they were women, with whom he was not above abusing his position of authority.

On his retirement, until his death at the Nelson Hospital, Merton, Surrey, on 20 December 1960, Ince was chairman of Cable and Wireless and its associated overseas telecommunication companies. He enjoyed the travelling which his duties made possible, especially on one occasion when his arrival in Australia coincided with the opening of the Olympic games. This insatiable appetite for watching sport—he was a familiar figure at White Hart Lane and the Oval—made him in 1957 an obvious choice for membership of the Wolfenden committee on sport.

Ince was appointed CB (1941), KBE (1943), KCB (1946), and GCB (1951). His old college elected him to a fellowship in 1946, and in 1951 he received an honorary LLD from the University of London.


  • The Times (21 Dec 1960)
  • H. M. D. Parker, Manpower: a study of wartime policy and administration (1957)
  • The Observer (19 Nov 1944)
  • A. Bullock, The life and times of Ernest Bevin, 2 (1967)
  • E. Wigham, Strikes and the government, 1893–1974 (1976)


  • JRL, Manchester Guardian archive, letters to the Manchester Guardian
  • TNA: PRO, Ministry of Labour papers, LAB 79


  • W. Stoneman, photograph, 1943, NPG
  • W. Stoneman, photograph, 1954, NPG
  • H. Knight, portrait, priv. coll.
  • double portrait, photograph (with Ernest Bevin), repro. in Bullock, Life and times, 210

Wealth at Death

£14,612 8s. 7d.: probate, 9 Aug 1961, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]
, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)