Originating from an idea by Douglas Houghton (the MP for Sowerby), the origins of the Civil Service Retirement Fellowship took shape in 1965. In the second in our series of 'Talk to Us' features we decided to go right back to the origins of the CSRF with an interview with one of our Vice Presidents, Ian Rathjen, who was involved at the start of the CSRF, and ask him to share his recollections of our early years….

1. What is your earliest memory of ideas of a CSRF being discussed, and what were your initial impressions of the concept?
A. In the very earliest days, I had little direct involvement with the embryo fellowship. In 1965/6 I was a chief accountant in the Ministry of Defence and my boss, the Assistant Director of Accountancy Services, David Graneek, was treasurer of the Civil Service Benevolent Fund (CSBF, now known as The Charity for Civil Servants). He delegated some of the work on the CSBF accounts to me and in that capacity, I met Philip Wolstenholme who had just embarked on the Fellowship project. I recall his huge enthusiasm and the way in which he presented it to the Fund’s AGM which responded by agreeing wholeheartedly to allow the idea to go forward. After that endorsement, I heard through David that very successful meetings of Civil Service pensioners had been held in Guildford and Birmingham and that a Steering Committee had been formed.

Pictured above: the full original Fellowship Steering Committee. Left to right. Back row: Maldwyn Davies (Treasury Welfare Adviser), W P (Jimmy) James (Birmingham Branch Chairman), David Cocks (Admin. Officer). Front row: Philip Wolstenholme (Gen. Sec. CSBF), Chairman Gerry Gerrard (CSBF COM & CSCA Treasurer), Frank Swift (Inland Revenue Staff Fed.) & Frank Martin (Guildford Branch Chairman).

2. In the beginning, what was it like to be a part of this formation? What were the general expectations and challenges?
A. It was a very exciting and busy time both from a personal aspect and for the Fund. David Graneek had become Director of Accountancy Services in MOD. I had been promoted to Assistant Director and had been appointed Treasurer of the Fund. Now I was able to see at first hand what the formation of the Fellowship involved. A room next to the Fund offices in Victoria Street became the nerve centre, with David Cocks, seconded from the Inland Revenue, very busy arranging inaugural meetings all over the UK. On my frequent visits to the Fund I heard from Philip Wolstenholme about his discussions with the Treasury, the Staff & Official sides of the National Whitley Council and the Steering Committee. There was clearly support and, most importantly, money available from the Treasury grant-in-aid subhead for Civil Service Welfare. I could see that several Branches had already been formed and were functioning, even before the Fellowship had officially come into being as an official organization and charity. Such was the enthusiasm that no one seemed to doubt the ultimate success of the enterprise.

Pictured above (l to r): Ian Rathjen, Jimmy James, Birmingham Committee Chairman and Marion Cheal, the Senior Matron of the Benevolent Fund. The occasion was probably a Fund AGM

3. How were you involved?
A. I was not greatly involved in those early stages, other than as a guest officer of the Fund. This meant that I saw at first hand the inaugural Conference at the Bonnington Hotel in 1968 with Philip Wolstenholme and Douglas Houghton as the speakers whose inspiring addresses finally assured the successful formation of the new organization. Registration as a Charity followed a month later.

4. How has your involvement with the CSRF evolved over time?
A. As an officer of the CSBF from 1968 until my retirement in 1994 I always enjoyed close liaison with the Fellowship’s officers, staff and committee and very much appreciated invitations to attend the annual conferences. A much closer relationship ensued when I was invited to become Treasurer in 1991 and had the privilege of addressing the annual conferences for nine years under the wise chairmanship of Teddy Morgan, Colin Cherry and Peter Jones. I greatly appreciate the honour of my appointment as a Vice-President along with Peter Jones who I am sure did much more for the Fellowship.

Pictured above: one of the initial CSRF meetings in Plymouth in 1968

5. Can you describe any encounters or distinct memories of those involved with the CSRF’s formation.
A. Looking back, it all seems to have been such a frenetic time, with my memories of both Retirement fellowship and the Benevolent Fund becoming blurred together. So many of the personalities, particularly Gerry Gerrard, Philip Wolstenholme and Ron Hayward were involved with both organizations and I saw them often at various stages in the CSRF’s formation. I do recall that we all thought very highly of Jimmy James who, from his appointment as Chairman of the Birmingham Branch at the first inaugural meeting, threw himself into the work of the Steering Committee and personally travelled all over the UK holding meetings to form more and more branches; he qualifies as a true founding father of the CSRF.

6. Do you have any favourite CSRF memories from this time? What in your opinion were the great successes?
A. The overriding memory is not of any one single occurrence but rather the sense that the formation of so many Branches in such a short time proved beyond doubt that Douglas Houghton’s original inspiring comment that, “A Pension is Not Enough” had been proved a thousand times over. There was a demand for a body such as the CSRF and now it had been created! It was clearly very satisfying for all who had been closely involved.

7. At the time what was your role within the Civil Service?
A. As I mentioned above, I was working in the Accountancy Services department of the MOD which dealt with the investigation and agreement of contracts between commercial companies and the MOD. In earlier years this had involved travelling and staying away often for several days each week but by 1964 I was more deskbound and able, with my boss’s approval, to attend weekday meetings in the London area.

Pictured above: Ian, with wife Elizabeth at the CSRF's Annual General Meeting & Conference in Coventry in 2011

8. What do you think contributed to the CSRF’s successful initial growth?
A. The main factors were first the vision and enthusiasm of those closely involved. Second was the active and practical support of so many bodies and Departments including the Paymaster General, the Treasury, the CSBF and both sides of the National Whitley Council. Finally, the response of the thousands of retired civil servants who came to inaugural meetings was crucial; they provided the committees and the visitors. They all felt part of something new and vibrant which was actually making a difference to people’s lives.

9. What are your hopes for the legacy and the future of the CSRF?
A. There have been many changes since the CSRF was founded and no doubt there will be more. However, the Fellowship is still recognizable as the compassionate organization which it set out to be at the beginning. The founders created a robust organization along wise and lasting guidelines. Despite modern technological advances people’s basic needs are little changed. As long as the CSRF continues to meet the need for friendship and helps to combat loneliness it will be welcome among the ranks of the retired and it will thrive.