Kilmartin, Terence (‘Terry’) Kevin (1922–91), intelligence officer and literary editor, was born 10 January 1922 at Church Road, Greystones, Co. Wicklow, seventh of eight children of Ambrose Joseph Kilmartin, deputy forestry commissioner and veteran of the 1916 rising, and Eva Kilmartin (née Hyland). The family had lived at St Mary's Road, Dundalk, Co. Louth where Terence's elder brother John (see below) was born. Prior to that, Ambrose Kilmartin had worked in Ceylon as a conservator of forests.
Within months, Terence's infancy and family life were interrupted by his father's death, at the age of 37. Eva Kilmartin, expecting her eighth child and without independent means, was forced to divide the children, some going into the care of friends and relatives, but she took the remainder, including Terence, to England. He was educated at the catholic Xavierian College, Mayfield, Sussex. Childhood illness had caused the loss of a kidney, which limited his employment prospects. Aged about 17, however, he was urged by his mother to answer an advertisement from a French family seeking a private tutor. In 1938–9, having arrived with little or no French, he worked well, perfected his language skills, and returned home in 1939 a fluent French-speaking Francophile.
War with Germany was imminent as Kilmartin sought new employment. Military service seemed out of the question with his health condition. But his sister, who happened to be a secretary with the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Britain's espionage agency, facilitated his call to interview and his almost effortless induction into the service, aided undoubtedly by his charm and his French experience. (Indeed, Kilmartin's first subterfuge had been learned from his mother, who had attached a photograph of an older brother to his French job application.) His work for SOE, about which he subsequently revealed little except his contempt for its glamorisation, included underground activities in France during the invasion year of 1944, for which he was decorated.
In 1946 Kilmartin embarked on his peacetime career as a journalist, initially as assistant editor of World Review (1946–7). He then freelanced in the Middle East, broadcasting from Cyprus (1947–8). His influential wartime colleagues had included David Astor, future editor of the Observer newspaper, who, as foreign editor, took Kilmartin (with whom he had served in SOE) as his assistant in 1949. In 1950–52 Kilmartin simultaneously served as assistant literary editor. His lack of a literary background proved no barrier to his success in the role: in 1952, when Astor became editor, Kilmartin was promoted literary editor. His natural ability and Astor's personal confidence in his heroic wartime friend compensated for formal credentials.
‘Terry’ Kilmartin became renowned and respected within the newspaper world as a manager who rarely passed reviews unless he was sure they were beyond improvement. He spotted and promoted aspirant writers, although not himself particularly widely read. Among the talented and promising young authors he sponsored were such subsequent household names as Martin Amis, Clive James, and Muriel Spark. Reviewers appreciated his advice and an opportunity to write for the Observer, while Kilmartin himself appreciated not being obliged to write more than he found absolutely necessary. His urbane, attractive, and gregarious personality enhanced the image of the newspaper, his perfect French adding a layer of sophistication that identified him with the particular field in which he excelled. Yet he was self-deprecating and had a disarming habit of becoming vague in regard to issues about which he either wished to say nothing or was about to speak profoundly. He took a broadly left-wing approach to political issues, notably the Cuban crises of 1961–2, joining politicians and intellectuals such as Anthony Wedgwood-Benn, Michael Foot, Eric Hobsbawm, and Kenneth Tynan in writing to the Times (19 April 1961) to protest at US support for anti-Castro rebels in Cuba.
Kilmartin's many translations of French texts reflected his sound knowledge of French literature. Spread over three decades, his translations included Montherlant's The bachelors (1960), The dream (1962), Chaos and night (1964), The girls (1968), and The boys (1974); André Malraux's Anti-memoirs (1968) and Lazarus (1977); Marcel Proust's Remembrance of things past (1981), partly a revision of C. K. Scott-Moncrieff's earlier version of the monumental À la recherche du temps perdu; Proust's Albertine gone, and Marcel Proust: selected letters 1904–1909 (both 1989). Of these, the 1981 translation of Proust was not merely a refurbishment of Scott-Moncrieff but a substantial retranslation in its own right, retaining the best of the earlier version. It was widely praised as Kilmartin's tour de force. Indeed, The Times consistently praised his translations, and even suggested they contributed to the quality of the original work. He also translated Charles de Gaulle's Memoirs of hope (1971), and in 1983 published his own Guide to Proust.
Terry Kilmartin lived at 47 Cheyne Court, Chelsea, London, with his wife (m. 1952) Joanna Pearce, who came from fox–hunting stock in Rutland and was the brilliantly literate runaway daughter of James Pearce and his wife Olive (née Sainsbury). They had a daughter, Olivia, and a son, Christopher. Kilmartin was awarded an OBE in 1987. Retaining his passion for France, he finally lived either in his last home at 44 North Side, Clapham Common, south London, or in his French retreat at Mas du Prévot, Eygalières, until he died of cancer in London 17 August 1991, aged 69, while working on a translation of Proust's letters. Joanna, who completed his project, died 31 March 2005.
Terry's elder brother, John Ignatius (‘Killy’) Kilmartin (1913–98), fighter pilot and war hero, was born 8 July 1913 at St Mary's Road, Dundalk, Co. Louth, and was as colourful as the younger brother from whom he became separated in the aftermath of their father's death. Educated at Presentation College, Bray, Co. Wicklow, John made his way to Australia in 1929 as part of a church-organised scheme providing homes for young people whose families could no longer provide for them. Typically, he was sent to a poor New South Wales sheep farmer in need of cheap labour to work his ANZAC war veteran's land grant. Young Kilmartin became a good horseman by necessity, but after two years was let go as global depression impoverished Australian agriculture. He worked as a seasonal labourer and helped to transport produce without any prospects of improvement. Perfecting his riding skills, he raced horses at traditional Australian ‘picnic meetings’ and earned a precarious living until he moved to Shanghai, where he worked as a professional jockey for Sir Victor Sassoon, took an office job in the local gasworks, and enlisted briefly in the Shanghai Light Horse. Fortuitously, in 1936 he read an advertisement for fighter pilots on short-service commissions in the RAF. Having travelled via the Trans-Siberian Railway with Sumo wrestlers bound for the Berlin Olympics, he reached London and was accepted for training.
On receiving his pilot's wings in 1937, Flying Officer ‘Killy’ Kilmartin was posted to 43 (Fighter) Squadron, nicknamed the ‘Fighting Cocks’, where he initially flew the Hawker Fury but in 1938 took delivery of the soon-to-be-legendary Hurricane, completing two years' professional flying experience before the outbreak of the second world war. He was sent immediately to northern France on secondment to No. 1 Squadron, based at Neuville, where his veteran knowledge undoubtedly saved his life. Between then and the late summer of 1940, he supported the British Expeditionary Force in its retreat via Dunkirk and, on promotion to flight-lieutenant in July, fought throughout the battle of Britain. In the desperate months up to October, when many new pilots had only weeks of instruction before facing the Luftwaffe, ‘Killy’ shot down at least twelve German aircraft. He returned to 43 Squadron in September, until its disbandment, when he had become the last surviving flight commander.
Awarded the DFC in October 1940 (and subsequently the OBE), Kilmartin was the quintessential war hero, dashing, courageous, and lucky, with film-star features, earning him official iconic status with a propaganda portrait by war artist Cuthbert Orde. He subsequently commanded 602 ‘Glasgow’ Squadron and 128 Squadron (against the Vichy French in Sierra Leone). For almost a month in June 1941 he was commander of A Flight, 313 Czech Squadron, stationed in England, and later led 504 Squadron. Promoted wing commander in September 1942, he commanded 136 Wing, 2nd Tactical Air Force, during the invasion of Europe, later serving at HQ as wing commander, Fighter Operations. Transferred to the Far East in 1945, he commanded 910 Wing in Burma, and served after the war as a commanding officer in India and Sumatra. In 1958 he retired from the RAF.
In 1959 his first wife, Joy, by whom he had an only son, died and he subsequently remarried. With his second wife, Patricia (‘Paddy’), he lived in Devon. Unsuccessful as a chicken-farmer, he undertook a variety of jobs throughout Europe before settling back in Devon, where he spent much of his time gardening. John Kilmartin died 1 October 1998, shortly after becoming a widower for the second time.