Sybil Connolly: Ireland’s First Lady of Fashion

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With her model height, dramatic colouring and natural grace, Sybil Veronica Connolly was fashion personified. From the gentry residing in crumbling castles to waspish ladies-who-lunch, Sybil Connolly’s designs hung in the most famous of wardrobes. She was, without a doubt, the first Irish woman to have the international world of fashion falling at her feet. Coming of age – for lack of a better description – during the golden age of couture, Connolly established her niche early on in her career. As had Chanel (with the boucle suit) and Dior (with the New Look), not to mention Lanvin, Balmain, Yve St. Laurent and his little black dress, Connolly’s use of Irish textiles, including finely pleated linen and Carrickmacross lace, was the staple of her haute couture designs.

 

Though she is credited with putting Irish fashion on the map, Connolly was not entirely Irish. Born in Swansea, Wales, to an Irish father and an English-Welsh mother, her background was exceedingly ordinary. It was an unfortunate turn of events which brought Connolly to Ireland, arriving after her father’s death, she was placed in a convent school where God and religion were drummed into her, but failed to overshadow her dreamy, creative flair.

 

Fashion, ironically, took her from Ireland when, in the late 1930s, Connolly arrived in London. Eager to learn from the ground-floor up, she found work at the prestigious firm of Bradley & Co., whose most famous client was Queen Mary. The young apprentice would attend Buckingham Palace fittings, where she was allowed to hold the pins. Returning to Ireland in 1940, she worked for Richard Allan in Dublin, eventually replacing the head designer in 1953. That same year, Connolly’s work was spotted by American buyers.

 

1953 was the year Connolly held her first major show. Its huge success, covered by Harper’s Bazaar, was attended by the American press, bringing her work to the attention of the coveted American market. Travelling to New York City later in the year, Connolly’s crochet dresses were featured on the cover of Life magazine with the prophetic headline: ‘Irish Invade Fashion World’. Four years later, at the age of thirty-six, Connolly launched her couture label with stars such as Julie Andrews and Elizabeth Taylor wearing her designs. Jacqueline Kennedy, endorsed the designer when she wore a Sybil Connolly creation for an official White House portrait. The First Lady’s outfit of choice was a dress of pleated handkerchief linen, which took nine yards of Irish linen handkerchiefs to create one yard of the uncrushable pleated fabric.

 

As a nod to her heritage, Connolly pioneered an old-fashioned image of Irish dress, re-designing peasant blouses, flannel petticoats and shawls, to give them a glamorous, contemporary appeal. Designs were created in Dublin, and she employed up to one-hundred women, who mostly worked from home, crocheting and weaving fabric. And, although there was an intricate craft in her designs, Connolly’s prices were lower than European couture.

 

As her fashion house grew, Connolly turned her Dublin home, number 71 Merrion Square, into a base for her clients, where they were treated to a private viewing of her designs and served jasmine tea by a butler, James. Although she quipped it was ‘the house that linen built’, it was the ‘shop window for Ireland’. In the 1980s, Connolly moved into the luxury goods market, designing pieces for Tiffany & Co., Tipperary Crystal, Brunschwig & Fills and Schumacher.

 

Although Connolly died at the age of seventy-seven in 1998, her contribution to haute couture and Irish fashion continues to be celebrated in the twenty-first century. Only last year I visited an exhibition of her gowns at Brown Thomas in Dublin and it was a thrill to see the designs, the fabric and a physical example of creativity in person. Connolly’s friend, Desmond Guinness, summed up her appeal: ‘Elegant and wearable, they proved a satisfactory investment, neither dating nor changing from year to year. Connolly always went for beauty and style as opposed to ‘mere’ fashion.’

 

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“The Gloomy Shade of Death”

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There are many cliches about death, though one cannot deny that the British upper-class were quite matter-of-fact about their own immortality. In her essay on U and Non-U English, Nancy Mitford teases that, when referring to death, the Non-U lot were prone to using floral euphemisms: passed on, passed away, taken and gone-too-soon; to name a few. However, as she warned, the upper-class were blunt about the entire thing. Died, was their chosen expression when speaking of the death act. Yes, this lot with their hunting, shooting and fishing were well equipped for bloodshed and the sight of a corpse. Though, as silly as Nancy could be, there was no humour to be found when a dark shadow of death fell upon London society in 1930. Perhaps the cliche is true: that death, when it visits, it arrives in threes.

 

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The Hon. Diana Elizabeth Margaret Skeffington, born in 1911, was the eldest child and only daughter of Viscount Massereene & Ferrard and his wife, the paranormal expert, Jean Barbara nee Ainsworth. Growing up at the family seat, Antrim Castle, in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland, Diana was often included in her parents trips abroad and she was acquainted with their contemporaries, and was said to have caught the eye of Edward, the Prince of Wales. Though, as romantic as the story seems, there is no proof of their phantom courtship. As a little girl, Diana was a member of the Antrim branch of the Girl Guides – later becoming the leader of the Primrose Patrol – and many of her childhood companions were the children of local merchants. It was quite unheard of for a girl from her background to mix so freely with non-aristocrats, and one such friend, Sadie, was a fellow Girl Guide and the daughter of Viscount Massereene’s gardener. Escorted by her governess, Miss Molloy, Diana visited Sadie at her home on Castle Street, causing her mother great embarrassment each time their aristocratic caller entered through the backdoor and passed through the scullery.

 

As much as Lady Massereene (Diana was extremely close to her mother) thought it charming that her daughter had an eclectic mix of friends, for she, too, was a firm favourite amongst the locals, it was time for Diana to grow up and enter the life of a debutante. A dazzling star on the Mayfair scene and equally as popular in hunting circles in Scotland, Diana’s dark looks attracted many admirers and, perhaps, she would have made a splendid society marriage. This seemed to be in the future, when at the age of 20, she became Godmother to the future Earl of Scone. On the 15th  October 1930, Diana served as a bridesmaid at the society wedding of her friend Miss Susan Roberts to the Hon. Somerset Maxwell Farnham. On this day, she asked for a glass of water – a seemingly harmless gesture, but the water was contaminated and a week later, Diana collapsed at her mother’s family home, Ardanaiseig House, in Argyll. The diagnosis was typhoid fever and a doctor in Harley Street had been alerted of her condition and the necessary arrangements were made for her to travel south for treatment. Hopes were raised when Diana claimed to feel better, and on Trafalgar Day, she took to the streets of London to sell flags in aid of servicemen. It was a cold day and her friends were concerned about her fragile appearance and urged her to the family home at Rutland Gate. ‘If I go to bed now, it will be weeks before I shall be up again,’ she joked. Suddenly all expectations of a complete recovery were dashed when Diana – still battling typhoid – developed pneumonia and her condition took a turn for the worse. The raging fever consumed her and, on the 6th November 1930, she died aged 21.

 

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Although not the daughter of a Peer, Evelyn Colyer gained recognition through her own merits on the tennis court. Alongside Joan Austin, she played doubles in the 1923 Wimbledon final against Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills. With her modern looks and model appearance in her tennis-whites, the press nicknamed Evelyn as one of ‘The Babes’. In 1924, she paired with Dorothy Shepherd-Barron to win a bronze medal in the women’s doubles at the Paris Olympics. For nine years Evelyn competed in the Wimbledon Championships, and her final match was in 1929, after which she retired from tennis to marry Hamish Munro, a tea-planter from Assam, British India. Returning to her husband’s homeland, Evelyn died from complications in childbirth on the 6th November 1930, aged twenty-eight.

 

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The Hon. Meriel Catherine Lyttelton was the eldest daughter of John Cavendish Lyttelton, 9th Viscount Cobham and Violet Yolande Leonard. With her brown hair, glassy blue eyes and pale skin, she radiated an ethereal beauty. Although she was a popular debutante and a leading figure of London society, Meriel preferred her life in Gloucestershire where she immersed herself in country life, paying close attention to the social activities in the village and participating in blood sports. When her father, the Viscount, fell ill, she took over his role of Master of the Albright Woodland Hunt, a position she held for two years until his recovery.

 

In 1930, Meriel had been weakened from two bouts of serious illness before she was stricken by tubercular meningitis, for which she received a blood transfusion. Despite it providing some temporary relief, and offering false hope to her parents, this illness proved fatal and Meriel died aged 19 on the 11th November 1930. Her younger sister, Viola, went on to marry Robert Grosvenor, the 5th Duke of Westminster. Although Viola, too, met a tragic end when she died in a car accident in 1987 in Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland, this was perhaps the fulfilling life Meriel might have lived had she not died young.

Mariga Guinness

 

Taken from The Irish Aesthete. No copyright infringement intended

Taken from The Irish Aesthete. No copyright infringement intended

She would have been the Queen of Lithuania had the Kaiser won the war

 

A German princess more in love with buildings than with people, Mariga was born in 1932 to Prince Albrecht von Urach and his wife, a bohemian Scotswoman named Rosemary Blackadder. Boasting an illustrious lineage, she was the great-great niece of Elisabeth ‘Sissi’, Empress of Austria, the great niece of the Queen of Belgium and the great granddaughter of the first King of Lithuania and a Princess of Monaco – Mariga rightfully held claims to the Principality of Monaco, the Kingdom of Lithuania and the Medieval Kingdom of Jerusalem. She was also a descendant of Marie Antoinette). And in spite of her imperious name – Marie-Gabrielle Sophie Joti Elizabeth Albertine Almeria Wurttembern, the Princess of Urach – Mariga’s childhood was far from privileged. Her father had been expected to succeed the throne of Monaco, but in the aftermath of WW1 this idea had been abolished, this Prince Albrecht came of age with no money and little prospects. A genealogist suspicious of her Royal claims, studied her lineage to discover that Mariga was indeed related to every Royal House in Europe. She was, in fact, more Royal and the House of Windsor.

 

Mariga’s first childhood memory was of living in beautiful buildings whilst her father carried out the duties of a foreign diplomat and journalist. The first of which, was an elegant house in Kamakura, Japan, where she lived with Rosemary, who felt increasingly isolated from the stuffy embassy staff and the Japanese who did not mingle with foreigners. Through Rosemary’s knowledge of art, Mariga, at the age of three, was taught to look upon things as an artist. Trapped in her lonely life, in a foreign country with foreign customs, Rosemary’s mental health deteriorated, and she begun to imagine that Emperor Hirohito was being misled by his generals. Entering the heavily-guarded Imperial Palace, she clutched Mariga’s hand, and in the other she held a diplomatic passport. Arrested by guards and sedated with a massive dose of Morphia, Rosemary was put on board the Scharnhorst en route to Europe. It was a memory that was to haunt Mariga for the rest of her life. She, too, was returned to Europe, travelling alone on a Japanese liner at the age of six, while her father remained in Japan.

 

Virtually an orphan, Mariga’s family life was dissolving around her. She went to live with her flamboyant godmother Hermione (Mymee) Ramsden, an old fashioned Fabian who held a lifelong interest in spiritualism, seances and practicing the Ouija board. This unusual upbringing included seventeen governesses (one of which was an exiled Ethiopian princess), all hired by Mymee, in a bid to educate the girl. And, when she was old enough, Mariga was sent to a boarding school in Scotland – ‘I am glad you are not a little girl here with me, it is horrid,’ she wrote to Mymee. Eventually Mymee withdrew her from the school and she passed her School Certificate from home.

 

When the war ended, Mariga thought she would join her parents in Germany. As she grew older she realised this could never happen. Rosemary had been institutionalized and diagnosed as having schizophrenic tendencies. Following a botch lobotomy, her memory was frozen in time and she failed to recognize her teenage daughter. And her father, Prince Albrecht, had remarried and had two children. This, Mariga learned indirectly, and her pain in discovering her father’s betrayal is apparent:

 

‘I have been reading some of the letters that you wrote to Aunt Mymee from Japan and I began to realize how trying and bouleversant things must have been for you and how you deserve all the happiness you may have from your second marriage. Please forgive me if I have been unkind about it….Then when I heard about your marriage in such a horrible, indirect way, you, my God of Perfection, were tumbled forever I thought into the dust. It was a frightful shock. It seemed the end of all things – a violent and horrid awakening from my charming dreams.

 

When the war ended, Mariga was sent by Mymee on a tour of Europe where she witnessed for the first time the old world aristocracy that her birthright afforded her (though she had been excluded from) and the once grand buildings that had been destroyed by air-raids. The buildings left more of an impression. Her father urged her to contact her relatives, and slowly Mariga became acquainted with her Royal cousins, aunts and uncles, and although many were distantly related, she felt relieved to belong to a family. Returning to London, she attended the Monkey Club (a finishing school) where she lived at More House, a Catholic hostel. At More House she met her cousin Prince Rupert Lowenstein, who would later introduce her to her future husband.

 

When Mymee died at the age of 84, Mariga was, once again, alone in the world. Having considered herself the girl’s parent, Mymee remembered Mariga in her will and fixed her with an income of £1 per day. Possessing great intelligence and a Patrician beauty, she modelled for pin money and studied a domestic course at Oxford. While in Oxford she met the young and married the extremely handsome Desmond Guinness, son of Lord Moyne and Diana Mosley, and scion of the brewing family.

 

Mariga’s first visit to Ireland was at the invitation of Mark Bence-Jones in 1953. She arrived wearing a ball-gown, having come straight from a party in London to catch her early morning flight.  ‘Ireland is heaven, everyone is so dotty and delicious and no-one dreams of taking anything seriously; except, perhaps, the Horse Show,’ she observed. Two years later the Guinnesses moved to Ireland, where they bought Leixlip Castle, their own version of Versailles, in the village of Kildare. Leixlip was painstakingly restored, with Mariga donning rolled-up jeans and perching on ladders in her bare feet to paint the ceilings. She littered the rooms with her favourite objects; mismatched china, enormous seashells, classic at with old family photographs and gaudy costume jewellery draped around the bathroom with the Floris soap.

The Mariga picnic of potted shrimps and bottles of wine was well known and always extended to whoever might be in sight from Mick Jagger to the local farmer. Meals were entirely moveable – I remember her once sweeping the knifes and forks, bread and cheese and pate off the dining room table and into the car, so that there would be time for a meal on the way to the airport. – the Countess of Rosse

 

Mariga brought a new, enduring international panache to Irish life and she positively exported a fresh awareness of Ireland to the chicest circles in Europe and America. During those legendary society parties, Mariga and Desmond hosted at Lexilip, she loved to wear authentic Victorian costumes – long velvet skirts, high-neck blouses ruffled with yellowing delicate lace, eighteenth-century military coats and corsets which supported her rigid, Queenly stride. Desmond adored socialising, but Mariga was more at ease with inanimate objects: stuffed birds, elks’ heads and books. Though their taste differed in entertaining, they were united in their passion for saving Ireland’s historical buildings, and, in 1958, Desmond and Mariga founded the Irish Georgian Society. Sir Humphrey Wakefield recalled, ‘[She] would have been stunning in Hollywood – she could radiate a mood, from scorn to delight, to fill a room. She immersed herself in a whimsical world of beautiful objects: possessions and buildings were her armor for the outside world. She feared insanity, she knew it plagued her family and ran through her very veins: ‘I am related to the Wittelsbachs and a little bit mad,’ she was apt to say.

 

With her marriage to Desmond disintegrating, she adopting the rootless existence of her childhood. Mariga wandered around Europe — she always felt the compulsion to go to Norway, and to exotic destinations. In the late ‘Sixties, she met Hugh O’Neill (now Lord Rathcavan), and together they travelled the world. Carrying on an affair with Lord Rathcavan – whom she referred to as ‘Mr. O’Neill’ –  Mariga went north and resided in the courtyard house of his family castle in Co. Antrim. But her time in Antrim was tinged with great sadness; she had ventured north in the pursuit of love and, sadly, hadn’t found it.

 

In 1981, the marriage to Desmond was over, and Mariga rented Tullynisk house in Co. Offaly. The old house was a world away from Leixlip, with dry rot and rising damp, her old friends were horrified that she lived there. With Leixlip gone, she had nowhere else to go. Though she drank heavily, and often alone, she did not have the appearance of an alcoholic. Mariga’s appearance was always immaculate, however, the cardigans were becoming threadbare, with holes in the elbows and her money had run out. To supplement her income she wrote a magazine column, offering advice on where to buy the best knickers in Offaly. Eventually, she gave up the column. ‘Never complain, never explain,’ was her motto for life.

 

All her life, Mariga felt a close bond with her great grand-aunt Elizabeth ‘Sissi’, the Empress of Austia, and their lives paralleled in alarming ways. In 1989, on her journey home from Wales on a ferryboat, Mariga finished her drink at the bar and ducked into the ferry’s cinema as a distraction from the violent crossing. When the lights came on, an hour or so later, she was found in her seat, having suffered a heart attack. Alone, in the middle of the ferocious Irish Sea, she was injected with Penicillin, of which she was allergic. She died shortly after. Like Elizabeth, the Empress of Austria, they both died at the same age and on a ferryboat, one stabbed in the heart and the other of a heart attack.

 

Two weeks before her untimely death, Mariga announced: ‘When I go, it will be pretty smartly.’ She rests in view of Conolly’s Folly near Maynooth – the dramatic arched building had been restored decades before by the Irish Georgian Society. Her headstone bears another of her favouite saying: ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon.’

 

It would be wrong to end on a depressing note. Mariga enriched the lives of innumerable people and many more have benefited subsequently and will continue to do so, from her eye for beauty, her sense of style and the abundant warmth of her heart. – John Jolliffe

The Mitfords & The Chocolate Challenge

Thanks to D.E. Ireland for nominating The Mitford Society to participate in the Chocolate Challenge in which we choose three of our favourite books and liken them to dark, milk or white chocolate. D.E .Ireland is a team of award winning authors, Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta. Together they have created a unique series based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Their latest book Wouldn’t it be Deadly will be published by St. Martin’s Minotaur on September 23rd 2014. Since we’re talking about the Mitford Girls, I thought I would bend the rules slightly! Instead of mentioning my personal favourite books I have likened the flavours of chocolate to the girls’ owns books.

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‘Those chocolates were the most delicious I’ve ever tasted, my favourite sort too, logs!’

- Decca to Farve, circa 1932

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THE sophisticated lifestyle calls for dark chocolate, which the newly-wedded Mrs. Bryan Guinness discovered. While honeymooning at the Guinness family apartment on rue de Poitiers, Diana was enchanted to learn that the apartment came with two servants – a butler and a cook – who lived there all year round in spite of the apartment being seldom occupied. The cook’s specialty was a famous French pastry, consisting of meringue dipped in dark chocolate. The original title of the pudding, far from politically correct, shall be referred to as Tete de Chocolat. For the duration of her honeymoon Diana feasted on Tete de Chocolat every day. As such, the book I have chosen to accompany dark chocolate is A Life of Contrasts by Diana Mosley.

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Milk Chocolate is just the type of chocolate that would appeal to children, and to philistines such as Farve, Debo and Pam. I could imagine Muv baking a tray of German Biscuits – pleasing to the eye, but their name….REALLY. Farve might bellow: ‘The only good German is a dead German!’ But upon seeing the delicious chocolate covering, he would snatch one off the tray and go off in search of his Puccini arias. Unity, of course, would be delighted, and as such she would refrain from her usual diet of mashed potatoes in honour of her adopted country. The perfect book to accompany milk chocolate is Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love.

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White Chocolate is the perfect edible treat to conjure up images of the debutante season. My reason for selecting Jessica Mitford’s memoirs, Hons & Rebels, is because as a young deb she was full of sound and fury about the upper-classes and their sick-making customs. However, Decca admitted that she rather enjoyed her deb season. And, in spite of her protests and the formalities of being presented at Court, she managed to smuggle chocolates down her knickers, which to her great embarrassment, tumbled out as she was being photographed.

 

For the Chocolate Challenge I nominate Diana Birchall of Light, Bright, and Sparkling and Meems Ellenberg of Meemselle.

The Life and Loves of Laurie Lee

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Although we’re already two months past the centenary of Laurie Lee, this cradle to grave biography will have a long shelf life. I should confess now, that I am not overly familiar with Laurie Lee, but I do recognise a lot of his paramours (I am a big admirer of Elizabeth Joan Howard), which is what attracted me to this biography.
Another reason why I am so interested in Valerie Grove’s biography (it is a revised edition of her classic authorised biography Laurie Lee: The Well-Loved Stranger) is because I am tackling a similar challenge to mark the centenary of the British film star Margaret Lockwood in 2016. As with Lockwood, fans of Lee continue to celebrate his legacy.

There were many themes that drew me to Grove’s biography. I must admit that I was not overly familiar with Lee or his work, aside from begrudgingly reading his books on the school curriculum, something which I find is often wasted on unruly teenagers. But after reading this biography I am interested in reading his repertoire of novels. For those who are unfamiliar with his style of writing, Groves has helpfully added his poems in full. Letters, too, are included – so again, you can see the stylistic approach he used long before he composed his novels. Of course, his most famous novel was, and is, Cider With Rosie – a real life account of his rural boyhood in Gloucestershire.

What also attracted me to The Life and Loves of Laurie Lee was the similarities to the Mitfords. Yes, since this is being reviewed on The Mitford Society I feel I must draw some comparisons. Both Lee and all six of the Mitford girls were countrified children – they grew up in the Shires with the freedom of endless fields, handling animals and although the girls were the offspring of a Lord, they were money poor. And nurturing a vivid imagination, like the Mitfords, Lee was prone to bestowing nicknames on those he loved i.e. his second daughter (Lee also fathered a love child during his stint in Spain in the ’30s) was known as ‘The First Born’. He changed his wife’s name from Kathy to Cathy, of which she said: ‘[It] tells you everything you need to know about our marriage.’ His daughter, too, was given a variety of names differing from the original spelling. Jessy was baptised Jesse – not Jessica – but Laurie decided later that Jessy was nicer, so Jessy she stayed.

As romantic as he was, Lee had courage, and at the age of 19 he left by foot with his violin to busk his way around Spain, a country he would romanticise in his future writings. He later returned to join the International Brigade and became involved in the Spanish Civil War.

This is a balanced portrait of a man who fostered his own legend in Gloucestershire and Chelsea, and though gifted in art, music and literature, he disguised the complexities of his character beneath a cloak of secrecy.

Guest post: Esmond Romilly by Meredith Whitford

ESMOND ROMILLY

By

Meredith Whitford BA, MCA

Esmond Romilly commented wryly in his first book that if he lived to be sixty, in headlines he’d still be ‘fifteen-year-old nephew of Mr Churchill’. He didn’t live to be sixty; he was only twenty-three when he died on active service with Bomber Command. Even posthumously, though, ‘Nephew of Winston Churchill’ stuck – as did various slurs. The New York Times’ obituary of his sister-in-law Diana, Lady Mosley, referred to Esmond as “a wastrel nephew of Churchill”. Esmond’s daughter lives in New York, so the NYT soon had to add:

Correction: September 9, 2003, Tuesday An obituary on Aug. 14 about Diana Mosley, the British aristocrat who was a staunch supporter of Hitler and fascism, referred incompletely to Esmond Romilly, who had married one of her sisters, Jessica Mitford. Although Mr. Romilly was a rebellious young man of privilege, he also became a published writer and an ardent anti-fascist who fought against Franco in Spain and, while serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force, died in 1941, at 23, in a bombing raid against Nazi Germany.

 
That Esmond was a “wastrel”, or some similar term, is a view often put forward in the various books about the Mitford family. Although he never joined the Communist Party, he spent a lot of energy, as a teenager, on calling himself a Communist, and he fought with the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, and in 1930s terms he was certainly a rebel – but “wastrel”? Unfortunately, two books by people who adored him do rather contribute to this view. In Philip Toynbee’s Friends Apart, and Jessica Mitford’s Hons and Rebels Esmond seems an opinionated, unscrupulous chancer, wild, perennially broke because of his gambling, an iconoclast, and a damn nuisance. However, the two books he wrote (Out of Bounds: The Education of Giles Romilly and Esmond Romilly* – co-written with his brother — and Boadilla, about the men he fought with in Spain) and his letters, reveal a much more interesting figure. These sources show an intelligent, funny, tough, sometimes naïve boy (and it must always be remembered how very young he was: fifteen when he became famous for running away from school, eighteen when he married, twenty-three when he died), a fine writer, a loyal friend, loving father, faithful husband. Engagingly, he was under no illusions about himself, and had a nice line in sending himself up.

 
Books date, opinions and attitudes change, and what was screamingly funny or clever in a past era now seems bewildering or very unfunny indeed. But it is my opinion (and of course no more than that) that in writing Hons and Rebels some twenty years after her time with Esmond, Jessica was keen to present a picture of them as “two against the world”, two aristocratic rebels who fell in love, opposed their families’ politics, lived rather riotously, and were cast out as a result. There is truth to this view, but, again, letters and other personal papers show things a little differently – plenty of friends, concerned families, enough money, steady jobs. Toynbee seems to have fallen completely (certainly not in any sexual way) for the rebel boy who’d escaped his public school, loudly espoused Left-wing politics, and helped publish the subversive journal, “Out of Bounds”. Leaving his own school to join this delightfully rebellious hero in London, Toynbee quickly found himself out of his depth when faced with Esmond’s reality; also, it has to be said, Toynbee was a sucker for Esmond’s tall stories and Esmond enjoyed leading him on. They were friends for a while, then lost touch, and (again, as letters show) Peter Nevile and then the American writer Selman Rodman, not Toynbee, were Esmond’s closest adult friends. Researching for my book about Jessica and Esmond, I was able to explode one of Toynbee’s stories that made its way into other books and helped to damage the Romillys’ reputation. In brief, Toynbee describes a visit he, Jessica and Esmond paid to Lord Faringdon of Buscot Park in November 1937. Toynbee says the Romillys forced their host to let them stay the night, then proceeded to steal, tease the servants, and make thorough and obnoxious pests of themselves. Apart from the fact that Lord Faringdon was of a left-wing persuasion, supported the Republican cause in Spain and gave a home to refugees from the war, and so would not be someone Esmond would want to offend – well, the present Lord Faringdon emailed me a scan of the Buscot Park visitors book for the night in question. Yes, Jessica (8 months pregnant) stayed the night, but Esmond didn’t. He may not even have dined there. It was all a story he made up to see if Toynbee would swallow it. No wonder that years later Jessica had only the vaguest idea of the past excitements Toynbee rattled off.

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So who exactly was Esmond Romilly? Actually, he was the nephew of Churchill’s wife, Clementine (pronounced Clementeen), whose younger sister Nellie was his mother. His father was Lieutenant-Colonel Bertram Romilly, a several times decorated officer of the Scots Guards. (The vague rumour that Esmond was actually fathered by Winston Churchill can be utterly discounted.)The Romillys were an old Huguenot family who fled to England to escape religious persecution in France. Perhaps the most famous of Esmond’s Romilly ancestors was Sir Samuel Romilly, the lawyer and MP who helped abolish slavery. A hefty inheritance, and marriages to daughters of earls and dukes, made the family rich; their estate was Huntington Park, over on the Welsh border. (Sir Samuel’s sister Catherine married the Roget of Roget’s Thesaurus, and in my fairly ancient paperback copy the editor is Samuel Romilly Roget.)

 
Esmond’s mother was (Margaret) Nellie, née Hozier, third daughter of Sir Henry Hozier and his wife Lady Blanche Ogilvy, whose father was the Scottish Earl of Airlie. Marital fidelity was not a feature of Hozier married life, and most sources agree that Nellie’s father was Algernon Bertram (“Bertie”) Freeman-Mitford, Jessica’s paternal grandfather. Thus, Esmond and Jessica were second cousins because their grandmothers were sisters (Lady Clementine Ogilvy married Bertie Freeman-Mitford, later Lord Redesdale), and quite possibly also first cousins because her father and his mother were half-siblings. This may be yet another reason for the family panic when Esmond and Jessica wanted to marry.

 
Bertram Romilly (who already was, or became, a close friend of Winston Churchill) married Nellie Hozier in December 1915. Their first son, Giles, was born in September 1916, Esmond on 10 July 1918. In a letter to her mother-in-law, Lady Randolph Churchill, Clementine Churchill wrote that Esmond arrived prematurely:

 

Nellie had a beautiful son this morning. But something went wrong with the chloroform apparatus & it was born absolutely without it…[The baby] came a fortnight too soon so nothing was ready, layette cradle and all were at Lullenden [their country home], I brought everything up this morning and found the poor midget ‘wrapped in swaddling clothes’.

 

Esmond’s birth certificate shows that Nellie registered his name as Esmond Samuel David. “Samuel” was a Romilly name used in every generation; it was his father’s and Giles’s second name. Mysteriously, it vanished from his name; in every other document he is Esmond Marcus/Mark David Romilly. (“David” perhaps after Nellie’s cousin/?half-brother, Jessica’s father.)
Much is made in various books about Esmond’s difficult relationship with his mother, so we could argue that this was because his birth was painful or difficult. I don’t think it’s as easy as that. Nellie was something of a drama queen who tended to “smother” her sons, and she and Esmond (himself no stranger to a spot of drama) swung between mutual devotion, impatience and stormy disagreements. In the diary that covers Christmas at Chartwell in 1931 Esmond records how his mother managed to irritate both him and Giles, and how much he missed her when she left. “I love her very much,” he wrote. He was also very fond of, and respected, his father, but it seems that Colonel Romilly was often away, or played a small role in his sons’ upbringing. He had been badly wounded in the war, he disliked noise, and was perhaps easily upset by family strife; he preferred the peace and quiet of Huntingdon Park, which bored his sons rigid.

 
Both Giles and Esmond went to Wellington, which offered reduced fees for officers’ sons. As his diary shows, Esmond wanted to leave from the moment he arrived. Both he and Giles disapproved of the ethos of Wellington and public schools in general, and had a wonderful time ripping into it in Out of Bounds. Reading between the lines of Esmond’s diary and various books on the subject, it is possible to infer that Esmond, who always strenuously resisted any homosexual approaches, was troubled by that aspect of school life. In February 1934 they agreed they’d both run away.

 
Giles didn’t but Esmond did. The newspapers went mad, because of the Churchill connection and because by now both Romilly boys were calling themselves Communists. This was real shock-horror stuff in the 1930s, when “Bolsheviks” (all too often the word was linked with “Jews”) was shorthand for the bogeyman threatening British society. After all, the Communists had killed the Russian royal family, and might come after “ours”; every industrial strike or piece of political activism might be the beginning of the end. And here were two upper-class, privileged boys calling themselves Communists! The kindest interpretation was that they’d been brainwashed. Many people thought they just needed a good thrashing. In fact Esmond had privately decided that Communism was rather “rot” and wrote of himself and his proselytising that

 

…over-enthusiasm without age or experience is most irritating to those possessed of both the later qualifications. I, myself, am always prepared to argue for the sake of argument, and there must have been something ludicrous in the spectacle of a boy of fifteen laying down the law…

 

Unwilling or forbidden to go home, Esmond settled in at the Parton Street bookshop in Bloomsbury run by David Archer. It was fashionably left-wing, and from there he (and Giles, still at school) began their “subversive” journal “Out of Bounds” – subversive both politically and because it touched on sexual issues. Giles’s article “Morning Glory” could hardly have been more explicit for its era (hint: it wasn’t about the pretty blue plant) and another article told readers that masturbation was quite normal and didn’t send you blind.

 
Philip Toynbee left Rugby to join Esmond in London just in time for Mosley’s infamous Olympia Rally of 1934. Both boys wrote it up, but the violence of the rally, and his father’s tracking him down, sent Toynbee briskly back to school. Surprisingly, Esmond too returned to school, but to Bedales, not Wellington, and only for about a month. After that he was on his own again, or occasionally at home, while Giles spent the summer in Germany before going up to Oxford. At about this time Giles wrote to a very revealing letter to his mother:

 

I am sorry you had such a bad time with Esmond, but was afraid it would be so. He seems to have been as much upset as you were and thinks, as I do too, that no ‘compromise’ of any kind is possible, anything that involves bargaining. You are quite right that it is the parental relationship which mucks up every-thing [sic]. Esmond is quite adult, and does not need it, and resents it. I think it is unfair to hold it over him, especially as without it there could always be considerable love between you. I mean, why insist on your rights, even if you think it to be for his good, when by doing so you wreck your personal relationship. If you remember, the promises about Communism and Out of Bounds were extorted from Esmond when he was thoroughly overwrought, as every other promise has been in the past. The appeal of ‘grey hairs in sorrow to the grave’ etcetera he has never been able to resist. You and Daddy have played on that appeal unmercifully, though you have almost destroyed its effectiveness with lamentation about money, heavy Bedales fees etcetera. If Esmond had the offer to live alone without interference or help, he would not refuse. And your money has not been wasted, for of course he has got far more out of his education at sixteen than the majority of people at twenty-one. And you admit that his character has improved. (That I see myself from his letters.)… Remember too the number of times you have been ‘converted’ to Socialism yourself. Remember the letter you wrote to the Daily Worker. If that had been allowed to appear – it was Esmond who stopped it – how could you address him as you do now without appearing a complete hypocrite?

 
Actually I know of course that it is for Daddy that you are so unhappy… he tends to emphasise his own feelings, and you have always rather indulged him in that, so much so that he is now completely dependent on you. It might be better if you tried to persuade him that he is not so unhappy as he thinks, instead of augmenting it by encouragement, and making yourself unhappy at the same time by having scenes with Esmond. Is it necessary to call Esmond a murderer, for instance? … And does the blame rest entirely with Esmond anyway?

 
I’m sure the situation is not worth all the tragic drama with which you and Esmond and Daddy invest it. It is a hackneyed situation, and should not be allowed to make life difficult for anyone. This modern generation, the tragic father, the rebellious son – it is all so commonplace. Why not get rid of it by writing a book, or something? You would probably have a great success…

 

I wonder whether these last couple of lines were a bit of a dig at Nellie, who’d written a novel, Misdeal, and published it under the name of Anna Gerstein in 1932.

 
Toynbee reappeared on the scene. He says that he and Esmond got drunk and made some disturbance at the Romillys’ house in Pimlico. Exactly what happened isn’t clear in any source, but it seems that Nellie called the police, and both boys were arrested. Despite the judge’s criticism of parents who left a sixteen-year-old boy to his own devices, Esmond ended up in a Remand Home for nearly three weeks. His description of this dumping-ground for anything from criminals to homeless boys to mentally handicapped ones makes grim reading, although he made as light of it as possible, reserving his sympathy for the other inmates.
On his release he went to stay with a distant cousin, Mrs Dorothy Allhusen, where he met and became friends with Peter Nevile. By now Esmond and Giles had started writing Out of Bounds, which was published in 1935. Living on a small allowance from his father and without much to do, Esmond took a job as a silk-stocking salesman, on commission. Later, when he fell back on the same job in America, Jessica noted that he was “disturbingly successful” at it. In Out of Bounds Esmond wrote that

 

I have always found selling fairly easy, as I am naturally inclined towards exaggeration and have often been criticized for an over-willingness to talk, and to go on talking… having no specialized knowledge of any kind, and not being troubled with an over-quantity of honesty or scrupulousness, it was, I suppose, inevitable that I should soon be selling somebody something.

 

A faint echo of this, perhaps, in some of Jessica’s remarks about the salesmen of the funeral industry in The American Way of Death.

***

Esmond took a couple of other jobs before, in October 1936, he went to Spain to fight on the Republican side. Boadilla describes his experiences very thoroughly, with humour and without pomposity or self-aggrandizement. Most of his friends died at Boadilla del Monte. Alive, but very ill with dysentery, Esmond was invalided home. He visited the families of all his dead comrades, then in February 1937 went to stay again with Mrs Allhusen. In the small house-party was the cousin he’d never actually met: Jessica Mitford.

***

The story of their falling in love and running away together, intending to get back to Spain, is probably very well known to everyone reading this. It’s a long and involved story, with Jessica’s family dragging Scotland Yard and the government into it, an attempt to lure Jessica onto a British ship and bring her home forcibly, her parents making her a Ward of Court and so on and so forth. They were prevented from returning to Spain, and the more she and Esmond tried to get married quickly, the harder her family made it. In the end, because Jessica was pregnant, they were allowed to marry.

 
They took rooms in their friend Roger Roughton’s house in Rotherhithe; not quite the slum this is often made out to be, at the time this was rather an arty, Bohemian little enclave. Esmond got a job as a copywriter with an advertising agency at a decent wage, Jessica did part-time work as a market researcher. They had a lot of friends and a lot of parties, saw a lot of Giles and even of some of Jessica’s family, and in December 1937 to their great joy their daughter Julia Decca was born.

 
At about the time of Julia’s birth Jessica wrote to her younger sister Deborah, who had measles. It was possibly at the same time that their mother too had measles. Wherever she caught it, in May Jessica too had the disease very badly. The local health clinic people assumed she would have had it already, so that breast-fed Julia would be immune. Sadly, they were all wrong. At the end of May the baby died, aged five months. Her death certificate, lodged by Esmond, chillingly records that he was “present at the death”. He was still not quite twenty.

 
Heartbroken, the Romillys left everything behind and went to Corsica to recover. Later they found a flat near Marble Arch, took up their jobs again, and watched their country’s reaction to the Munich Agreement and Kristallnacht. Certain that time was running out before Britain would be at war with Germany, and still mourning their baby, they decided to go to the United States.
They loved egalitarian, friendly America, so unlike uptight, hide-bound England. The made friends, were asked everywhere; when Kay Graham invited them to stay with her parents, Eugene and Agnes Meyer, Jessica thought of her parents’ reaction if she’d invited two strangers home. They were genuinely popular with most of the people they met, but of course they were also a delicious curiosity with their aristocratic connections and background. Networking like mad, making friends everywhere, unsure of the future but treating the present as a working-holiday, they both got jobs, Esmond as a copywriter at the dizzying wage of $125.00 p.w. and later, again, as a silk-stocking salesman. When they’d saved enough they set out on what was meant to be a long tour of the USA. Thanks to Jessica’s bad map-reading they ended up in Miami. Claiming experience he didn’t have, Esmond got a job as a waiter at a small Italian restaurant. The fiasco is one of the funniest passages in Hons and Rebels and in the articles they wrote for their friend Eugene Meyer’s Washington Post. Ignominiously sacked, Esmond asked if he could take over the running of the restaurant’s bar – at least he had genuine bar-tending training. But the licence cost $1000, which neither the Romillys nor the restaurateur could afford. Bright idea: Esmond would borrow the money from Eugene Meyer. Eagerly outlining his arrangements to repay such a loan, Esmond didn’t even notice that Mr Meyer had said “Yes” at once. To the amusement of Meyer’s daughter, Esmond was so taken aback that all he could say was, “Oh! Well, I hope it won’t leave you short.” Mr Meyer, a multimillionaire, thought it wouldn’t. The loan was carefully repaid.

 
Meanwhile, Russia and Germany had signed the mutual non-aggression pact, which left Communists looking silly. Soon, war was declared between Britain and Germany. Jessica’s beloved sister Unity, Hitler’s great friend, shot herself. Mad with worry about her, without hard news for months, unable to express herself to Esmond, who had no time for the Nazi members of her family, Jessica was besieged with requests for interviews and information. At last she heard that Unity had been brought home, brain-damaged and her life effectively over.

 
During the “Phoney War”, September 1939 to April 1940, Esmond evidently had no faith in the Chamberlain government’s will to stand up to Hitler. He wrote an article, presciently titled “Britain’s Next Prime Minister” about Churchill, and no doubt wondered what to do. A lot of his American friends were Isolationist, and all he could do was tell them not to under-rate Britain.

 
In April the Germans over-ran Norway and Giles Romilly, a civilian war correspondent for the Daily Express, was taken prisoner. He remained a prisoner for the rest of the war, most of it in Colditz. There was nothing Esmond could do but hope and try to get food parcels to his brother. Then his grandfather died, aged 90, and a week later his father died of cancer. Perhaps he thought of going home. Then, and it must have seemed all at once, Hitler cried havoc and let slip the dogs of war, and Churchill became Prime Minister of Britain. Esmond immediately enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Leaving Jessica with their friend Mrs Virginia Durr in Washington, he at once went north to begin his training.

 
His and Jessica’s letters to each other reveal their misery at being apart for the first time in three years, and their determination not to burden each other with their loneliness. Humour and courage mattered most; everything else was understood. Jessica had conceived another baby, born February 1941 and named Ann Constancia, always nicknamed Dinky, or Dinky-Donk, or The Donk. (After the Democratic Donkey, because she’d kicked so hard in utero while Jessica was at the Democratic Convention.) Esmond wasn’t keen on the name Constancia; “it is right out”, he wrote to Jessica, but he’d taken so long to make up his mind about the baby’s name (he wanted “Carol”) that she’d gone ahead and registered the name anyway.

 
Esmond did well in his air force training, although after several months, and passing several exams, he was told than a childhood operation for mastoid made him unfit for aircrew. Faced with being kicked out so suddenly and so late, he for once pulled strings, but instead of approaching his uncle the PM, or pointing out that an ancestor had been Governor-General of Canada, he asked a local MP for help. The matter was resolved somehow (if it hadn’t been, he said, he would have returned to England to enlist in the RAF, which would have sent him to Canada for training), he went on with his training, passed, was posted as an observer (navigator) and was finally commissioned (against his will, but it was too much trouble to refuse.) In June 1941 Pilot Officer Romilly was posted to England, to Bomber Command.

 
For a long time he and Jessica couldn’t decide whether she and the baby should stay in America or join him in England. The death of RCAF comrades made him for once put off the defence of humour and admit how desperately he wanted her with him.
At the very end of November she sent him an exultant telegram telling him she’d got passage on a plane and would be with him very soon.

 
As if in reply, she got a telegram telling her that Esmond’s plane had failed to return from a bombing raid. There was no hope that he had survived.

 
He had died on Churchill’s birthday, 30 November.

***

Clearly, Esmond was someone people either loved or loathed; no middle ground, and nor would he have sought it. Most people who came to know him well liked him. By the time he died the noisy teenager had become a happily married man, a father, a dedicated officer in the armed forces and fiercely anti-fascist. The many, many letters Jessica and his mother received when he died all speak of people’s liking and admiration for him, and a sense of great potential lost.

 
Churchill was both irritated and amused by his politics, but no letters between them seem to have survived. Had Esmond lived, he would almost certainly have gone into politics. If he had stayed in England after the war, he and Churchill might have ended up facing each other across the floor of the Commons.

 
But Esmond died young, and Jessica was a widow at twenty-four. Too proud to go home or accept help, she struggled to raise Dinky on what she could earn, saving her air force pension for Dinky’s education. In 1943 she found another soulmate in Bob Treuhaft, and with him forged a career as a political activist and writer.

 
But without Esmond – what would have become of her?
———————————————————————————————–

Notes

Letters referred to in this article are mostly in the Jessica Mitford Archive in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Room of Ohio State University.
Giles Romilly’s letter, quoted here, is in the GSB Romilly Archive in Hereford, and is used by kind permission of Edmund Romilly.
Mrs Churchill’s letter about Esmond’s birth is in the Churchill Archives at Churchill College, Cambridge.
The quotation from Out of Bounds is used by kind permission of Edmund Romilly.
Copies of the four issues of “Out of Bounds” are in my possession.
Other sources for this article are listed in my book Churchill’s Rebels: Jessica Mitford and Esmond Romilly. E-book Endeavour Press UK, 2013; paperback Umbria Press UK, 2014.

~~

Meredith Whitford is also the author of the award-winning Treason and Shakespeare’s Will (e-published as Love’s Will by Endeavour Press (UK). Both are available in e-book and paperback.

© Meredith Whitford November 2014

Click here to purchase Churchill’s Rebels

The Red Flowers: Sermons From The Front To The Children At Home

I have owned this book since I was ten years old. My parents found it at a market stall, and knowing what a WW1 enthusiast I was, they bought it for me. From what I can gather it was privately printed. If anyone has any information on this little book I’d love for you to get in touch.

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The Red Flowers

Sermons From The Front To The Children At Home

by

Rev. Stuart Robertson M.A.

Two Extracts

i
Before The Battle

‘Looking unto Jesus.’ – Heb. xii. 2.
‘Like Him.’ – 1 St. John iii. 2.

BOYS and girls, you read in the papers of great battles and their results. I wonder if you ever think of the preparation that goes before a battle. Roads have to be made, railways built, water-pipes laid for miles, and huge stores gathered together in special places.

But there are two things I want to tell you about. One is Compass-Bearing.

Every officer must have a compass, and every sergeant that can get one, will have one too. The attack often begins in the dark, and the soldiers have to go into an unknown country. They have studied it from maps and photographs, and seen it from a distance, but still they have never been there, and so to be sure of keeping the right direction, each body of men must steer by compass, and they must know their direction by compass.

Then although it is dark and no stars are to be seen and the country is strange, the compass is set, and one look at the luminous needle tells them which way to go.

So before the battle officers are comparing their compasses, taking them to headquarters to be tested, and talking about their compass-bearing.

Their colonel will ask them questions to see if the know what they have to do, and he is sure to ask, ‘Have you a compass?’
‘Yes, sir.’
‘Has it been tested?’
‘What is your compass-bearing?’
’27 East,’ or whatever it may be.

The next thing is ‘Final Objective’. That means how far you are to go and where you are to stop. On the map there will be lines drawn, Blue, Green, Black. One regiment is to take the Blue Line and stop there. Another is to go to the Green Line and stop there. A third is to go to the Black Line. So the colonel will ask the men: ‘What is your Final Objective?’ and they will answer, ‘Such and such a point on the Blue, Green or the Black Line.’

Well, boys and girls, you too are preparing for a great battle; it is the Battle of Life, and these two questions are important for you too. You all have a compass; it is your conscience, that strange voice within us that points us to the right and tells us when we are wrong.

What is your compass-bearing? it is this: ‘looking unto Jesus’. That is our true North, to which our conscience-compass points.

But compasses may go wrong and so may consciences. In pirate stories we often used to read how some traitor on the ship put a piece of iron in the compass so that it pointed wrong, and the ship steering by it got off its course and away from its convoy in the dark, and at the pirates’ mercy.

Without treachery compasses go wrong and need to be adjusted: and often you will see ships lying apparently idle in some quiet land-locked haven, where no winds blow. They are being swung to adjust their compasses, and they need a quite place for that.

Consciences, too, may be betrayed; and consciences, too, may cease to point true to Christ, so we need to go into the quiet places of worship, like the ships into harbour, and in church and at the Lord’s Table get our consciences set true again. We need to go to headquarters like the officers, and have our consciences tested.

Then, if they are true, we need not fear to stray in the dark, or to be lost in the unknown country or tomorrow which lies beyond the lines of today. We have our compass-bearing, ‘looking unto Jesus’, and we cannot go wrong unknowing.

And our ‘Final Objective’ ?
There is a line of the Map of Life which God has drawn and we are not to rest short of that. But we often try ‘to draw the line’ somewhere short of it, and only win little successes instead of a great victory.

An old man was once talking to a young one. The young one said, ‘I am going into business with So-and-so.’
‘Yes, and then?’
‘Then when I have mastered the business, I shall push out for myself in such-and-such a town, when I see a good opening.’
‘Yes, and then?’
‘Then when I have got on well, I shall settle down and get married.’
‘Yes, and then?’
‘Well, after a time I shall retire and live comfortably at my ease.’
‘Yes, and then?’
‘Oh! Well, I suppose some day I shall die.’
‘Yes, and then?’
But this time there was no answer. He had no Final Objective.

What is God’s line? It is this: We are not to rest ‘until we come to the measure of the stature of the perfect man, Christ Jesus’.

We are not to be satisfied till we ‘wake with His likeness.’ We are to be ‘perfect as He is perfect,’ and we are not to stop anywhere short of that.

That is our Final Objective.

v

A Covert From The Tempest

‘A man shall be … a covert from the tempest.’
Isa. xxxii. 2.

GIRLS and boys, I wish to tell you of a thing I saw in a village in France. It was a place called Aubigny: a dull and unlovely place, just a huddle of untidy and uninteresting houses and muddy streets, full of French folk weary of the war and British soldiers plastered with mud, and also very tired with war and work.

I have lived there a good while and had come to think that no beautiful thing could ever come out of Aubigny.

People once said the same about Nazareth. but they were wrong, for Jesus came out of Nazareth; and I was wrong about Aubigny.

It was a day in March. The winter was slowly and unwillingly giving place to spring, and the weather was uncertain. This day was windy and cloud-swept, with bursts of sunshine and bursts of rain.

One of these sudden deluges had come down and everybody was making for shelter. Among them was a group of five little children.

Do you know where they sought and found shelter?

Under the rain-cape of a British soldier. He had one of those big, wide, sleeveless waterproof cloaks, and the children ran to him and crept in beneath. The rain splashed on his steel helmet and dripped from it on to his cloak, running down in streams, but they were sheltered and dry and happy. ‘A man was a covert from the tempest.’

And as I watched this beautiful thing, set like a jewel, the more beautiful for its unlovely surroundings, three thoughts came into my mind.

The first was this. When the War is over and the Army comes back, it will be very glad to ‘get out’ of France and the French will be very glad to see it go. For it must be a great burden to them to have a strange people, as we are to them, living in their houses, and planted in their possessions. We and they are good friends, and they know why we are there, but it is only natural that they will be glad when we go away and things are their own once more.

But the French children will be sorry: for they have found the British soldier always kind and friendly to little folk.

I know a little French boy who ran away from home to live with the British soldiers. I asked him if he had any parents. ‘Yes,’ he said.
‘Well, are you going back to them?’
‘No.’
‘Why not?’
‘Oh! Too much kick.’
‘Who kicks you?’
‘My mother.’
‘But are you not afraid the British soldiers might kick you?” I asked.
‘No,’ he said, in a voice that was full of trust, and a little angry that anybody should think such a thing of his soldier friends.

Our soldiers are brave and cheerful, and many fine things can be said about them, but I think the finest thing of all is to say, and it is true, the children of France love them.

The second thing was that the soldier sheltering the children from the tempest was a beautiful parable of true of the war.

We are fighting against a power that wars not only on the strong but on the weak. It sends warships to fight and sink defenceless merchant ships. It sends airships to drop bombs on harmless folk. Its armies have slain women and children: their path has been marked by broken hearts and little graves; and children lie dead in Belgium and France, in England, and in the deep salt sea because the cruel hand of Germany struck them dead.

We are fighting against that, for the weak against the strong. The flag of our navy and our army is a shelter against this terrible tempest; and the soldier sheltering the children under his rain cloak in this big truth told in a little parable.

And the last is a thing we all need to know.

There are other tempests more terrible than rain, or even German cruelty, tempests of temptation and trial, tempests of sorrow with a bitter rain of tears. No one will escape them for they sweep across the way of every life.

Yet there is one shelter. It is a Man, and His name is Jesus. No tempest can overcome those whose defenceless head is sheltered by the covert of His wings.

When I saw the children sheltered under the wide wings of the cloak of the British soldier, it was to me a parable of that Man who, the prophet said, would be ‘a covert from the tempest’ ; and I want it to be so to you as well, that in the storms of life you may turn to Him with as sure a trust and find as sure a shelter, as the children did in the storm of Aubigny.