The combination of the current issue of the quarterly – Issue 65 – and To War with Whitaker by Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly makes an ideal introduction to the world of Slightly Foxed and a perfect present.
In this issue: David Gilmour travels East with Somerset Maugham • Mary Helen Spooner attends an unusual cremation • Christopher Rush joins the revolution at Animal Farm • Felicity James relishes London life with the Lambs • Richard Platt spends a year on Cape Cod • Helen MacEwan watches Jeremy grow up • Alan Bradley meets some remarkable manuscripts • Rebecca Willis takes a dog’s-eye view • William Palmer shares the ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold • Isabel Lloyd admires a hardy perennial, and much more besides . . .
‘After reading this Dan asked Whitaker if he would like to go with him. The old fatty looked over the top of his spectacles and said “To the war, my Lord? Very good, my Lord.” Then we started to pack.’
It is 3 September 1939 and Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly, is describing in her diary the reaction of their portly cook-butler Whitaker to her husband Dan’s call-up telegram. Whitaker, however, is no ordinary servant, and Hermione is a decidedly unconventional aristocrat.
As soon as she learned that as a Yeomanry officer Dan was permitted to take his servant with him but not his wife, she acquired a visa from a shady travel-agent, secreted a Colt revolver inside her girdle and took ship to Egypt in search of her husband, to whom she had been married for less than a year. There she applied for work – though well-connected she had grown up impoverished and was an experienced shorthand typist – but she was immediately deported by a fanatical one-eyed Brigadier who sneered ‘You can’t expect me to believe that a Countess can type.’
Was she daunted? Of course not! She and Dan were madly in love and this sparkling diary, written on-the-hoof throughout the war, sees her jumping ship in Cape Town and returning to Cairo where she found work with SOE. When Dan was taken prisoner, she vowed never to return home until they were reunited. Working first in Jerusalem and then as personal assistant to General ‘Jumbo’ Wilson she met and entertained every kind of visiting celebrity from King Farouk to Lord Beaverbrook and General Patton to Evelyn Waugh. And behind her came Whitaker, from a desperately poor northern background, resourceful, talented, self-educated, a piano-player, and so fat that the cinema seat breaks under his weight when he is watching Olivier’s Henry V.
After catching up with one another at various dramatic moments, then parted again, the three of them survived the war. Fifty years later Hermione’s unique behind-the-scenes account was finally published. How fortunate that it was, for she is the ideal diarist, observant, brave and unsnobbish (though not afraid to use her grand connections), and the ideal confidante.
Comments & Reviews
Leave your review