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Hermione Ranfuly’s To War with Whitaker | Plain Foxed Edition | From the Slightly Foxed bookshelves

Hermione Ranfurly’s To War with Whitaker | From the Slightly Foxed bookshelves

Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly and her husband Dan had been married for less than a year when he was called up in September 1939. Their characterful cook-butler Whitaker volunteered to go with him, but Yeomanry rules decreed that though officers could take their servants to war they could not take their wives.

Undeterred, however, Hermione acquired a visa from a shady travel-agent, secreted a Colt revolver inside her girdle and took ship to Egypt in pursuit. There she applied for work – though well-connected she had grown up impoverished and was an experienced shorthand typist – but was immediately deported by a fanatical 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 and Lord Beaverbrook to General Patton and Evelyn Waugh. And behind her came Whitaker, a most unusual accomplice 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.

Against all odds the three of them survived the war and fifty years later Hermione’s unique behind-the-scenes account was finally published. How fortunate that was, for she is the ideal diarist, observant, brave, unsnobbish and the perfect confidante.

With best wishes, as ever, from the SF office staff
Hattie, Jess, Charlotte & India

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