Friday, 26 August 2011

The Royal Star and Garter heroes and heroines part II

(It would appear that Blogger hates my having so many photos, so this is in two parts.)
We went to the Combined Services Bar, which is a pub inside the building. Residents are charged at cost, which makes it the most reasonably-priced bar in the country, possibly the world. I got to know more people, including a lady who drove ambulances during the war, and who told me that she was born in Richmond. "I used to go past here with my nanny and we saw the poor soldiers in bath-chairs on the lawn. Little did I imagine I would be here one day." Another wonderful lady, almost 100 years old, was a Plotter during the war, and knew of the Normandy Invasion before it happened. "My boyfriend - he didn't become my husband - kept asking me, 'surely you know something! Something must be happening...'
and so I just said 'Every day things are happening...'" A bearded veteran of the Special Forces nudged me and said "You know who her husband was? He was Commander of the Amethyst, which ran the gauntlet along the Yangtse river when the Communists took over." He had his own special tankard that he drank out of. It was given to him by his mates on the eve of his wedding.
There was a very notable absence at the concert. Nancy Wake was no longer seated in her usual place at the left of me as I sang. She had died two weeks earlier. The most decorated servicewoman in the war, and an inspiration. The Gestapo called her "White Mouse" because
she evaded them so cleverly. They placed a bounty of five million francs on her head. Her story is best told in the numerous Obituaries that have been running lately...I did know that when she parachuted into France she had her lipstick in her pocket, and that the parachute caught in a tree. The Captain she was to work under greeted her with "I hope all the trees in France bear such beautiful fruit this year," and she countered with "Don't give me that French shit." Brava. She loved my French salon songs, and was particularly happy when I sang Handel. She had a calm demeanour and felt the music deeply. She had few words, and would take me by the hand after the concert and give it a brief, businesslike shake and nod once. It was a great accolade. I hope people continue to read her story and be inspired by her.

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