But first the family had to be arranged for. Joe would be at Gresham’s and I would be away at my school, Queen Margaret’s in Scarborough. So a rather elderly governess was engaged for Diana and Mary. The governess, Miss Macpherson, would also look after the house. I don’t think she was very popular! But before Christmas, the Germans didn’t invade the North East coast, but bombarded some of the coastal towns instead, including Scarborough. One of the houses of Queen Margaret’s School was hit, but no one was hurt as it was a dormitory house and everyone was away for breakfast. But clearly the school could not return to Scarborough, and instead it was arranged to evacuate it to the Atholl Palace Hotel, in Pitlochry, Perthshire. So this is where I went in January 1915, and never saw Scarborough at all.
I was one of the youngest at Queen Margaret’s School having had my eleventh birthday in May, and the Matron who took charge of me was a particularly nice woman, Miss Keith Douglas by name. I expect she took extra trouble to ensure that this little new girl should not feel homesick. I was in a bedroom with a senior girl called, I remember, Nellie Evans. But now for the first time in my life I met “rules,” and I remember very well thinking “how stupid!” For one thing, there was no talking after lights out. But really maddeningly there was no running along the long corridors and no talking on stairs or corridors. These were simply challenges to my strongly independent Northumbrian soul, and I devised various ways of defeating the “no running” rule!
In spite of my very erratic education up to that time, I didn’t do too badly with the lessons and I think must pretty quickly have caught up with the rest of the class. I made friends with a very pretty girl called Clara Hunter, who was the daughter of a high executive in the shipbuilding firm of Swan Hunter, of Tynemouth. She happily became part of all my “let’s pretend” games, and our really wonderful life together lasted for all the time I was at Queen Margaret’s.
We juniors played netball for our winter games, but in my second year I was promoted to lacrosse. I enjoyed enormously being quite a good player and a pretty fast runner. Another great enjoyment was gymnastics, and here I became quite a star performer. When I was twelve, I was chosen as the gym leader of our class, and at the gym competitions at the end of the school year, our class was top in the junior school. It was an exhilarating moment when I had to go up on to the platform to receive our cup!
I must have been about 12, when one of the senior girls, Fenella Gammell, took me under her wing, and this meant that on many school expeditions I would go with the seniors, who had more interesting and exciting outings. A favourite walk was to Killiecrankie with its famous rock from which a soldier of courage is reputed to have jumped across the river — a very brave deed, as the river Tummel there is a raging torrent. I also climbed the mountains with these seniors, something considered far beyond the scope of the juniors!
But all the time the awful war was going on, and I well remember my feelings during prayers before school, when the names were read out of those who had been killed who were related to any of the girls.
Holidays were spent partly at Hauxley and partly at Newton, with Ms. Macpherson trusted to deal with a difficult situation. Joe was partly with us, and partly in London, with Nana and Rosemary.
I don’t know how long mother stayed out at Wimereux, but one incident had very unforeseen repercussions. Mother and Dora were called down stairs one night by someone asking in a rather pathetic voice if anyone was about. There they found a very young army padre looking completely worn out and obviously needing some care and attention. He was a Welshman called Davies, and he did indeed speak with a very Welsh accent. Well, of course, they gave him food and refreshments, and were able to put him up for the night. He was a very nice friendly young man, good looking with curly black hair. He came to see them at their canteen as often as he could, and having got my mother’s home address, promised to go and see them when the war was over.
It was not long now before my mother and Dora packed up the canteen and came back to England. But there was nothing worthwhile that she felt she could do at Hauxley, so she decided to shut up the house and move to Newcastle, where she could nurse in the Newcastle General Hospital. Diana and Mary were sent to a day-school and were quite happy with the move, and they were also glad to say good bye to Miss Macpherson, who must have been equally glad to see the end of this difficult family.
But I hated this town life, where I found nothing to do and nowhere to go. Fortunately we had our bicycles, and I would go for long rides out into the country, as much as possible. But a lot of my holidays was also spent with Grandma – lovely for me, but I am sure a bit of a trial for her.
Then all of a sudden, or so it seems to me, it was decided that I should leave Queen Margaret’s for a reason I was never able to discover, and was sent to a school in Surrey, Lingholt School, Hindhead, run by two rather, by then, elderly ladies, the Misses Moir. I went there in September 1918.
I was 14 when I went to Lingholt, and it was Grandma who took me there for my first term. It was a long journey from Hauxley, entailing a crossing of London to change stations. Grandma by this time was well into her 80’s but mother of course could not leave her war work just to go on a journey with her daughter! Thereafter I always did the journey alone, and it was probably in January 1915 that I crossed London in a horse-drawn hansom cab it must have been one of the very last as they were replaced by motorised vehicles! At Lingholt I made friends with a girl called Elizabeth, whom I chiefly remember for her beautiful clothes, dresses all made by her mother.
But I never found it easy making friends, as no one was interested in the non-material worlds that concerned me where the realities were all of fairies and angels. Even in my early days at Queen Margaret’s, I remember praying “Please, God, make me the same as other little girls!” But such a state never did arise, and as I got older there were myths and legends. One Christmas I was given a beautifully illustrated “Idylls of the King” by Tennyson. For very many years a wonderfully illustrated book of Norse Fairy Tales had been my most treasured possession, which I only lost because I lent it to a friend, who never returned it to me. But I was never interested in the kind of books the other girls read exploits of schoolgirls, for instance, and other sorts of adventure stories. They bored me because I thought they were all untrue. But I was totally absorbed in all the stories of King Arthur and the Round Table, leading on to the Quest of the Holy Grail. While I was at Newton, my grandmother used to recite poetry to me. She had a prodigious memory and seemed to know all Tennyson, Browning and Walter Scott, for instance. These happy and rather magical hours spent with her, and listening to her beautiful reading voice, gave me an early love of poetry, and I memorised much of Tennyson, Shelley and Keats.
By November the war was over. There was to be a huge celebratory bonfire on top of Hindhead Beacon, and it was arranged that all the school should go. I remember that I had fallen asleep at our normal bedtime, and we all were woken up and assembled at about 11:00 p.m. for the walk up to the Beacon. The sudden waking had made me feel violently sick, and all I remember of this great occasion was feeling ill for the rest of the night!
After about two years of my stay at Lingholt the Misses Moir decided to retire, and as my mother didn’t take to the idea of the new headmistress, she decided I should leave, and sent me to a small school in Hertfordshire, Tolmers Park. This was a very select sort of school, and amongst the pupils were the two sisters of Jascha Heifetz, the famous violinist. They were by then pretty brilliant pianists, and I was fortunate in sharing a piano teacher with them. But once more, for a reason totally unknown to me, after two terms I left.
I was sent to Harrogate College, a large school of many houses in January 1920. I found myself in a bedroom with three other girls, all senior to me. They were very nice and friendly and one day the eldest of them told me that they had been instructed to keep a special eye on me, as I was a difficult girl with many problems. This astonished them all no end, as they found that I was quite an ordinary and really nice girl.
By now I was 16, and was put in a class that was working for School Certificate and Matric. In spite of my very erratic sort of education up to then, I found I was quite up to the standard required. In fact, after only one and a half terms’ work preparing for the exams, I managed to get my school certificate, with distinctions in two subjects, Botany and History. As I had never had Botany classes before, I was naturally very pleased at this result! But back at home for the holidays, there were no congratulations, only criticism that I hadn’t got my Matric!
The total lack of concern about my school prowess had a profound effect on me. As it obviously made no difference whether I did well or badly, I decided that I was simply going to enjoy myself! This outlook made possible an event that was going to colour the rest of my life.
In the same form as me, there was a girl called Kathleen Risk. Kathleen had a lovely complexion. She was broadly built, and quite a bit taller than me. She came from Edinburgh, where her father was a director of a Distillery. Finding we had similar interests, we gradually began seek each other’s company more and more often. Kathleen introduced me to the world of the Celts, their legends and their poetry. I “swam” into this new world, which gave even further reality to my own long established supra sensible world of fairies, angels and whatnot. Music meant as much to Kathleen as it did to me, and we soon acquired the large volumes of Songs of the North, whose songs and ballads became our recognised repertoire. Then there were the books of Fiona MacLeod, through which one was further transported into this world of the true realities.
I can’t remember anything in particular about these long summer holidays, except that I probably spent part of them with Grandma.
Back at school for the autumn term, Kathleen found herself elevated to the status of a prefect, and we were both in the lower half of the 6th Form. Kathleen’s parents had arranged for her to have a single bedroom, and as 6th Formers were allowed to visit each other in their bedrooms, I spent a great deal of my free time with Kathleen in hers. We were once more working for Matric, but as I said earlier, the total lack of interest in my life, at home or at school, determined me to enjoy my last year at school.
As I was by now well advanced with my piano lessons, I was given a lot of extra time for practising, and when it came to the summer term I was let off cricket entirely, with the reason that it was damaging my hands. I always hated cricket, and I think it is absolutely not a girls’ game. I have no rational objection; I just feel it has an entirely male character.
The College was fortunate in having a very gifted musician, Miss Davies, as choir mistress and head of the musical activities of the school. She was middle aged, rather plain with straight dark hair streaked to the back of her head. Miss Davies was very popular with those of us for whom music was of prime importance. I was in the school choir, and I remember well how inspiring she was as she taught us some of the great Church music.
My mother never came to see me at any of my schools, but a very close friend of hers, Mrs. Bee Scott, came to take me out one afternoon. All I remember of this occasion was how intensely shy I was, with someone I hardly knew, and found it difficult to talk about anything. She must have found me a very dull young person .
The only other occasion on which I was visited was when my brother Joe came to Lingholt for our Sports Day. He was in the Royal Navy by now and stationed at Portsmouth. I was a very fast runner, and was determined to win the hundred yards but was just beaten by a tall girl with very long legs, and a bit older than me. I can still remember my rage, because I had to impress Joe.
My last year at Harrogate College was uneventful, from the point of view of any dramatic events. We played Queen Ethelburga’s at lacrosse, and I believe we always won! I did certainly enjoy my last year there. I was promoted to the special top group of gymnasts, and was also in the first XI at Lacrosse. Miss Davies and my own music mistress very much wanted me to stay on the next year, to study music seriously, and the history of art, amongst other subjects. But my mother flatly refused, saying enough money had been spent on my education.
In the meantime, my grandparents had left Newton, and gone to live in Moor Hall, near Daresbury in Cheshire, left to my grandmother by a cousin. This move was made at my grandmother’s instigation so that their son, (Brigadier) Bertram [Widdrington], returned from the war and retired from the army, could take over Newton as its heir. The move upset my grandfather very much, having to leave all his well known accommodation necessities because of his blindness – and he was also very old. But Grandma was anxious for Bertram to take over his property and live there with his family. He had had two sons but the eldest, Tony, who was in the Commandos, tragically was killed during one of the raids on the French coast. The second son, Francis, was still at Stowe school at the time. Uncle Bertram had married Enid Onslow Ford, and my mother disliked her intensely. She was jealous of another woman being closely associated with her beloved Bertram, whom she possessively adored. Her malicious tales about Enid’s previous life made existence so unpleasant for Enid at Newton that eventually they left it and went to live in Buckinghamshire.
But now to go back to the time of my leaving Harrogate College. I had no friends at all at home, and there was just nothing to do. Diana was still at school, Joe away in the Navy, and my mother had made Mary take a rather menial job. But we went to the Royal Show at Newcastle and there my mother met one of her close friends since childhood, Mrs. Howard Pease, Marna. Like mother, Marna was an aristocrat, one of the “landed poor”. They sat down on packing cases near the entrance to the hen and poultry tent. They got into deep conversation. I wondered if they would ever stop talking, as I had long “finished” doing hens, pigeons and budgies! Eventually they got up and I was able to join them. My mother was looking very serious and said she would tell me about the conversation when we got home. And this she did.
My brother, John, who had gone through the whole of the war unscathed, including being at the Battle of Jutland, was drowned in mysterious and never explained circumstances in Portsmouth harbour, when he was 20. He was in charge of ratings returning to their ships from a shore outing when it was discovered that he had fallen overboard. Immediate and extensive searches failed to find him, and in fact it was not until a fortnight later that his body was eventually washed ashore. I had been deeply saddened by John’s death, but had hardly seen him since he left home for Osborne and Dartmouth. My mother was in long and deep talk, with Marna Pease, about her own terrible shock. Marna then told her about the great Austrian philosopher and seer, Rudolf Steiner, and was describing his researches into the spiritual world and the life after death. As my mother repeated the talk afterwards, Marna was describing to my mother how she need never lose the sense of John’s near presence in the spiritual world, and what Steiner’s teaching was concerning the reality of this world and the spiritual beings whose place of habitation this was.
What she told me absolutely confirmed all my own instinctive thoughts and feelings about a non sensible world, and I longed to hear more. Shortly after this, my mother and I went to stay with the Peases up at Otterburn. Here Marna gave me great encouragement over my music. Amongst other things, she was an accomplished musician, and what she said could also impress my mother. But what she also told me was that all she had been describing to my mother about Steiner was actually for my benefit, as she somehow sensed, from my reaction to her talks with my mother, that this was what I was looking for. She gave me, as far as I can remember, the book Christianity as Mystical Fact by Rudolph Steiner and his teaching on the evolution of mankind and the world. These revelations not only had a most profound effect on me, but it flashed through me as a firm conviction that I knew who this great individual, Rudolf Steiner, really was. It is an intuition that one keeps strictly to oneself, an instinct telling one to protect much knowledge. When, later on, I studied Steiner’s lectures on the St. Matthew Gospel, I was more than ever convinced I was right.