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Memorial address for Barnaby Rogersonıs God-Mother and Step Grand-Mother, Alida Harvie
by Barnaby Rogerson

We are here today to celebrate a long life, well-lived, as well as to mourn the passing of Aunt Alida.

My first instinct was to set up a little shop here, selling copies of Alidaıs books This would be true to my natural instinct as a publisher and also to my god-mother, for she has told her own story in her own time, in her own words. It would also be true to my own relationship with Alida which has been conducted by the pen, a long exchange of letters, opinions and parcels of books. This time is now over. No longer will any of us get a thoughtful reply by return of post, in that instantly recognizable clear script, well-formed in blue ink from our opinionated supporter-in-chief, Aunt Alida.

For Alida had that rare combination of an intelligent mind married to a kind heart. She was tenaciously loyal to her family and a support to her many friends, a generous patron to charities and those in need, but frugal with herself. By turns she would be a writer, an educationalist, a journalist, a lecturer, a London County Councillor, a political activist who during the Second World War rose through the ranks from private to major. She was a lifelong Conservative of an absolute true-blue hue. None of us can doubt her passionate support for her political heroes such as Sir Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Yet she was close enough to the game of politics to be able to admire skilful footwork for its own sake, whether it came from a Labour, Liberal or Tory leader.


Alida was always the supportive presence, the person who knew the family trees and the stories that went with them, but who also remembered birthdays, ambitions and the names of children, grand-children and great grand-children. She kept true to the values of her upbringing: so that manners, a tidy appearance, punctuality, courtesy and gratitude (whether it was to a hard-working gardener or a generous millionaire god-father) were vital watch-stones of conduct. She kept her energy, her wit and her interest in the world, to the last. We will miss her. As she herself wrote of another, "Her memory lives on, woven into our lives, and till time shall fade, memories are ours to keep".

There are so many memories for us to keep.

Like that evening in the summer of 1929 when the nineteen year-old Alida"came-out" having been formally presented to the King and Queen in Buckingham Palace. At the glittering reception afterwards, she realised for the first time, that she was being treated as a woman and was no longer a school girl. She also saw for the first time, what an extraordinary social position her parents had achieved in London society. For the beautiful young Alida was warmly embraced by Lloyd George, beamed-at by Mr Baldwin, Ramsay Macdonald bestowed a wintry smile, the be-monocled Austern Chamberlain offered a more formal salute and even Mr Winston Churchill (whose social amiability was uncertain in those inter-war years of political exile) gave her a puckish smile.

That dazzling evening was concluded when her father, Sir Harry Brittain, M.P. introduced her to the worldıs prince charming, the matinee idol Prince of Wales, who addressed her "I hope that you will enjoy your season, for your father and I are old friends." Later that summer at the Bukingham Palace garden Party, Alida watched as some of the other great figures of the day, from Rudyard Kipling to Sir Harry Lauder, from Sir James Barrie to the Archbishop of Canterbury came up to her parents table to talk and meet their young daughter. At her own party, the Prince of Wales, broke his busy schedule of public duties to have the first dance with Alida with whom he shared a birthday. After the dance he stayed to give Alida a drink while he lit a cigarette. When called away by his ADC the Prince stubbed his cigarette out just as he turned to leave, whereupon a scrum of young women rushed at the smoking ashtray. Alida observed with surprise that the triumphant trophy-hunter then stuffed the still glowing cigarette into her cleavage. These halcyon days were all the more intense for what came after. Before the end of that year, her father had lost his parliamentary seat, at Acton, while the Wall Street Stock market crashed that October, ushering in the blizzard years of the Depression.


Ten years later and we meet an Alida absolutely determined to abandon her privilieged youth and do her bit in the war. Her brother, through his training in the Royal Air Force, was acutely aware of the shape of future wars and had repeatedly begged his family to leave their house in Westminster. So it was from the little Hampshire cottage of Kirklands (that they had moved to in 1938), that Alida put forward her application to join the ranks of the Womenıs Service. She served for the first year as a volunteer Ambulance Driver in the FANYıs, before being called-up to boot-camp in Camberley, six young women packed into room no 4. What a cross section of society in that hut: a horsey county-girl from Warwickshire who missed her ponies dreadfully, a sensible secretary from a London firm of solicitors, a cockney hairdresser and a young waitress from Glasgow. They found it very difficult to understand each other but "we all got along splendidly". They were all detailed to attend NAAFI dances every Saturday evening. They were not invited, just rounded-up like cattle and herded into army lorries. The dances were rugged, very hot and rather rowdy but "they were all part of the war effort." It was this sort of spirit, married to her acute natural intelligence that saw Alidaıs rapid promotion through the ranks. She would work in propaganda, within the Army Education Corps, mobilizing enthusiasm for the continued war-effort by discussing, planning and enthusing about the shape of Britain after the victory.


In 1946 this energetic, intellectual Major was discharged back into the bombed-out, rationed, post-war streets of a devestated London. The elegant town-house of her youth was gone, her adored mother was dead while her old father was embroiled with an unstable young secretary insanely jealous of Alida. After years of living in army barracks she only managed to find a room of her own, in Kensington Close, through the intervention of a friend in Mi5. She found employment by running the caotic office of the new National Association for Mental Health, split into two rival physciatric camps, before she was selected to stand as conservative candidate in Dulwich. She won her seat after a brilliant campaign fought in the challenging post-war environment. Visiting her uncle in Devon for a rest after the election, it was clear that many things had been changed by the war. The days of the splendid old mansion at Dundridge, with itıs inside staff of a dozen, with twice as many at work in the gardens, was on the point of collapse. As the old French cook of the family observed, having watched aunt Sybil and her husband Sir Samuel Harvey trying to "make-do" unaided, "Les Milords c-est fini."

After one such a weekend at Dundridge, Alida found herself alone on an empty railway platform, weighed down with gifts of flowers and vegetables, with a packed meal amongst her luggage. Then like a scene straight out of Brief Encounters, she observed, "a tall, slim, military man wearing a raincoat stride along through the barrier, what a splendid profile, I thought, like a Roman senator." With an umbrella hooked on one arm he pulled out a cigarette case and selected a cigarette. Only a small plume of smoke seemed to be moving.

He was also a gentleman, so when the train came in, he came to Alida's aid, helping her, overburdened with flowers and suitcases to find a seat and a luggage rack.They talked, found out that they shared a name, Harvey (albeit spelled in different ways) and that both had been visiting relations in Devon. Emboldened by the prophecy of a clairvoyant friend, Alida got back in touch a few days later. Dinner at the Cavalry Club was followed by an invitation to the Hurlingham, then lunch in the City, trips to the theatre and visits to the Royal Academy and Kew gardens. Alida was in love but also worried about how Major J.K. Harvie's three notoriously wild children would respond to her. Jackie was in Africa, Donald in Siam, but she was able to meet Kathy, tall and slender..she shared her father's irrepressible and bubbling sense of humour, almost roguish but wholly fun.

Alida and John were married in London at Christ Church, where they had to submit to a whole bevy of press photographers. Her husband's comrade in arms from two world wars, Lord Strathcona, made the speech. Later they dined at Gennaros in Soho, went to see a play at the Garrick. At the door of their bedroom in the Great Western Hotel, her husband whispered, "Goodbye Miss Brittain. She wrote of her honeymoon, that it was like riding on a rainbow.

Afterwards Alida would find herself talking to Ada Forest, a friend who had given up a singing career when she had married a wildlife photographer. Alida asked if she regretted this - "Very much" was the candid and honest reply, though, "When you come to the parting of the ways, you can't take both ways." Alida had listened and in 1951 turned down the chance of being put forward for the conservative party list. She would have made an excellent M.P., following both her father and her uncle into the House. Her new husband offered his support "Well why don't you stand, I would be very proud of an MP wife. You were a career girl when I met you and I would hate to stand in your way."

But she wanted to put her marriage first, and be ready for any small blessings that might just come her way - even though she was nearly forty. It is to her undying credit that she would transform this double personal blow, a lack of children combined with the abandonment of her political career, so that it never became a source of bitterness. Instead she would become the central lynch-pin of a network of a dozen families, the loving and supportive aunt, great-aunt, step-mother, god-mother, step-grandmother and cousin.

But less us return once more to another cherished memory which it will now be our duty to keep. It is 1917 and Alida is a demure six year old girl sitting cross-legged in her parents elegant drawing room which stretches across two handsome terraced houses in the heart of Westminster. Her father is at the height of his influence: a publicist, journalist and writer, politician and net-worker without equal, bringing together political leaders, newspaper magnates, manufacturers and inventers. Sir Harry came from the north, the ebullient and adored eldest-son of a wealthy dynasty of Sheffield steel manufacturers. But tonight he is allowing his wife the limelight. She is playing the harp, an instrument at which she excelled, both as a performer and a composer. Memories of this evenings music will endure, leading on one hand to her creation of the Conservative Festival of Song, on the other for her to join the select company of Welsh, then Cornish bards. She would be awarded the title "Telenores-y-Golomen Wenı the harpist of the white dove. For Alidaıs mother was from the musical West of Britain, a true daughter of Devon while her grand-mother was a French Catholic brought up in Spanish-speaking Peru.

The wartime prime minister, Lloyd George, is enchanted by the harp music, so much so that he is unaware that six year old Alida is filling the turn-ups of his trousers with miniature gollywogs. The next day an official messenger would come to the door with a government-package. Inside there is note for Alida, "With the Prime Ministers apologies, taken in error."

I like to think that Alida who grew up in a large Edwardian household bustling with life, found a similar environment in her last household. I know, as all of us do, that she would like me to thank the staff of Canford Cliffs for the devoted care and attention she received in the last ten years of her life. I think they were happy to give this to Alida, for they recognized she had also struggled to comfort and serve others throughout her long life. But let us give her the last word, taken from one of her books, "History has no chapters, no curtain-fall, the world goes spinning on. Outside my window, pink-tinged clouds dip into a luminous sea. Lights begin to gleam. The birds are still singing sweetly in the evening sunshine. Twilight deepens. Tomorrow, yet another birthday dawns for me. I am now an old timer, not likely to be around. I hope I may be hovering in the shadows watching you cut your cake. Perhaps you will hear me whisper, "May all your ventures prosper, and may the shining new 21st century enfold you in kindly arms."

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