Thursday, March 5, 2009

Granny in London, 1912-14

The highlight of the Pearsons’ extended visit to England, commencing towards the end of 1912, was when Lady Reid, the wife of the Australian High Commissioner, Sir George H. Reid, sometime fourth prime minister, 1904–05, presented Great-Grandmother Sophie Pearson to the King and Queen at an evening court at Buckingham Palace, and Mrs. Pearson in turn presented her daughters. (Great-Grandfather Pearson represented the Province of Gippsland in the upper house of the Victorian Parliament, and was a member of the powerful Joint Committee on Defence. Here is the exquisite photograph that was taken by Speaight Limited, Photographers & Portrait Painters at 157 New Bond Street (No. 42645B), to commemorate this, the apex of Granny’s “coming-out” year.

Granny’s diary for 1914 has survived, and it is obvious that the family extracted every moment of excitement from the London season. Apart from separate skiing holidays at Pontresina and Klosters, a visit to Menton where on February 4, 1914, she flew in an amphibious aircraft or “hydroplane,” to say nothing of country excursions throughout England, and to Scotland and Wales, Granny’s days were largely spent cycling, or playing tennis or golf, or attending point-to-point meetings, or riding in Hyde Park, or watching the aeroplanes at Farnborough, going to the reviews at Spithead and Aldershot, and the Duke and Duchess of Connaught’s bazaar at Bagshot Park, near Windsor. She attended the regatta at Henley, the Richmond Horse Show, Royal Ascot, polo matches, and celebrity golfing and tennis tournaments. She went to innumerable dances, had her photograph taken, and went shopping almost every day. She had lunch with her brother and sister at the Trocadero. They went to the Army and Navy rugby and cricket matches. In May Week she went with friends to the Trinity and Jesus balls at Cambridge, and in June she saw the Prince of Wales buy a cake at Stewart’s.

Above all, it is the incessant
West End theater-going, sometimes at the height of the season every single night, that stands out from her brief diary entries. It must have been heaven.

In January at the Royalty Granny saw
The Pursuit of Pamela, by Chester Bailey Fernaid, which she thought was “just ripping,” and Gladys Cooper in the title role “sweet.” The following month she saw Marie Tempest in Cosmo Gordon Lennox’s adaptation of Mme. Fred de Grésac and Francois de Croisset’s The Marriage of Kitty at the Playhouse (gowns by Maison Howard and Lucile, Ltd.), and at the Comedy Ethel Irving in a revival of C. Haddon Chambers’s The Tyranny of Tears.

The next month was much busier. At the Apollo she saw Charles Hawtrey’s production of W. H. Post’s new play Never Say Die; Gerald Du Maurier and Lady Tree in Diplomacy at Wyndham’s; Gladys B. Unger’s long-running adaptation of The Marriage Market, starring Sári Petráss, who made her nightly entrance on a donkey called Jenny (gowns by Maison Agnes and Miss Fisher); Richard Pryce’s adaptation of the 1910 Arnold Bennett novel Helen With the High Hand at the Vaudeville, and, finally, at the Haymarket, Arthur Wimperis’s musical Within the Law.

In April Granny went to
A Year In an Hour at the Victoria Palace; The Brass Bottle (“a farcical fantastic play in four acts by F. Anstey”), and Within the Law a second time, which she noted enthusiastically was “just a ripping play, the best in London.” At the end of the month she saw the revue Hullo, Tango! at the Hippodrome, starring Frank Carter, Isabell d’Armond, Teddie Gerard, Morris Harvey, Shirley Kellogg, Gerald Kirby, Ethel Levey, Violet Loraine, Eric Roper, and Harry Tate, and featuring the sensational new hit numbers “Get Out and Get Under!” and “Love Me While the Lovin’ Is Good.” Intriguingly, she went back to see it again less than a fortnight later.

In May Granny saw My Lady’s Dress by Edward Knoblauch at the Royalty (gowns by Michée Zac) and Arcademy (this latter twice in the space of four days), then Potash and Perlmutter, the new American play by Montague Glass and Charles H. Klein at the Queen’s, which she thought “jolly clever.”

Then came
The Land of Promise by Somerset Maugham (“rather disappointing”). This comparatively rare adverse reaction was probably due to the play’s outrageously condescending plot. According to The Times critic, dripping with sarcasm, “Londoners who dine at restaurants, dance the Tango (or its successor of the moment), and spend their evenings at crowded At Homes, or in theatres, music-halls, or picture-palaces, like to read stories or to look at plays about the rolling prairies and the free, open-air life of Manitoba. It is one of the amusements of town.” I doubt if this went down at all well with any self-respecting East Gippslander or Hermitage Old Girl, almost certainly alert to snobbisme misdirected at well-connected visitors from distant colonies.

After this came a revue entitled
The Passing Show at the Palace (twice in the same week: “a most ripping affair” and “just topping,” despite The Times’ critic’s opinion that it required “a little compression”), and a recital by Dame Clara Butt, who had in 1907 with her husband, the baritone Kennerly Rumford, actually stayed with the Pearsons at Kilmany Park when they performed in Sale on their sensational Australian and New Zealand tour. Then at the Lyric came Mam’selle Tralala (subtitled Oh! Be Careful, designed entirely by Baruch & Co.) (“most awfully good”); a Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club matinee benefit at the Queen’s for the National Institute for the Blind entitled Was It the Lobster? (“awfully clever”), and, on June 29, Bernard Shaw’s “new play” Pygmalion at His Majesty’s, starring Herbert Beerbohm Tree and Mrs. Patrick Campbell in the role of Eliza Doolittle.

July was busier still: Granny saw Jack Hulbert in his own adaptation of
The Cinema Star by Georg Okonkowski and Julius Freund at the Shaftesbury (twice), with music by Jean Gilbert, who also composed Mam’selle Tralala. According to The Times newspaper, The Cinema Star had “a very distinctive plot. Owing to a lightning strike of electricians, a handsome film actor is imprisoned for some hours in a hotel lift with the charming daughter of a millionaire who aspires to abolish all cinema theatres.”

Granny went back to see Mam’selle Tralala again (actually two more times); Mr. Thurston’s new play, Driven, at the Haymarket, starring C. Aubrey Smith and Alexandra Howell; Charles Marlowe’s When Knights Were Bold at the Apollo, starring James Welch, C. F. Lloyd, Isla Glynn, and Queenie Thomas; the Russian ballets: almost certainly Stravinsky and Fokine’s Petrouchka or The Fire Bird at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane; Eliza Comes To Stay, H. V. Esmond’s “bizarre comedy” at the Vaudeville, which according to The Times was “preceded by a welcome revival of that hilarious satire on nursing homes, The Rest Cure, by G. E. Jennings,” and, finally, “Mr. Arnold Bennett’s delightful fantasy” The Great Adventure at the Kingsway.

She also went to “the movies,” only once it seems, and to revivals of Hugh Morton and Gustave Kerker’s The Belle of New York at the Lyceum (gowns by Thelma), and, towards the end of July, as the drums of war began to beat faster and harder, the patriotic Flag Lieutenant at the Haymarket, starring Jack Hobbs, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, and Helen Haye in the role of Mrs. Gough-Bogle.

It is hardly surprising that in the midst of this busy social season—she went to dinners, suppers, or dances after the theater most nights (and I fervently hope that she danced the thrillingly fashionable Argentine tango)—Granny fell in love.

The name of this new young man was Campbell Russell, the younger son of Mr. and Mrs. C. W. Russell of Melbourne. Mr. Russell was general manager of the Union Bank of Australia, an old Anglo-Australian bank which eventually in 1951 merged with the Bank of Australasia to form the ANZ Bank.

Campbell was a submarine officer in the Royal Navy, and the brother of Granny’s school-friend Adye Russell (Waller). The two families knew each other in Melbourne, when for six months in 1905 the Pearsons lived in a big house called Woodside in Hawthorn, while Kilmany Park was being rebuilt. And at the end of 1912 they renewed their acquaintance when the Pearsons, Mrs. Russell and her children sailed from Melbourne to London aboard the same ship. Mr. Russell followed after his retirement in the middle of 1916.

We have seen that in 1912 in Sale and Melbourne, Granny spent quite a bit of time golfing, dancing, and socializing with Keith Borthwick, her future husband’s comparatively glamorous older brother, whom she had known since early childhood, and it may have been a deliberate stratagem on their parents’ part that Granny and Aunt Mim should spend as much time as possible abroad, mixing with eligible young Australians in England. Lieutenant Keith A. Borthwick (q.v.) was killed in the first line at the horrific Battle of the Nek at Gallipoli in 1915.

In any event this new friendship must have been blossoming by January 1914, when Granny first mentions going to the theater with Adye and Mrs. Russell, almost as soon as possible after returning from
France and Switzerland. Campbell was a handsome sportsman. Granny went to watch him play for the Royal Navy against the Army in the rugby match at Twickenham (“Twickers”). The Navy lost, 14–26, but, she noted, “it was very exciting.” The friendship must have taken a new and serious turn by May 1914, because at the end of the month we read:
Did flowers, went into town, etc. Campbell came [to visit Mr. and Mrs. Pearson]. After lunch we played tennis, quite good fun. Dance in the evening, just splendid, I did so enjoy it, fine night so we were able to go out-side [!]. Jenny Brooke also staying here. I’m quite quite sure now [her italics].

Campbell had evidently sought Mr. Pearson’s permission to propose, and must have secured it. The young people were engaged, apparently unofficially, perhaps due to the growing threat of war.

Just before the Pearsons’ departure for
Australia in December 1914, Granny went with Campbell to a Royal Navy ball in Portsmouth. Campbell had something to do with arranging the catering, and in old age she recalled that he asked her if she thought she could get through a whole magnum of champagne! “It was the first and only time I tasted cold plovers’ eggs for supper.” A little later, Granny went aboard Campbell’s submarine depot ship, the 5,750-ton second-class light cruiser H.M.S. Arrogant, to watch the King review the Fleet at Spithead, and, after the declaration of war only two weeks later, she and her mother “went down to Dover for the day to say goodbye to Campbell,” who was about to set sail on the Channel station.
It was an awful day, rained hard. We sat in a hotel most of the time, had tea on the Arrogant, it was just an awful day for rain, came back after dinner. Poor old boy!

Charles Arthur Campbell Russell joined the Royal Navy on January 15, 1913, and volunteered as a submariner. Service aboard submarines has always been voluntary, and subject to strict regulation of height and weight, and exhaustive training. Some tension existed within the admiralty arising from the old-fashioned view that submarine warfare was somehow underhand and “ungentlemanly.” However, it was also true that submariners swiftly came to see themselves, and were gradually accepted as the élite shock troops of the senior service, and its futuristic technocrats.

Campbell was at first assigned to the 1,070-ton torpedo gunboat and submarine depot vessel H.M.S. Hazard, but was soon transferred to the Arrogant. He was commissioned sub-lieutenant on October 6, 1914, and after submarine officer training, on January 15, 1915, he was promoted lieutenant. He won the gold medal awarded periodically “to the cadet who during his period of training exhibited the most gentlemanlike bearing and good influence among the cadets.”

He seems to have served on submarines in the enormously hazardous Channel and North Sea stations throughout the war, successively attached to the light cruisers Forth (1916) and Bonaventure (1917), when on March 5 he assumed his first submarine command. On April 18, 1918, he assumed the command of H.M.S. G7, working in conjunction with the special torpedo vessel H.M.S. Vulcan, based at Blyth in Northumberland. G-class submarines were specifically intended to fight German U-boats in the North Sea. It is not known how or when G7 was sunk, or in what circumstances, but the last communication was received from her on October 23, 1918, when she was on patrol, and on November 1, just ten days before the Armistice was signed, she was reported long overdue and, as a result, her commanding officer, Lieutenant C. A. C. Russell, and his thirty other officers and crew declared lost in action. Their bodies were never recovered.

Charles Arthur Campbell Russell is listed on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, and there is a small monument to his memory in St. George’s church, Croydon, in South London, which was placed there by his grieving parents, “late of Melbourne, Australia,” who, according to the death notice in the Argus on Saturday, November 16, 1918, were by then residing at Falkland House, Kensington.

It is not yet clear why Campbell Russell broke his engagement to Granny
. She left us no clues at all.

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