Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Lady Nancy Astor: WW2 and afterwards

(Top): Memorial for Mildred Warner (Washington) Gale
[Grandmother of George Washington, 1st USA President]

(Bottom): Lady Astor (left) wearing fur stole
On the steps of St Nicholas' Church, Whitehaven.
(After unveiling the Mildred Washington Gale Tablet)
[Tuesday 18 October 1955]
Courtesy of Mr. R. Devlin, WW2 & mining historian

For additional information click on 'Comments' below.


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

(a) Lady Nancy Astor
(WW2 and afterwards)

In connection with WW2 Lady Nancy Astor is perhaps best known for reputedly referring the British servicemen serving in Italy in 1944 as "D-Day Dodgers". To refute this, the so-called "Dodgers" made up "The Ballad of the D-Day Dodgers", which included some less than polite comments about Lady Astor!

In October 1955 Lady Nancy Astor who was born in Virginia, USA, was asked to unveil a memorial tablet commemorating Mildred Warner (Washington) Gale, paternal grandmother of the first President of the United States, George Washington. Many people regard General George Washington as the 'Father' of the American nation and Mildred Washington Gale as the 'Great Grandmother' of the American nation.

At this time the incumbent President of the United States was General Dwight D. Eisenhower, former Supreme Allied Commander in WW2. In the years following WW2 the ties of friendship and kinship between Britain and America were seen to be important. This ceremony was seen as one more step to strengthen the bonds between these two wartime Allies.

To read a BBC "People's War" article about Lady Nancy Astor and the "D-Day Dodgers" and the Mildred Washington Gale memorial, which includes the words of one version of "The Ballad of the D-Day Dodgers", click on the following link:

BBC People's War Lady Nancy Astor & the D-Day Dodgers

Despite the alleged derogatory statements about WW2 soldiers, as can be seen from the above photograph, servicemen from both Britain and the USA formed a 'Guard of Honour' for Lady Astor at this service. The photograph also shows the Mayor of Whitehaven (Councillor George Hanlon), the Town Clerk and other dignitaries accompanying Lady Astor from St Nicholas' Church, Whitehaven. They are processing behind the Borough of Whitehaven mace bearer.

(b) Did Lady Astor use the term "D-Day Dodgers"?

The following article about "The Ballad of the D-Day Dodgers" appeared in the 'Sunday Post' newspaper for 16 April 2006. It might be of interest to those with an interest in the Second World War, and especially those who served with the British Army in Italy in 1944.

A reader sent in the following question to 'The Queries Man': "Is there any proof that Lady Astor referred to the British troops in Italy as 'D-Day Dodgers', or was this purely German propaganda?"

Answer: "Yes, she did use the expression. She received a letter in 1944 from a disillusioned British soldier in Italy who was among those who felt the efforts of servicemen not involved in the Normandy campaign were being ignored. He signed it sarcastically, but she apparently failed to appreciate this. It became the subject of a song set to the tune of 'Lili Marlene'."

Friday, 22 July, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(c) Unveiling of the Mildred Gale Tablet (October 1955)

“A new link between Britain and America was forged at Whitehaven on Tuesday ...” is how one newspaper described the unveiling of the memorial tablet commemorating of the Mildred Washington Gale (née Warner) in October 1955. There were about 600 people who attended the ceremony inside the church. In addition, the ceremony and the speeches were recorded by BBC radio and broadcast over the airways on its Overseas Service.

The American flag was carried by Master Sergeant R. Grabeel, United States Air Force escorted by Lieutenant R.J. Grace, Staff Sergeants B. Gaskill and Irman P. Bratzyck, who at that time were at the US Airforce base at Burtonwood. The trumpeters for the occasion were supplied by the Border Regiment Depot at Carlisle (the capital of Cumberland): Trumpeters Robertson and Graham, who wore full dress uniform in scarlet and gold.

The memorial tablet was dedicated by the Bishop of Penrith (Cumberland), the Right Reverend H.V. Turner, assisted by the Vicar of St Nicholas' Church, Reverend William W. Greenwood. On behalf of the people of Whitehaven, Alderman William E. Knipe (a former Mayor of Whitehaven) sent greetings to the people of Virginia.

Lady Nancy Astor who, as the principal guest of honour, actually unveiled the Mildred Washington Gale memorial tablet. Also in attendance was Mrs W.A. Shepherd of Richmond, Virginia, USA, representing the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. This was the American society that donated the tablet, following the initial approach by Alderman William Knipe while he was Mayor of Whitehaven. Mrs Shepherd also read out the greetings from the people of Virginia to the people of Whitehaven.

Sunday, 24 July, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(d) Speeches made at the unveiling ceremony

In her speech to the assembled crowd, Lady Nancy Astor was much less controversial than most of her wartime speeches. In fact, Lady Astor was described as "... one of America's greatest gifts to British public affairs .., a brilliant and witty speaker, she captivated all who heard her." Here is an extract of the speech by Lady Astor on this occasion:

“It was fortunate that George Washington’s father, Augustine, went to America carrying with him Britain’s love of justice and freedom. It was fortunate that George Washington was born a Virginian, because Virginia had always believed in the love of God and the love of one's neighbours. On these things depended the peace and prosperity of the world".

After dedicating the memorial, Bishop Turner addressed the congregation, and the many radio listeners, referring to the many connections between Whitehaven and America and, in particular, Virginia and the raid on Whitehaven led by the 'Founder of the American Navy', John Paul Jones. However, the main part of his address referred to George Washington's family link to Whitehaven. This is an extract from Bishop Turner's address:

"This is an occasion which will give satisfaction to many people on both sides of the Atlantic. A memorial might seem a small thing, but it had a meaning of vast importance.

Mildred Warner had, for her first husband, Lawrence Washington of Virginia. He died in 1698 leaving his widow with three children: John, Augustine and Mildred. In 1700 she married George Gale of Whitehaven. She died in 1701 and was buried in St Nicholas' Churchyard.

The boys were sent to Appleby School and might have remained there had pressure not been brought to bear by the Washington family in Virginia to have them returned to America. One of these boys, Augustine, became the father of George Washington.

Isn't it fascinating to speculate as to what would have happened to America's War of Independence if there had been no George Washington to lead it?"

The Bishop concluded with the following blessing:

"God be praised for the great men who have shaped America's history. God's blessing rest upon him who now occupies the seat of George Washington. May God's spirit ever lead our people's to hate injustice and tyranny, to safeguard freedom and to serve the Lord our God in being of service to all mankind."

(At this time, in 1955, the President of the United States was General Dwight D. Eisenhower. President Eisenhower had been the Allied Supreme Commander in North Western Europe during WW2).

(e) The Mildred Gale memorial tablet

The memorial tablet unveiled by Lady Nancy Astor on Tuesday 18 October 1955 at St Nicholas' Church, Whitehaven reads as follows:

In Memory of
Born at Warner Hall in the Colony of Virginia
Daughter of Augustine Warner II
Wife of Major Lawrence Washington
Who died about 1697
Later married George Gale of Whitehaven
Grandmother of
First President
of the United States of America.

This tablet is placed near her grave by
The Association For The Preservation
Of Virginia Antiquities
in 1955

Sunday, 24 July, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(f) Biographical information about Lady Astor

Lady Nancy Witcher Astor (née Langhorne) [1879 - 1964] was born in Virginia, U.S.A. In November 1919 she won a by-election for the Plymouth (Sutton) constituency for the Conservative and Unionist party. The by-election had been called because her husband, Waldorf Astor, had been elevated to the peerage as the 2nd Viscount Astor.

This electoral victory meant Lady Nancy Astor became the first woman to take up a seat in the House of Commons (1 December 1919). Waldorf Astor was Lady Astor's second husband. As a young woman she had married the American, Robert Gould Shaw II in 1897 and divorced in 1903.

One of Lady Astor's sisters, Nora Phipps (née Langhorne) was the mother of the British actress and comedienne Joyce Grenfell. The family had connections in West Cumberland and regularly stayed with close friends at Loweswater not far from Whitehaven. Joyce Grenfell also appeared a number of times on the stage at the Rosehill Theatre, Moresby (which is also on the outskirts of Whitehaven). This connection to West Cumberland, plus the fact that the Langhornes had been born in Virginia, would seem to have the main reasons for Lady Astor being asked to perform the unveiling of the Mildred Gale memorial tablet.

In many respects, Lady Astor was a controversial figure before and during WW2. Above all, it was widely believed she referred to the 8th Army soldiers serving in Italy in 1944 as "D-Day Dodgers" because they were trying to avoid the 'real' fighting in France. Clearly this was not true, and many of the 8th Army soldiers had been involved in the North African campaign before the invasion of Italy.

Under pressure from her husband and her local Conservative party, Lady Astor stood down from the House of Commons at the 1945 General Election. In any case, the new Conservative candidate lost the Plymouth Sutton seat to the Labour Party candidate.

(g) Historic links

While staying at Whitehaven in January 1701 (by modern-day reckoning) Mildred Washington Gale (née Warner) gave birth to a daughter also called Mildred, the same first name as her half-sister Mildred Washington. The new-born infant was baptised at St Nicholas' Church on 25 January 1701.

Mildred Gale (mother) died and was buried in St Nicholas' Churchyard on 30 January. Mildred Gale (daughter) - the aunt of General George Washington - died a few weeks later and was also buried in St Nicholas' Churchyard on 26 May 1701. The maid servant of Mrs Mildred Gale also died in 1701 and was interred in the churchyard.

The church tower where the Mildred Gale memorial tablet unveiled by Lady Astor is located is not always open. For many years this meant some visitors, having made a special visit to the church, went away disappointed.

Thus, in 2006 the Whitehaven Heritage Action Group dedicated a second memorial tablet to the memory of Mildred Washington Gale in the Churchyard where, after all, she had been laid to rest. This plaque is made of local green slate and was placed on the sandstone wall of the old church.

One of the Border Regiment trumpeters who played the fanfare for Lady Astor in 1955 was Trumpeter William Robinson, then doing his National Service at the Regimental Depot at Carlisle Castle. In March 2008 Trumpeter Robinson made a return visit to Whitehaven to look at the memorial plaque. Most of St Nicholas' Church had been destroyed by a fire in August 1971. Fortunately the Mildred Gale memorial tablet, as well as the WW1 and WW2 memorial plaques survived the fire.

To read 'The Whitehaven News' report about the unveiling ceremonies of the Mildred Gale memorial tablets in 1955 and 2006, and William Robinson's memories of the 1955 ceremony, click on the following link:

Mildred Washington Gale links with Whitehaven

Sunday, 24 July, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(h) Acknowledgements:

Reverend John Bannister &
Mr Stuart Nicholson
(Parish of Whitehaven, Church of England)

Mr Raymond Devlin
(WW2 Researcher)

'The Whitehaven News'

Cumbria County Archives, Whitehaven


Sunday, 24 July, 2011  

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