Meeting the Inner Swordswoman

Posted on 24th December 2014 by

In July, I attended the funeral of Eve Bracegirdle, who had been a member of the Neighbourhood Care Scheme (NCS) for many years, and whose picture, together with her volunteer Daniela Westcott, appears at the head of the NCS page on the website. The funeral was a celebration of a long life well-lived. I was particularly struck by this photograph of Eve from before the War:

Eve NCS Fencing

Eve’s spirit, determination and zest – so evident in the photo – were still immediately apparent when I first met her sixty years later, though her physical prowess had declined. Last year I reached the age of sixty, but I still felt very much in touch with my inner sixteen-year-old, though he was not visible at all in the mirror. People’s spirit can remain more sprightly than their bodies as they get older. It is one of the pleasures of running NCS to be able to introduce our volunteers to older people – with their inspiring inner swordswomen, inner adventurers, inner sixteen-year-olds, inner whatever – and their depth of knowledge and experience.

Eve’s life was remarkable (as the obituary below by her son Nicolas clearly shows). But she was typical of most of our scheme members – they still have a lot to give even if they no longer have their youthful physical powers. Feedback from our volunteers confirms that they enjoy being with these spirited older people:

“From the moment I met Pauline we gelled! She has a wonderful smile and very expressive eyes! She does wicked impressions of all sorts of people and I really love her stories of Brighton– it’s rare to meet people born and bred in Brighton who can tell you tales from before it became the place it is today.”

“Nora has a great sense of humour (I like to think I do too!) so we laugh a lot, and she’s a great story teller. I could sit and listen to her talk about her formative years for hours.”

We hope to connect many more people in 2015. Meanwhile, you can read more about Eve’s long life in Eve & Daniela’s Story on the NCS page or the obituary below.

 

Obituary of Margaret Eve Slingsby Bracegirdle nee Bethell

(Written by Nicolas Bracegirdle MBE)

Eve Bracegirdle, who died on 4th July 2014 at Kingsland House, Shoreham, came from a quite remarkable and talented family background.  Eve died shortly before her 99th birthday and was born of the Bethell Family, being a descendant of Lord Westbury.

Eve’s mother, Margery Gladys Farnell, married Llwelyn Slingsby Bethell, who was a much-respected classicist and schoolteacher at Eton College and locally in Brighton and Hove.  From him, Eve derived her love of sport, particularly fencing. He taught her the many romance and classical languages that Eve spoke fluently.

Eve saw little of her father as he served in East Africa in 1916.  Margery then joined him in West Africa and so it was not until about 1920 that Eve was re-united with her parents, aged 5.  From 1929 until 1933, Eve was enrolled at St Swithun’s Winchester, and under the pupilage of her devoted and erudite father became a stellar student.

As a teenager she was enrolled as a fencing pupil under the guidance of the Sergeant Major at Winchester College. She had to be smuggled in to the boy’s College.  One day, a Maitre-D from Paris came to watch the fencing and he stated, “That boy with the pigtail shows promise”.  He was amazed when she took off her fighting helmet.  Of course this gave rise to positions in the Ladies Foil Fencing Team and she became a pupil to Lucien Merignac at the Sorbonne in Paris and also in London.  In 1939, she was a finalist in the Ladies Amateur Foil Championships and was selected to fence for Great Britain in the World Championships, which sadly were cancelled owing to the War. (Her other sports were following beagles and swimming; she swam at Brighton beach until she was almost 90.)

After graduating, she studied Journalism at Kings College and thereafter undertook many PR and Marketing assignments with Colman, Prentice & Varley, Dorlands, Harris Tweed and the Milk Marketing Board.  She also created advertising for Crawfords and then for Red Cross appeals later in life. She became a very useful member of the YWCA and also worked for the United Nations. A glowing CV indeed!

War beckoned and a whirlwind romance with a dashing Australian Gunnery Officer followed. Their engagement was announced with a drum roll at a dance in Portsmouth but Warwick Bracegirdle had not asked his Fiancé beforehand! He had many long hours placating Eve’s father who was completely incandescent. However, in June 1939, Warwick and Eve married at Greenwich and spent a honeymoon in St Mawes, which she adored (especially for the clipper ships).

Eve followed HMAS PERTH through the West Indies during 1939 and was startled when the CO of PERTH whispered to her in Jamaica, “Take a boat to Panama.”  A few days later, the Quartermaster spoke to Warwick: “Your wife is on the Jetty, Sir!” (No-one was supposed to know that PERTH was under orders for Sydney.)  Eve followed across the Pacific in tramp steamers and arrived in Sydney to set up in lodgings in the then “notorious” King’s Cross.   Pregnant with Simon, she was surprised to find notes pushed under her door “What are your charges?” She replied forcefully – “My Husband is an RAN Gunnery Officer and he will give you a right seeing to!”  Eve supported Warwick throughout the War, whilst HMAS PERTH fought her way out of Crete.  Warwick was blown up in Piraeus harbour and was lucky to be alive.  In July 1944, a second son was born and in October, Warwick as the Gunnery Officer of HMAS SHROPSHIRE took part in the greatest gunnery battle of all time. He was lucky to return to Sydney and ended WW2 with a third child, a daughter. After the Korean War, Warwick was one of the most highly decorated RAN officers. Eve had distinguished herself as the PRO in the NSW Red Cross throughout his absence.

She returned to England in the mid-1950s and made a home for their three children in Hayward’s Heath, Sussex.  Warwick followed as part of the RAN Contingent in Australia House but soon was de-mobbed and took a job with the National Iranian Oil Company. Eve followed her husband and taught Iranian Students to read and write in proficient English. In 1960 with her first son, Eve travelled extensively to Iran and to Greece and Turkey through the very wild roads in Montenegro.  It was a memorable 6,000 mile round trip through 9 countries.

With all children grown-up, she excelled at teaching both privately and at Cuckfield Park Finishing School.  Elocution and poise were her subjects!

She was one of the first foreign visitors to China in the late 1960s and travelled extensively, especially to Corfu.  She acquired a myriad of international friends from these journeys.  In her later years, she looked after her mother in Hove and excelled at gardening and a little more teaching.

Her retirement was spent in Portslade, where she enjoyed entertaining her contacts. She documented all of her extensive trips by a huge collection of stories.  She was interviewed by the BBC about some of these.

She was very quick witted with a remarkable memory, had a great love of literature and the most amazing up to date knowledge of the world around her.  This is when she could hardly see and was well into her 90′s.  She was genuinely interested in everyone she met, always ready to help in any way. Even when the body was failing her, her mind was not.  The Nursing Home carers noted this fondly and she became one of their “star” patients.

Eve is remembered by her huge circle of friends and many relations including three children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She was an inspiration to us all over the 98 years and 11 months of her life.

 

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One response to this post.

  1. nicolas bracegirdle mbe says:

    After our family tragedy in July this year, I was approached by Sean to contribute to his website which now features Eve and many others. I do pay a particular tribute to Daniella who, together with secretary Amanda and driver/helper Judy did so much to enhance Eve’s life over many long years. The support from these largely volunteer helpers is simply fantastic and we are deeply grateful to Daniella

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