Shiplake in War-Time: Those who had known Orwell lived on

Memories of Jacintha Buddicom, Christianna Brand and Edward Ardizzone

During World War Two

by

Dione Venables

[In 2014, we featured an article on Shiplake during the First World War. This village on the Thames was home then to Eric Blair and his sisters. Edward Ardizzone’s autobiography, and letters from Ardizzone’s cousin Christianna Brand, revealed that the Blairs, Buddicoms and the extended Ardizzone family must have known each other well. Our article prompted Dione Venables, cousin,  literary executor of Jacintha Buddicom, and editor of Jacintha’s memoir, to offer her recollections of what was a small place but a significant intellectual melting pot]

 

It was quite strange to be shot back to the 1940s the way your article did for me. I knew Mary [Christianna] but as Tina Brand, and dear Ted (Edward) Ardizzone, who was such a kindly man, with a great sense of humour. He was by then a very active War Artist. Jacintha knew other artists too, including the then famous Zinkeisen sisters, Anna and Doris. Anna was Jacintha’s best friend and illustrated many of her poems so that they could one day be made into a book of poetry – which never happened!

Ted, whom I met during the War, remained a lifelong friend of Jacintha’s. He actually drew a lovely picture especially for Jacintha’s book Eric & Us and I, rather than the Ardizzone Estate, own the copyright of this drawing today.

eric-and-us-edward-ardizzone

You can see his signature in the bottom right side. It is to illustrate Eric‘s poetic lines

” We will remember, when our hair is white

Those clouded days revealed in radiant light.”

Apart from those, I found it such an interesting piece because it mentions people whom I have actually known. I was evacuated to Shiplake from 1940-42, after our London home was destroyed in the Blitz, and I met many interesting people there. I was 9 when I arrived and 11 when I left and was at an extremely impressionable age — which means that I picked up details and memories that remain clear with me to this day. Jacintha’s mother (my aunt Laura (Dee)) was a deeply intellectual woman and surrounded herself with like spirits, so the Shiplake home was constantly filled with such interesting characters as Oliver Strachey (Lytton Strachey‘s brother) to whom she had been engaged when they were very young.

I was a tremendous fan of Arthur Ransome of Swallows And Amazons fame. He and his wife used to come and visit their sailing friends, the Busk family, who lived at Quaint Cottage and were my Aunt’s tenants in one of the five houses she had built on the land around Quarry House at Shiplake. My cousin Michal (Jacintha’s daughter) and I used to fantasize that Genia (Evgenia) Ransome was a Communist spy because we all knew about her having been Trotsky’s secretary.

Arthur Ransome always said that he didn’t like children but he was immensely kind to one lonely little girl (me) whose aunt would not even send her to school. He sent me each of his books as they were published, with a special message in them. They were my greatest treasures until 1944 when a Flying Bomb destroyed the house in Kent where we were staying by then — and all was lost!

[Dione Venables is the editor of Jacintha Buddicom’s memoir Eric And Us: The Postscript Edition (Finlay Publishers), and of George Orwell: The Complete Poetry (Finlay Publishers). She has long been active in the Orwell Society, of which she was a founding member.]

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