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The War Years (1939-1945)

Life at the Manor

After the Tweedsmuirs went to Canada in 1935, the house was empty. During the London blitz in 1940, Lady Tweedsmuir’s mother Mrs Norman Grosvenor came to stay at the Manor. A Red Cross working party met at the manor every week for a short time until Mrs Grosvenor’s health failed, and she died at the Manor later that same year. A further tragedy struck the family when Lord Tweedsmuir himself died in Canada in the same year. He was cremated in Canada and his ashes were returned to Britain and received by Johnnie and William Buchan. His ashes were buried in Elsfield churchyard under a gravestone designed by Herbert Baker and with an inscription which translates as "Here in his own earth, lies a man of letters, who served his country and enjoyed the affection of countless friends."

The memorial service for him in Elsfield on the 17th February 1940 was held without Lady Tweedsmuir, who was still in Canada. Prof Gilbert Murray, his long time friend and teacher, spoke of John Buchan’s "liberal outlook of this most unusual conservative". William Buchan read the Death of Valiant for Truth from Pilgrim’s Progress and the Pilgrim hymn was sung. Miss Deneke says that "Four clipped yews stand sentinel over the grave". These are no longer there, having been removed by the Rev de Vere much later in the century.

Amos Webb, his chauffeur who accompanied him to Canada, died shortly after Lord Tweedsmuir and is buried close by and John Buchan’s good friend Mr WFG Watts of Hill Farm also died before the end of the war, in January 1944.

On her return from Canada, Lady Tweedsmuir entertained overseas soldiers on ‘Balliol leave’. This was a series of courses sponsored by Oxford University. The men came up every Thursday afternoon by bus. Miss Deneke helped Mrs Charlett, the Tweedsmuirs’ cook, Mrs Webb and Mrs Charles Maltby to provide 35 teas each time.

How the soldiers spent their afternoon is not very clear but they were shown a piece of embroidered silk from Japan, an edition of a book about Italian monuments given by Mussolini to John Buchan, and a signed photograph of the King, Queen and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. How entertaining they found this is not recorded but on their way in and out they were surrounded by village children who hung about waiting for the soldiers to give them chewing gum.

Alastair Buchan's wedding to Hope Gilmore
Alastair Buchan's wedding
to Hope Gilmore

Two years after Lord Tweedsmuir’s death, there was a much happier event. Alistair married Hope Gilmour of Ottawa on 11 April 1942. Dr Ernest Walker composed a new setting of 'I will lift up mine eyes to the hills’. Margaret Deneke played the piano, specially imported for the occasion. Mr Rushworth brought the choir boys from St Michael’s Church, Oxford and Alistair was married in the uniform of the 14th Canadian Guards by Canon Hepburn, Chaplain to the Canadian Forces, and by the Reverend Aste.

Alison Aste's wedding to Kenneth Grayston, 1942
Alison Aste's wedding to
Kenneth Grayston, 1942

The church was packed, even the chancel being full. Alistair and Hope were pelted with primroses by the children, confetti not being available because of wartime restrictions and the wedding reception was at the Manor. Lady Tweedsmuir had to borrow crockery and glasses for the occasion. Also married in 1942 was Alison Aste, one of the two daughters of Rev Aste.

Rev Aste at Water Eaton after christening
Rev Aste at Water Eaton
after christening

Towards the end of the war, there was a great flight of planes, crossed Elsfield flying in close formation on their way to France presaging the end of the war and to celebrate VE Day, the village was gay with flags. There was tea at the Manor and games and sports. On VJ Day, there was a children’s party at the school organised by Mrs Merry and Mrs Winfield when every children was given half a crown.

It was indeed the end of an era, and as if to underline that fact, in March 1945, that pillar of village life, Miss Parsons, died at the age of eighty-nine.

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