- Paris

- Switzerland

- Presentation at Court

- Visit to Sudan

- Cruising round Canada

- London and Devon

- Italy in the run-up to the War


Barbara Lambert with her daughters Grace and Margaret


George and Barbara Lambert’s two daughters were partly educated at home by a governess, and went first to Paris and then to Lausanne to be “finished”, staying as paying guests with various “Madames” and attending music, cookery and art lessons. Part of the deal with the Madames was that they should be taken frequently to concerts, the theatre and opera, and they got to see some of the leading artistes of the time. Grace’s education culminated in her presentation at court as a debutante. Margaret was also presented but managed, despite parental disapproval (lest she become an unmarriageable blue-stocking), to get herself to Oxford and went on to become a distinguished historian. Grace was tall, red-headed and attractive and had a number of admirers. But she could never make up her mind to marry and continued living with her parents.  She stayed with them until their deaths in 1958 and 1963. She never had a job, but was kept pretty fully occupied looking after her parents and their two houses.





In Paris (or rather Neuilly, a smart suburb on the outskirts), Grace and Margaret (Margie) stayed in an establishment where there seem to have been several other young English girls.


Letter 3.1. Grace Lambert (aged 16 or 17) in Neuilly to her mother in London, Sunday in spring 1922


   …The weather here is perfect and the view from our balcony is absolutely wonderful – all the chestnut flowers are blooming. You know what a lot there are,all the avenue is lined with them. The Bois [de Boulogne] has a good many; the blossom looks like candles in the green. As the flat is high, we seem to be living in the treetops, like Peter and Wendy. …


   On Wednesday we went to Chartres. It was a glorious day. We left here at 7.30, needless to say in the morning. When we arrived at the station, we found that our train only had 1st class carriages and that we had to wait an hour for the next. Well, it being early, the others went to sleep on the seat – all except Phyllis [one of the other English girls and a special friend of Grace] and me, who romped about up and down the platform. Finally Phyllis bought a ball about the size of a bantam’s egg and we played ball – cricket and tennis and all sorts of games.


   We arrived at Chartres at 11.30 and went to get lunch the first thing. For the aforesaid, Madame took us into some low pub or cabaret. The meal progressed amid choruses of hateful old men clearing their throats and spitting on the floor, and advertising the fact that they were eating as loudly as they could. I really thought the one opposite me would swallow the table and us to boot. We had to wipe the cutlery most carefully. Various families had taken up residence in the bread, I found after having eaten various bits. I couldn’t help laughing, but the others, my goodness, weren’t they angry. Today they are beginning to see the funny side of it, I think.


   We went to the Embassy church this morning. After church, we walked home through the Bois to see the “Toilets” [toilettes, i.e the fashionable dresses] as Madame expressed it. … Today, being Joan of Arc day, is a great day here. Paris is crowded with people taking wreaths to her statue. This afternoon there are supposed to be some balloons going up, and we have been waiting patiently; but the only thing that has gone up so far is one miserable observation balloon. …


   You know that, in the theatres and operas in France, during the intervals, you walk about in the passages and halls – “circulate” as it is called – and see the dresses and talk to your friends and altogether be sociable. I think it is a fine invention, always on the lookout for your friends – whereas if we stayed in our places, think what a lot we should see.


   I am writing this on the balcony and watching the “Toilets” pass underneath. Most of them are very summery, as the weather is so hot. … I must tell you, this morning, while we were waiting for the Metro, Madame’s suspender burst. “Oh, that will be alright”, said Sheila, “you’ve got another”. “No, I haven’t”, shrieked Madame, and, shouting and wailing that a tragedy, a “catastrophe” had occurred, started hauling up her skirt to repair the damage. At this juncture, we suddenly became profoundly engrossed in something at the other end of the platform and fled, vainly seeking to appear as not owning her. However, she wrecked our endeavours by stampeding down the platform loudly advertising to the world in general the fact that the damage had been racomoded  [raccommodé] and that her stocking was pinned up. Such are French customs. I must stop now as it is tea-time.


Best love,



P.S. There are 13 balloons up now.



Letter 3.2. Grace Lambert at 54 Boulevard Maillot, Neuilly, to her father at Coffins, Spreyton, Devon, 5 November 1922.


This letter was written just before the General Election of 15 November 1922. George Lambert had such a large majority that in some elections he was unopposed – i.e. no other candidates bothered to stand against him.


My dear Daddy,


   Many thanks for your letter. We are all very anxious to know if you have been opposed or not – and if you have if it is Sparks [presumably the Conservative candidate at the previous election] again. We shall get a paper tomorrow, but I doubt if it will say much.


   It has been bitterly cold here and for a long time we couldn’t get a man to fix the stove – the central heater. However, now it is just the right temperature as the stove is very hot and the weather very cold, so when we desire heat we open the door, and when we are hot we open the window – isn’t that philosophical. Miss Beale has translated a French book into English for which she gets 500 francs – but her head isn’t very strong, so she has muddled the whole thing and Margie has had to do it for her, so we think she ought to have some of the benefits, don’t you? Margaret is getting on very well indeed with sculpture – she has made a St John’s head very well, also a ram and a dog, and now she is doing a baby’s head, life-size.  …


   On Thursday we went to Père Lachaise [cemetery]. I didn’t like it a bit, and we went all over it. Each side of its paths were lined with monuments like little porticoes and covered with the most horrible imitation flowers of the gaudiest colours. As I expect you know, it is on a hill – so from its steps one sees Paris stretching away to the horizon. It is horrible to think that most of the gay Parisians end up in that muddy, dreary place – as many thousands are buried there….


   We saw Sarah Bernhardt¹ in the Gloire on Friday – in my humble opinion she would do much better to give up the stage, as for those who have not seen her in her great days it is rather difficult to imagine her as the famous Sarah of days of yore – especially if you don’t know much about acting.  …


Much love and luck from



¹Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) was a legendary French actress, world famous but by then well-past her best. 



In 1923, Grace and Margaret moved to a similar establishment in Lausanne.

Letter 3.3. Grace Lambert to her mother, postmarked Lausanne, 20 January 1923

My dear Mummy,


We are going to Bollinger this afternoon – at present Daddie is lunching with Lord Curzon and we are supposed to be packing – instead of which I am penning this to you.

Do you know that Bollinger is very like Miss Cann – not Suzie, nor the one who had all the presents, nor the short-haired one, but the other one – she is bustling, talkative,and very energetic. Her husband gets left in charge of the flat when she goes to the mountains because he is asthmatic.


Yeaterday we took Daddy to Montreux and Chillon, and we met the parents of Wedgwood Benn’s¹ wife and lunched at their hotel. It was a wonderful day – bright sunshine everywhere and I think Daddie enjoyed it – we did.


A car has just called to take Daddie to the Beau Rivage Hotel, but he had already left in a taxi.


It is snowing hard at present and has been all day – it makes iot look like thw Switzerland one is led to imagine. Lausanne isn’t nearly as pretty as Montreux.


I simply must do a little packing now.


So with heaps of love from



¹ William Wedgwood Benn, 1st Viscount Stansgate, was a Liberal politician who later joined the Labour Party. He was the father of the left-wing politician Tony Benn.


Letter 3.4.  Grace Lambert, chez Mme. Gautier, Villa Richelieu, Chemin de l’Élisée, Lausanne, to her mother at 34 Grosvenor Road, Westminster, 26 January 1923


My dearest Mummie,


   Many thanks for your letter, which I should have answered before had I had one spare minute. It is simply delightful here. “Monsieur” is simply sweet (it is the only way I can describe him), very old-fashionedly polite – and Madame says he is devoted to us, which is just as well, as he doesn’t always get on with people he doesn’t like, so she says. He is frightfully anxious we shall be very happy here, and does all in his power to see that we have got everything we want, and make us feel at home. “Madame”, I’m sure she doesn’t wear a wig, because she often appears with her hair coming down, which no doubt is to show us she doesn’t wear a pad or anything. She is very intellectually energetic, and likes us to show her a great show of affection. She is a motherly old soul and likes to think she is our Swiss mother. At present she is very busy as she has no cook so she cooks the puddings and her husband cooks the meat, and the one maid (a little German) isn’t too “bright” – although very bright and willing.


   When we got here, we budged all the furniture in our room round. I trembled lest Madame would feel her artisticness slighted. However, she was only too glad if we liked it better, and took it as a sure sign that we feel at home.


   Margie is looking a lot better already, by the joint efforts of everyone, persuaded to eat more, and we get heaps of fruit here. Really she has got quite a colour, in her nose as well.


   “Mademoiselle”, who comes to take us out, is quite nice, very anxious to please, very unselfish, to wit yesterday on the ice, although a bit feeble and inclined to roll her eyes.


   Miss Mary Bollinger comes on Tuesday evening to give us a piano lesson. She is a funny old dear who goes off into raptures about nothing at all. She thinks herself just it – and the first thing she played us was Rubinstein’s Romance, which, she informed us, she had played to Rubinstein himself, so I gathered she was a pupil of his, or he would never have listened to it else.


   “Keiser”, my violin master, plays wonderfully and, Madame says, teaches very well. He came yesterday evening and said, if he could have me five years, I would play very well. His characteristic is that he is always late. Yesterday it was only twenty minutes, and he excused himself by saying he couldn’t find the house, to Madame; but I told him that he need not mind as Madame said he was always late, so I hadn’t waited. He said that that was not kind, and Madame got quite twittery. She is punctuality itself.


   Yesterday we went skating with Mlle. – we must have looked perfectly drunk, as Mlle. has skated once and can’t go by herself, so the three of us rolled and lurched about together. Finally I found a sleigh and took it; after that things went swimmingly or rather skatingly. [Grace subsequently became a fine skater, near professional standard].


   Oh! Another thing is that the cooking lessons are off as they could not get enough pupils. However, Madame has found a cook who is to come in every morning and cook lunch, and Madame says if you like she will get her to come in the evenings and I can have lessons from her, and at the same time cook the dinner. Will that be all right? Please let me know soon.


   … We have been to two concerts, one a Russian one at the hotel that belongs to the Windsor, and another given by my violin master. They were both very good and we had great fun getting to, and coming from, both. It is very different to France, where we wore evening dresses and went in a motor. Here we march along in our great boots in the deep snow. We are going out with Madame after tea, so I must get a move on.  …


Yours with heaps and tons and truckloads of love,




Letter 3.5. Margaret Lambert at 54 Boulevard Maillot, Paris, to her mother, 13 April 1924.


Dearest Mother,


   We arrived safely last night after a most exciting journey. You were present at the first muddle, over the seats, weren’t you? Well, when we arrived at Dover we discovered, to our dismay, that never had there been so many people travelling. Consequently, the railway arrangements were hopelessly inadequate. We lost our porter with the luggage on the boat and, when at last we did find him, the boat had started, so he had to cross as well. There was a bitterly cold wind, though curiously enough the sea was comparatively calm. We wrapped Madame up in rugs and her two coats (we were too late to get chairs, as Madame and I spent the first quarter-hour hunting for the porter and the others [presumably new girls joining the establishment] were too scared to move) and settled down on our suitcases and hold-alls. Then I discovered that the passports were being stamped down below, so I spent most of the crossing queueing up to get them done. There was a most tremendous crowd. Still, that was nothing to the crush at Calais for customs. There were at least three times more people than the place could comfortably hold. My umbrella was broken in half, but I think I can get it mended. We were nearly suffocated and, to crown all, our fool porter went to the wrong platform with half the luggage and, by the time he had discovered his mistake, Madame and I had exhausted ourselves with shouting and rushing up and down after him. The others were still too frightened to do anything, and I’m afraid the flurry scarcely reassured them. When at last I had a moment to fetch the lunch tickets, I found there was only the third service left, which wasn’t until 3.45. It was then about one something, so you can imagine what we felt like. I implored the chef de restaurant to give us anything, even a loaf of bread, but he proved adamant. Apparently they hadn’t enough to supply half the train. However, we managed to obtain a piece of so-called chicken and two slices of ham with some bread from one of the buffets from which we made sandwiches … When we arrived in Paris, we didn’t even stop for the trunks but went straight home with the suitcases.


   I am in the Grande Chambre with a girl who is younger than I am and new, so I am boss, which is rather pleasing. …





It was the norm in those days for daughters of the upper classes to be “presented” to the monarch when they reached adulthood and “came out”. The rule was that a girl had to be presented by someone who had herself been presented to the monarch and could thus vouch for her. As Grace appears from this letter to have been presented by her mother, it seems that Barbara Lambert had been a débutante and had been presented herself in her young days.


Grace Lambert as a debutante


Letter 3.6. Grace Lambert at 34 Grosvenor Road, Westminster SW1, 15 June 1925, to an unidentified friend.


My dear love,


  It is finished – my childhood’s day – I am out, since 10.30 last night.


   Well, I must tell you all about everything. Mummie has been bad and couldn’t get up for her fittings, so she was fitted at 34 Grosvenor Road [the family house in London]. But needless to say that was a fine excuse for the dresses to be left till the last minute. They were promised for 6.30 (we were leaving at 6.30) and Florrie and Lizzie [maids] went round to fetch them a few minutes earlier than the appointed time. They kept them waiting till 6.50, so they only got here at 7.50 and of course we couldn’t get our hair done till we had our dresses on.


   Lady Thorneycroft¹ and Mrs Lang² wanted to see us dressed, and they came at 7.15. Mrs Lang, my blessing be upon her, was an absolute treasure. She helped Mummie and me; in fact we couldn’t have got on without her, of that I’m certain.


   The dresses were so badly finished off – it had all been far too hurried. Florrie muddled on with my dress for a few hours, doing it up wrong and undoing it and so on, till finally in despair I went down to Mrs Lang, who had me fixed up with pins and my feathers in my hair.  I went down to be “shown” to Lady Thorneycroft when to our horror we discovered that my train was on upside down – it was white chiffon with motives of silver lace, and the silver lace was on its bottom side, therefore hanging underneath. Just fancy Vladimir’s doing such a thing. As a matter of fact, we all preferred the lace underneath which was absolute luck.


   Finally we got off and joined the queue (that looks wrong, but I mean tail) in the square between Whitehall and St James’s Park. We waited there for about three-quarters of an hour with a steady stream of people examining the people in each car. Pa, in his 1st Class (Privy Councillor’s) uniform created quite a sensation, which he delighted in, all the while pretending he loathed it. Suddenly the “tail” started and then slowly but surely we crept on to the Palace without further stoppings.


   When we got to the Palace, we passed through its gates into a square, where we were unloaded and went in. First we went up some steps into the cloakroom, and then, having debarrassed ourselves of our cloaks, we returned to the large and spacious corridor where we had been left by Daddy with strict injunctions to get a “move on”. Daddy hadn’t got a ticket, but was let through because of his 1st Class. We were ushered into a hall packed with white cane chairs (the hall reminded me a bit of the mirror place at Versailles, only it was squarer).


   We waited there packed up like sardines for about an hour, and then it began. The usher came and bowed to the three first rows, and five minutes later to the second three rows, in which we were. We got to our feet, and went down a short corridor into the throne room, right at the back. We walked through, but as all the seats were in front we saw nothing but people. Having crossed the throne room, we got into another corridor by the side of the room, which brought us to the top. There you were “put straight”, and your card taken and handed from one to another by four men. The last, who was the Lord Chamberlain, shouted your name, and you passed along the top of the room, curtseying to the King and Queen who were in the middle of the top with their backs to the wall, and then on. Mummie was in front of me and the Lord Chamberlain shouted “Mrs George Lambert”. The official said to me “one minute” and then “now”, and as the Lord Chamberlain shouted Miss Grace Lambert to be presented”, I took a few steps forward, curtsied to the king, two more steps and to the Queen, and then on. We waited in the next room to see the procession pass out when the court was finished and then we went and grabbed some supper.


   Now I will tell you some incidents.  … During the long wait in the hall, I sat between Mummie and Daddie as a special precaution, not because of students, oh dear, no! but so that Mummie and Daddie shouldn’t see each other à travers my pretty form. That wasn’t quite successful, as, as it was hot, Daddie fanned me with his hat (très galant) which had just been taken out of camphor balls, so a strong odour of camphor pervaded our corner, and finally got round to Mummie. It was so strong, Mummie sniffed and sniffed and finally at the imminent peril of dislocating her neck peeped round and saw Daddie waving his hat. Scene I Act II – speech by Mrs Lambert. Then she was in agony lest Daddie should have his sword on the wrong way, and of course in her anxiety kept watching other people and muddling the sides. However, she is most touched as the Queen gave her a charming smile, both when she curtsied and when she passed us in the procession. We then got Cain [probably the chauffeur] and came home after a ripping evening.  …


   Mummie thinks the people were very common as they had to be told (the first time she has ever heard it done) to lower their voices when the King came in, and not to get up until told to do so.


   Today I went to be photographed as my bouquet of white roses and lilies of the valley was still fresh. If they aren’t quite caricatures, I will send you one.  …  In case it might interest you, my dress was white chiffon with white satin and silver lace and a diamante and pearl belt (a devil for catching into everything) tied in a little bow in front, and finished with two long pearl tassels. The flowers were lovely, with a long piece of green fern hanging down in front. But I hope the photos will be good enough to send as they will show you better than I can explain. I must make an end somewhere, so had better begin.


Yours with heaps of love,

Losley [this is the only surviving letter in which this nickname is used]


¹ Probably the wife of Sir John Thorneycroft of the Thorneycroft shipbuilding company. 

² Mrs Matheson Lang, née Nellie Hutin Britton (1876-1965). Actress best known for her Shakespearean roles. She married the actor Matheson Lang in 1923 and they later formed their own company. She was a friend of Barbara Lambert and godmother of Michael Lambert. 



Letter 3.7. Margaret Lambert at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, to her mother, undated but probably autumn 1926.


Dearest Mum,


   … The bicycle has arrived and, shepherded by another girl, I made it up from the station. We arrived quite safely.


   In the evenings the two and three year people give what is known as “coffee parties”. They ask some of their own year people and two or three freshers to come at about 9.30 and then they make coffee or cocoa and eat cakes and smoke. Of course these affairs are very sedate, and we poor freshers have to be on our best behaviour all the time. We got so bored that an American and a French-American just below me decided to give a freshers’ evening. They asked about six of us and concocted weird American drinks and toasted corn and marshmallows and we had a lovely time. On Tuesday, another girl and I are asking them back, which should be great fun. …


Best love,





Once Grace was “out”, her education was formally finished. She lived with her parents, shuttling between London and Devon. The letters that survive from the next few years mainly came from various foreign trips that she took with friends or family members. At the beginning of 1928, Grace went on a three-month trip to Sudan and Egypt with her aunt Mary Pring (her father’s younger sister, then aged 47), to visit a friend of her aunt’s called Mrs Richards, who was married to a British Army officer stationed in the Sudan, which was under British control.


Grace’s attitude to the people of Africa was very typical of the period. She had been brought up to believe that the inhabitants of Africa were primitive tribal people to whom Britain and the other colonial powers had a duty to bring education, modern infrastructure and orderly government. In fact, the British had in significant measure brought these things to the Sudan, albeit while deriving considerable trade advantage from the relationship and ruthlessly suppressing the not infrequent manifestations of dissent, to one of which there is a reference in these letters.


Letter 3.8. Grace Lambert on board the S. S. Caihay to her mother at Spreyton, 3 January 1928


Darling Mum,

This morning at 8 o’clock we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar and tomorrow we arrive at Algiers, our first stop…. Aunty¹ and I have both cheered up at last, but Saturday and Sunday we would have given anything to take the next boat home. I think Aunty almost wished she would get a wire from John [unidentified], and so have an excuse to go home. Now we have found our sea-legs and are loving it. The people on board are pretty dowdy, two decent girls and a very smart lady, Lady Muriel Lawton or Lawson or something, being the only decent ones – but the others make up for their dowdiness in niceness.

   We are now in the Mediterranean and it is much warmer. Directly after lunch it was too lovely – blue, blue water and very hot sunshine. We all sat on deck without coats or anything, but tonight, the moment the sun went in, it got quite chilly. There is an absolute babel of chat going on, so I’m afraid my letter will be somewhat disjointed….

  Today we played quoits. The deck tennis never seems to be free, but to spend the day in a deck-chair on deck with a book is just about what suits my liking, with an occasional walk when the doctor rallies us up. But now that it is getting warmer, more games are appearing….. I wish George were here; I feel we’d know everybody’s business on the boat [her brother George was a great gossip].

With best love to all,




¹Mary Pring, née Lambert (1881-1972). George Lambert’s sister. She married Walter Pring and had one son, John, born in 1923. She lived in Tiverton. She and her husband began to lead rather separate lives while remaining officially married, and he moved out to a house in Dawlish Warren.


Just after Grace left for the Sudan, London was hit by a major flood when the Thames overflowed its banks. Millbank (or Grosvenor Road as it was then known), where the family’s London house was, suffered particularly severely. The containing wall along the river burst and the water rushed across the road and deluged the houses opposite. The basements were flooded in minutes. The Lamberts suffered damage only, but in a neighbouring house, two maids who slept in the basement were drowned. Altogether 14 people were  killed in the flood, most in Westminster.


Letter 3.9. Grace Lambert on board the S.S. Caihay to her mother in London, 8 January 1928


Dearest Mum,

  On the newsboard this morning, I was amazed to see that Grosvenor Road has been flooded – and those people drowned – it seemed so extraordinary that it should be the one place mentioned, as of course there is only a tiny notice about each thing which comes by wireless.

   Tomorrow morning we arrive at Port Said, and on Thursday at Port Sudan. Algiers was lovely, only not nearly as warm as I had expected. We had four hours on land, and so took a taxi all round the town and up to the Hotel St George where we had coffee in the garden – a lovely garden with orange and lemon trees and mimosa and the most lovely flowers. When we got back to the ship it seemed almost like getting home again….

Heaps of love to everyone,




Letter 3.10. Grace Lambert in Omdurman (Sudan), probably to her boyfriend ‘Nap’ Charles Andreae¹, January 1928


Grace had asked Nap to send her mother this description of the misadventure that befell her and Mary Pring when they arrived in the Sudan, and these pages survived among her mother’s papers. The beginning and end of the letter are missing, possibly because they included personal passages.


  Our boat arrived an hour early and Barclay’s Bank manager arrived on the boat with four huge black servants to meet me. I was in bed and hadn’t finished packing, and had to rush like fury. Anyway, I left the boat like royalty with the chief of police and the manager and all these black servants fluttering around with my luggage. Everyone on board was amazed. They’d no idea who I was. However, pride goes before a fall. The chief of the railways, Sir Edward Midwinter, and various other people called Vaughn Lee [unidentified] had got a special train, but no one met them or anything. Well, to continue, we marched down to the special P. & O. boat train and deposited our luggage with all this lot dancing attendance, and all the boat people watching, and then the manager said that, as the train took an hour to go from the quay to the town station, he would take us round the town in his car, and we’d catch the train at the town station, which was quite close, only the train had to go a little journey in the desert before it arrived there.

   So off we went, drove round the town and then he took us to his flat over the Bank for drinks etc., as he said we’d see the train leave from the window and then there’d be plenty of time to get to the town station. There we sat, and there sat the train. The old Caihay [the ship on which she had arrived] departed, and still we waited, quite unsuspiciously, as the train is in the habit of being an hour or two unpunctual. Finally, Mr Glover (the manager) told one of the blacks to go and find out what time the train was going to leave, and my dear, the train had gone. It was the Midwinter special he had been watching.The poor man nearly had a fit. So did we, for that matter, especially as there wasn’t another train until the Saturday night (this was Thursday morning) and that was only a mail train with no restaurant car, which was going to be no joke for a 32-hour journey.

   Of course they telephoned all over to everyone, and the train was stopped at the next station for us, so off we set in the car through the desert. Oh, my dear, it was a regular film ride. We dashed through the native village and then the road stopped. On we rushed, over boulders, the most enormous ditches, camels, bones, cactuses, all the while following a thin little column of smoke, which was fast diminishing as the train climbed into the hills. It was so obviously hopeless, and the car was scattering bits all over, so we just had to abandon the race and return very crestfallen. We were in a state, no luggage, nothing – and Glover did his best to get us on the Midwinter train, but unfortunately there were no spare carriages, or else the manager would have put one on for us. As the Midwinter’s was a saloon, there wasn’t room for us, although I hear Sir Edward was quite decent about it. The manager would have a trolley, only it’s strictly forbidden and with the General Manager there himself, he couldn’t very well do it under his very nose. So very crestfallen we returned to the hotel, which very luckily for us was one of the two good ones in the Sudan. The Vaughn Lees were there. They had always been very patronising on the boat; now they were quite unbearably condescending – oh, they were beasts. Of course I see they had every reason for thinking us fools, but when a manager of a bank comes to meet one, one rather imagines it is all right to leave oneself in their hands. Oh! They were beasts.

   Anyway, everyone was very wonderful to us – I’ve never dreamt of such hospitality existing outside a novel – and asked us to dinner, to dance, to lunch, to tea, out on the launch, everywhere, and we really had the most wonderful time, especially as they managed to get our hand luggage back. And on Saturday night we left for here, with the whole of Port Sudan to see us off. It really had been a string of accidents, as the manager explained afterwards. The train would have waited for us, as the distance is only about 500 miles and it is easy to make up time when there are 32 hours to do it in. But one wretched man, finding there were no drinks on board, got off the train to get some, and he jolly nearly missed it, which kept the attendants so busy getting his luggage out, and then in again when he arrived at the last minute, that they did not notice our absence till they were well on the way. So we have gone down in the annals as the only people who have ever missed a train in the Sudan. And of course we were celebrities when we arrived.

   The place is lovely, but my dear, the heat, all and every day, 90° in the shade, and you know how much I hate the heat. However, everyone here considers it cold, as in the summer it gets to 115°. The only thing is to get up early and to stay in bed all afternoon.

   There has just been a huge bridge built from Khartoum to Omdurman, and it was opened with great celebrations the very day we arrived, and we were asked to the opening. The next day was the garden party at the Palace (the exact place where Gordon was killed) and again we were asked. It was marvellous. The Vaughn Lees were there, and I marched about with an escort of two very handsome young officers, right in front of their beastly noses. It’s so funny being waited on entirely by black men. They do absolutely everything, pack and wash and iron and never grumble. The chambermaid (a black man) at the hotel was rather sweet. He said: “you ring, we bring him; you want more bath, we get him”, and then he’d poke his head round the door when the bath was ready and say “some bath”.

   On arriving here, we were met at the station by Mrs Richards and about 12 soldiers of the IX Sudanese trotting behind her, and they saw to the luggage and everything while Mrs Richards drove us home in the Ford, with a very special pass to go over the new bridge which was not yet opened. …


¹ Charles Andreae was known by the Lamberts as ‘Nap’, short for Napoleon, on account of his allegedly diminutive size. An old Harrovian and keen cricketer, he went out with Grace Lambert for some years when she was in her twenties.  But the affair fizzled out and in 1932 he married Miss Mary Harrison.



Letter 3.11. Grace Lambert in Omdurman to her mother in London, 18 January 1928


   ….We arrived here at 6 o’clock on Monday morning, just the very day the big new bridge from Omdurman to Khartoum was opened. It was the most wonderful affair. Everything was decorated and the bridge all illuminated, and the Governor came over in one of the new trains, and there was a great tea and everything else. The 9th Sudanese lined the way and the 9th band (all blacks of course) played just as well as an English band. The women went down in little groups playing drums, with a chief woman, a shaka (a female sheik) in each group absolutely as black as sin. We stopped to photograph one group, and out came the shaka, shook hands with us twice, ordered all the other women to get into the sun and stand back and sit down, etc., and then stood to attention in front of them all. Mrs Richards brought one of the women an English voile frock and the woman herself, heaven knows how, procured some high-heeled white canvas shoes and some men’s golf stockings with yellow rings round. I haven’t seen this apparition yet. They all want a photograph for themselves, but they haven’t the foggiest notion that it is themselves, or even a photograph, and look at it upside down or anyhow. One native had a watch and I’m quite sure he didn’t know what it was, and he was holding it up to his ear to hear if it was going, like a child.

   Yesterday we went to the Royal Garden Party at the Palace [of the British Governor-General]. It was really quite amazing, just like a musical comedy scene. The spotlessly shining white palace (where Gordon was killed) and the bright-coloured flowers in the garden. All the officials were in white and gold. The Archbishop looked the funniest in all white except black gaiters and shoes. We had a very handsome escort, which I carefully paraded in front of the Vaughn Lees, who rather considered themselves the “loud noise” of the occasion.

   Captain Richards went with us, although he hasn’t been well and is only just out of hospital.

   This bungalow is miles better than anything the Warren [her Aunt Mary’s semi-estranged husband lived in a hideous bungalow in Dawlish Warren] has ever dreamt of, the one disadvantage being the “place” which is the other end of the garden, and the shrubs meant to conceal the path only a few inches high. When you do finally get there, it is sand bucket, and having used it one has to shovel in more sand. But really it is much cleaner than some of the filthy old places in England. Aunty nearly sat on a lizard which was disporting itself on the seat. It is rather a bore it being so far away, as I’m at present suffering from a very ordinary complaint called “Gippy (Egyptian) Tummy” caused by the food on the train, and was violently sick all yesterday. However, today I am better and the pain is nearly gone.

   The civil service men out here are very wonderful. They are all Blues and are chosen without an exam for being gentlemen, so of course they are miles nicer than the ordinary men one meets in England, especially the District Commissioners. Did I tell you Captain R’s brother has been sent to take the place of Captain Fergusson who was murdered, and his wife has had to go home [presumably because the posting was considered too dangerous for wives to be there].

   All the doors and windows are double, an ordinary wood one and a wire one, like a meat safe to keep out the flies. Mrs Richards has managed to get rid of most of the ants.

   The garden is really rather wonderful considering the place. Every morning, two black soldiers arrive with a mule carrying a water-bag, and they assiduously water each separate plant from a hole in a corner of the bag. The great sunflowers are very attractive.

   Tonight we are going to a dance. Oh, by the way, did I tell you that one of the men on the boat gave me a long amber necklace. All the other girls were so mouldy I got a marvellous time, except I didn’t think much better of the men, except two……

In haste,

Yours with love,



This letter refers to one of the frequent instances of minor unrest in the Sudan. In December 1927, Captain V. H. Fergusson, District Commissioner of the Bahr el Ghazal province, went to meet the leaders of a local tribe, the Nuers, by arrangement and was attacked and killed by a group of them, as was a Greek merchant who was with him and several other members of his party. There was no obvious reason for the attack, although it was thought to have been instigated by a notorious witch-doctor, who was subsequently killed during the punitive operations against the Nuers undertaken by the colonial authorities following Fergusson’s death. 


Gymkhana in Sudan 1928

Letter 3.12. Grace Lambert in Omdurman to her mother in London, 21 January 1928


     …Yesterday we went to the Khartoum race meeting – their Ascot. It really was great fun. I’ve never seen such amazing horses and (black) jockeys as some of them were, and all Khartoum turned out in their best clothes. The course isn’t grass, but just a sort of baked sand. Anyway, it was all rather odd and very amusing…..

   The servants here are rather wonderful, all black men of course. There is Mahommed, Abdullah and the cook (and a boy). Mahommed was on the railway before, so he invariably removes Mrs Richards’ vase of flowers from the middle of the table to make room for the Worcestershire sauce bottle. He knows a little English. He ruined the silver by cleaning it in the sand. He waits very nicely. He wears a long white robe, a white turban, a fine moustache, and in the evening a green band round his middle.

   Abdullah was Captain Richards’ soldier servant for 7 years. He is the house-maid, can’t speak a word of English, refuses to understand his own Arabic, and does the washing and ironing very nicely. The cook is wonderful; it makes no difference how many arrive or at what hour, he’ll do it all beautifully. Yesterday Mrs Richards gave him a tin of prunes and told him to stew them and make a custard. He seemed very pleased with them, and when the pudding arrived, it was the most lovely prune soufflé in the shape of a hen.

  They none of them wear any shoes; in fact the greatest mark of discourtesy is for them to come into the house with shoes on or their turbans off….

   Last night Mrs Richards gave a little dinner. I’ve never seen a better dinner than the old black cook sent up, and what’s more, we had the Sudanese military band to play in the garden – they really are amazing; the black conductor is descended from cannibals 50 years ago. They even played the bagpipes and the piper came in and walked round the table three times, which is Mrs Richards’ idea. Mrs Richards really is wonderful, full of energy and go. She has got an old Ford, which she drives everywhere. She drove us all to the Garden Party and races, in her best frock, and arrives just anyhow, which doesn’t worry her a bit. She really is one of the most sporting and unaffected people I’ve ever met.

   Your letters have just come. How too awful it [the flood in Grosvenor Road] must have been. As for Daddy having flood insurance, well, I’m just lost in wonder at him. It came through by radio to the ship about Grosvenor Road, so I was prepared for the worst, but I must say this has passed even our expectations, by a long way…..

Yours ever and ever,




Letter 3.13. Grace Lambert in Omdurman to her mother at 35 Grosvenor Road, Westminster, 28 January 1928


Darling Mum,

   Another newsy letter from you – what a lot of things seem to be happening…  We have had a small sand-storm. They really are too awful. Although the house is shut up tightly, a thick layer of sand gets into everything, even the food. It isn’t like ordinary seaside sand, but more like dust – you absolutely eat it. That is why all the [European] women go home in the summer. That and the heat and the sand-flies. They had to postpone the Omdurman Gymkhana till Wednesday, and then it was rather awful, sand blowing everywhere. I’ve never known such a hurricane, except at Spreyton. Of course, the great beauty of this climate is the wonderfully cool mornings and evenings. We have dinner on the mustabba (there is a veranda all round the house and the mustabba is a piece of paving joined onto the veranda but without a roof). It’s rather marvellous, overlooking the river, and it is always quite dark (the darkness comes in a few minutes about 6). We see all the little lights of Khartoum on the other side. And the stars and moon are extraordinarily bright as the climate is so dry.

   It seems so funny always waking up to a fine day. Someone made a remark about it being another fine day, and everyone laughed, as it always is.



   I’m bitten all over by sand-flies – I’ve never seen anything like my face, neck and arms. I don’t think I could get a pin-point between the bites. However, they don’t worry me much as long as I can keep from scratching. Tomorrow we are off to the Sennar Dam [on the Blue Nile]. It takes two nights and a day, so we get back Wednesday morning. We look like having a fine old time in Cairo. Aunty does know her way about, and everyone seems to love the place.

   It is the Gordon Memorial service at the Cathedral today [General Charles Gordon was killed in Khartoum in 1885 during an Islamic uprising against the British] and we are going in shortly. I’ll write to you again soon, as we are sure to have to start early as it’s blowing a hurricane – if anything even worse than at Spreyton – so that means another sand-storm. …


Letter 3.14. Grace Lambert in Omdurman to her father at 35 Grosvenor Road, Westminster, 3 February 1928


My dear Daddy,


   Thank you so much for your letter. What with a correspondent in London and another in Devon, I get all the news.


   I wish we could mix a bit of this weather up with the English, as it’s really getting pretty hot – just touched 100° in the shade. Khartoum is much the nicer place of the two (there is just the New Bridge in between), as it is the English place, lovely houses and gardens, and plenty of trees. This [Omdurman] is the native town, and is simply hot, glaring sand and some awful old native mud houses. Luckily our bungalow is by itself and away down by the river. Of course at night it’s wonderful, just like the loveliest summer evening at home – but then beware of sand-flies. The little wretches are so small you can’t see them, but they are very much all there – my neck and arms look as I’d got measles. Poor old Aunty was doing a bit of a crow that her bites hadn’t come up into those awful spots, when yesterday, poor thing, the night we were going to a dance, they came out all over her face.


   Last Monday we went down to see the Sennar Dam. It’s a rather wonderful piece of engineering [built by a well-known British engineer, Roy Sherlock], but what interested me most was the cotton. We saw it all, growing, being picked, carried into the ginneries in two great sacks slung on either side of a camel, the camels walking along tied head to tail, kneeling to be unloaded, and finally in the gins, where first the weed is cut out and then it’s pressed and packed into bales to send home, the seed being made into oil cake for cattle. The ginnery is a huge shed with probably 70 or 80 gins working, and the whole thing done entirely by natives, except for one English overseer. How on earth they manage to teach the natives to work the machinery, I can’t imagine.


   There are some native engine-drivers on the trains, and native chauffeurs, and native electricians and plumbers and builders. The doctors are Syrian and the tradesmen Greek. It really makes one sit down and wonder at the amazingness of English people. Twenty-five years ago they came out, in this awful climate – this is by far the best time of year – without ice or fans, or cars or anything, amongst these wild natives who are as black as they make ‘em. Even now they have cuts or scars all over them as a sign of beauty, the ones on their faces denoting to what tribe they belong. And their homes!!! In Port Sudan, they were simply either made of mud, or else sticks driven into the ground and covered over with old sacks. What they did before sacks came, I don’t know. And now, in twenty-five years, there are lovely houses and some of the most beautiful gardens, and trains considered to be the most comfortable in the world, not excluding the Blue Train [a luxury train from Paris to the Côte d’Azur]. Then they never go more than 15 miles an hour, but that is to save coal and because the rails are a narrow gauge – although it’s an awful nuisance, especially as they spend ages at each little station. Wherever you go, there are cars for hire.


   We went over the hospital here, run by two English doctors (one a lady) and three English nurses, for natives. It was a poor bare place, and the patients are so awful – instead of staying properly tucked up with their heads at the proper end of the bed, some lie one way and some another, and as all their relatives always come too, there is a mass of humanity on each bed. Aunty and Briggs [probably Mary Pring’s maid, who had accompanied her], both having been in an English hospital, got a bit of a shock. It really seems an act of heroism on the part of the staff.


   The mail didn’t arrive yesterday; I suppose it was the French connection that went wrong. You’ve no idea how much better this is than their old colony Algiers [where she had stopped on the way out].  Of course they go about it in quite a different way. Whereas here the blacks are very much kept under, there they make them fully-fledged French citizens, and a filthy lot of old beggars they are. One really wonders how the French got along at all.


   On Wednesday we leave for Luxor, and hope to get a steamer down the Nile to Luxor, where we arrive on the 20th and stay at the Continental, and then on the 26th we set sail for England. Everyone tells us the Bibby’s [shipping line] are much nicer than P & O.


   I seem to have written an awfully long letter, but I don’t suppose there will be much time on our journey to Cairo.


With love to everyone,

Yours affectionately,



Letter 3.15. Grace Lambert in Omdurman to her mother at 35 Grosvenor Road, Westminster, 8 February 1928

Mum darling,


   We are off today – seven o’clock tonight we leave and get to Luxor in three days. We seem now to have definitely started on our homeward journey. I shan’t get any letters for three weeks, as two mails have already missed and now they will have to follow us to Cairo. I wish we weren’t leaving today, as there are three specially nice dances next week, and I’ve got a new specially nice young man, he really is awfully nice and in the Irish Guards. I went riding with him the other day, and then we thought we’d go for a drive (in one of the Palace cars) in the desert, and having got to what seemed like the middle of the desert the car suddenly ran out of petrol, owing to a new economy stunt being practised at the Palace as regards petrol. We had every prospect of a few hours’ walk home, and in riding clothes. However, luckily some natives came along in a Ford and we managed to get back to the Palace and get another car. Everyone laughs about us now – we are absolute Jonahs, whatever we do something goes wrong. Either we miss the train or something, and this was keeping up our reputation.


   The packing is all done, for which heaven be praised as it is very hot, and now we’re just going to rest till tea and then go to the station. My dear, I’m improving, I’m getting tidier. I must have driven poor Aunty to distraction at first, as she is tidiness incarnate. She suffered in silence, but finally she said she thought I was rather untidy. You see, I’ll be an old maid yet, I can feel it in my bones every time I put my things away and in spite of all my new tribe of young men which has assumed vast dimensions, and which Aunty is most unsympathetic about. The one man she likes is an awful old stick – as thin as a rake and I believe a woman-hater, does nothing but play polo and won’t let any of his subordinates (my friends) dance. I don’t know if Aunty thinks she is doing a bit of mission work, or what. I’m afraid she feels her responsibilities as an Aunt weighing upon her.


   It’s so funny to think that a calendar month today we land at Plymouth. I’ll be awfully sorry when this trip is over. I have loved it, and I don’t feel the heat nearly so much, although it’s been up to 103°. I’m so sick I’ve missed that mail, I’m longing to hear all the news. I’ll take this up to Luxor to post as it will get to you much quicker than if it waits here. …



Letter 3.16. Grace Lambert on the S.S. Arabia of Cook’s Nile Service, on the Nile en route from Luxor to Cairo, to her mother at 35 Grosvenor Road, Westminster, 20 February 1928


Mum darling,


   Here we are, stuck on another sand-bank, at least the 20th in 5 days. Everyone is furious (especially Aunty) as we ought to have been in Cairo tonight. It really is rather sickening as the noise and rattle that goes on at night is simply awful (yesterday we were stuck for 22 hours). None of the natives ever do a stroke of work without singing and chanting, and as the poor things really have been working, you can’t imagine the noise. Personally, it doesn’t worry me, but the old dears who were especially attracted by the fact that the boat ties up every night for them to get a good night are absolutely livid.


   There is an awfully nice Irish girl on board whom we met in Khartoum, so she and I “get going”. But Aunty and everyone else are bored stiff as everyone else on the boat are old crocks. There are two or three old old men who thought they’d have a rag with Pegs and me and teach us the Blues, but Peg got a cold and had to go to bed, and here I am, not feeling equal to a lesson from three old men, especially as I happen to know the Blues. I think bed is the best place.


   My dear, we are still on the old bank, with every prospect of remaining for a few days – no, it’s not quite as bad as that, as Cook’s are sending a special train and sailing boats to get us off, so we shall only be about 30 hours behind time.


   I expect we’ll have to leave Cairo on Saturday night as our boat sails on Sunday and Aunty lands at Plymouth on the 8th and I land on the 9th  [in London] unless you happen to be in Devon. Of course it’s rather tiresome, this old sandbank, as it makes our time in Cairo so very short, and we have such a lot to see. It’s funny, all along our one worry was lest we might not be able to get on this boat, and now we almost wish we hadn’t. Never mind, I suppose we’ll get there sometime.


   Luxor was most awfully interesting. We tried to “get off” with Howard Carter’s secretary, who was staying in the hotel, in the hopes of seeing some of the new things in Tutankhamen’s tomb [Howard Carter was the archaeologist who had excavated the tomb]. But in vain did Pegs and I dance with him, no unmixed pleasure, as she is taller than I am [Grace was about 5 ft 10 in] and he is five foot nothing – we couldn’t get. I must say the tombs are a wee bit disappointing, as everything has been taken out of them to Cairo Museum. Of course the decorations of the walls and ceilings are amazing, and have lasted better than the tombs of the Queens which were only made of plaster.


   There are an awful lot of Germans everywhere, and we all think it disgraceful that on both the steamers (English) the managers are German.


   My dear, I must now get a move on with the luggage in case anything quite unforeseen happens.


Heaps and heaps of love,




Letter 3.17. Grace Lambert at the Continental-Savoy Hotel in Cairo to her mother at 35 Grosvenor Road, Westminster, 23 February 1928


Mum darling,


   Today is your birthday, so dear I’ve got up bright and early to write to you and to wish you many happy returns. As you will see, we are at last in Cairo, and are having the most gorgeous time. We have got a lovely room together, with a bathroom, whereas lots of people couldn’t get into their hotels at all, although they had booked rooms ages ago. The night we arrived there was a great ball on here, for Shrove Tuesday, and everything was decorated like the Moulin Rouge. There was a huge red windmill, all lit up, over the lift. Unfortunately, our luggage hadn’t come, so we had to go down in our travelling things, but we sat and watched the people, which was very amusing. Talking of clothes, my dear, I do feel so mean never having let you know what a huge success mine have been. Everything has been so admired and really, if I was going on the trip again and had “carte blanche” to get exactly what I liked, why, my dear, I’d get the exact things over again.


   At last our letters have arrived. It was a treat: I got three from you, two from Daddie and dozens from Nap. Poor Nap, I think he’s out of his mind, but he will have to wait until I come home as I haven’t time for long explanations and things. That reminds me, don’t tell him I arrive on the 9th, as I don’t want him at the station, as I’ll probably be coming home with some others and I don’t want to upset the poor old thing unnecessarily.


   We went to Cairo Museum first thing yesterday morning. Oh! I’ve never seen such things…..In the evening I came in to write to you, and as I was walking through the lounge,  there were some people who had come to see us, and they kept us until it was time to dress up for “Madame Butterfly”, which Aunty wanted to see, but which was awful. In the afternoon, an awfully nice man off the Caihay took us to see the native part of the town, the market and places, and then to tea at Groppi’s [famous café in Cairo]. So you see, we haven’t wasted much time. Today we are leaving at 10 o’clock for Memphis and then the Pyramids, and there is a dance here tonight, so today looks fairly strenuous…


With heaps and heaps of love,




Letter 3.18. Grace Lambert on board M.V. Shropshire to her mother in London, 1 March 1928


Mum darlingest,


   I am writing this on deck and thinking, all the time, that this time next week I shall be with you – unless something unforeseen happens and we flounder in the Bay [of Biscay] or something. We had a fearful start – the most awful gale – everyone was ill, and we simply had to stay in bed. Aunty had a migraine attack into the bargain, but she managed to struggle up on the second day, and I did on the third. The sea was so dreadful it tore down the awning and broke a staircase to splinters. Then it got quite fine, and has been ever since that day. We have got a better cabin, but it’s very wretched, way down at the bottom of the ship, so what the other would have been, heaven only knows. Anyway, the introductions were of great help, and we are being given a double cabin each, on a higher deck, tomorrow, when we arrive at Marseilles.


   Well, my dear, our trip is nearing its end. I’m simply longing to get home. But on the other hand, words fail me to express exactly how much I’ve enjoyed it, or how much I appreciate all the trouble you and Daddie have taken to make it so comfortable and easy for us, and above all for putting in my way to be able to go at all. It’s been marvellous, Egypt especially. At the time, one’s brain can’t grasp the vast spaces of time and the wonders of it all. But now, on the boat, with nothing else to think about, it gradually seems to sink in. To think that all those thousands of years ago Tutankhamen wore gloves, and there they are, very much like our own of today. And in the next case, a tiny little gold figure, about three inches high, of his grandfather, which his grandmother wore round her neck on a gold chain. These little things bring it home more than anything else – although the treasures out of the tomb, which fill two great galleries (and there are more to come), are simply too amazingly beautiful.


   Oh! It’s been wonderful, and we’ve been so lucky running into nice people everywhere – old friends off the Caihay, and now from Khartoum.


   I’m hoping you will be able to read this as it is a bit wobbly, I’m afraid. We have just passed Elba, and yesterday we had a good view of Italy and Sicily as we went through the Straights of Messina….. All being well, I’ll be home on Thursday, I don’t know what time, but I’ll let you know later. I’m simply longing to see you all and to hear all the news. I’m getting a girl who is getting off in Marseilles to post this at home, so you will get it quicker.


All my love to you,





Letter 3.19. Grace Lambert on board ship visiting Canada with her father and brother George, to her mother in London, 1 September 1929


Precious darling Mum,


  We are having the most concentrated time imaginable, so we don’t get much time for writing. At London, Ontario, the other day, we were given a banquet, and who should be there but three old men from Beaford [a village in her father’s constituency], who even knew all about our fete as they take the Western Times. Daddie spoke rather well, in fact extraordinarily well, and after all the old dull speakers, everyone was simply delighted, especially the three old men from Devon.


   Daddie seems quite happy, of course we have got a little English clique who came out on the boat with us. The Canadians are awfully furious with Evan Morgan¹ for being superior and keeping them waiting, and grumbling at everything, in fact being rather silly generally. So you can imagine Daddie is in his element about the modern young man.


We are thoroughly enjoying ourselves. In haste,


All love,



¹ Evan Morgan, later 2nd Viscount Tredegar (1893-1949), was a Welsh poet and author and a noted eccentric. He dabbled in the occult, but also managed to secure a post as chamberlain to two popes.



Letter 3.20. Grace Lambert at the Royal York Hotel, Toronto, to her sister Margaret Lambert in London, 13 September 1929


Precious Magsie,


   A Sense of Humour with a capital S is all that is required to make this trip a success, but we have more than that, so we are loving it. Our little band of 13 Pilgrims led by the noble Earl of Strafford is growing to 300 and some souls. Unfortunately, the nicest couple have gone home, Dr and Mrs Burgin¹, a Liberal M.P. He was quite one of the most interesting and charming men I have ever met. And yesterday he made the best after-dinner speech I have ever heard. I may add it was welcome, as the previous ones, although prolific, have been of a somewhat indifferent character. There are a couple of the most poisonous Labour people I have ever met, with a beautiful Fulham accent, and quite puffed up about a “letter from the P.M.” which they told everybody about as the profoundest secret, but which leaked out and caused much merriment.


   A Major Muirhead², a Conservative M.P., is awfully nice. He is gradually becoming less fierce, thanks to George’s continual ragging about girls. Although he is a confirmed bachelor, he is really an awful dear, the typical Army politician, a good-natured soul, knowing nothing about politics. The Earl is a funny old soul, but I look upon him with different eyes now I know he is a Liberal. We called him the “Frigidaire” at first, but he too is mellowing. My dear, if you were only here, I am sure you would love it.


   Poor Pops is gradually being “house-trained” or I should say travel-trained. Now I hasten to reassure Mum that it is all being done with kindness, but he really is beginning to see that fussing George about is no help to anyone. But we are all getting on very nicely.


  “Dear Evan” (Morgan) needs a page to himself [rest of letter missing]


¹ Dr (Edward) Leslie Burgin LL.D (1887-1945), M.P. for Luton 1929-45; Minister of Transport 1937-39; and Minister of Supply 1939-40.


² Major A.J. Muirhead, M.P for Somerset Wells.



Letter 3.21. Grace Lambert on the Canadian National Railways, probably to her sister Margaret in London [only a part of this letter survives]


   The last two days we have been on motor trips miles away from the railway, very interesting but very exhausting – I feel that there ought to be such heaps to say, but truth to tell, there is so much I haven’t had time to digest it yet. But I can only say I have never enjoyed myself more, and needless to say George is in his element gossiping.


   The Labour member has got into the most fearful trouble by getting up at a meeting and saying that he never has believed, and never will believe, a word Baldwin [the recently defeated Conservative Prime Minister] says. All the 300 delegates of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce are furious about it, especially as most of them are Conservative.


   Evan Morgan, who really is very nice, has got into trouble by grumbling about everything. Everything we are shown is always being held up as the biggest, largest, or finest in the world by the proud owners or constructors. The finest bridge in existence, the 2nd largest drain in the world – by far the highest grain elevator – unquestionably the reddest petrol pump in the solar system – and so on and so forth. So Evan said he’d like to see all the smallest, minutest, most insignificant things in existence by way of a change. As only about 15 of the party are English (one doesn’t realise that the others aren’t), whenever anyone of us grumbles or says anything disparaging, the most fearful offence is given, although in England we should probably curse the place down.


   I am sharing the compartment with a Canadian girl who is quite the most considerate person I have ever met, and also very nice, so we really get on well together. George has got a man but he never sees him, as the man gets up earlier and goes to bed earlier, and in the daytime is quite completely concealed in George’s luggage, clothes, boots and what-nots. Daddy has a drawing-room next to the Earl’s as they are more or less the leaders of this noble band.




Letter 3.22. Grace Lambert at 35 Grosvenor Road, Westminster, to her mother at Coffins, Spreyton, Devon, 21 July 1930 (postmark.)


My dear Mum,


   Now for a proper letter. On Thursday, when I lunched with Lady Simon [Dame Kathleen, wife of Sir John Simon, Liberal politician], her daughter-in-law and grand-daughter were there, also an American lady, some sort of cousin of theirs. ...


   On Friday morning, Sir John Simon rang up to know if I would care to go out to the Bar Golfing Society’s ball that night (of which he is Captain this year), and would I take a partner. So I rang up Leigh [Holman, first husband of the film-star Vivian Leigh and a life-long friend of Grace], hoping he would be engaged, which proved to be the case – and so now I’ve asked him to something – which is rather a relief. He said he’d rather thought of going, but was instead going to a party at a swimming bath, all the rest of his family being in Devon. Daddie was very anxious for George to go with me, so I rang him up and he (with the usual demurs) said he’d go if I couldn’t get anyone else – but in justice to him, let it be said that he had had a very late night the night before, with his two friends who had been to the House of Commons. Well anyway, he was a great success, both with the husband of the American lady (a banker) and also with Betty Simon [Sir John Simon’s daughter], who is rather “heavy” but quite witty in a ponderous sort of manner – she thought he was charming. And we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and stayed to the very end, when Betty and her husband took us home in their car, a great old tourer. Incidentally, who should I meet in the cloak room but Nap’s beloved Miss Rose [unidentified], who I had quite a long talk to. George was full of excitement at seeing her, but says he doesn’t think her at all good-looking, and much too fat – she had on a rather dark dress, and what with her hair in a bun she looked quite matronly from the back. All of which George naturally told Nap when he came to lunch yesterday. Lady Jowitt¹ was there, all gotten up in long black gloves, etc. We noticed her when she was talking to Sir John – and in a trice Lady Simon had popped over there to find out who she was.


   Poor Lady Simon was very worried about the cook, who had fallen in love with the chauffeur, and gave the poor man no peace, and was furiously jealous of all the other maids. Anyway, she had had them both up in the drawing room and Sir John had cross-questioned them – which Lady Simon said so lowered women to Sir John. Anyway, they have both got the sack, although the chauffeur will probably be reconsidered. But the cook is a great loss just when Lady Simon is going away, as she was otherwise quiet and steady.


   Sir John really is a wonderful host. At supper, four of us had to sit at another table next to them – the two Mannings, Betty’s husband and me – and just when we were finishing, Sir John came over, and sending Betty’s husband away sat down and told us stories about all the portraits in the room, very, very amusingly.


   The next morning, I left Laura [probably one of the Lamberts’ maids] a note asking her not to call George. And Daddie took it upon himself not to call us either. But as all the Crediton women [constituents] were coming up, I woke George at 10 and took him up his plate of ham. He and I walked over to the H. of Commons and the policeman wouldn’t let us in, saying Pa was not there, but at the critical moment they came out of the door on top, and seeing us, an avalanche of women descended around us, delightedly waving and shaking hands. So we went round with them, and Daddie showed himself the perfect showman, waving and shouting about.


   At one time he got on very thin ice. He was showing them where the suffragette hid herself, and having related the story with much relish, was just about to draw a moral about “those women” [George Lambert had opposed women’s suffrage] when he suddenly realised he was talking to 50 women, with only Adams [unidentified] and the policeman to support him. So he quickly sheared off to the crypt. But not before Addie and I had had a good laugh. We then saw them off in a charabang, and returned home to a very early lunch, as Daddie was off to the Levers [unidentified] directly after. ...


¹ Wife of William Jowitt, later 1st Earl Jowitt (1885-1957). Trained as a barrister, Jowitt was a senior Liberal and then Labour politician who was at the time of this letter Attorney-General in Ramsay MacDonald’s government. In the post-war Labour government headed by Clement Attlee, he became Lord Chancellor and was entertained by Florence Macaskie’s parents in Berlin.



The different members of the family shuttled constantly between London and Coffins, sometimes by car and sometimes by train. Housekeeping matters and the logistics of their various moves generated a lot of correspondence, of which this is a typical example. Housekeeping was a lot more complicated in those days. There was no electricity at Spreyton, only gas lighting and oil lamps. Perishable food could not be kept long and, as it was before the days of detergents and washing-machines, all the washing had to be done by hand with bars of soap.

Letter 3.23. Grace Lambert at Coffins, Spreyton, Devon to her mother at 35 Grosvenor Road, Westminster, 21 August 1930

Dear Mum,


   We have ordered the beef, but not knowing how many of you are coming for how long, or what train you are coming by, makes the rest of the shopping rather vague, as if you come by a late train the shops will be closed. It’s really the bacon which is worrying me, as we have enough for ourselves – we eat so very little – but if John [probably her mother’s brother John Stavers] and George are coming we shall want more – but I don’t want to get it if they aren’t.


   Poor Daddie is a little frightened of you and hopes you won’t come down with too many ideas and plans. Mick [her brother Michael] and he went to the South Molton Show yesterday and he told me this morning he thinks Mick is a very good-looking boy and that they were charmed with him. I told him he’d better tell you [Michael was his mother’s favourite son], but I’m afraid the leopard cannot change his spots.


   They heard at Witheridge [a village in the constituency] that Mr Tarbut [unidentified] came down the day of the poll, by the last train, which his chauffeur – a Liberal – hoped he’d miss. Anyway, he got it, and arrived five minutes before the closing of the poll, and all the Tories cheered him for coming down to vote – but Mr Tarbut said he wasn’t going to vote against Mr Lambert who was a friend of his, and drove off. This is the Witheridge version, but I can’t think it is at all true, as he’s never seen Pa, to Pa’s knowledge….


   We had a washing-day yesterday and just got everything done before it started to pour. It was the most fearful night of wind and rain. We shall have some bedding, but I expect you’ll bring your own with you.


….I hear Pa made a fine speech at South Molton; Mick was delighted. The Duke of Beaufort judged the hounds – the “Queen’s nephew”, great excitement. But Poltimore stayed away on account of Daddie – so Mick heard. Dear Miss Kingdom, worshipping Daddy, said “Your knowledge is so void, Mr Lambert, which (it is reported) stopped the flow of eloquence….


All love,







The next two letters were written in the jittery period in the lead-up to the Second World War. Grace had travelled to Italy with friends called Cooke.


Letter 3.24. Grace Lambert at the Hotel Palazzo Ambasciatori in Rome to her mother in London, April 1939


My dear Mum,

  Thank you and Daddie so much for your letters….. We have heard rumours that Parliament had been recalled – in fact we have heard so many rumours that it is impossible to know what to believe.

   We have had a most strenuous Easter. Saturday night we went to the Opera, which begins at 9 o’clock and is a very smart performance. Mussolini built the new Opera House about 10 years ago and it is a very fine building.

   At 6 o’clock on Sunday morning, we got up to get a seat at St Peters for the Papal Mass at 9.45. We got there just after 7, and the church was more than half full already. However, we got very good seats, and at 10 o’clock the procession came, finally the Swiss Guards in their very picturesque uniforms, and then the Pope was carried in with a huge canopy over him – to the terrific cheers and handclapping of the congregation, who scrambled onto the benches and fairly let themselves go.

   After the service was finished at about 12, the Pope was carried out again and was taken upstairs to go onto the balcony to bless the thousands of people waiting in the square outside – this took so long that we had time to get out of St Peters onto the steps before the Pope emerged, so we were just below the balcony when he gave his blessing. We eventually got home at 1.45. In the afternoon, Fraulein and her husband and family took me to a concert at 5 o’clock, and out to supper at a restaurant afterwards, where we danced. So you may imagine how pleased to see my bed I was at midnight….

   On Wednesday night we go to Naples, arriving at about 10.30. We stay at the Excelsior for about a week, and then on Thursday return to Rome for one night, to prepare for our three day journey to Florence in one of Cooks’ super char-a-bancs, taking in Siena and various places of interest on the journey, as there will be a guide. The Cookes had intended to hire a car, but the cars are not big and the price would have had to include the car’s return journey, so we think we shall probably be just as comfortable in a char-a-banc. Now the three days, including two nights’ accommodation, will be £4 each.

   Our guide got into trouble with Cooks as, the day before we were going for our trip to the country, Mrs Cooke gave him a large tip. On the next day when we arrived at Tivoli, he took us to a restaurant which grossly overcharged us, and he and the driver got a commission. We didn’t report them, but when we were in Cooks’ office, the man asked if we had been perfectly satisfied and Mrs C. said perfectly, except for one thing etc. The man said that they had rather suspected that, and that we had been charged about four times too much, and that they were going to write to the restaurant and give the guide a very severe reprimand. They are evidently very strict.

   If the papers have any more startling headlines this morning, I am going round to the Cordellas to hear the English news.

   Today we go to St Peter’s in the morning and in the afternoon to Lake Nemi, which they drained to get up some old galleys.

My love to everyone,




Letter 3.25. Grace Lambert in Florence to her mother in London, 28 April 1939


My dear Mum,


   I hope you get this before Devon. We are very anxious to hear the English news – but no wireless seems able to get it.

   This is our second wet day here. Yesterday was a great pity, as the King¹ had come to open a memorial [to the poet and patriot Ugo Foscolo, whose remains had been brought from Chiswick where he died in 1827 and re-interred in Santa Croce] and also to go to the Opera for the opening of the music festival. Mrs Cooke had very thoughtfully written and booked tickets when she wrote for the rooms – because people were offering £5 for a seat. Yesterday the King was very dignified in spite of being so small – and the Princess of Piedmont looked very nice. Everyone was in their best – and some of them had let themselves go!

   The King had to leave half way through to go back to Rome, I suppose to be on hand for Hitler’s speech. This hotel had hired a wireless for that great occasion….

   I think we have been living in a bit of a “fool’s paradise”. Mrs C. won’t hear of any danger – she just thinks the English are in a state of the jitters, quite unnecessarily – of course it is hard to believe anything else here, as everything is so peaceful and friendly – and Mussy [Mussolini] has just voted some millions of money for the 1942 exhibition. Still, two old American ladies who travelled with us had been advised by their consul to return home. Actually, Mrs C. had arranged with a friend of theirs, an international lawyer, of the embassies, to wire us at once if it really was necessary to return, and we should have caught the next train…

All my love,


¹ Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. He reigned from 1900 to 1946, when the Italians voted to abolish the monarchy. A weak king who took no action to prevent the rise of fascism. He was only just over 5 foot tall. The Princess of Piedmont was his daughter-in-law, the wife of Crown Prince Umberto.