Monday, December 4, 2017

Sex, Drugs, and Murder in Africa



Annamaria on Monday

All right.  I confess.  I had thought to share with you some high-falutin’ historical treatise about the competition between the British and French in Africa.  But I just could not get my mind—which is right now consumed with breaking news and huge personal highs and lows—to focus on a dry account of long-ago military jockeying around the Sudan.  So I dipped back into my file of blog ideas.  Today’s topic had no trouble catching my imagination.  After all, it is one of the most depraved tales ever to come out of British East Africa. 

Let’s begin by chershaying la femme.  She would be Lady Idina Sackville, who was born around the same time as my fictional heroine Vera Tolliver.  (Vera: Born 2 June 1891 in Mombasa; Idina: Born 26 February 1893 in Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, England.)

Idina’s father was the 8th Earl De La Warr and except for being the cousin of the writer Vita Sackville West, she might have begun and ended her life in obscurity.  Instead Idina made herself notorious by becoming one of the major members of the infamous Happy Valley set.

Idina was married and divorced five times in rapid succession.  Her husbands in chronological order were:

  • ·      November 1913 to Captain Euan Wallace.  They had two sons.  Divorced 1919.
  • ·      March (!) 1919 to Captain Charles Gordon.  They moved to British East Africa.  No children.  Divorced 1923.
  • ·      1923 to Josslyn Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll.  One daughter.  Divorced 1930.
  • ·      1930 to Donald Carmichael Haldeman.  No children.  Divorced 1938.
  • ·      1939 to William Vincent Soltau.  No children.  Divorced 1946



But let’s follow her and Joss Hay for a while.  They were major members of that wild wife-swapping, cocaine-sniffing, champagne-guzzling crowd that gave Kenya its sordid reputation.  One account puts it this way, “…a group of elite, colonial expatriates who became notorious for drug use, drinking, adultery and promiscuity amongst other things.”  I laughed out loud at “amongst other things,” trying to imagine what it could possibly have been that the author was leaving unsaid.  I am not sure I want to know.  Evidently, in those days, on meeting ex-pats traveling to Africa the common question was, “Are you married or do you live in Kenya?”


Joss Hay and Idina often hosted the orgies at their house—Clouds on Mount Kipipiri above the Rift Valley.  Their exploits have been dramatized, and perhaps not exaggerated, in the film White Mischief and in several nonfiction books and novels, most notably Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies.


To find out where murder comes into the tale, let’s focus on Joss, Lord Erroll.  He was one of those sterling Scottish aristocrats, who had all the right bloodlines but was also massively impecunious.  He was thrown out of Eton College after two years, followed his father into the diplomatic service, but became infatuated with Idina, who was already twice divorced and eight years older than he.

 
Off they went to their endless happy hanky-panky party until Idina discovered he was cheating her financially.   (It would be easy, if you read what I have to read for research, to conclude that, for aristocratic Brits, the only obsession greater than sex is money.)

After Idina divorced him in 1930, that same year, Joss, Lord Erroll, went on to join Oswald Mosely and his British Union of Fascists.  He also married one Edith Ramsay-Hill, set up housekeeping on the shores of Lake Naivasha, and picked up where he left off with his hedonistic lifestyle.  When his wife died in 1939, he soon started carrying on with Diana Broughton, wife a Sir Jock Delves Broughton, who learned of the affair.

On 24 January 1941, after spending the night with Diana, Lord Erroll was found, on the Nairobi-Ngong Road, shot dead in his Buick.  Sir Jock was arrested, accused and tried, but got off for lack of evidence.  And, by the way, his barber was the foreman of jury.  After his acquittal, Jock went back to England and, a year later, committed suicide.  Most people concluded that his taking his own life was proof of his guilt.


Getting back to Lady Idina, she never raised any of her children, who went off to be cared for by relatives in England.  Both her sons were killed in action in WWII. 

She died of cervical cancer at age 62 and is buried at the historic Mbaraki Cemetery in Mombasa.




So much for life in “Happy” Valley.

15 comments:

  1. I recall the movie, but didn't realize the murder was based on fact. Thanks for this insightful view.

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    1. Yes, Michael, the murder was real. It caused quite a stir in wartime Britain. There are other possible culprits, including the theory that an M16 agent offed old Joss for being a self-sworn fascist.
      Seventy years later, a man named Paul Spicer, who had connection to some of the key hanky-pankyists, wrote a book accusing an American heiress--Countess Alice de Janze, who had travelled with a lion cub and kept a Nile crocodile in her bathtub, presumably when she was not using it herself. He takes as proof that she had been arrested in Paris for shooting both herself and her then lover at the Gare du Nord in a crime passionnell. Both survived. She was charged with got off with a fine of about $2.16, was thought to be mentally ill (!), an then absconded to guess where. Spicer's spicy account posits that she killed Lord Erroll because he had thrown her over for Diana Broughton.
      As we always say, you can't make this stuff up!!

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  2. Very interesting story, AmA. Thanks for sharing a 'high' from amongst your highs and lows. Just goes to show that there's rarely anything new under the sun...

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    1. as one of oldest friends remarked, this kind of behavior makes us feel so terribly prosaic.

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  3. My aunt lived in Kenya from about 1940 - perhaps a little after the heady of Happy Valley. She had some interesting stories . . .

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    1. I remember your Aunt from your post about her here, Stan. And there prurient illustration of her defending herself and her friend from the attacking Mau Mau! Kenya is NEVER boring.

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  4. From the years of divorce matching up so nicely with the years of remarriage, I'd say Ms. Happy Trails did not like to be unwed, and likely spent lifetime evaluating who'd be the next in line. One could say that no one ever had a more fitting maiden name: sackville.

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    1. She was evidently irresistible to a certain type of sexual adventurer, Bro. And also had a kick for hunting them in just the right place.

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    2. JEFF, question: how come I no longer receive email notices of posts to columns that I've commented on, even though I've checked the box to "Notify me"? This is something that's changed in the past couple of weeks (while I've been largely absent, WAY too busy working on a new project...) Did a site-update maybe affect this? Anyway, it used to be that once I'd posted (with the "Notify me" box checked), then I'd get an email any time anyone else posted a further comment. Now, nada.

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  5. EvKa, I have no idea what happened. I shall refer it to our resident technical expert(s) -- Michael Stanley -- to sort out.

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    1. Holy Crap! Someone must have "taken a look at it" today. I just received TWENTY-ONE emails. Whatever was plugged apparently popped it's cork.

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    2. EvKa, It was Stan who popped the cork--something he has had a LOT of practice at. It's likely he is in dreamland now, as it is after 1 AM where he is. He emailed me after he went in to fix that issue. So now I think whatever the booboo was is all better.

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  7. I fiddled and poked around the back-end, but didn't think I had done anything to resolve the issue. Of course, I'll take the credit - however not without a modicum of guilt.

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  8. Oh, the British aristocracy and their adventures in colonialism and fascism: one cannot make this stuff up.

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