Albion Monitor /Features


...Desperate for information about her husband's fate, Decca even asked Churchill for help....

Decca: It was impossible to get any word, and by the time they are declared missing, you obviously think that they are safe somewhere -- they must have got away, on a boat or in prison, maybe.

The Straights knew Mrs. Roosevelt very well, and I was so desperately anxious to see Winston Churchill because I wanted to find out exactly what happened to Esmond.

I took Dinky along; she was sort of a white bundle in a white long dress. First we had to have the tea. Mrs. Roosevelt would have about three groups of people come in, groups like, say, the YWCA. About ten people would sit down and she would serve them all tea, and then they'd talk about whatever they'd come to see her about. It was usually some cause. Then their fifteen minutes would be up. She would stand, they would all stand, they'd go out. Then two minutes later, in comes another group, and the same thing.

I think I sat through three of those and then I was told it was time to go up and see Winston Churchill. I was taken upstairs to his room, and he had an aide de campe outside. He was in bed, wearing a sort of peacock-colored dressing gown. He had a brandy and cigar, his trademark things. I only knew him very slightly although when we were children, we used to go and stay at their house -- but it was the sort of thing in those days that if you did go somewhere like the Churchill's to stay with nanny, you'd be completely isolated from the grownups. You'd live complete children's lives in the nursery, and just say "how do you do" to the grownups maybe once a day, and that would be it; otherwise you'd live with the other children.

I told him what I had come about. He got the information about Esmond, and it was obvious that he didn't survive -- so then he started telling me, Winston did, about Diana. He said he'd done everything he could to make her comfortable and so on; he'd arranged to have her and Mosely to live together in the same quarters. It was completely unheard of; I mean, always the men and women were separated in prison. And to have a couple of convicts to look after their needs, housework and that, I saw red. I was completely furious and said so. I said I thought it was a complete outrage that they should have special treatment and that they were total traitors to the whole country and so on, and sort of stormed out. Really, I was absolutely furious. And then when I came out, the aide de campe gave me an envelope. When I got home I opened it. It had 500 dollars inside, and there it was.

Well, it was told all around London that I'd spit in his face -- but I never did, because I didn't open it till I got back. But I did think it was sort of blood money. I gave most of it to Virginia Durr for the anti-poll tax, and I bought a horse for her daughter Ann, who was crazy about horses and wanted to have her own.

And that was that. *

Virginia Durr: Cliff had to go to New York to make a speech, and I went with him. Decca was to meet us there the next day, and we were going to see her and Dinky off to Scotland to join Esmond. [A neighbor called us to say] Decca had just gotten word that Esmond was lost coming back from a bombing raid.

We rushed back to Washington and found Decca absolutely desolate. Decca said she wasn't going to England, but she knew that Esmond was alive...We made every inquiry that we could through the British embassy and the Air Force. She kept thinking somebody might have rescued him or a submarine had come along... [eventually we learned that the plane] had been shot up and was limping back to England. The plane got within ten miles of the coast of Scotland and went down in the North Sea in bad weather. It was terribly cold and there were huge waves...they never found anything but a scum of oil. They were sure that Esmond had drowned. Finally Decca accepted the fact that he was dead. She used to wake up at night and I would hear her weeping. I would go in there and she would say, "Oh, the water was so cold. The water was so cold."

Decca makes a joke of everything, and she can be terribly arrogant and upper class and just freeze the marrow of people's bones when she wants to. But she is a very feeling person and terribly emotional. She keeps it under very tight control, I must say. I suppose I am one of the few people who has ever seen Decca with all her defenses down. *

The Making of a Muckracker

Albion Monitor October 9, 1995 (

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