The young Angela: a eulogy to my little sister

Angela 5A day or so after Angela slipped away so peacefully with her two children, one on each side, Tania mentioned that the family had watched one of Angela’s favourite films about Africa.

All three of us children of Angela’s generation were conceived in Africa, and inevitably my mind went back to those very early days. That part of Northern Nigeria, once called the white man’s grave had become very much the white kid’s grave, European children being very vulnerable to the tropical diseases and climate. So in fact, like me, Angela was actually born in England, when our mother Joan was conveniently home on leave. Likewise Michael had been born in the cool climate of Cape Town when a wartime return to the UK was impossible.

So it was that shortly after June 8th 1949,   Michael and I were invited to help choose a name for our new sister. I can remember it very clearly as the name ‘Angela’ topped the short list. We were staying in the small attic flat at the top of our grandparents’ Victorian house in Leamington Spa. We had no home of our own in the UK. Michael was seven, I was three.

Five months after her birth Angela brought a second ray of sunshine to her brothers. And it was indeed literally ‘sunshine’. I should explain that the two of us, Angela’s brothers, had spent the previous three years in England, much of it boarded out. This was a Britain crippled by two World Wars and in the throes of post war austerity with severe winters, food, coal shortages – even starvation. Mother decided that, with the arrival of number three, family separations would end, for the time being at least. So, thanks to Angela, it was back to Nigeria with all the family together.

We flew out to Kano and then drove on to Sokoto, at the very edge of the Sahara. It was hot… up to 40 degrees C. or more in the day, and there was no air conditioning, no running water and only sand-fill toilets.  But it was our luxury to be together for the few months until Michael started at his new boarding school.

Our parents had thought that Sokoto was going to be it, and that Bryan would shortly retire…but no, fate in the form of promotion decided otherwise, and for Angela especially, a very different world began to open up.

First we moved to Kano, along with Timbuktu at the time still the great trading city of the Southern Sahara. In the cool of a Friday evening we could hear the Muezzin calling from the minaret of the great Mosque to bring the faithful to prayer.  Father became the senior Resident and we began for the first time to live in relative style as he took an increasing role in bringing Nigeria to independence. We began to welcome VIP’s including government ministers. The travel writer Joyce Packer wrote about us and Lady Edwina Mountbatten, not long from playing her part in bringing India to self rule also came to stay. There was a story that she had become very close to the Indian Prime minister Nehru… well, she wrote a letter that we still have at home, saying that it was in fact Angela that she fell in love with! To be strictly correct, Angela and Geoffrey – but by this time it was indeed the little girl, Angela now three years old, who was beginning to assert her personality.  Back in the UK on our leave my grandfather Mitchell quickly noticed the change. When Angela was in the room everyone knew about it. You might call it charisma; Grandad simply announced that the Angelic Host had arrived!

Before long we moved even further away from those early times of austerity. Father became Sir Bryan and mother, still only in her 30s, was Lady. We moved into Government House Kaduna, a kind of African-Edwardian official home, a long white building with upstairs bedrooms opening onto long verandas. For us children there were spiral staircases and mysterious corridors, for father and his aides – many rooms and offices. At the front of the house a long driveway led to a large portico for official cars, and then up a sweeping stairway into the main reception room. At the back, massive French windows led down more wide steps to the garden at the back. There were 70 acres of grounds, an ornamental garden at the front, at the back tennis courts, a bowling green and a 9 hole golf course put in by Bryan.

Angela settled in at once and began at the multicultural ‘Capital’ school, attracting many young friends both European and Nigerian.  She also began to express her love of animals – she rode the Arab horse Dugari with her mother, kept a flock of Muscovy ducks and a goat

Angela really thrived here in Kaduna and it was to be her home for another four years. Our half sister Sarah came to stay and took over as lady of the house while mother was away, father’s younger sister Iris came also.  After a few years Geoffrey was finally packed off to boarding school to join his brother, both of them just flying out for holidays. At Christmas the family was together again and we took the narrow gauge railway to the Hill Station, high up on the cool plateau at Jos. The Cornish mining community put on a traditional Christmas complete with a pantomime.

In fact Angela was to become a junior hostess, children, especially girls, being much loved in Nigeria. Angela would help serve food and drinks at receptions and learn the art of charming guests – local politicians, Prime ministers, the Sultan,  Emirs and the like. Finally there were the Royal visits, Princess Alexandria, the Queen mother and the Queen herself and Prince Philip. They were guests in what we children, the two boys watching newsreels and seeing tabloid centrespreads on school notice boards, considered naively to be ‘our house’… and Angela, as ever was there to welcome them. The Queen and Prince Philip even spent a few days in the Christmas Lodge at Jos.  Finally and sadly, a couple of years later, it was time for us all to leave Nigeria

Back in the UK and en route for Hythe to settle into our first UK home, we were delayed for a while in a railway waiting room. As a sign of changed times, Angela announced to the other passengers that ‘we are retired’ and proceeded to dance a Pas de Deux and other pieces from Swan Lake. Her now adolescent brothers shrank into the nearest corner anxious not to be seen as part of this eccentric family from Africa, with all their boxes and cases.

Hythe for all of us meant new friends and a quieter life. It also allowed Angela to see more of the relatives that Michael and I had come to know in our more frequent travels – Joan’s sister Barbara and our uncle and cousins…also aunts, uncles and cousins on the other side. Angela’s new school was a couple of doors up at the Huddleston’s where we came to know the family and where Angela made a lifelong friend in Rosie,  who was also later to be one of her bridesmaids.  As Rosie said a couple of days ago, Angela was ever rebellious as a child, but always fun to be with.

Angela went on to St Margaret’s School in Folkestone and then at thirteen years old, after the headmaster married the head girl, she was whistled away to spend the rest of her schooldays as a boarder at Ashford School, which incidentally she hated. In the holidays she could sometimes be found in the El Sombrero Coffee bar in Hythe, huddled away in the corner with Rosie and friends, jukebox playing in the corner. Michael and I were soon enough off to Scotland… to Universtiy.

Angela was always so proud of her brothers – something that we were flattered by, but always struggled to live up to. When she went to her smart Ladies Secretarial College in Dorset  she told her friends about us and suddenly we were being auctioned off, St Trinian’s like,  to a bunch of fortunately securely cloistered, girls – I have the letter from her at home  describing all this.

Angela went on to marry Colin and settle for a short time in a mews flat in Lancaster Gate. There was to be more travel and exotic locations as they lived for a while in Malta and Tunisa before starting their own family and settling down in Guilden Mordern.

For me, Angela was at her most inspiring as a mum to her own children, Tania and Alasdair. They meant the world to her. She was an intuitive mother; it all came so naturally to her as she always worked to give them the best possible start in life. She wanted so much to put just the same energy into being a grandmother.

Angela was also the perfect Auntie, often taking the care of small children, nephews and nieces at short notice. Speaking for our own family of three boys, she was wacky and utterly adorable, very much the favourite of the wider family.

Angela was above all an incredibly kind and generous person – someone who will always be remembered and very much loved.

‘No person is ever lost or forgotten’ – Hausa saying from Northern Nigeria

(Duniya ba ta mantawa da ma’abocin alheeri’)

Capital School Kaduna circa 1956
Angela at the Capital School, Kaduna – second row down second from left

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