The sweet scented sun in the autumn sky warms the air. A soft wind blows over the last of the sweet basils in my garden. A waft of their scent floats into my window as I sit here and write on this cool early morning. I begin to recall my third father, Dudley Cunliffe-Owen. Dudley and my father were always very close friends no matter what happened during their friendship. They met during the Second World War, for they both served together on the same ship as flight lieutenants in the Royal Navy.
Dudley’s surname, Owen, comes from the old Welsh name for a young warrior. Not knowing much about his family, I began to research his history and discovered that his roots went back to his great grandfather Philip Cunliffe-Owen, born in 1828. Philip was a British subject who grew up in Switzerland, he was the son of Captain Charles Cunliffe-Owen. At the age of twelve, Philip joined the Royal Navy and served in the Mediterranean and in the West Indies, but due to his poor health he left the Navy after serving there for five years. In 1854 his elder brother Henry helped him to find a position in the newly formed department of Science and Art in London. Phillip was an expert in French, so he was naturally appointed as one of the organizers at the international exposition in the year 1862. He then became the deputy general of the new South Kensington Museum that was being built in London.
Reading the story of Phillip’s life, I began to wonder if perhaps at that time he may have met the samurai lords’ delegation from Japan. For the members of the Japanese mission who were visiting in London, were compiled mostly of aristocrats and politicians. Perhaps Phillip had been asked to take the visitors from Japan around the exposition at that time!
Five years later in 1867 an exposition was held in Paris. This time Japan sent many exhibits to France for the “Exposition universal”. As Phillip was fluent in French, he was again appointed to be the executive commissioner for this event and for other events later on around the world.
He received a number of foreign decorations including the grand officer of the French “Legion d’honneur”. He was also made a companion of the Order of the Indian Empire, a Knight Commander of St. George, St. Michael and the Order of Bath.
He had ten children in all, the tobacco industrialist, Sir Hugo Cunliffe-Owen (1870 – 1947) was his ninth child.
Sir Hugo Cunliffe-Owen was born in Kensington, near the beautiful Hyde Park, which is in central London. He became a very successful civil engineer and businessman in Bristol, which is in the south west of England. He worked hard for the Ministry of Information during the First World War, and for this he was created a baronet in the 1920 New Year Honors. Later on, he became the director of British American Tobacco Company. At the end of his life from 1923 until his death in 1947 he was made the chairman of the company. He was also the chairman of the Cunliffe Owen Air Craft Company. After his death, his second son Dudley Herbert Cunliffe- Owen succeeded him in the baronetcy and inherited his title. The family lived in Sunningdale Park Estate in Berkshire, in a Neo – Georgian mansion called Northcote. This building presently houses the National school of Government, which is now known as the Civil service College.
His youngest son, Dudley Cunliffe-Owen was my third father. He was someone very special to me. Through out his life, he treated me as if I was one of his daughters. When I was young, he was the only person that I felt could really understand me. When my own father died in 1962, he came quickly to console me and he solemnly said to me, “Now I will be a father to you, so don’t ever hesitate to call me if you are in trouble or if someone hurts you in any way.” Those words offering his love, I always cherished.
I have many clear memories of Dudley and my mother being happy together, for they both had the same interests and they seemed to enjoy being together. While he was married to my mother, they socialized with the rich and famous people, who were then known as the European Jet set. During the summers they would often travel around Europe visiting friends or going to the casinos to gamble in France, Deauville, Cannes or sometimes as far as Monte Carlo. They also enjoyed going to race meetings in England such as Royal Ascot and the Derby….. When they we re in London, they usually stayed at the Ritz Hotel for a few days. My mother would enjoy shopping at Harrods or at Fortnum & Mason department store. In the evening they would sometimes go to see a musical or theatre play in the West End.………All in all they seemed to be very happy together.
In the beginning of their new relationship we all moved to Spain with Dudley to a beautiful villa near the sea. I have many good memories of that year in Spain as my mother seemed to be very much in love. The following year in 1956 my mother married Dudley.
One day many years later when my mother and I were having dinner together in her hotel The Sail Inn which was in Ireland, she finally confessed to me, ‘When I was young you had to marry if you fell in love with someone. I married every person that I fell in love with,” she said, “ but I really should have stayed with Dudley, he was so much fun and the love of my life!” she said with her eyes twinkling.
I woke up very early on my first day in Spain. I got dressed and quietly crept outside into the garden. Mummy, Dingding, Dudley, Charles and baby Caroline were all still fast asleep, so I tiptoed quietly out side and walked slowly into the tiled garden. There was a well in the corner of the garden with an old pump to draw up water for the flowers. Our house was an old style white stucco villa, built on a high cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The floor of the garden was paved with flint stones. Terra cotta clay pots were filled with red and pink geraniums, lavender and bergamot. Next to the kitchen door was a small kitchen garden, full of cooking herbs. Thyme, mint, parsley, sage, and rosemary were growing in the small flowerbed. As the sun began to rise, the aroma of the herbs wafted the rough the garden, mingling with the salty smell of the Mediterranean Sea.
In the far distance I could see the early morning fishing boats going out to sea with their nets ready to catch fish.
In Spain, it was warm all the year round. The villas near our house were all painted white and like ours were surrounded by small patio gardens, full of red and pink geraniums. Most people in Spain had their meals outside in their courtyards or patios, under the shade of scented flowering creepers such as wisteria, jasmine, and climbing roses.
Everyone was still fast asleep as I watched the sun rise that early morning. White bamboo arches led into the courtyard rose garden. A narrow paved path led to barbecue grill where it was possible to cook outside.
I sat looking down at the wonderful view below me. The sea was shimmering in the early morning light. Small birds were twittering in the surrounding olive trees. I sat there dreaming, and drank in the golden early morning sunlight. I drew in a deep breaths of the scented air and smiled.