Friday, 12 November 2021

Mama, Grandmoo, Visabuela; Dar Durnford Slater (1897-1982) Kensal Green Cemetery

 

The memorial of Dar Durnford Slater, who was born in 1897 and died in 1982 is rather plain, tastefully lettered to be sure but very unshowy. It is a solidly middle-class tombstone and on it Dar is described as mama, grandmoo and visabuela.  It was a mixture of the unusual first name and the Spanish word for grandmother that attracted my attention and made me wonder if I could find out a little more about who was buried here and whether there was an Iberian or South American connection.  

Dar Durnford Slater was born in Bayswater in July 1897 to George Samuel Ferdinando and his wife Lilian Mabel (nee Duke). She was baptised with the doubly unglamourous forenames Gladys Ethel on 18 July 1898 when the family were living at 29 Grove End Road in St. John’s Wood in what would probably have been a substantial family house (since demolished). Her father’s occupation is variously listed as surveyor and estate agent but whatever he did, he was evidently very successful at it as by 1911 the family were living at Shiprods Manor in the village of Slinfold near Horsham in Sussex. George and Mabel had 5 children living with them in the manor and 6 servants including a cook, a parlourmaid, two housemaids, an under housemaid, a kitchen maid and a 19-year-old chauffeur.  The family name is unusual being a corruption of Ferdinand or possibly Fernandes. Her father appeared as a witness in a libel case in January 1917 brought by a German national, a Mr Maximilian Lindlar, who took the editor and publishers of the journal ‘The Pianomaker’ to court for accusing him of using expressions unfriendly to England and of taking steps, after the Services club had entered into possession of the German Athenaeum club, to oust British officers from the premises. George Ferdinando appeared as a witness to the defence and proudly told the judge that his family settled in England between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The earliest Ferdinando ancestors seem to have been Portuguese Marranos who settled in England in the mid-17th century. This distant relationship seems to have been Dar’s closest connection to Iberia.


After the end of the first world war Gladys Ethel married Alan Farquharson, a man 22 years her senior, probably in Jamaica. The marriage lasted only a short time as Farquharson died in 1922 leaving her a widow at just 25. She married again in 1935, once again in the colonies but this time in India, in Bombay. This time her husband John Durnford Slater, a British army officer, was 12 years younger than her, a callow 26 to her 38.  Her husband became something of a celebrity in World War II when he became the first British commando, appointed as the Lieutenant Colonel of No 3 Commando.  Officering commando units was a more hands-on role than senior army positions usually are and Durnford Slater took part in several raids and did his fair share of strangling German guards with piano wire on moonless nights in Norway. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his part in Operation Archery, a raid on the Lofoten Islands and the port of Vaagso where the attack "lost five out of six officers, & nearly 40% of their effective [strength]" and was in danger of collapsing until he personally stepped into the breach under heavy fire and took control. A photograph of Durnford Slater collecting his DSO from Buckingham Palace appeared in The Tatler in July 1942 and shows him with Dar and his daughter Jennifer. He received a bar to his DSO (effectively meaning he was awarded two DSO’s) for Operation Husky in Italy where he and his men held a bridge against the Germans despite being outgunned and outnumbered. His citation said that he showed a ‘complete disregard for [his own] personal safety’ during the operation, something his men apparently found inspirational. There is a further photograph of him collecting this award in 1944, again with Dar and a slightly older Jennifer.  

After the war Durnford Slater went into the reserves and became a bursar at Bedford School. He died in 1972 in mysterious circumstances at Haywards Heath station according to The People of Sunday 06 February;

Brigadier John Durnford Slater, Britain's first Commando in World War I, was killed yesterday when he fell under the Brighton Belle train at Haywards Heath station, Sussex. Brigadier Slater, 63, who lived in Brighton. was waiting on the platform when the train went through at 60 m.p.h. Awarded the D.S.O. in 1942 for bravery in Norway. He wrote a book, "Commando" about his war exploits.

If there was an inquest (and there surely was) it seems not to have been reported in the papers. If this had been a tragic accident then again you would expect this to have been mentioned in the reports. It is very difficult not to conclude that the war hero committed suicide. Probate records show that he left a very small estate of just £1504. Dar would have been 75 at the time of her husband’s death. If she was living in Brighton with him she must have moved back to London otherwise, why would she be buried in Kensal Green?

The headstone also memorialises Dar’s daughter Jennyfer, a biologist, whose ashes are buried at Old Furzefield Wood (Potters Bar?).


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