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12331321 Gervas 1907-2009

Gervas (Charles Robert) Clay, sometimes known as “G”, was born on 16 April 1907 at Needwood Lodge, Rangemore, near Burton‑on‑Trent, the elder son of Gerard (Arden) Clay and (Ella) Violet née Thornewill.  He was christened Charles after his Clay grandfather, and Robert after his Thornewill grandfather.  His mother’s elder half-brother, Revd. Robert Surtees Thornewill was a godfather.

Gervas was confirmed on 23rd March 1922.

Gervas was educated at Lancing before going up to New College, Oxford, where he represented the University in the hurdles.  He was Southern Champion, 440 yds hurdles, in 1929, and Surrey Champion, 120 & 440 yds hurdles, in 1929 and 1930.  In his younger days he wrote poetry, and had a volume privately printed.

Gervas did a post-graduate year at New College, before joining her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service (HMOCS).  He was a Colonial Administrator in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) from 1930.  Upon arrival on the shores of Lake Bangweolu, one of his first jobs was to arrange for the acquisition and transport of large quantities of meal and dried fish ("The smell lingers yet") to feed 3,000 labourers employed in the neighbouring Province to build an airfield at Mpika. He was then transferred to Barotseland; here, his letters from home arrived in a satchel carried by runner 120 miles from the next town.  Being Post Office staff, the runners wore red uniforms, and were known as “Scarlet Runners”[1]. It took a week, and was handed over to him, whereupon he would write the replies and hand them to the runner for the return trip. As part of his multifarious duties, he was now in charge of the building of an airfield, for which he used prison labour.  He also was in charge of the cutting of a road 120 miles in each direction to the neighbouring District.  Within nine years of arriving in Africa, his mail delivery was by air, rather than by runner.

Gervas was married aged 29 on 24 September 1936 in St Mary's, Bentley, Hants, to The Hon. Betty (St. Clair) Baden‑Powell, aged 19.  They hade four children :-

Gill(ian Ella St. Clair)                    was born on 14 June 1937 in Johannesburg.  She married Bill Clay, a third cousin, so you will find details on his Page.

Robin (Baden)                                was born on 16 April 1939.

Nigel (Gerard Arden)                     was born on 10 February 1943.

Crispin (David Powell)                  was born on 15 November 1944.

During his time in Africa, Gervas read and researched diligently into the early explorations of that country by Europeans, and built up an unparalleled library of "Africa" books and prints. 

Gervas was entitled to a six-month home leave every three years. 

1933 He travelled back by air !
1936 A momentous voyage - the current term is "life-changing".
1939 His leave was cancelled shortly before he was due to depart – owing to the outbreak of war !
1945 – arrived Liverpool 23rd September on the Mauretania from Durban, nine years to the day since he had last been in England..
1948 – arrived London 23rd July on the Llangibby Castle from Durban.
1951 – arrived Southampton 18th May on the Winchester Castle from Durban.
1954 – arrived Southampton 30th July on the Edinburgh Castle from Capetown.
1957 – arrived Tilbury 15th May on the Rhodesia Castle from Capetown.
1960 – arrived Southampton 18th May on the Winchester Castle from Durban.

Gervas progressed steadily through the ranks of HMOCS, culminating in his appointment as "Her Majesty's Resident Commissioner, Barotseland", in which capacity Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother stayed with him in The Residency for three days during her tour of Central Africa in 1960, following which she was gracious enough to write him a three-page b&b letter in her own hand.

Gervas retired from HMOCS aged 54 in 1961, when he was appointed Director of the Rhodes‑Livingstone Museum in Livingstone.  While there, with the help of his daughter he prepared for publication a book entitled “First to the Falls”, but this was never published.  Gervas was a frequent writer of articles in various publications, such as The Northern Rhodesia Journal.  He remained at the Museum until he left Africa in 1964 at the age of 57.  He was the author of "Your friend Lewenika", a biography of the Paramount Chief of the Barotse who put his country under British Protection.  The proofs were completed on the last voyage home, and the book was published by Chatto & Windus in 1965. 

Upon settling in England, Gervas became involved in the Scout movement, which he had managed to resist until then.  He was Scout County Commissioner for Somerset from 1965 to 1969, after which he was Chairman of the Somerset Scouts until 1978. 

He was also able to carry on his father's research into the origins of his family, the results of which you are now reading (although this note is written by his son Robin). 

In addition, he had time to pursue stamp-collecting, a hobby which he had since school days.  His specialisation is another facet of his interest in history, for his collection was a remarkable one, reflecting the development of postal services in Northern Rhodesia, for he was more interested in the postmarks and the covers than in the stamps themselves, and he was extremely knowledgeable about the individual histories of the rural Post Offices throughout Northern Rhodesia – some of which were only open for a few months.  He was Chairman of the Rhodesian Study Circle, a group of like-minded philatelists.  He reflected wryly on the fact that some of the covers that he sought most assiduously he may have actually franked himself!  For his duties in the early days also included those of Postmaster.

He was a Lay Reader at St Andrew's, Wiveliscombe, and shortly before his death he related that he was proud to be the oldest Lay Reader in the country!.  He was always both an enthusiastic gardener and a keen, and good, shot. He gave up shooting at the end of the 1993 season, when he was 86. 

Gervas and Betty lived at Ford Lodge, Wiveliscombe, Somerset, TA4 2RH for 36 years until November 2000, when they moved to No.3, Elliscombe Park, Higher Holton, WINCANTON, Somerset.   Being exactly ten years to the day older than his wife, it was expected that she would outlive him, but this was not to be, and she died in 2004, see below.   Gervas was able to go on living in his bungalow for almost a year, with the help of a small army of carers, but eventually and inevitably, he moved into Elliscombe House Nursing Home.

At the party given to celebrate his 100th birthday, Gervas was presented with a 70 year “Long Service Award” by George Purdy, quondam Chief Scout, who had flown over from Northern Ireland for the occasion.

Towards the end of 2007, about six months after his well-attended 100th birthday party, he was diagnosed with senile dementia. 

On the Wednesday following Easter, 2009, he apparently consumed the entire box of Belgian chocolates given him as an Easter present!

The following day, Thursday 16th April, his 102nd birthday, his elder two children, Gill & Robin, and their spouses, his sister-in-law Diana and her daughter Mary called in to see Gervas in his room at tea-time, bearing a decorated cake, with candles.

He was serenaded appropriately, and a good "party" lasted for an hour and a half - and he slept soundly all through it, despite several attempts to rouse him !
He slept through that Thursday; he slept through Friday; he slept through most of Saturday, and was certified dead on Saturday afternoon about five o'clock, never having woken up.

Death by chocolate!     WHAT a way to go !

A merciful release - for all, particularly for him.

There was a private family cremation at Yeovil at 3 p.m. on Monday 11th May, and this was followed by a "public" thanksgiving service and commital at North Cheriton at 3 p.m. on  Friday, 15th May attended by over 50 family and friends.  He had out-lived most of his contemporaries.

On 12 July, 1932, when he was 25, Gervas had penned these lines:-


So when I come to die
Throw no fresh flowers to me;
I have loved them in my life,
Bury them not that be.

But take some old dead flowers
Whose fragrance has gone on,
That they and I may cross together
The unknown Rubicon.

This request was complied with.

Gervas loved animal fat – he was known to pass his plate round the table to collect other people's unwanted fat.  He enjoyed a beer (always Bass) at noon, a whisky (Famous Grouse) at six, and a glass of red wine at dinner, with perhaps some port afterwards.

Gervas was proud of his rare ability to wiggle either of his ears independently, and he had double-jointed thumbs.  These traits were inherited by his son Robin.

Gervas has his own WebSite.

The Hon. Betty (St. Clair) née Baden‑Powell

Betty, sometimes called “Bet”, or more simply “B”, was born on 16 April 1917, her husband's tenth birthday, in Hawkhurst, Kent, the younger daughter and youngest child of Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell and Olave St Clair née Soames.  Her parents, too, shared a birthday, and had also met on board ship.  Each has been the subject of published biographies, to which reference should be made. 

Her father became the 1st Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell.  He had commanded Mafeking during the Boer War siege, and later founded the Boy Scout movement.  Refer "Two Lives of a Hero" by William Hillcourt.

Her mother was made World Chief Guide, see "Window on my Heart". 

Betty was educated at Westonbirt and at St James', West Malvern.  She sailed with her parents on various "Scout & Guide Cruises", and also accompanied her parents and sister Heather on a round-the-world trip. 

Betty went out to Africa on a tour as her father's secretary, and met Gervas on the ship coming back from Capetown.  They had had to delay their return, as her father fell ill.  Gervas was travelling with his parents, for his father was also on a return visit to see places he had been during the Boer War.  That was in May.  They were married in September, and sailed immediately back to Africa.  Three years later, they were due to sail back to England on leave in September 1939, but all leave was cancelled…. it was not for nine years after the wedding that they returned to England, and saw her in-laws again.

Betty became very much involved in Guiding while in Northern Rhodesia, and ran a Guide Company in Kitwe 1945-1948.  She also travelled with her mother on a Guide tour of African countries in 1952, and was later appointed Colony Commissioner. 

Betty was in Northern Rhodesia from 1936 to 1964, and during this time wrote almost weekly letters home, copied to her parents and to her in-laws, and later to her children when they were away from home.   She also kept a page-a-day diary all her life, as well as scrapbooks of photographs and other mementoes; all of this forms a rich archive giving a window into what life was like in that vanished era.

Upon returning to England when she was 47, Betty was appointed Deputy Chief Commissioner of the Girl Guides' Association, and later became President of the Girl Guides' Association for South West England.  She was at the Mercers' lunch on 6.5.94   Betty was awarded a CBE in 1997 for her services to Guiding, and she was thrilled to become a Mercer, by Patrimony in 2003 – her father had twice been Master of the Mercers' Company, and his antecedents had been Mercers for over 250 years.

In November 1999, Betty had an operation on her spine, and recovered in a Nursing Home.  Meanwhile, the movers came, and by the time she had recovered, Gervas was there to welcome her to their new home, Pax3, Elliscombe Park, a new development of ten houses built in the walled garden of Elliscombe House Nursing Home, Higher Holton, Wincanton.

On the morning of 24th April 2004, Betty was awoken by the staff, but when they called round half-an-hour later, she had died, just eight days after her 87th birthday.  Her funeral was held on 5th May, attended by three of her children Gill and Robin, and by Nigel who flew in from Australia en route to Canada.  Also there were grandchildren Daphne, Rawley, Toby and Eric.  After cremation at Yeovil Crematorium, her ashes were buried in the churchyard at North Cheriton.

A Service of Thanksgiving for her life was held in Wells Cathedral, arranged by the Scout & Guide Movements, and attended by about a thousand people. A reading was given by her grand-daughter Annarella who had just returned from Australia, and a Wake was provided afterwards in the Hall opposite.   Obituaries are in Betty's own WebSite.

[1] “Scarlet Runner” is a type of runner bean – but you knew that!.

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