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12331322 Ralph 1908-1997

Ralph (Arden) Clay, was born on 18 April 1908, the younger son of Gerard Clay and Violet nee Thornewill.  He was educated at Lancing and Faraday Hall in London, and then served an “apprenticeship” with Metropolitan Vickers.  He became an Associate Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (A.M.I.E.E.) and an Associate Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (A.M.I.Mech.E.).

On 24th September, 1936, Ralph was Best man to his brother Gervas at his marriage.

Ralph had joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, and obtained his Wings in 1934.  He was 31 when war broke out, whereupon he was called up.  He had trained as a pilot, and flew Blenheim bombers.  He was with Coastal Command for a time, and also served in the Middle East.  He was sent out to Gibraltar for "four weeks", but didn't get back to Britain for four years.

He went to Malta, then to Egypt, then to "the Middle East", where he was involved in the setting up an establishment to re-assemble aircraft sent out in crates.

P/O                      20.10.1934 [90301]
F/O                      10.08.1936
F/Lt.                     12.03.1940
(T) Sq.Ldr.            01.06.1941
(WS) Sq.Ldr.         01.09.1942
(T) W/Cdr.            01.03.1942

Mention in Despatches       MID            01.01.1945           ?

20.10.1934     first commission, Auxiliary Air Force
                     (General Duties Branch):
                     608 (North Riding) (Bomber) Squadron Aux A F
13.06.1942     transferred to Technical Branch
12.01.1948     retired, retaining the rank of W/Cdr.)

He was demobilised after the War as Wing Commander. 

Ralph was married, aged 42, on 2 August 1950 in Compton, Surrey[1], to Diana (Bridget) Negus, aged 34. 

After demobilisation at the end of the Second World War, Ralph emigrated to Northern Rhodesia, employed by Rhokana Corporation (part of Anglo American Mining Corp, Southern Africa) as an electrical / mechanical engineer, employed on the design of underground pumping stations for the copper mines. 

Ralph and Diana had three children -

Mary (Evelyn)              was born on 5 June 1951 in Nkana, N. Rhodesia

Peter (Arden)                was born on 28 October 1952.

Rob(ert Gerard)            was born on 1 March 1956.

In 1952 Ralph was posted to the Anglo-American Mining Corporation's Head Office in Johannesburg, where he stayed for four years, before being transferred again to the Rhodesian office in Salisbury (now Harari in Zimbabwe).  With the declaration of UDI in 1965, the family returned to England, and bought Hardings, at North Cheriton, near Wincanton, Somerset.  Ralph then became employed by Plessey, before he retired in 1970.  They lived at Drakes Cottage, North Cheriton, WINCANTON, Somerset.

Ralph died peacefully aged 97 years on 4th January 2006.  The funeral was at St. John the Baptist Church, North Cheriton on Thursday 12th January at 2.30 p.m, following which his body was cremated and the ashes laid to rest in the churchyard of  St. John the Baptist Church, North Cheriton, next to those of his sister-in-law, Betty.

 

Diana (Bridget) née Negus

Diana was born on 6 February 1916 in Banstead, Surrey, the daughter of Major Arthur Victor Negus and Evelyn nee Parker-Jervis of Hanch Hall, Lichfield. Evelyn's twin sister Bridget married Ralph's father's oldest brother, Arthur Clay.   Evelyn died in 1932, when Diana was only 16.


Tamworth Herald Staffordshire, England       17 Dec 1932

THE LATE MRS. EVELYN NEGUS, OF HANCH HALL

LATE MRS. EVELYN NEGUS, OF HANCH HALL. FUNERAL. There was representative gathering of lumbers of the South Staffordshire Hunt at the funeral at Longdon, near Rugeley, of Mrs. Evelyn Negus, wife of Major A V. Negue, of Hanch Hall, Lichfield, . . .


Her father was married again in 1935, when Diana was 19, to Daisy Glynn (1902 – 1972) who bore him four children, Diana's half-brothers, Thomas A.A., David R., John A. and Edward G..  Diana and her step-mother weren't the best of friends, and Diana moved to live with her aunt Bridget (her mother's twin), whose husband had died on active service in 1915, leaving her with three small children just a little older than Diana.  But not for long, for Diana joined up.

During World War II Diana served with the ATS / WRAC, and rose to the rank of Major. 
2nd Sub.                            30.05.1941 [192787]
Sub.                                    01.02.1949, seniority 06.02.1941
WS/Jun.Comd.                ?
Jun.Comd.                        01.12.1946
Jun.Comd. WRAC          01.02.1949, seniority 01.07.1946
Capt. WRAC                    ?
Hon. Maj. WRAC           06.09.1950

Territorial Decoration               TD          10.06.1952 30.05.1941            commissioned, Auxiliary Territorial Service
                            [emergency commission]
01.02.1949           transferred, Women's Royal Army Corps
06.09.1950           Retired with honorary rank of Major

Diana was in charge of the Ack-Ack batteries surrounding Coventry on THAT night, 14 November 1940, and walkd through the city during the raid to check on "her girls".

At the end of the War, as ADC, she accompanied the first British General to visit Belsen.

 

After her husband died, Diana moved into the barn at their house, Hardings, that some twenty years earlier they had converted for the use of her mother-in-law, Violet. This she rented for six months from the family who had bought Hardings from them. After that, Diana moved into Elliscombe House nursing home, where, by this time, her brother-in-law Gervas was already in residence.

Diana died on 8th October 2009, was cremated at Yeovil Crematorium on ??? and her ashes were buried in the same plot as her husband Ralph, in the churchyard of the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist, North Cheriton, Somerset after a Thanksgiving Service at noon on Saturday 7th November, 2009.

Anthony Clay, one of her godsons, gave the following eulogy:-

I feel quite overwhelmingly honoured to have been asked to pay this brief tribute to my dear godmother, Diana.

She was not only a wonderful sister, mother and grandmother (no less than ten grandchildren at the last count); she was also, in modern parlance, a godmother “to die for”.

I’m not entirely sure what one is supposed to look for in a godmother. Insistence on full knowledge of the Catechism by age 5 - I don’t think so.  Presents at Christmas and birthdays – a good idea, definitely.  Thankfully in my case Diana steered well clear of religious instruction and she was certainly a wonderfully reliable purveyor of goodies at the right time.  But she was an awful lot more than that.  She was a continual support to me in all sorts of ways.

I think this is best illustrated by the time when I had decided to leave the city to try to make a career as a wildlife film maker.  Those of you who will remember my father will recall that this was not necessarily a welcome career-path choice!  But not for Diana.  Not only did she give me a clear thumbs up, she also slipped me fifty quid towards the cost of film, and that was at a time when fifty quid really meant something – probably, I recall, about ten rolls of film stock.  Now that’s what one really needs in a GodMum.  I only wish that I had done something rather better with what she had paid for, but it was enough to attract the attention of the BBC Natural History Unit and thus my very happy twelve year career as a wildlife director cameraman was launched

I suppose it is in the nature of “godchildhood”, so to speak, that one doesn’t pay much attention to the lives and careers of one’s godparents.  Anyway, when I was asked to make this tribute to Diana, I realised how little I knew and I am deeply grateful to the family for the enormous amount of help they have given me.

I found that I was in for more than a few surprises.  I was well enough aware that she was a one hundred percent reliable leading light of local causes, both here and in Africa.  But I have learned a lot more besides.  Did you know, I didn’t, that, as a major in the Women’s Royal Army Corps, she was ADC to the General responsible for the relief of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp and therefore one of the first people to experience the unspeakable horrors of helping to relieve the prisoners of that appalling place?  Or that she was Mentioned in Despatches for her work in Coventry after the massive blitz on the 14th November 1940.  She had been posted to Anti Aircraft Command in charge of the girls who at that time served on the anti aircraft and searchlight sites, doing everything but actually firing the guns. After a landmine had smashed all the windows and doors of Diana’s billet on that terrible night of blitz, she had crossed the City on foot to make sure that her girls were alright. Apparently there were all sorts of horrors to contend with, including a bus which had been flattened against a wall by a bomb and a body in a bath hanging from the side of a damaged building.  

Imagine the boost to the girls’ morale of seeing Diana emerge from the appalling smoke, rubble and chaos, having walked all the way across the City to make sure that they were OK.  However, Diana, of course, was not the sort of person who would readily talk about these things.

Diana Bridget Negus was born in 1916, the daughter of my Grandmother Bridget’s twin sister, Evelyn Parker-Jervis, and of Arthur Negus (of Harnch Hall in Staffordshire), who was a Major in the Royal Staffordshire Regiment during the First World War - as had been my Grandfather, Arthur Clay, before he died in 1915.  Forgive me for all this genealogy but these great names such as Arthur, Evelyn and Bridget run through Diana’s life like a golden thread.

Her mother died tragically very young in 1932, when Diana was only 16, leaving Diana as the lady of the house at Harnch Hall until her father remarried three years later.  Diana seems to have spent most of her time thereafter with the Parker-Jervis side of the family, becoming, as she remained, extremely close to her aunt Bridget, my grandmother.

As a small child Diana was very proud that her father was a major and so it is perhaps not surprising that she joined the Territorial Army in 1938.  A year later, at the outbreak of the Second World War, she was quickly called up for the WRACS, where, whilst most uncomfortably billeted in a disused workhouse, she immediately went down with measles– not that Diana was one to grumble about such things. 

As the War progressed she gained increasing authority, being posted to defend Coventry (I have already mentioned her heroism there), then Birmingham, Portsmouth and Southampton – all places on which, along with London, the attentions of the Luftwaffe bombers were firmly focussed; though mercifully they never got Diana.  Clearly she was much too nimble for them.

Towards the end of the war she was posted to the Thames Estuary, which was a memorable move for her for it was there that she discovered that, in lieu of some precious chocolate she had packed on leaving, there was what she described as “the fattest chocolate filled mouse”- and, though she was fearless in the face of most perils, the one thing that scared her rigid then and thereafter was a mouse.

She continued to serve on many stations throughout England and in Germany, ending up as Commanding Officer of 2nd Echelon in Hamburg before her final posting as Lieutenant Colonel at Anti Aircraft HQ for one and a half years, working on a new Mobilisation Scheme.

She summarised her memories over all those wartime years as “wonderful friendship and loyalty, with one moment of being very frightened indeed – by a mouse!”.

In 1950 Diana married her mother’s sister’s husband’s brother’s son, Wing Commander Ralph Arden Clay, who was (I suppose) a first cousin by marriage but, as some here will know, genealogy is not my strong point.  My sister Jennifer was a bridesmaid.  What I, aged 12, remember of this great event was that Jennifer got a present and I didn’t.

Diana and Ralph’s first home was in Kitwe, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), where Ralph was the Mining Engineer in Northern Rhodesia, in charge of keeping the mines from flooding – a job on which many thousands of lives depended.

They lived at 101 Central Avenue, which sounds pretty much in the middle of town. But number 102 was, in fact, native bush.  A difficulty when the first baby, Mary, came along was taking her for a walk in the pram whilst steering it round the termite mounds and the rest of the wildlife of the African bush.  Life was pretty basic and they had no garage. However, the packing case in which their furniture had travelled from England made a good garage in which to park their green Morris Minor.

As the family grew Rob and Peter arrived and they were allowed almost any type of pet, as long as it was not part of the rodent family.  So gerbils, rabbits, guinea pigs – and, of course, mice – were rigidly banned.  Nevertheless two dogs, a cat, a budgie and five horses were very welcome.  (Incidentally, Rob tells me that he doesn’t know what Diana thought when, in her eighties, her grandchildren dumped their guinea pigs in her lap – but, he says, “she was always very tactful”).

Despite her wonderful way with her girls in the WRACS, Diana never really got used to having African servants, especially when there was a plate crisis in the kitchen and the most important guest was served his meal on the children’s bunnikins rabbit pattern plate – you see; rodents strike again.

In 1957 my parents, whilst on a round-the-world trip, stayed with Ralph and Diana in Kitwe.  My mother wrote in her diary “it was wonderful to see Diana looking very well and she drove us home for a cup of tea.  The house is a long way out, but most comfortable and light and cheerful and one felt one had come home at last.  The children were quite adorable and so good and obedient, though Peter is impish, I think”. (Sorry about that, Peter)

What with UDI and all the unrest leading up to and following independence in that part of Africa, in 1966 the family very sensibly came back to this country for good. 

Whilst they were searching for somewhere to live the family stayed with Diana’s cousin Evie Williams (note, another Evelyn there) and her family at The Old Rectory, Bramdean, where I have it on very good authority that they were “completely self-contained in the Cottage and no bother to anyone”.  Again all those years of Diana’s parental control in Africa had borne fine fruit!

Finally, here in North Cheriton, they found their lovely house Hardings and Drake’s Cottage (to which they were cleverly able to downsize in due course), where Diana lived very happily until 2006; moving finally to Holton after Ralph’s sad death.  In Dorset Diana continued her work as an enthusiastic supporter of the church and the Women’s Institute and she helped for years with the library book service in the local hospital, whilst remaining an active member of the local women’s army group, regularly joining them for their lunchtime meetings in the pub, until just a few weeks ago.

When my cousin Bridgie Fairlie (note, another Bridget) and her family were house-hunting in Dorset 36 years ago, Diana and Ralph had them to stay at Hardings for about six weeks.  The Fairlies arrived with all their worldly possessionws, two small children (who cried a lot then) and a neurotic dachshund who did something else a lot; all over the house.  Diana didn’t seem to mind a bit. Well, at least they didn’t bring a pet mouse with them.

Keen on entertaining, she and Ralph still had parties well into her eighties and I very well remember the great time that we all had on their Golden Wedding Anniversary in 2000.


[1]  In 1925, Diana's family lived near Burton-on-Trent.  Why was she not married there ?

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