Mose, Betty, Bets, Bet (Hester and Alice)

A wonderful mémoir written by my sister Hester St John Ives

Written by Hester, March 2010

Mose for us as children was an entirely constant, reliable and affectionate being who was absolutely constant, totally fair-minded and the font of wisdom and knowledge. Having said that I do not think we were exactly close to her, and did not expect much overt expression of love.
She was one of the most undemonstrative people I have ever known. This was a characteristic of all her sisters, too, except Aunt Pippa. I think it was inherited from her father General Hessey, always known as Master. To some extent it may have been caused by shyness, but in large measure it was more a deep reserve and unease about any show of emotion.
Mose was not a good communicator although rather better with the written word than face to face in speech. She disliked any sort of ostentation and seemed to rather distrust and even dislike social life, especially what might be described as society.
She was a fairly strict mother and we certainly knew what was expected of us in terms of obedience, good manners, etc. Rules were not to be broken. I speak here of how things were when Awly and I were young; later on she became more relaxed. There was always a certain distance in those days between us children and our parents. This altered somewhat later on with they younger ones as they had far more companionship with Mose than us. We were brought up by nannies till the outbreak of war. After that we lived in our grandmother's house for the early years of the war, and Mose and her sisters, Aunts Anne and Wilma, were part of the household, all engaged in keeping the place going and doing war work in the village. At this time we went for our day to day needs and companionship more to our grandmother than to our own parents. Mose was busy from morning to night with household affairs and Daddy only appeared for short periods as and when he got leave. All this meant that we didn't really have an ordinary nuclear family life until 1943 or so when Daddy bought Great Wenham Hall, and we became an ordinary family unit. So it took some time to establish a separate identity between our parents and us.
Another thing to remember was that there was only 15 months age difference between Awly and I, then Alice born in 1941 during the time at Gran's house. Mose trying to cope with all the general cooking and household chores with no modern conveniences, I think she was permanently tired, as well as scared and worried. It has to be remembered that up till that time she had never cooked, cleaned or cared for her children. In those days even quite poor people seemed to have domestic help as a matter of course.
Mose and Daddy must have been very poor up to the war as Daddy was reading for the bar and only just started practising in 1939.
In many ways they were an unlikely couple. He was extremely ambitious both career wise and socially, and Mose was quite the opposite. Daddy throve in society - the higher the circles the more interest he found. Having said that, they were deeply and very exclusively in love. I think we were always conscious of that, and it has often been confirmed to me by those that knew them from their first meeting to his death. Outwardly a conventional somewhat stylised marriage, in private a passionate love match deeply satisfying to both and maybe not leaving much room for their children. This didn't matter to Awly and me; we had each other and it was what we expected and the way things were for a lot of our contemporaries. I think it was different for Alice who seems to have been left with a great sense of being misunderstood.
Mose was extremely patriotic and proud of being British. We were all brought up on a history book called Our Island Story, it has to be said a rather biased account of history. I would say that her patriotism extended to most of her thinking, interests and personality, not to say religion. She would never have admitted to it but also her religion, Catholicism, never sat easily on her, and she obviously made extreme efforts to make sure no-one saw this. I don't know why she converted, obviously because she felt the whole family should be united in their form of worship.
Mose's interests were history, literature and poetry, local history and national history. As a girl she loved drawing and painting, and as a young woman became a serious amateur photographer. She was totally unmusical and inclined to scoff at music. Similarly, she had little time for ornaments and attention to arrangements. She often alluded to objets d'art as "dust collectors". She was totally uninterested in clothes, her own and other people's. This was something of a cause of hardship for us, her children: she thought nothing of sending us to school in my grandmother's maid's uniform (brown and white check cotton dresses), cut down for us. We almost never had anything new. I certainly didn't have a new coat or dress between the age of six and when I got married, except once when Reg and Gran bought me a few things. Clothes coupons were a positive blessing to Mose as they gave her a perfect excuse not to be able to buy anything!
Mose loved flowers and was very knowledgeable about horticulture, knowing most plants by their botanical names and teaching us a lot; she made collections of pressed wild flowers. On the other hand she thought my making flower arrangements in the house rather silly and affected.
Mose didn't appear to have much interest in food and drink, in fact I think she thought to be interested was vaguely immoral. I'm not sure how much this was because she learnt to cook very late in life and also was chronically short of money. I'm sure poverty was some of it but also, she and her sisters took economy to extreme lengths and it almost became a game and a sort of competition as to which could spend least on living.
Mose was very family minded, more naturally inclined to her father's family than to the Bruce's, Gran's family, who she sometimes found rather embarrassing as they played the piano, etc. My sister Alice says Mose had a great gift for friendship. This was more the local people in the village than the gens du monde favoured by Daddy.
I have often wondered how she would have coped if Daddy had lived and become the first delegate to the United Nations as was hotly tipped. I feel she would have loathed all the entertaining and being entertained which would have been her lot, also what about the clothes?
Mose had a strongly developed sense of duty which she tried to pass on to her children (not always successfully). "Not quite the clean potato" was a favourite expression for dubious behaviour. Very unselfish herself, she very much disliked any sort of ostentation or preoccupation with the making and keeping of money in others.
Mose had an enormous sense of humour and also sense of the ridiculous. She was completely not pompous or grand. Sometimes her anxiety not to be a nuisance or trouble could make her appear offhand. Poor Larry got really short shrift when she came to look after me when Lou was born. There was no spare room in our cottage at the time so he offered her a bedroom in the big house. She gave him a very dusty answer.
While I was at Notley I got to know Cynthia, Gladwyn Jebb's wife. Daddy had worked with him and knew them both well. Cynthia said Mose always kept her at arm's length. I have to say Cynthia was a nice lady and very kind. I don't know why Mose was so inclined not to want to mix with those sort of people. Alice thinks poverty, I think a mixture of that and just her natural reserve coupled with a degree of shyness. Also sometimes I think she was unaware of how she came over to other people. Now I know that Mose absolutely adored Anne (your Anne, Badger) and I wonder if Anne knew that.
Alice says that as a child and teenager she became aware that Mose was quite unlike other mothers. I don't think I ever felt that. She was extremely kind. For example, it must have been hard for her to accept when I wanted to marry Dickie with all the obvious drawbacks, but, having pointed out her concerns, she said very disarmingly: "I must admit if he asked me to marry him I'd have a hard job not to jump at it".
I would say she got more and more fun to be with as we grew older. There were some difficult years in our teens, partly because teenage girls are so uncivilised and egocentric, and partly because the years of our stepfather' s ill-fated venture into farming was so very worrying, exhausting and traumatic. This reflected particularly on poor Tel who, as a baby didn't get the attention he needed and deserved. I think Mose was aware of this but was so very tired she couldn't do any more till later.. It must have been the last straw having Pont's nephews Michael and Anthony dumped on her too.
I expect we all have a different perspective on Mose. I think my abiding memories are of her amusing company, her optimism and her great loyalty.
Her grandchildren, too, would have different slants. Louise absolutely loved her and found her wonderful company, but Muff found her intimidating.
I think she was a very brave person and quite without self-pity.
She was closest to Pippa of her sisters and was also very close to her cousin Roddy who introduced her to Daddy. Her favourite aunt was Aunt Lil. She was very proud of Awly's beauty. I'm sad that she didn't realise how Awly longed for higher education as I am quite sure that if she had done so means would have been found to make it possible for her to go to university.
Mose loved the countryside, walking, mushrooming, blackberrying and ?? She was not much interested in sport. I well remember she described how she and Aunt Pippa always arranged, if sent to a tennis party, to arrive just in time for tea with only time to play one set before the end of the party!
She didn't really understand our liking for riding although she helped all she could. It took some intervention from Daddy though before she saw the need for jodhpurs - in her opinion we could ride in our bloomers!
In some ways some of her happiest or at least most contented times were when she and Pippa were both widowed and could revert to their girlhood relationship which had gone by the board during their marriages as Daddy and Uncle Oswald cordially disliked each other.
Everyone who knew Mose respected her, and her family and close friends loved her. As I have hinted I'm not sure how many close friends she had but of course I left home very young and was probably unaware of some of them. How did she get on with Army wives in Libya and Germany?
Mose would have loved to travel more I'm sure, and had countless stories of the years spent on the continent as young girls. She also enjoyed country life at Winkenhurst and being a girl guide.
Mose had a tremendous capacity for enjoyment. She came on several holidays with me as a grown up. Earlier, days out at Felixtowe, Dovercourt and local picnics she made such fun, partly because she imparted her own fun to them all. I remember her in the early months of my marriage at Thame Fair when I was pregnant encouraging me (much to Dickie's disgust) to go go down the helter skelter!
Mose was a great raconteur, her stories of ancestors, childhood experiences and views of her relations were so interesting and hilariously funny a lot of the time. She was also a fabulous storyteller, and when Awly and I were small she invented a story about two characters - Frederick and Frederick. It was spellbinding.
Another aspect of her great kindness was the way she took Daddy's Aunt Margaret in and looked after her in her old age. From all accounts Margaret cannot have been an altogether easy person and Mose already had a lot on her plate.
I think that Mose, like Awly, was in fact really an intellectual and would have thrived if she had had more opportunities and outlets for her mind. I think she really loved her job as librarian at Coggeshall and all the new insights that came her way. She could have gone on to much higher things in different circumstances, but as it was she derived enormous pleasure from what was on offer, that was Mose's way.
The war years and the aftermath were pretty difficult for everyone but I think we were incredibly lucky to have Mose as a mother during that time. She made our lives seem normal, and as far as possible adventurous and exciting under hugely difficult conditions.
Everything one did was more fun because of Mose. By the way she read aloud fantastically well. When she had been reading The 39 Steps I had to go out and shut up the chickens and was terrified that "the man with the hooded eyes" was just behind the yew hedge.
Awly's great ambition was to be a witch and I well remember how Mose kept mum for a week as Awly built her broomstick. Mose knew Awly would fall to the ground but felt that the week's anticipation was well worth it.
When relaxed and at ease Mose was a great conversationalist. She could also hold her own in serious debate.
Not much interested in politics in a party sense but fascinated and enquiring when it came to world events. I feel sure that she would wholeheartedly have endorsed "green" issues.
Although she had strict standards for herself, I would describe Mose as really broad-minded and essentially tolerant. She could always see the humour in situations and people's reactions to serious problems.
Mose did not have many personal possessions but was immensely generous with those she did have. For instance, when I married Dickie family finances were at an all time low but Mose gave me the beautiful picture of the windmills which she loved, taking it down from her own drawing room wall.

On reading this over, I'm afraid it doesn't do Mose justice; hard to capture just how much she meant to me and I'm sure to all her children and also other relations. I feel you can safely say to Laure that she would have found her grandmother immensely supportive and interested in her and her young family, and an amusing and interesting companion. I also think my remarks as to her undemonstrative nature are more true of Mose when younger than in later life. Probably when younger it was more the culture of the times.
Probably, Badger, your own summation is the best. "She was my mother".
Please realise these recollections are subjective.


Alice writes, "When I was a child I thought of my mother as somewhat taller than God and certainly more powerful, though I don't think she was in any way draconian. Like all her sisters, she always "sang" in the garden (more an out-of-tune buzz through her teeth) though she had absolutely no interest in classical music, favouring more White Horse Inn and the Merry Widow.
When she was grown up she took a photography course at the Regent St. Polytechnic and subsequently earned a living by taking portraits of the Master's and Lady's friends and relations. She met my father through her cousin Roddy LeMesurier. At that time my father was in the Diplomatic Service and when he was posted to Cuba my mother went to visit him there, having stayed with Reggie Fryer in Jamaica on her way. My parents must have had some sort of an "understanding" before leaving England as they were married at the British Legation in Havana shortly after my mother's arrival in 1932.
They returned to England in 1933, and Uncle Reg financed my father's training for the Bar. At this time they lived in Feering in Essex, but when war was declared and my father was called up, the family moved into Sheepcote with the Master and Lady. In 1943 or 1944 they bought Gt Wenham Hall in Suffolk.
After my father died in 1945 my mother met and married Pont Howson and they then went to live on a farm in North Suffolk. However the farm failed and they returned to the part of Suffolk they knew best, near Ipswich, and Pont re-joined the Army.
Like many people, my mother had difficulty in remembering the names of things and came up with some interesting substitutes - for instance, her radio was always referred to as her X-ray machine. Freudian or what? Some things she definitely did not want to remember, like the farm, which she always said she had blanked out.
Her main interests after hr family were gardening, reading and writing letters. I do remember the phone also being used though this was quite alarming pre-STD as the phone would be slammed down as soon as the pips went, regardless of the urgency of the conversation.

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