Heroes of history

SCANDALOUS divorce, a maimed fighter pilot, and a celebrated novelist have all visited Ipswich.In the final feature of our Heroes of History series, JAMES MARSTON discovers how three visitors left a lasting impression on the town.

SCANDALOUS divorce, a maimed fighter pilot, and a celebrated novelist have all visited Ipswich.

In the final feature of our Heroes of History series, JAMES MARSTON discovers how three visitors left a lasting impression on the town.

NOBODY really knows when the Prince of Wales first met the love of his life Wallis Simpson.

Some say it was in America in the 1920s, others suggest a house party in England in 1931.

Whatever the truth, theirs is one of the world's greatest love stories.

It is in this story which ended up with a King Emperor relinquishing his throne for the woman he loved, that Ipswich played a walk on part.

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It was in fact to Beach House in Felixstowe, that Wallis Simpson moved to from Regents Park, London, in the summer of 1936.

An urbane and chic woman, the sleepy seaside town was an unlikely place to choose as home, but Mrs Simpson had no choice. She was getting divorced, and needed to do it as quietly as possible, and Felixstowe seemed ideally out of the way.

Her relationship with King Edward VIII was causing concern within the British establishment, and the London press was remarkably silent on the affair although its compliance couldn't last.

The world's press could not be gagged, and journalists and photographers descended on Ipswich for the divorce hearing.

In October 1936 The Evening Star reported on the divorce hearing, and said:”Mrs Wallis Simpson, giving an address at Beech House , Felixstowe, was granted a decree nisi with costs, by Justice Hawke at the Suffolk Assizes at Ipswich today.

“She alleged that her husband Mr Ernest Aldrich Simpson committed adultery at the Hotel de Paris, Bray-on-Thames, in July this year. The name of the woman concerned was not disclosed in open court.

“Mr & Mrs Simpson were married at Chelsea Register Office on July 21, 1928. The suit was undefended.

“The case for Mrs Simpson was that she lived happily with her husband until the autumn of 1934, when there was a change in his manner towards her, as he became indifferent to her and went away alone and stayed away weekends. After Easter this year she consulted her solicitors and she subsequently received information upon which the petition was based.

Mrs Simpson went into the witness-box and evidence was also given by Archibald Travers of Glasgow, who was in July of this year employed as a floor waiter at the Hotel de Paris, Bray-on-Thames;

by Dante Buscalia another waiter, and Christian Haeler, a hall porter at the same hotel.

Mr Justice Hawke granted a decree nisi with costs to Mrs Simpson.

The proceedings lasted 25 minutes.”

In the there was no mention whatsoever of Mrs Simpson's relationship with the King, which would be inconceivable today.

His abdication followed in December the same year.

In June 1937, the former king, who also visited Ipswich as Prince of Wales in 1921, married Mrs Simpson. He was a war hero forever associated with the Battle of Britain.

And it was during the Second World War that Douglas Bader was posted to RAF Martlesham Heath.

He lost his legs in a flying accident in 1931 after he attempted lowflying aerobatics as a dare, and the tip of the plane's left wing touched the ground.

His logbook entry after the crash was: “Crashed - rolling near the ground. Bad show.”

Alan Smith, archivist for the Martlesham Heath Aviation Society, said: “Bader was posted to Martlesham for about two months from December 1940 to March 1941. He was here with a Canadian squadron and was really being used to bolster and rebuild their confidence after they suffered losses in the Battle of Britain.

“Martlesham was a fighter base in 11th Group. The base protected the south east approaches to London. Martlesham was the most northerly of the 11th Group bases.”

Bader himself could be an awkward character. Mr Smith said: “There were mixed impressions of him. He was publicised as one of the great fighter aces, and because he was legless he received great publicity.

“He had a very strong sense of self determination and he was very go-ahead but the establishment mistrusted him and he was not popular in all quarters.”

Bader attributed his success as an Ace in the Battle of Britain to the belief in the three basic rules that had been tried and tested by earlier fighter pilots:

· If you had the height, you controlled the battle.

· If you came out of the sun , the enemy could not see you.

· If you held your fire until you were very close, you seldom missed.

Bader returned to Martlesham after the war. He came back in the 1960s to open the Douglas Bader pub.

It was as a newspaper reporter that Charles Dickens visited Ipswich.

In the early 1830s, as a parliamentary correspondent for the Morning Chronicle, Dickens was sent to the town to cover an election.

David Jones, keeper of human history at Ipswich Museum, said: “Dickens stayed at the Great White Horse Hotel and used his experiences here in his books. He describes a garden party given by a Mrs Leo Hunter.

“Mrs Hunter is based on Elizabeth Cobbold, a prominent Ipswich woman at the time. The name Leo Hunter is a satirical swipe at lion hunting, an expression which refers to inviting someone famous to make sure everyone wants to come to your party.”

In The Pickwick Papers Dickens also describes the hunerous journeys of a group of gentleman that travel around hotels and inns. They have big drinking parties and dinners and part of the story is set in Ipswich, as seen in this extract from chapter 22 of The Pickwick Papers:

“In the main street of Ipswich, on the left-hand side of the way, a short distance after you have passed through the open space fronting the Town Hall, stands an inn known far and wide by the appellation of the Great White Horse, rendered the more conspicuous by a stone statue of some rampacious animal with flowing mane and tail, distantly resembling an insane cart-horse, which is elevated above the principal door.

“The Great White Horse is famous in the neighbourhood, in the same degree as a prize ox, or a county-paper-chronicled turnip, or unwieldy pig- for its enormous size. Never was such labyrinths of uncarpeted passages, such clusters of mouldy, ill-lighted rooms, such huge numbers of small dens for eating or sleeping in, beneath any one roof, as are collected together between the four walls of the Great White Horse at Ipswich.

“It was at the door of this overgrown tavern that the London coach stopped, at the same hour every evening; and it was from this same London coach that Mr. Pickwick, Sam Weller, and Mr. Peter Magnus dismounted, on the particular evening to which this chapter of our history bears reference.

'Do you stop here, sir?' inquired Mr. Peter Magnus, when the striped bag, and the red bag, and the brown-paper parcel, and the leather hat-box, had all been deposited in the passage. 'Do you stop here, sir?'

'I do,' said Mr. Pickwick.”

Do you have a favourite character from history? What do you think? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Charles Dickens was born in Landport, Portsmouth in 1812. When he was 12 he started work in a boot-blacking factory.

Wallis Simpson's father died when she was five months old, and throughout her formative years, she and her mother had to rely on irregular handouts from a wealthy relative.

Mrs Simpson was often described as having a witty tongue - she once said: “You can't abdicate and eat it.”

In August 1934 the Prince of Wales took a party, including Wallis Simpson, on holiday to Biarritz, followed by a cruise along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts. Ernest Simpson was notably absent.

FBI files released in 2003 alleged Wallis Simpson had Nazi connections.

Mrs Simpson became Duchess of Windsor on her marriage to the former King. She was denied the title Her Royal Highness.

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