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How Princess Diana’s aunt had to flee Nazi-inspired riots

PUBLISHED: 21:00 10 March 2020 | UPDATED: 11:45 11 March 2020

Anne Wake-Walker in Malta in 1957, with son Richard       Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

Anne Wake-Walker in Malta in 1957, with son Richard Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

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Obituary: Lady Anne Wake-Walker, 99, loved Suffolk and had ‘a lively sense of fun’

In 2007 Lady Wake-Walker read a lesson at a memorial service in St Edmundsbury Cathedral marking the 10th anniversary of the death of her niece - Diana, Princess of Wales       Picture: Wendy TurnerIn 2007 Lady Wake-Walker read a lesson at a memorial service in St Edmundsbury Cathedral marking the 10th anniversary of the death of her niece - Diana, Princess of Wales Picture: Wendy Turner

Anne Spencer - who died aged 99 and nearly seven months - was the only daughter of Jack and Cynthia: the 7th Earl Spencer and Countess Spencer. She was born in London on August 4, 1920, and baptised in St George's Chapel, Windsor. Her childhood was spent at Spencer House in London and at the family home: Althorp, near Northampton.

Four of Lady Anne's aunts were ladies-in-waiting to the Queen Mother. Her own mother was for 35 years a lady-to-the-bedchamber of the Queen Mother.

Anne was educated at home by governesses, with local friends as classmates. She excelled at music (piano and cello) and languages (French and German).

'As a girl, despite encouragement from her hunting-mad father, my mother always said she preferred meeting people rather than riding to hounds,' says son Richard.

In the late '30s she had spells in Paris and Vienna, perfecting her spoken French and German and becoming immersed in the culture and social life of both cities.

She witnessed the Anschluss (Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria) in March, 1938 - seeing Hitler and his henchmen pass by in their cavalcade from the balcony of her Viennese apartment.

Anne and a fellow English student had to leave Vienna smartly for London by train as anti-Jewish rioting developed and shops were looted. Her companion's father, William Ormsby-Gore, sat in Chamberlain's Cabinet - which helped in extricating the pair.

'Notwithstanding the experience of the Anschluss, my mother maintained the fondest memories of Vienna, and later in life loved returning to the city.'

Lady Anne Wake-Walker remembered niece Princess Diana (seen here with Prince William at Christmas, 1982) as a sweet, thoughtful and very kind girl, with a marvellous sense of humour. The princess visited her aunts 400-year-old East Bergholt home often during childhood, though stayed there only once        Picture:  PA WireLady Anne Wake-Walker remembered niece Princess Diana (seen here with Prince William at Christmas, 1982) as a sweet, thoughtful and very kind girl, with a marvellous sense of humour. The princess visited her aunts 400-year-old East Bergholt home often during childhood, though stayed there only once Picture: PA Wire

When war broke out, she was determined to play her part and trained as a St John's nurse, ending up at Middleton Hospital, a converted country house in Oxfordshire, where she cared for servicemen with head wounds.

In 1942 she joined the WRNS (Women's Royal Naval Service) and became a plotter.

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'Two episodes she loved to repeat were that she was on duty in Chatham the night the German battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau escaped from Brest up the Channel to Kiel, and that she failed to halt a squad of WRNS she was marching at Greenwich. The squad allegedly ended up in the Thames,' says Richard.

By 1943 Third Officer Spencer was based at Immingham and met Lieutenant Christopher Wake-Walker, first lieutenant of HMS Pytchley, a destroyer protecting Arctic convoys. She had been invited on board to a cocktail party because of the Spencer family's association with the Pytchley Hunt.

Anne and Christopher married at Westminster Abbey in February, 1944, with princesses Elizabeth and Margaret representing the King and Queen, who were away from London.

Christopher was from a distinguished naval family: his father was Controller of the Navy and Third Sea Lord.

Anne left the WRNS to have first child Elizabeth in December, 1944. She then pursued the active and itinerant life of a naval officer's wife, living in Hampshire, New Zealand, Sussex, Malta, Italy, Greenwich and Paris, where Christopher was naval attaché from 1962 to 1964. She also had further children David, Richard and twins Michael and Diana.

Althorp, near Northampton - home of the Spencer family     Picture: PA/Andrew ParsonsAlthorp, near Northampton - home of the Spencer family Picture: PA/Andrew Parsons

In 1964 the Wake-Walkers moved from Paris to East Bergholt Lodge, following the death of Anne's widowed mother-in-law, Muriel Wake-Walker, whose family had lived in the house since the late 18th century.

'Although her heart lay in her childhood county of Northamptonshire, my mother came to love Suffolk,' says Richard.

'She threw herself with customary vigour into Suffolk life, becoming heavily involved, inter alia, with the Cheshire Homes, NSPCC, SSAFA (the Armed Forces charity), several village charities, as well as the church in East Bergholt, with which she maintained a strong connection for the rest of her life.

'Right up until her death, she was president of the Stour Valley Arts and Music Society, which her mother-in-law had helped to found in 1950.'

With Christopher, Anne was instrumental in setting up the twinning of East Bergholt with Barbizon, south of Paris. The link was East Bergholt-born artist John Constable, whose style influenced the Barbizon School of French painters such as Corot, Millet and Rousseau.

Christopher died in April, 1998, having retired from the Navy in 1968. He was High Sheriff of Suffolk in 1985.

Anne was a noted plantswoman, and would surprise professional horticulturists with her knowledge of the Latin names of shrubs and flowers. 'She had an aesthete's eye for colour and impeccable artistic taste.

'Above all a loving wife and mother, she was kind, gentle, with a generous spirit, always positive, possessing an infectious joie de vivre and a lively sense of fun, which she adored sharing with her 11 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.'


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