Lady BrecknockNineteen hundred was certainly a vintage year for notable births. While the great British public shows Its love and admiration for Elizabeth the Queen Mother the villagers of Wherwell have the added bonus of celebrating entree Into the distinguished ranks of octogenarians of Marjorie, Countess of Brecknock, D.B.E.
In this short anthology, It would be Impossible to do Justice to the life of Lady Brecknock, which could easily be a major biography.
Marjorie Jenkins was born on 28th March, 1900 in London. She was to be the only child of Colonel and Mrs. "Teddy" Jenkins.
Her paternal grandmother, the Countess of Lovelace, rented Wherwell Priory in 1899 from the Iremongers, who then owned the property. The young Miss Jenkins visited her grandmother at Wherwell from time to time though most of her early childhood was spent "following the drum", as her father was in the 'Rifle Brigade'.
There were times when Colonel Jenkins was stationed In places unsuitable for a small child and on these occasions Marjorie was usually with the 'Ashley' children, often sharing a governess with her cousin Edwina Ashley, her lifelong friend and companion, who later became Countess Mountbatten of Burma.
On the death of his mother, Lady Lovelace, in 1907, Colonel Jenkins took over the lease of the Priory but the family did not live there until 1908 when he was commanding the Rifle Brigade Depot in Winchester. In 1913, Mrs. Jenkin's uncle, Sir Ernest Cassel. bought the Priory from Mr. Iremonger and gave it to his niece.
During th'e 1914-18 war, when the mechanic was called up, Miss Marjorie took over the running of the electricity in Wherwell Priory. She also worked in a convalescent home for soldiers at Marsh Court. Stockbridge.
In 1920 she married the Earl of Brecknock (later Marquess Camden). Her first child, now Lady Mary Pawlewas born in 1921 and her second child, the present Earl of Brecknock In 1930.
From 1937-1939 Lady Brecknock was Lady-in-waiting to Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent. and it was during this time that she made her first contact with the St. John Ambulance Brigade.
The following extract is taken from the St. John's Review, 1970 on Lady Brecknocks' retirement as Superintendent-in-Chief of the St. John Ambulance Brigade. BRIGADE MEMBERS allover the world will be sad to learn that Lady Brecknock, Superlntendent-in-Chief of the St. John Ambulance Brigade since 1960, retired on June 27 after 24 years of service.
But retirement is not likely to be interpreted by Marjorie Brecknock as most of us understand the word; we hope-nay, we know-that her remarkable abilities and personality will not be completely lost to the Brigade.
Her first contacts with St. John were before World War II, when she was Lady-in-Waiting to the Duchess of Kent.
In 1938 she Joined the FANY's as a Private (later to be embodied in the ATS). and during the war she served first with motor companies, then with the anti-aircraft artillery, and at the end of the war she was the senior British woman officer at SHAEF in France. Mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Bronze Star (U.S.A.).
Those of us who have marvelled at the ease and competance with which she drives hundreds of miles at night and alone, to return home after St. John inspections and conferences, may not have realised that her efficiency at the wheel also applies if anything goes wrong under the bonnet. A past Commlssioner-in-Chief considers her the best woman driver he knows, while from her ATS days the following story rings very true of Marjorie:
A major could see only the behind of a female corporal who was working under the bon nett of his Brigadier's staff car outside H/Q. The gallant major approached, then diffidently asked if he could help. MarJorie's oilbespattered face turned to him: 'I'm perfectly capable of coping with the engine, but you could post this letter for me.' The letter, it seems, was posted.
In 1946 Lady Brecknock Joined St. John Headquarters as Staff Officer to the Superlntendent-in-Chief, the late Lady Mountbatten, who was her cousin.
In 1950 she became Assistant-Superintendent-in-Chlef (Overseas). a titled later changed to Controller of the Overseas Department. She held this position until April 1 1960, when she became Superintendent-ln-Chlef in succession to Lady Mountbatten, whose death took place In Sabah while on a St. John tour in February 1960, Ones admiration for anyone who took over from a personality such as Lady Mountbatten and in those circumstances must be great; but for someone who at the same time was suffering the tragic loss of a close relative with whom she had been brought up, ones admiration for this remarkably courageous woman becomes even greater.
During her 10 years as Superintendent-in-Chief Lady Brecknock visited St John units throughout the Commonwealth, always at her own expense, and it is safe to say that after trips to India, Ceylon, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Sabah, the West Indies, East and West Africa, Mauritius, Malta and Cyprus she knows more than anyone about the Brigade overseas. The ground she covered and the amount she achieved on these extended tours has made many a strong man pale Just to read about them! Naturally a person such as Lady Brecknock has many other commitments, in London and in her home county of Hampshire, in addition to her St john work.
It IS in Hampshire, where she runs a farm with the same energy and knowhow as she has applied to the Nursing Corps and DIvIsions, that a stmrlng sight meets one at harvest time when she takes her turn driving the enormous combine harvester. To this part-time work, part-recreation can be added her real hobbles of gardening, fishing and music. She IS also an extremely good shot and must have been one of the first women to take up this sport.
During the war Lady Mountbatten was visiting hospitals and other units in Europe for the JOint War Organlsations of the Red Cross and St John and asked Lady Brecknock, who was serving In France but was on leave, to accompany her. They were flYing In 3 small aircraft to NiJmegen In Holland, and by mistake flYing over the German lines they were fired at. They then turned back, and on arrival at Brussels the aircraft was found to be damaged In several places from the attack, and It occurred to Lady Mountbatten, If not to her COUSI n, that If they had been shot down I n enemy territory Lady Brecknock would not have been covered by the Geneva Convention and would have undoubtedly become a prisoner-of-war.
The aircraft and crew after landing at Brussels, showing the damage to the wing.
On her most recent overseas tour in March 1970 she arrived In Cambodia for a sight-seeing visit to Angkor the day before the coup d' etat. On her return to London her only comment on being caught in a revolution was the inconvenience of not being able to leave the country as planned (she was delayed tW0 days). and the disappointment of not having seen anything exciting!
Lady Brecknock was made a Dame of the Order in 1959 and a Dame of the British Empire in 1967. Dame Grand Cross Order of St John - 1971: Order of Mercy.
After her retirement from the office of Superlntendent-in-Chlef, Lady Brecknock became Chief President of St John, a position she stili persues with her customary vigour.
Dispite the heavy demands that public life makes on this remarkable personality, she has always willingly given her time and energy to the village. The Church, ParISh Council, Football. Cricket. Fetes, etc.. etc, are all supported to the full extent.
A recent example of Lady Brecknock's devotion to Wherwell was apparent last year. On August Bank Holiday Monday, although suffering great personal grief, she still came to the Sports Fete, as previously promised, to present the prizes. Only a few hours earlier she had been informed of the murder of her close friend Earl Mountbatten of Burma and members of his family.
This much loved and familiar figure IS frequently seen driving a Land Rover around the village, her devoted black Labrador, Conker at her side. Certain villagers travelling in the direction of London have been overtaken by a dark green Jaguar driven at a great speed and handled in the congested London traffic like a mini! Octogenarian extraordinaire!
In the 1975 Anthology Lady Brecknock wrote that she had inherited the 'goodwill' of the village from her mother, who died in 1959 I think it can safely be said that she had earned the love and respect of us all by her own efforts and personality.
Wherwell Anthology VII - First published August 1980
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