• U.S.

Foreign News: Tycoon’s Daughters

6 minute read

In blood-red letters a foot high the street placards of London newsmen shrieked: “WHERE IS UNITY?” This would have made a good headline for the bombshell resignation of War Secretary Leslie Hore-Belisha, insteadreferred to the Hon. Unity Valkyrie Freeman-Mitford. Last week her return to Britain on a stretcher roused such public excitement that the War Office sent soldiers with rifles to keep unauthorized persons off the landing quay at Folkestone. Up in rock-ribbed Scotland the Lord Provost of Glasgow, Patrick Joseph Dollan, snorted: “It is simply disgusting that this attention should be paid to a little flapper who really ought to have her pants spanked instead of getting publicity.” When Unity was delayed two days in reaching Folkestone, popular excitement touched fever pitch and her father, Insurance Tycoon Lord Redesdale, was offered £5,000 for a statement by one of the big London dailies. “I wouldn’t accept £25,000,” cried Lord Redesdale. “Many untrue stories have been circulated. I have even been called a Fascist!”

Possibly Lord Redesdale is no Fascist, but minutes of the House of Lords record that he addressed his peers as follows, directly after the Nazis seized Austria: “The gratitude of the whole world is due at this time to Hitler for averting a catastrophe of staggering magnitude without spilling one drop of blood!” Daughter Unity during those hectic hours was one of the Fuhrer’s women friends privileged to accompany him on his triumphal entry into Austria. She even dashed ahead, to be in Vienna when her idol entered, screamed herself hoarse cheering Conquer or Hitler as he bowled along in triumph.

“You are making an international ass of yourself, Unity!” she was told at the Bayreuth Music Festival last summer by candid young Cambridge Poet Stanley Richardson, protege of the Archbishop of York. Asinine indeed had been her conduct ever since she let the Führer pick her up originally in a Munich cafe in 1934. “I want everybody to know I am a Jew-hater!” she soon wrote to the Stürmer, the notorious Nazi anti-Semitic organ, “England for the English—out with the Jews! Heil Hitler!” By last summer the Führer was visibly tired of “the English miss” and she was mooning at him from a distance at public functions—obviously ripe for a feminine emotional crackup.

As the German Army went cracking into Poland, no Party car carried Unity and next thing Lord Redesdale heard was that his daughter was in a hospital at Munich.

In Paris L’Oeuvre splashed a typical Geneviève Tabouis story that on Sept. 3, when Unity was taking her usual Munich morning walk, two bullets were put into her by 19-year-old Nazi Zealot August Scharenbach on orders from Nazi Secret Police Chief Heinrich Himmler. Actually when Unity arrived at Calais last week, French Police Commissionaire Micouleau was able to announce that there was not the slightest sign of bullet marks on or in Unity’s head. “The only thing wrong with her head is that it is turned!” shrugged M. Micouleau after kindly British tars had carried Unity safely aboard a Channel packet while her mother held her hand. She looked pale, dull-eyed and tottery but presently sat up, laughed and chattered with her mother.

Ten motorcar loads of reporters and cameramen hovering in Folkestonefollowed the ambulance as it whisked the invalid and her mother away. Ten miles out of town the ambulance broke a spring, a tire of Lord Redesdale’s own car blew out, and the Redesdales slowly returned in the lopsided ambulance to Folkestone’s Royal Pavilion Hotel. At last the people’s press got the close-up millions were hungry for: “Unity swayed on the arm of her lean, silver-haired father. . . . She stared blankly . . . white-faced in a shabby coat . . . her face plump with long lying in hospital and red carpet slippers on her feet. . . . She uttered an Ophelia-like giggle. ‘Funny, funny!’ she muttered.”

Next day Miss Freeman-Mitford was safely conveyed to the family estate in High Wycombe, 26½-miles west of London. One reporter was admitted and, with a faint smile, Unity said: “I do not remember anything of what has happened. . . . You see, I have been in the hospital for nearly four months. Funny thing, I do not know what has been wrong with me. Isn’t that funny?”

Said Lord Redesdale: “My daughter, poor child, doesn’t even know that England is at war. . . . The best specialists in the land shall examine her. … I am not ashamed of anything my daughter has done in Germany. I know that all she has done has been done because she thought it would encourage friendship between the two countries.”

Meanwhile in Miami last week Jessica, fifth of the six daughters of Lord Redesdale (Unity is No. 4), announced that she and her husband Esmond Romilly, a nephew of First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, have obtained employment as barmaid and barman in the Roma Restaurant. “Unity is a little bit wild,” said Jessica lightly. She then emphasized that her own husband fought for Leftist Spain and that she herself has no Nazi leanings. “But don’t call us radicals. We’re extreme Liberals,” her husband said. “Of course we really are radicals but that word gets kicked around too much!” With gusto Barman Romilly described how he was recently fired by a Manhattan advertising agency for submitting the slogan: “It’s Great To Sin on G-lb-‘s Gin!” After that the pair tried peddling hosiery in Washington. “It was all right,” he said. “You had to measure ankles and calves and things.” “Yes,” added Jessica, “you liked the measuring part too well.” Then they bought a jalopy and drove on to Florida.

Mercifully silent last week was No. 1 British Fascist Sir Oswald Mosley, husband of the No. 3 Redesdale daughter, Diana. He has cut down the name of his British Union of Fascists to British Union, is busy turning out peace pamphlets on the theme that Britain is bankrupting herself fighting Germany and will succumb to Russia and Japan later, particularly if Germany is defeated. “While the two great white giants [Britain & Germany] lie in the dust panting, gasping, streaming with wounds,” declared Sir Oswald three months ago, “the yellow bandits and the Slav jackals will seize our Empire.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com