Sunday, 17 August 2008

Out of Africa - Part 2 - William and Lassie Fitz-Henry

The book "African Dust" has arrived courtesy of the lovely people at Dandy Lion Editions Bookshop.
The only picture in it is the jacket photo of Lassie herself which I've copied here. The book, while being a fascinating insight into the life of the wife of a colonial official in Africa, has very little more about the Fitz-Henry family. Interestingly there was a very small newspaper cutting pasted in the flysheet, giving the death and funeral notice for Lassie.
From the biopic on the dust jacket, Lassie was born in Rangoon, the daughter of a Scottish father and English mother. Lassie married William Cooper in London in early 1918.
From the GRO indexes, this gives her full maiden name as Mary Christine MacDonald. They had a daughter Christine (mentioned in the newspaper cutting). William is referred to as Billy throughout the book, and Christine is called Mick.

William and Lassie were posted to the British Colony of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. The book highlights the pain of separation when these colonial families had to leave their children behind in England as it was not thought suitable to take them abroad. The home leave was rare and Lassie mentions how on several occasions William passed up his opportunity of leave in favour of others, and there was no home leave at all granted throughout WW2.
At the beginning of the war, Lassie relates how Christine joined the WRNS in England, and then married "an unknown Canadian". "It was to be nine years before I saw my child again, as by the time I got back to England she had gone to Canada with her husband and two children."

Billy died in 1949, six months after they retired from the colonial service and returned to England. I say "they" retired as Lassie was very active in health and welfare works in Rhodesia, and was awarded an MBE in 1947 for welfare services.
From the newspaper death notice, Lassie died in Plumpton Green in Sussex on 12 October 1971. Her daughter is named as Christine Prendergast. There are no other children named and no indication that Lassie married again after William's death.

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