Friday, 5 November 2010

At the road’s end: The Duchess of Wellington (1922-2010)

A small announcement in The Times a few days ago broke the news of the passing of the Duchess of Wellington last Monday, aged 88. The Duchess was for 66 years the wife of the now 95-year-old 8th Duke of Wellington.
Born Diana Ruth McConnel in January 1922, she was the daughter of Douglas and Susan McConnel. Her only sibling, a brother, John, lived for only a few hours.
During WWII her father, a major-general, served as the General Officer Commanding Palestine and Trans-Jordan and Diana herself worked in the Military Intelligence unit in Jerusalem, with a civilian rank equal to captain. One January day in 1944 she noticed among the papers arriving on her desk a report of a bomb plot by the Stern Gang against St George’s Cathedral the following Friday, which must have been an odd experience particularly as the event to take place in the Cathedral at that time was her own wedding.
A bomb was indeed found and dislodged from the arch leading to the courtyard before the wedding could go ahead with all the leading British officials present. The groom was Captain Arthur Valerian Wellesley, Marquess of Douro, a great-great-grandson of the famous “Iron Duke” who defeated Napoléon I at Waterloo exactly 100 years before the current Duke was born.
The newly-weds returned to Britain at the end of 1944, but again served abroad when the Marquess was posted to Cyprus in 1956 as commanding officer of his regiment, The Royal Horse Guards (“The Blues”). His wife and children followed him and lived at Cyprus for two and a half year and later also followed him to Germany and Spain.
The daughter of a soldier, Diana was used to the family being uprooted by military postings and had herself spent parts of her childhood in India when her father was posted there. For many years she was to be active in the armed forces charity SSAFA and joined its council in 1972.
In England they had their home at Stratfield Saye in Hampshire, the estate presented to the first Duke of Wellington by a grateful nation in 1817. Following their marriage they lived at Park Corner, a house on the estate, but when the Marquess’s father died in 1972 and he succeeded to the dukedom they moved into the main house, which they also opened to the public. In 2001 the Duke and Duchess returned to Park Corner.
The Duchess of Wellington was the mother of four sons, Charles (Marquess of Douro and heir to the dukedom), Richard, John and Christopher, and a daughter, Jane. Lady Jane Wellesley is a TV producer and author of a book on the history of her family and was at one time, in what would have been a great alliance between the families of two of the victors of the Napoleonic Wars, advocated by Lord Mountbatten as a bride for the King of Sweden.
The birth of twins to the Marquess of Douro’s eldest son, the Earl of Mornington, earlier this year secured the Wellington succession for a fourth generation.

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