I had it drummed into me from an early age that family and knowing where your roots come from are vitally important.
My Grandfather, Edward Gordon Gedge, told me fantastic stories about his aristocratic life and my parents often said to me that I had ‘blue blood’ in my veins although I had no idea what they meant, and that I could trace my ancestry back to William the Conqueror.
Living in New Zealand, I didn’t have any appreciation of my ancestry until I first came to England and visited Whitmore Hall – my roots; the ancestral home in Staffordshire.
It is beautiful, typically English, surrounded by hectares of beautiful lush green pastures and gardens and is where my great-grandmother, Eva Cavenagh-Mainwaring, was born and is buried in the nearby family churchyard.
One of the things I also love about Whitmore is the pet cemetery – centuries old which contains the bones all the faithful hounds that have roamed the gardens and land and lived in the kitchen of the great hall.
He fought in the war and won a bravery medal , was the first Wing Commander of Ohakea Airforce Base in New Zealand and served in the UK Foreign Office.
Pop was very old while I was growing up but I would sit for hours as he told me amazing stories of his life which included grand parties and dances at Whitmore Hall when it was owned by his cousins, Rafe and Rosemary (Guy’s father and mother).
Pop and my grandmother, Eileen, longed for England and always talked about returning but never did.
I love visiting Whitmore – not just because of the beauty of the countryside and the grandness of the hall – but because it brings me closer to my grandfather, it reminds me who I am and where I come from and connects me with my family who are so far away.
Whitmore is now owned by mum’s second cousins – Christine and Guy Cavenagh-Mainwaring and the estate is run by my cousin, Edward and his wife Heather. They live in Ivy Cottage just at the end of the road leading up to the hall with their daughter Adelaide.
My great-grandmother, Eva Cavenagh-Mainwaring grew up with her sisters at Whitmore Hall and eventually married Admiral Herbert James Gedge – my great-grandfather – and they moved to Egypt where Herbert was a Pasha, right-hand man to King Abbas and Admiral of Ports and Lights.
My grandfather (Pop) spent his childhood in Egypt and his playmates were the Prince and Princess of Egypt.
In fact my grandfather used to regale me with amazing stories about his boyhood including one about Lord Kitchener who he used to see striding though his parent’s Egyptian home.
Herbert James Gedge was a captain (at that stage-he later became an admiral) in the Royal Navy when he took service with the Khedive of Egypt, Abbas Hilmi II, as naval adviser.
While my great-grandfather had guided the Khedive (Viceroy) ably enough to be given the rare title of Pasha, my grandfather and his sister Norah had found playmates in the vice-regal children Prince Haziz and Princess Emina, in the palace at Alexandria.
Egypt was then occupied by the British before becoming a protectorate in 1914, and there was no more revered figure than Kitchener, conquerer of the rebellious Sudanese at Omdurman in 1898 and thus avenger of the slain General Gordon at Khartoum.
My great-grandmother was involved in arranging a dinner in Egypt in honour of Kitchener. The problem was that no woman was willing to partner him as he had a huge misogynistic reputation. At last a young widow agreed.
But at the dinner, Kitchener would not be drawn into conversation with his partner, preferring more of the conversation of male diners.
The angry widow turned on Kitchener and in the clearest tones asked “Is it true you are a woman hater?” He replied “Yes, its a case of familiarity breeding contempt” Rather than go red with embarrassment, the young widow repiled – “You know, general, it takes an awful lot of familiarity to breed anything.” Everyone laughed,including Kitchener thank goodness.
My grandfather had overheard the talk of the incident the next morning, and had it confirmed by his mother years later.
He and his sister lived in glamorous and yet perilous times. They once woke from an afternoon sleep to discover their governess was dead with cholera.
Pop later represented England in the Antwerp Olympics in 1921 where he won a bronze medal and found himself climbing the diving board ladder with King Kahunumuku of Hawaii after a riot broke out.
Pop was 95 when he died in New Zealand – a million miles away from his beloved England.