Veronica Bamfield – 2000
Veronica Bamfield, traveller, writer and broadcaster had an enviable ability to take a lively interest in everything that came her way. She had a continual thirst for knowledge treating life as a university and engrossed herself in whatever project she was currently involvaed.
She was born in Norwich on November 22nd 1908. Her father Lt-Col Bernard Grissell was killed in Palestine in 1917 where he was commanding the 1st/5th Battalion Royal Norfolk Regiment, and her mother who was the daughter of Colonel Henry Wood and descendant of Robert Wood author of The Ruins of Palmyra (1753), subsequently married General Sir Thomas Cubitt who later became Governor of Bermuda.
As a child she went to India with her mother and step-father and considered herself “…one of the lucky few on whom India lays a dark, jewelled hand, the warmth of whose touch never grows cold to those who have felt it”. It was probably in India that she developed her love for travel and for meeting local people: “Occasionally parents like the Bamfields felt it a pity to live in Lucknow and behave as if one was still in Aldershot”.
After leaving Normanhurst and Evendine Schools she was a debutante before escaping to Paris and the Sorbonne where she stayed with a French family. She became passionate about France, learned to speak impeccable French, and indeed often wished she were French. It was while she was in Paris in 1927 that she first saw Abel Gance’s silent film Napoleon. It affected her deeply and when she heard that Kevin Brownlow was restoring the film in the 1970s she volunteered her services in its production, later helping him with his book Napoleon – Abel Gance’s Classic Film (1983).
In 1930 she married Captain Walter Harold Bamfield of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, who was always known as ‘Tich’ – being only 5′ 9″ tall against her 6′. She accompanied him to Iraq where he was seconded to the Assyrian company of the Iraq Levies. Unlike most other foreigners, who seemed to like pretending they were back in Blighty, they settled in a mud house near the Diyala River. It was here that they met Freya Stark who described her as “a tall and lovely Juno with something of the goddess in her walk”. Bamfield and Freya Stark, disguised as men visited places where women were banned, but as a woman she was able to visit harems, taking a keen interest in the lives of the local women. She and Freya Stark remained lifelong friends with Stark eventually becoming godmother to one of Bamfield’s four daughters. The Bamfields used Iraq as a starting point for many of their travels and drove in their open-top Lanchester on what were often dangerous roads into Persia, Kurdistan and Syria. In Baghdad she also met the American scientist Robert Fulton who was travelling on a motorbike and who later worked for NASA. They remained life-long friends.
In 1938 the Bamfields were posted to India and although Tich returned to England in 1939 she stayed there with their children until 1942. She gave her children a great sense of appreciation of the arts and while she was in India she would often go and sit in Uday (father of Ravi) Shankar’s dance studios. He tried to persuade her to take up classical Indian dance but she was embarrassed by her height. She threw herself into local life wherever she was and with her great gift of friendship made many Indian friends.
In 1945 the Bamfields went to live in Shrewsbury where she again immersed herself in local life. She was one of the first students at Attingham Park – now a National Trust house – which had been founded by Sir George Trevelyan as the first adult education centre devoted entirely to the arts. One of Bamfield’s daughters remembers being put off by the kaftans and the slightly Bohemian air. After the war she started contributing to the BBC and had many stories selected for the Morning Story slot. She wrote and published whatever articles and stories she could and in 1974 wrote a book – On the Strength – about British Army wives. She held strong views about the British Army wife: “She wasted her time and her not inconsiderable talents. She learnt nothing and contributed nothing. We should be ashamed. All of us.” The book demonstrates her modesty as she only mentioned herself and her immediate family as a minor undercurrent weaving through the text.
She continued to travel into old age visiting her daughter and diplomat son-in-law in Sierra Leone and later in Yugoslavia where she wrote a guidebook and learned Serbo-Croat. Whatever she liked she absorbed and she was good at taking up and following leads. She was active in the re-publication of Richard Gough’s History of Myddle, and her second book Victory of the Vanquished about the Vendée (1793-96), the regional uprising against the surfeits of the French Revolution, was privately published in England in 1990. It was subsequently translated into French where it became the object of much heated scholarly discussion and where it is still in print.
She learned to use a word-processor at the age of 83 and corresponded regularly with Paul Scott when he was writing the Raj Quartet. She wrote regularly for the Shrewsbury Hospice Journal and in her late eighties after seeing a book on the Kurds in a bookshop in Shrewsbury she started writing articles for the Assyrian Journal. Although she had a happy family life she was a woman born before her time who felt frustrated by the lack of a professional career. The letters received by her family after her death have been very revealing about the extent of her knowledge, her friendship and her generosity of spirit.
Veronica Bamfield born Norwich Nov.22nd 1908. Died May 22nd 2000. Tich died in 1975. She is survived by their four daughters.
Sarah Anderson, published in the Independent, 26/07/2000