memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for October 8, 2011

Aunt Rachel

My memories of our aunt Rachel are somewhat blurred by time; but her spirit, her spirit lives on in me. My brother Jim, who still lives in Thurlstone, was closer to her and I couldn’t do better than to quote from one of his mails to some newly-discovered cousins of ours who live in Canada:

Mary’s sister, my aunt Rachel, was a devout Protestant all her life.  She was very gentle, slightly timid, a little delicate in health, prone to hypochondria and immensely kind.  After WW2, Rachel worked in Malaya helping a missionary to run an orphanage in the jungle.  One day, when Rachel was away visiting a neighbouring rubber plantation, bandits raided the orphanage and murdered the missionary.  When Rachel returned to find her murdered friend, she took over the running of the orphanage single-handed until help arrived some weeks later.  I think the experience fairly traumatised her and she returned to England soon after.  Rachel never talked to me about the experience even though we were close. Aunt Mary told me about it.  Rachel was awarded two medals for bravery by the Union International de Protection de L’Enfance, Geneva.  I have them by me as I write.




In her old age, Rachel had a cleaning lady called Tracy to help her with the housework.  Trace and her husband got into arrears paying their mortgage and the bank was threatening to repossess the house.  When Rachel heard of this, she immediately gave Tracy a cheque for £1,000.  Rachel never mentioned this to me, Tracy told me about it after Rachel’s death.  Rachel was not a rich woman; she lived on the state old age pension, a small amount of savings and the small rent from about twenty acres of farmland that she had inherited.

She did ask my advice about selling her Armada Chest – a large iron bound chest which was thought to have come from one of the destroyed Spanish Armada ships and was quite valuable.  She said “Thurlstone Church is appealing for funds to install central heating and I want to do my bit.  I want to sell the chest and a few other bits and pieces and give the money to the Church, but I’m worried about what the rest of the family will think about selling these family heirlooms?”  I advised her to sell them and that no-one would think the worst of her for it, and that it was not as if she were selling family portraits or anything associated with the family; I should think she would have asked my father’s advice too – she respected him greatly.

When I used to live in Thurlstone I would pop up and visit her in her room on the top floor of one of weaver’s cottages she had shared with her mother and her aunt before they died. It was a tranquil room decorated in pale greens and greys with a fine view of the bridge at the bottom of the steep and narrow valley.


She was tall and thin and always well-groomed – pale silk blouse with a little broach fastening at the neck, Jaeger cardigan, tweed skirt and patent leather shoes. She smiled a lot. She had the social knack of always seeming to be interested in our affairs; (a skill not that common in this self-centred age). She spoke clipped clear English (at times cryptic in a Wodehousian manner); she would lean forward to tap one lightly on the knee and say: the Atlas Mountains, interesting, very; or: Vietnamese cuisine, interesting, very. One day we were talking about Buddhism (interesting, very) and she casually mentioned that she had seen the Buddha’s Tooth at a shrine in Kandy in Ceylon.

I have a little book of hers which must date from this period; Malayan Pantums or verse quatrains, with the Malayan on one side and the English translation on the other. The volume was printed in Kuala Lumpur in 1938.

Rachel Milner – Nice Lady (very)


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