Jean Rosemary Wormald

A memorial service was held at Holy Cross Church on 28 May 2009 for Jean Rosemary Wormald. Led by our chairman, the Rev Malcolm Deacon, tributes were paid to one of the village’s most colourful and fascinating characters.

Jean was born in 1916 and found herself serving as a secretary in the British Legation in Stockholm during 1943 and 1944. She had previously worked for Chappell’s music publishers, had modelled clothes and was well known in diplomatic circles as she had been secretary to General Smuts who was the Premier of South Africa and a British field marshal during WWII. In 1942 Smuts gave an important address to the combined Houses of Lords and Commons entitled The Offensive Phase and Jean typed the speech in her office in South Africa House.

Through 1943 and 1944 she kept up a close correspondence with a senior colleague in the Foreign Office based at South Africa House. Their correspondence shows a high degree of expert knowledge of what was going on relating to the war and the possibilities of a second front opening up to bring the war to an end. With Sweden remaining neutral during the war Stockholm kept its lights on at night contrasted with the blackout of London being bombed increasingly at that time by the doodlebugs. Their correspondence was rarely interfered with by the official censors and arrived in the diplomatic bag.

In May 1944 Jean’s mother died and Jean felt that she needed to come home to settle affairs as her sister had two small children living in London and her brother was far away serving in the RAF. There was no way of travelling at that time and she was informed that if she left Stockholm there was no returning. However, she eventually obtained official permission to come back early in 1945 on one of the exchange ships transferring prisoners of war under safe conduct from the Germans. Jean’s correspondent gradually fell in love with her and asked her to marry him, but the vagaries of war brought her and Bill Wormald together as he was sent as a scientific officer to the Air Attaché at the British Legation. Bill and Jean were married after a whirlwind romance in 1946. One of General Smuts’ nieces was a bridesmaid.

Jean has lived more than half a century in Milton Malsor and came with her husband Bill in 1953 when he joined British Timken as an assistant to the Chief Cost Accountant becoming, eventually, the chief himself. Jean brought great vigour and panache to all that she did in Milton Malsor. Whilst Bill served as parish councillor Jean was a noted member of the Women’s Institute. There will be those who remember the evening when This is your W.I. Life was presented to her, outlining the often hilarious doings of the W.I. She was secretary until 1963 (taking notes in shorthand). She served as a delegate at the Royal Albert Hall in 1964, and was elected local President in 1965 commenting upon her election “I can’t be president, you need at least a 42-inch bust for that job”. The members duly presented her with a pair of bloomers which had cost three shillings from Brierley’s discount store and which had been suitably embroidered with the W.I. logo.

Jean took a prominent part in many W.I. events such as the great pageant of women at Grendon Hall, a notable public speaking competition, her planting of a tree in the school grounds to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and helping with safe driving tests at Wicksteed Park. She kept photographs and a script of a spoof fashion show put on for her benefit in May 1962. Jean and Bill welcomed members to social functions at the Hollies and Bill audited the W.I.s books. And what about the cake competition which she entered when her cake arrived still hot and she had managed to get all the fruit embedded only in the slice prepared for the judge’s inspection?

Jean had a professional side to her and worked for a time for Edith and Sachaverell Sitwell at Weston Hall keeping accounts and typing letters, books and articles. She became a freelance genealogist doing detailed research on the origins of families. She often gleefully took her fees in cheque form in US and Canadian dollars to the bank, and her house was full of papers and notes. She was a subscribing member of various genealogical and archaeological societies and was very much an expert in her field. Her historical researches led her to study Milton Malsor, and her work on the field names of the village as well as her survey of the churchyard here at Holy Cross showed scholarly thoroughness and knowledge. She was delighted when the Historical Society began in the village five years ago and promised that the society should receive all her local researches. She was well regarded in historical circles especially at the County Record Office serving on the Archives Committee.

She was a heavy smoker from the age of 18 and whilst in Stockholm she and her colleagues shared out packs of a thousand cigarettes sent out in the diplomatic bags along with her private correspondence. She was a strident member of the Freedom to Smoke campaign, and loved a glass or two of sherry at any time of the day. She had a particularly insouciant sense of humour which she retained to the end.

Jean passed away in Gloucestershire on 5th May 2009 at the age of 93 years and will be greatly missed.