A Knight’s Tale (8: From The Good Life To Refugee Status)

My paternal grandfather, John Francis Cecil (Jack), and his siblings were part of the seventh generation descended from John Knight, first appearing in the seventeenth century. His three sisters Ethel, Mabel, and Evelyn, governesses to the aristocracy during the twentieth century, between them lived through all the major upheavals of that period.  In 1917 Ethel and Mabel fled the Russian Revolution; Evelyn was in Ireland during the crisis of 1926; and Mabel observed the Spanish Civil War at close hand ten years later.

With the aid of Mabel and Evelyn’s diaries, my brother Chris produced a lecture and slide presentation on these fascinating lives.

The dates shown on Chris’s header are those of the women’s births. Mabel died in 1962; Ethel on 8th February 1951; and Evelyn in 1975. Between those dates these three women travelled all over the world during a time when ladies rarely travelled unaccompanied.

I was nine when Ethel died, and have no recollection of ever having met her. She had, however, until her death, been joint owner with Mabel of

18 Bernard Gardens, Wimbledon, SW19, which the surviving sister left to my father in 1960.

As was a common pattern, Ethel began as a pupil/teacher without pay. She went on to a teaching post in St Austell, and then to St Petersburg, returning to England, two weeks before the armistice in 1918, via Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Aberdeen.

She found secretarial work at London’s Grand Hotel before returning to teaching and tutoring, and then caring for her own mother who died in 1936, aged 94, from a fall downstairs.

Ethel never fully recovered from the privations of months of semi-starvation in the St Petersburg of 1918.

The story of the descent from the good life in Tsarist Russia to refugee status post-revolution in the company of her younger sister will be revealed in extracts from Mabel’s diary.