Muriel Dickens 

Muriel Dickens, born 1913, was only seven years old when her mother May Agnes died. True, she had her older sister Lesley to help her along but she had to wait awhile for her ‘new’ mother, Mabyn, to appear on the scene. Mabyn Foster was an accomplished Albert Hall pianist which would probably have appealed to the 50 year old Charles with his own musical sensitivities.

Two years later, in 1922, Charles and Mabyn married in London and appear to have lived happily ever after.

Muriel, probably having inherited her mother May’s genes for handwork, had decided on a milliner’s career which included the odd bit of dressmaking. Charles used to tease Muriel, saying that millinery was just taking a bit of lace, a bit of net and whatever, pinning or stitching it somewhere or other,  and then calling it millinery.

Apparently, one day Muriel brought home a piece of net and a bit of lace and some pins and handed them to her father, Charles, saying: ‘Here you are, Dad…now let’s see what you can come up with!’ 

On hearing about this little tale, Dad said we should be careful what we say about what people did in life, as it was what Muriel did with those bits of lace and net that defined her as a milliner - as against a scrap dealer. 

Then came the war and, like her sister Lesley, Muriel became an ambulance driver and did her bit for the war effort. It was probably during this time that Muriel met Richard ‘Dick’ Blennerhassett, a red-haired Irishman, so it was said, who had been born in 1914.

Richard 'Dick' Blennerhassett married Muriel Dickens 1940

Muriel was probably quite a good match for him; having, herself, been born in Ireland whilst Charles, newly promoted to Sgt. Major, was based in Cahir.  Dick Blennerhassett came from an ancient family in Ireland and it is said he was an excellent horseman. All that galloping over fertile fields with lilliputian elves and leprechauns ...

In researching this family history, I discovered that Dick was from the Blackbriar or Skaghduve family of Blennerhassetts, whereas my grandmother's sister Catherine, who had also married into the Blennerhassett family, was from those of the Skahanagh persuasion. It is not beyond anyone's imagination that the verb, to skedaddle, must be of Irish origin.

Muriel and Dick had lived quietly in London and, prior to WW11, Dick joined the RA.F. and was commissioned Flying Officer.Fl-Lieut.1941; Air Force Cross 1941.

Commander of 512 Squadron, RAF 1943-44; 512 was formed at Hendon in 1943 as part of 44 Group, Transport Command, using Dakotas.

As Wing Commander Richard Blennerhassett, Dick became known as The King's Pilot and was the pilot for many important missions during the war. He personally piloted Sir Winston Churchill several times during the war, also other VIPs, such as Mrs Wallis Simpson, wife of the Duke of Windsor (King Edward VIII who abdicated in 1936). He also flew Sir Walter Monkton to visit Edward 'to discuss future plans' in an attempt to bring the Duke back to the UK. Remember, the Duke wasn't very popular with the English royals who frowned upon his marriage to a commoner; and a divorced one at that.

In particular, Wing Cmdr Blennerhassett flew Churchill to the Casablanca conference without any escort - they met a Messerschmidt squadron but by cloud-hopping they escaped. Churchill recommended Richard for a special medal which was made for him.

In my research on the Blennerhassetts, I made the acquaintance of a Bill Jehan who is the world authority on the family name. His website is, as the kids of today would say, quite awesome and goes back centuries regarding the Blennerhassetts of days gone by - and days still to come. I am grateful to him for helping me to put my grandmother's sister, Catherine in her place! See Bill's website:

Dick, Muriel and Shaun circa 1941

I remember that Dad and his sister Muriel kept in contact with each other as I have memories of letters with the address Wensleydale Road on the envelope. I could certainly be wrong and anyone is free to correct me but when I think about it, the family of brothers and sisters did keep in touch with our family in South Africa, I am pleased to say.The one thing Dad disliked intensely was being called by his nickname: Widgy. Where, how and why he managed to get that name has always been a mystery, as he left England in his very early 20's and he was five years older than his closest sibling, his brother Louis. Further down the line, he was older than his sister Muriel by 15 years. She could hardly have known her oldest brother.

Muriel and Dick only had the one child; Shaun Markby. Shaun disliked the Blennerhassett name; said it was far too long to spell out and it irritated him, so sometimes he gave his name as just Shaun Markby.

Shaun went to at 'The Hall', in North London where, I imagine, he was a good child and did his lessons well. He was friendly with a cousin, Mark, who visited quite often.

Shaun, Mark, Muriel and Dick

Muriel, perforce, became more and more attentive to Mabyn as she aged and eventually agreed to the family moving in with Mabyn. Les and I met both Muriel and Dick when we visited Mabyn, and Les and Dick were happy to chat about horses and I learned quite a bit about flanks and hocks and other things as well.

The house in Aylsham was a listed house; having once been the local Constabulary. Muriel showed us the bell-pull and the courtyard where the cars would 'park'. The house was roomy but quite out of date and needed attention.

The stairs were steep and narrow and I was not surprised when I heard that Dick had fallen down the stairs and one thing led to another and he passed away a few years after our visit.  Shaun didn't stay for long - anywhere. He had itchy feet and was discovering the world; after having been cooped up in an office as an Accountant. It was there that he met his wife Felicity who hailed from New Zealand. Things didn't work out very well for them and they separated at about the same time as Les died - in 1988 - and which is probably the reason why Shaun and I were so emotional at the time; we were both missing our respective spouses and each provided a shoulder to cry on. Or laugh on.

During the 1990's, I used to visit England every year to supervise the caring of Les's late mother's two sisters, who lived for a long, long time. I would spend two weeks of every year with them and allow myself a week in which to do something I wanted to do. Like using England as a base point and then travel to Europe, the States, or wherever. Sometimes I spent a week in London - almost all of it at a hotel near Marks and Spencer where I had a marvellous time buying things and the next day taking them back again. Maureen used to sigh very deeply at my bad shopping habits, especially at the time when she was in Senior Management. I think she must have worried quite a bit in case I used my maiden name! I often regard returning bought items to stores as a bit of a challenge; a test of skills - especially when I hadn't retained the till slip as I ought to have done. 'May I speak to the Manager, please?' is, to me, nothing but an informal declaration of war - and a promise of great fun to come.

So it was that Shaun and I met for the first time in 1989. I thought he was very charming and most amusing; sometimes a bit stuffy. He thought I was a bit of a hooligan but, he said, he liked being able to let the 'child' in him come out when I was there.

Later, when he came out here I didn't think I was a hooligan trying to teach him my favourite opera music:The Pearl Fishers Duet but when he didn't want to, I dragged him to his feet on the South Coast beach and we marched up and down singing the German National Anthem with him blowing an imaginary trumpet. Oh, such fun! We had a marvellous time, imagining some German tourists observing us and anticipating the worst. Achtung! He became the hooligan's perfect accomplice.

We were, literally amazed/horrified at how similar we both were to our respective parents. He reminded me of my Dad and I reminded him of his mother. Neither of us liked being bossed about but the genes were there and there was little we could do about it. The fun part was that, most times, we were able to laugh at both our parents and ourselves. 

London - 1991

I was very sorry and sad when Shaun died in 2000. We had become good friends (Dickensian spats notwithstanding) and when I sent him a photograph of the two of us using our hands in a very similar manner, he wrote back in horror: 'I can't be so much like you! I just can't!'  And then in the next sentence, somewhat grudgingly: 'You're quite nice, actually'. 

On the basis of my being 'quite nice, actually,' we went to the States looking for crystals and other esoteric stuff, the likes of which I had never known even existed. He took me to a spiritualist and even paid for me and was furious when the 'guru' said he could tell I didn't believe a word he was saying. Shaun said the least I could've done when I was being paid for was to look as though I believed.

The last time I met Shaun in London, he suddenly had an urge to go up to Norfolk to see his mother. We rushed all over the place and it was dark when we got there. Muriel was pleased to see us and I wished then that I had spent more time with her. She brought out a turquoise ring which I could see had never been worn and gave it to me. I was quite touched.

Muriel died in 1998, about two years before Shaun; after which time he was travelling all over the world with a girlfriend. I think he had an idea of the seriousness of his medical condition and was running away from it. Whatever. He didn't tell me, and others, of his approaching demise, because he didn't want us to see him going down.When it was too late, he left a letter to those of us who he felt had mattered; to say farewell and to thank us for being in his life. Dear Cuz, M.Y.D.S.R.I.P.

For the past nine years or so, Shaun's wife Felicity and I have become firm friends; so similar in nature and temperament. Typical Aquarians, if you believe that sort of thing!

Elizabeth Stothard (Yapp)

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