Phyllis Bingham & the SOE

Discussion in 'WWII (1939 - 1945)' started by euryalus, Feb 11, 2015.

  1. euryalus

    euryalus Well-Known Member

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    I suspect that many users of this site will have folowed the TV series Foyle's War, which featured a mysterious character called Hilda Pierce (well played by Ellie Haddington), who played an important role in the Special Operations Executive, or SOE. I suspect that this ficticious character was based, at last in part, on an actual person known as "Mrs Bingham", or "Hilda Bingham", who recruited agents and other staff for SOE throughout the war, interviewing women at the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) Headquarters in the Vicarage of St Paul’s, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge. The well-bred young ladies posted to SOE were regarded as belonging to “Mrs Bingham’s Unit” or “The Org”.

    I have been trying to find out a little more about Mrs Bingham, but there is a more or less total lack of information about her - indeed, I am beginning to wonder if Bingham was her real name. I can find no records of any marriage, and no obituary in The Times. This may of course reflect the highly secretive nature of her work, but it is nevertheless surprising that this person is so little-known (her male colleagues have received much attention from SOE historians). She is thought to have died around 1977, and may have been a cousin of the SOE boss Sir Colin Gubbins; there is possibly a Scottish connection, but other that that she remains an enigmatic figure. Any ideas?
     
  2. Philippa

    Philippa Always a lady.

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    Here's one reference I found, Euryalus:

    http://www.
    historyinanhour.com/2012/08/04/women-of-the-soe/

    (Link broken as they have a shop.)
     
  3. Philippa

    Philippa Always a lady.

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    And another:

    https://books.
    google.com.au/books?id=YdWkAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA87&lpg=PA87&dq=phyllis+bingham,+FANY&source=bl&ots=kDsncPgWbS&sig=gHNjc3EfOST40Js_jME7R8s4FlE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=TmvbVPnnMOTwmAXhkYGAAw&ved=0CCQQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=phyllis%20bingham%2C%20FANY&f=false
     
  4. LianeH

    LianeH Well-Known Member

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    I've not heard of Phyllis Bingham but I've got a great book at home written by Vera Atkins called A Life in Secrets (on sale at Amazon). She had the same role as 'Phyllis Bingham' in recruiting women for roles in the SOE and after the war she was involved in investigating the war crimes to try to establish what happened to a lot of 'her girls'. A fascinating read and very brave young women
     
  5. Daft Bat

    Daft Bat Administrator. Chief cook & bottle washer! Staff Member

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  6. euryalus

    euryalus Well-Known Member

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    There is ample material on the SOE and its work, but next to nothing on "Mrs Bingham". M.R.D.Foot, perhaps the leading authority on the SOE, does not even include her in his index (although she is mentioned in the text). I have, as a matter of interest, added a FANY badge to the album "Military Cap Badges".
     
  7. PeterG

    PeterG Well-Known Member

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    Have you tried the National Archives catalogue? There are several hits for First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. Enough to fill up a pleasant day in the reading room, I would guess.

    HS 20 looks interesting. "Document to be seen only under supervision". Wowee.
     
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  8. Huncamunca

    Huncamunca The Knowledgeable One

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    I think I may have found her, by a very roundabout route.

    A divorce reported in British and American newspapers in 1942 caught my eye. It was granted in Reno to Robert Worth Bingham jnr (son of a former US ambassador to England). His wife was referred to as 'Dorothy Phyllis Bingham of London' but they are said to have married in Edinburgh in 1927. At the time of the divorce she was said to be in serving in the ATS in England.

    There's a likely looking remarriage in the Westminster district in the last quarter of 1944 of a Dorothy P. Bingham to a James T. Young. The bride is also indexed under the surname Clark, and Scotland's People confirms that the surname of Robert Worth Bingham's bride in 1927 was Clark.

    Dorothy Phyllis Young, wife of James, died in Cairndow, Argyll on 6 May 1974, according to The Times of the following day. The notice said she was formerly of Porsonachan, Argyll.

    All rather speculative up to this point . . . but then, googling for anything about these Youngs in Porsonachan, I found this little snippet somewhere I'd never have thought of looking, even if I'd known it existed (the Pipe Tune Search website):

    http://www.
    pipetunesearch.org/showtune.php?numba=4594

    which would seem to make (Dorothy) Phyllis a good contender for "Mrs Bingham".
     
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  9. thalauafu

    thalauafu R.I.P.

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    This is absolutely nothing to do with the subject of this forum as Huncamunca and others have already unearthed the mysterious Phyllis Bingham, but I just had to share a wee link that I have to the original post. St. Pauls, Wilton Place!

    When I was 13 my parents moved to London where we lived in a mews flat behind the organisation they both then worked for in Belgrave Square. I was sent to the nearest school which was St. Pauls, just off Wilton Place, and this thread brought back a whole raft of memories of the short time I attended before moving to a sister school down near Victoria Station. For those as young as I;), one of my main memories of that time was the pop song "Hot Diggity" sung by Perry Como which we all thought was absolutely wonderful! I still know all the words today, yet I haven't heard it in years!

    For the two years that we lived in Belgrave Mews South, I used to deliver newspapers, and my main delivery area was around there too. One of the people who lived in Wilton Mews was 'Sabrina'. Anyone on here remember her?
    Diana
     
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  10. Philippa

    Philippa Always a lady.

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    The two books I found, Euryalus, do specifically mention Phyllis but I haven't read them so don't know how useful they would be to you. The second refers to her as being "Gamwell's secretary". This is probably Antonia Gamwell and there are lots of references to her via Google. One such is a recorded interview with Antonia Gamwell held at the IWM and the blurb about it describes her as:

    British civilian worked as driver with Scottish Women's Hospital in France, 1914-1915; worked as ambulance driver with First Aid Nursing Yeomanry in Belgium and France, 1915-1918. Served as Corps Unit Commander with First Aid Nursing Yeomanry in GB, Middle East and India, 1940-1946

    I don't know if any biographical information is included that would help you to locate Phyllis in her "other" life, but maybe.......
     
  11. euryalus

    euryalus Well-Known Member

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    I had suspected that "Mrs Bingham" may have been a pseudonym, or, as an alternative, it crossed my mind that she might have re-married. However, thanks to Huncamunca, it now appears that she married twice. We may how have sufficient information to take the story a little further (The difficulty in tracking her down has been made even worse insofar as the heritage origanisation which we are supposed to be helping has denied us access to their on-line resources).

    The FANY documents referred to by PeterG are, I think, the SOE personnel files which contain details of agents such as "Louise" (Violet Szabo) and "Madeline" (Noor Inayat Khan). Antonia Gamwell was Antonia Marian Gamwell (1891-1977), the Commandant of the so-called "free FANIES" who had refused to transfer to the ATS and became associated with SOE - indeed, many of the agents sent into occupied Europe were members of the FANY.
     
  12. Keith

    Keith Member

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    Now that huncamunca has provisionally identified Phyllis Bingham with Mrs James Young of Portsonachan, I can take it a little further.

    Lady Maclean produced a "Cook Book", published in 1966 (I have a 1973 edition). She wrote round to her posh friends, many of them in Scotland and asked them for their own favourite recipes. Each of them typed them out on their own headed notepaper and sent them to Lady M. Each recipe was printed in this form on one page of the book, over 200 in all.

    Mrs James Young of Portsonachan contributed 17 of them. She was unusual amongst them in that she didn't have a title ! There were two Duchesses amongst them, so that gives you some idea of the group. Most of them lived in Castles or large Country Houses, she lived in a house that she ran as a small hotel on the shores of Loch Awe. It was renowned for the quality of its food.

    I will try to upload a scan of one of her pages to give you an idea of what it was like.

    It is interesting that her first marriage was in Edinburgh. I wonder what her family background was.

    I have never cooked any recipe from this book - why I have it is quite another story !

    Keith
     
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  13. Keith

    Keith Member

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    nsandi 1B.jpg

    Here it is ! Unfortunately, unlike most of the contributors, she did not sign her name, just typed it in.
     
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  14. Huncamunca

    Huncamunca The Knowledgeable One

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    How fascinating, Keith! Thank you for sharing details of the cook book. I love the way you can never predict where queries on this forum will end up: from SOE to pipe tunes to Cordon Bleu cookery.

    Here are Robert Worth Bingham and his wife Dorothy Phyllis leaving Southampton in 1938 on the Britannic, bound for New York:

    https://
    familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-22061-15904-83?cc=1923888

    Dorothy Phyllis was then 36 years old, i.e. born about 1902. She's shown as born in London, England, but where it says 'Race or people' she is described as Scottish.

    Perhaps she is the 9 year old Dorothy Phyllis Clark (born Bloomsbury) who is on the 1911 census in a large house in Hampstead with parents Frederick Walter Fell Clark (manufacturer of varnish) and Ada, a younger brother George Francis (6) and a governess, cook, footman, parlourmaid, kitchenmaid and housemaid (RG 14/595, ED 5, schedule no. 4).

    However, this Dorothy's parents are both shown as born in London: is this the wrong family, or is the Scottish connection further back?

    Now for a little aside . . . this isn't at all related to the query but immediately below Mr and Mrs Robert Worth Bingham on that 1938 passenger list is someone rather well known: one Adrian Cedric Boult, then 49 and described as a musician on the typed list (with a hand-written 'conductor' added).
     
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  15. Huncamunca

    Huncamunca The Knowledgeable One

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    I think that must be the right family.

    The New York Sun of 1 June 1938 has Robert Worth Bingham jr and his wife on a list of society folk who were sailing that day for England:

    Robert Worth Bingham Jr., son of the late Mr. Bingham, who served as Ambassador to Great Britain, accompanied by Mrs. Bingham, the former Miss Dorothy Phyllis Clark, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Fell Clark of Argyllshire

    (From the Fulton History website, but found via Google)

    Google also finds some references to Frederick Walter Fell Clark in Scotland. For example, he's described as a J.P. of Glen Caladh on this Masonic website:

    http://www.
    pglargyll.com/past-provincial-grand-masters.html
     
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  16. AnnB

    AnnB Editor in Chief who is Hot off the Press!

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    The nearest I can get (so far) with regards to the marriage of Dorothy Phyllis and Robert is -
    Dundee Courier 4th January 1927
    A marriage has been arranged between Robert, the elder son of Judge Bingham of Glenview, Kentucky, and Dorothy Phyllis, only daughter of and Mrs Fell Clark of Glen Caladh, Argyllshire.

    There is a lot in the internet about the Bingham family - at a quick glance they seem to have been very wealthy and very notorious, even up to fairly recent times.

    Ann
     
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  17. euryalus

    euryalus Well-Known Member

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    The Irish Binghams are of course the Lucans, but "Mrs Bingham" and her friends and associates, including her friend and SOE boss Sir Colin Gubbins, seem to have been Scottish.
     
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  18. Ken_R

    Ken_R Well-Known Member

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    I do. She had a couple of things that made her stand out.:)

    Stop it. I'm having palpitations.;)
     
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  19. euryalus

    euryalus Well-Known Member

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    One of the jokes at that time was "Jayne Mansfield, Hattie Jacques and Sabrina are making a new film - it's called Little Women!"
     
  20. Huncamunca

    Huncamunca The Knowledgeable One

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    and from Sir Adrian Boult to Hattie Jacques . . . wherever next? :rolleyes:
     
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