where detectives loaf about the village

In 1931, Dr Maurice Hammoneau gave an interview to the Evening Post about the French Foreign Legion

Belgian Foreign Legion found here

“France wants no gangsters, thieves or murderers to serve her flag. How are such men detected if they happen to enlist? France is thorough in such matters. Detectives have two chances of picking them out. First is at the depot in Marseilles and second at the distribution point in Africa where they remain for five days.

France’s most notorious gangster, Jacques Mesrine found here

They are still in civilian clothing so detectives are able to single out particular garments; an American hat, a pair of Italian shoes or an English suit. The recruits are studied carefully and then are passed on to training barracks in tiny villages. Even here they are not free from supervision, for detectives loaf about the village and watch them.

Detective found here

Sometimes the Legion suffers from an occasional desertion in peacetime but there has only ever been one wartime desertion. Hammoneau declined to give that man’s nationality or any particulars. “Caffard got him” he says. “the word translates into cockroach – imagine a cockroach gnawing at a man’s brain.”

Live cockroach brooch found here

I wonder if this is the same Frenchman I’ve been reading about in The Literary Life and Other Curiosities by Robert Hendrickson…..

Sold at auction in 1978 was a twenty one volume series about animals by Maurice Hammonneau. The author had hunted down each animal described and used the appropriate animal skin to bind each volume. Included was a book on human beings, but no explanation was given about the source of the cover.


book bound in human skin found here

two kippers and a bottle of gin

If I were a real nurse and if the Gimcrack were a real hospital, I would have liked Marion Wrottesley as a patient….

“At the age of seven Marion was shipped off to England, but her education at a girls’ school in the Cotswolds was swiftly terminated when an aunt heard another pupil say “Pardon”. She was transferred to the more exclusive Felixstowe Ladies’ College, where she learnt to dance and play the piano.

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Back in Shanghai in 1940, aged only 17, she married Sean Rainey, an Irishman then serving as a private in the Seaforth Highlanders. This was partly a strategic move to get out of China: the Raineys duly moved to Bangalore. Here two children were born, and young Mrs Rainey served briefly as recruiting officer for the Black Watch while learning about “the sins of gin” and how to mix dry martinis.

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Such skills made her welcome when she arrived as a young divorced woman in austere post-war London and fell in with upper-class rebels such as the Labour minister’s daughter Lydia Noel-Burton, who always carried on her person two kippers and a bottle of gin.

Gin and Tonic Cupcakes

In 1949 Marion met an Old Harrovian, Dick Wrottesley, in the Bag of Nails nightclub. The heir to Lord Wrottesley reputedly locked her in the lavatory until she had agreed to marry him.

In spite of blissful summers at Wrottesley, near Wolverhampton, where the family had lived for 900 years, and the birth of their son Mark, the marriage broke down quickly. Dick Wrottesley had already told his wife: “I only married you for your tarty qualities.”

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In the early 1960s Marion returned penniless to “Swinging London” where, in 1964, her son Michael would open the fashionable outfitters Hung on You in Chelsea Green. At the reception following Michael Rainey’s marriage to Jane Ormsby-Gore, Marion was assured by the bride’s father, Lord Harlech, that his own family was “full of pisspots”. On learning that Brian Jones and Keith Richards were also present, she declared: “I must find myself a Rolling Stone.”

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During this era Marion also formed a close bond with her playboy stepson Richard Wrottesley, who first hit the headlines in 1966 when his Bentley was found upside down in the snow outside the Palace Hotel at St Moritz. At his regency-style flat in St James’s Street, young “Wrotters” introduced his stepmother to his less respectable friends, such as the East End gangsters Ronald and Reginald Kray.

Reggie Kray with Shirley Bassey

For the remainder of her life, Marion Wrottesley lived mainly in bedsitters in Chelsea, Kensington, Earl’s Court and further afield. Though a gifted story-teller she never gave in to pressure to write her memoirs. Instead she flourished on National Assistance (her card was crudely marked “Alcoholism”) and became a character in London pubs where she began the day with Fernet Branca or Carlsberg Special.

Published in: on August 14, 2010 at 8:52 am  Comments (42)  
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