Short profiles or meetings by Barbara Wace

Written by Barbara in April 1995:

I have always marvelled at the way really busy people with great responsibilities always seem to me organised so as to have enough time to pay attention to you, while the not so great are flustered and frantically overworked all the time. I am sure this ability to make space in the midst of great events is one of the secrets of success.

I remember, for instance, that the General – I forget his name and rank, but he was top boss – in charge of the arrival of supplies to the beaches before D-day, had a quiet picnic lunch with me somewhere on the South Coast actually on the day before the invasion.

In the middle of talks about the possible ceasing of hostilities in 1941, Count Bernadotte of Sweden – who was believed to hold the possibility of peace in his hands – was billeted to the same barracks in North Germany as me, and took time for a leisurely breakfast with me, sitting down at my table, ordering his bacon and eggs and discussing the relative tastes of different Swedish fruits and jams. (nb check on his death which I think was right in the middle of peace negotiations).

Graham Greene – Towards the end of the war when I was with the A.P. in London, I was interviewing a rather social and formidable lady from Kenya to whom I had been introduced by John Foster. He was very insistent I should interview her as she was a great friend and alleged mistress of his friend Sir Walter Moncton, the Attorney General. I hated mixing John and his friends with work, though I found her story interesting – but her very upper class personality was terrifying. I interviewed her in her flat in Mayfair one evening, and when I had finished she asked if I would like to stay on as she had some rather interesting people coming, including John and Graham Greene.

I did not enjoy Johns social occasions and, though I would have loved to meet Graham Greene, I did not want to stay as I was in my Utility clothes – not even my War Correspondents uniform – and felt very dowdy. It was hard to refuse though, and kind of her to ask me – though I winced when she introduced me to Graham Greene and his party as “a little friend from Fleet Street who happened to be interviewing me”. I felt not little, but large, badly dressed and boring – but I wasn’t allowed to stay like that. Graham Greene had sensed her patronizing tone immediately. Taking my arm in his hand he steered me to an empty sofa, sat me down, fetched us drinks, and started an earnest and amusing conversation which completely put me at my ease. Desperately, and quite naturally, the lady from Kenya tried to shift him so he could mix with her other guests. No, no, said Greene firmly, we have so much to talk about – we writers always have so much in common. He stayed with me until I left – much to the relief of my frustrated hostess, I’m sure.

Barbara Wace