Part One

A ‘Fin de Siècle’ baby boy

According to his birth certificate, my father, Robert Julian Yeatman, was registered in Westminster on the 15th of July 1897. At the time, the family home was at 82 Ashley Gardens, London SW1, in Westminster. His father was Harry Oswald Yeatman (port wine shipper born 19th November 1856, died 13th January 1919) and his mother was Benedicta Katherine Yeatman (maiden name Page, born in November 1861 and died 8th September 1924). Harry and Benedicta were married on the 10th of April 1894. My father told me that, in fact, he was born at a maternity clinic in Oakley Street, Chelsea, London SW3. Mother and child were taken to the family home and his birth was registered in Westminster.

An Edwardian Family

My grandparents' family were part of that fortunate socio economic group who could afford to employ four or five live-in servants. Outside the main house, there was a coachman and his wife in a coach house. When my grandfather bought an early Daimler motor car the coachman became a chauffeur. It was all very 'upstairs, downstairs' and paternalistic. Servants often had employment into old age. Nannies were an especially cherished part of the family. The Victorian era was ending. Her Majesty Queen Victoria died on the 22nd of January 1901, marking the dawn of the twentieth century. Although my grandfather HO Yeatman's business ended up being mainly in London, he started out in the family's port wine business in the north of Portugal. He lived in the family mansion, Quita da Boeira, in Vila Nova de Gaia (above the town of Oporto). He managed the family firm of Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman, makers of Taylor's Port. Oporto town sits right by the River Douro and the air is very humid.

Port wine and the family business

My grandfather, HO Yeatman, went initially to work in Oporto and he ran the Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman (Taylor's Port 1692) business. Oporto itself has an extremely humid climate, whereas the family home Quinta da Boeira was far less damp, being higher up, across the Eiffel Bridge into Vila Nova de Gaia. In common with so many historic mansions, Quinta da Boeira is now open to the public. Grandfather had to work at the family port wine lodge in the town and the humidity gave him lung problems. His younger brother, Frank Yeatman, did not seem to suffer from the damp air. Great-Uncle Frank took on the business in Oporto and my grandfather returned to London to join his firm of importers and distributors, Dent, Urwick & Yeatman. Not only did this firm of wine merchants, in Upper Thames Street London, EC4, import and market Taylor's Port and other brands of port wine, they also shipped and distributed the finest French table wines, champagnes and brandy. Before homes had central heating, port wine sold best in countries with a cold climate. Port wine is a winter warmer.

Because Russia endures very cold winters, wealthy Russian aristocrats bought, stored and consumed the finest port wines. Just as now, a variety of rich Russians came to London and some of them maintained homes in the UK. The Russians were very good customers. My father mentioned to me that the disturbing events in Russia in 1904 and 1905 (and in the later years) worried my grandfather.

Evidently, my grandfather was quite good at music and it must have been a solace to him in

these difficult times. It was what influenced my father to take up the French horn at Marlborough.

My grandmother and her Page family brothers

My grandmother, born Benedicta Katherine Page (1861-1924), had two brothers: Marmaduke Page (1860-1942), who became a distinguished anaesthetist, and Cecil Page (1863- 1951), who ran the Page family's business, called Hunt Roope Port Wine Shippers. Great-Uncle Marmaduke died in 1942 and I never met him.

A typically Edwardian outlook

Nowadays, there is the opportunity for people to get away with being anonymously nasty about each other via their 'devices'. In past ages where communication was not distanced by technology on screens, it was customary to be extremely polite. For those who could, dressing in a correct, and often formal manner was expected. Being well dressed tended to create an atmosphere of courtesy. Ladies and gentlemen of that day had high standards:

a) Set an example.

b) Toujours la politesse. Always be polite.

c) Take responsibility.

d) Look after others first.

e) Dress in the correct manner.

f) Be modest and never brag.

Young Julian's prep school

What sort of a life would young Julian have had during this extraordinary time? The industrial revolution and what followed did create significant wealth. As well, it caused great amounts of sickening poverty. Julian was fortunate to have been born into a prosperous merchant family, living in one of the better districts of central London. Yet, the town itself was extremely polluted. The home and commercial coal fires filled the air with thick pea-soup fogs which blocked out sunlight. A lack of sunlight combined with a diet low in vitamin D and calcium caused Julian to contract rickets. He had a small hump on his back. Being sent to prep school, aged 7, to Fonthill in the countryside, might have helped his health. In addition to contracting rickets, he suffered from poor eyesight and was obliged to wear glasses from an early age. In spite of these disadvantages, Julian succeeded both in sport and in his school work. Hate was not an emotion he often expressed, but he did tell me that he felt hate for the way he was treated at Fonthill Prep School. Nevertheless, he formed a good friendship with the Assistant Master of Classics, (Charles) Gordon Jelf, who was, like Julian's father, an Old Marlburian. My father was also due to go to Marlborough. Gordon Jelf, was a British subject born in Berlin on the 29th of January 1834. He joined The Times newspaper as an assistant correspondent in Berlin from 1911. He left at the outbreak of the war in 1914. Jelf served as a second lieutenant in the 6th Battalion of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment) and was killed in action at the Battle of Loos on the 13th of October 1915.

International events affected Grandfather's business

The year 1904 saw the start of the Russo-Japanese war, a conflict between Imperial Russia and Imperial Japan over territorial expansion into East Asia. This conflict has been suggested as an example of the first major war employing the power of new science and new manufacturing industry.

These were worrying years for those engaged in overseas trade. Although my father was far too young to have been aware of it at the time, when he was older he heard from my grandfather about the fears caused by the events in Russia.

In 1905 the Russo-Japanese war came to a head. For strategic reasons Russia had leased Port Arthur (Lushun in China) and Imperial Russian forces moved into Manchuria. When Russia failed to withdraw from Manchuria, the Japanese feet attacked the Russian ships in Port Arthur and the Japanese put siege to the Port. In January of 1905 twenty thousand Russian troops surrendered to the Japanese forces. Things got worse for Imperial Russia in March of 1905 when the Russian army of about a quarter of a million men were cut off and in twelve days the Imperial Japanese forces prevailed.

For over a year the Russians built up their feet in the Baltic with the object of sailing all the way to the Russian base at Vladivostok, so as to take on the Japanese navy. This Russian Fleet steamed away from the Baltic Sea and reached the Strait of Tsushima towards the end of May 1905. The Japanese warships were waiting and they came out of the fog, with complete surprise, to destroy this Russian Fleet. The Russo-Japanese war ended with the signing of the treaty of Portsmouth. Japan occupied all of Korea and a great part of Manchuria.

International Trade 1904-1905

It is worth recalling that Winston Churchill rose to speak in the house to support a censure motion against his own government on the 29th of March 1904. The Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, left the front bench and walked out of the Commons. This was the year of the entente cordiale and Balfour had been one of the architects. The entente cordiale may be an abiding image of Edwardian Britain.

However, one of the burning questions at the time was Free Trade, as it is today. In April 1904, with the backing of the Liberals, Churchill stood as a Free Trade candidate in the constituency of Manchester North West. This did not go well for young Winston. At the end of May, Winston Churchill crossed the house to sit on the Liberal benches.

Instability in Tsarist Russia

Politicians and those engaged in international trade were shocked by the developments in Russia. In January of 1905, the Prussian King Willhelm II had urged the Tsar of Russia to stop the war against Japan, and the American President Theodore Roosevelt had offered to arbitrate as a peacemaker. The Tsar may not, even then, have had sufficient control over the leaders of his armed forces.

The war went ahead. Inside Russia itself things were getting bad. On the 22nd of January 1905 a Russian Orthodox priest called Father Gapon was leading a group of ordinary working people in a peaceful demonstration outside the Winter Palace in St Petersburg when they were fired on by the Tsar's guard and at least five hundred of the demonstrators were killed. The body count included women and children. As well as those who were killed, unknown numbers of people were wounded. On the 27th of June 1905 (after the Japanese had destroyed the Russian naval force at Tsushima) in Odessa, a mutiny took place on the battleship Potemkin. This mutiny was destined to become an icon of the Russian Revolution. In 1894 the French had signed an alliance with Russia and in 1907 the Anglo-Russian Convention (also known as the Anglo-Russian Entente) was signed. However, the situation inside Russia continued to deteriorate and this was a worry for the port wine businesses of my grandfather and his family.

The Entente Cordiale

My father's family were all enthusiastic supporters of the 'Entente Cordiale'. After Edward died in 1910, George V ascended the throne. This heralded a more sober period in Britain. But, in Paris and some other places in France such as Monte Carlo, La Belle Epoque danced on. Very early in his life, my father decided to learn to speak and write French. There were two main reasons for this, the first being that his father, HO Yeatman, shipped fine French wines (and brandy) into Britain and, my father was keen to accompany his father on trips to France. The second reason was that Julian loved paintings and sculpture. French art and fashion dominated the scene. Julian did have talent and, at one point, he considered training as an artist; it was not to be. As an Edwardian who strongly supported the entente cordiale, my father was fascinated by La Belle Epoque, and art was an important influence on young Julian.

Schoolboys like my father got hold of French magazines. This was strictly against school rules. My father's parents turned a blind eye to that sort of thing during the holidays. It may seem very odd today that these magazines were considered immoral. A variety of publications from France were illegal in Britain and they were smuggled in. The very popular magazine La Vie Parisienne was available. This classy magazine consisted of a mix of French political satire, coupled with sexy illustrations and innuendo-laden cartoons. The lovely fashion pictures appealed to British adults and, of course, schoolboys.

Boys of my father's generation loved French culture and that of Paris in particular. Even as a very young lad, my father was an avid reader. He absorbed the works of Charles Dickens, and of Arthur Conan Doyle and Walter Scott. We had complete sets of their books in the big mahogany bookcase in our small living room. Julian wrote his first stories at prep school when he was about 8 years old. Perhaps this heralded Julian as the author he became as an adult. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that my father was a big fan of Marcel Proust (1871- 1922). The stories by Proust in his early published work "Ple asures and Days" (1896) entranced young Julian.

The divine Sarah Bernhardt was the toast of the Paris stage. When she was young, she projected a cheeky gamine attraction that amused and enticed her audience. She was often referred to as the 'girl with the golden voice'. By 1915, following a long and very successful career in theatre, she suffered a leg to be amputated and she decided to appear seated on stage. Sarah was born in 1844 and she died in 1923. The boys of my father's generation adored her.

Uncle Cecil

Uncle Cecil was my father's favourite Uncle. My father and I, separately or together, used to visit Uncle Cecil at his large fat near the Hurlingham Club. I was a member of that club, so, after swimming or tennis, I would pop in to see Cecil. As he got older, Cecil would call me Julian by mistake. I thought it best not to cause distress by correcting him. Cecil told me about his decision to ship, at low cost, Hunt Roope port wine in barrels, as ballast, in the fishing boats that sailed from the Douro River out to the cod-fishing grounds around Newfoundland. Salt cod, known as Bacalao, is one of the staple foods of Portugal. The Hunt Roope port wine was cellared in Newfoundland for five years. After that, Cecil had the wine shipped and landed in the UK under Imperial Preference. This gave the wine a tax break which helped the selling price. The wine, branded as Hunt Roope's Newfoundland, was sold in pubs as port and lemon, a favourite with women. An unforeseen benefit was that the wine had acquired an unusual favour. Customers enjoyed Newfoundland Port. Uncle Cecil made enough money to retire young and he became one of the best amateur tennis players of his day. His doubles partner was an extremely tall Russian aristocrat. I don't know if this Russian gentleman was the same Russian duke whose picture is displayed in the Wimbledon Tennis Museum. Just as the Russian connection impacted on my grandfather's firm, it was, to a lesser extent, something that concerned Uncle Cecil.

Uncle Cecil and South Africa

During our pleasant chats, Uncle Cecil would, occasionally, bring up the subject of the Boer War. Is that one of those 'forgotten' wars? It was a conflict that took place between 1899 and 1902, when Cecil was a young businessman in the merchant adventurer mould. The Afrikaner 'Boers' (literally meaning farmers) of Dutch and/or Huguenot origin had founded the Cape Colony in 1652. Their language is known as Afrikaans. In 1898/1899 the leader of the Afrikaners decided not to allow political rights for the British colonists, whom they referred to as Uitlanders (literally meaning foreigners). As a result of this, war broke out. The Boers employed guerrilla tactics with considerable effect. One of the most controversial aspects of this war was that, in order to contain them, Boer civilians were interned in so- called 'concentration camps': words now associated with the Second World War German Nazi extermination camps. The British were not attempting any form of ethnic cleansing. Nonetheless, it is sad and depressing to relate that over twenty thousand people lost their lives in these camps. This was (and is) a disgraceful scar on the reputation of Britain. In the wider conflict itself, thousands of people were killed. No reliable figures are available for those wounded and maimed. In wartime the devastating effect of bad diseases is often underestimated. The Anglo-Boer war created conditions of poor sanitation, malnutrition and parasite infestations, plus the spread of other illnesses particular to Africa. All of this caused great suffering and death both in the internment camps and during the Boers' sieges of Ladysmith, Mafikeng and Kimberley. The war brought the loss of homes, farms, businesses and livelihoods. The British, under Kitchener and Roberts, defeated the Boers and the Peace of Vereeniging was signed in 1902.

Uncle Cecil's second big idea ahead of its time

Nowadays, we are used to buying 'New World' wines from the shelves of our supermarkets and shops. Uncle Cecil had the extraordinary foresight, as early as the beginning of the twentieth century, to spot the potential opportunity of shipping wines from South Africa. What I gathered from my conversations with Uncle Cecil was that he had taken a sailing ship down to the Cape with the intention of setting up business with the Cape's fledgling wine makers. Obviously, the horrific effects of the Boer War put an end to Uncle Cecil's ambitions in South Africa. This rankled with Cecil, as he felt that he'd been thwarted by the stupidity of war. Cecil never married, but he did support two ladies. My closest friend, Ian Bond, who is a chartered accountant, and I acted as trustees for these ladies. In their old age, they were looked after in different care homes by this trust set up by Cecil.

Julian at Marlborough (1910 - 1914)

Marlborough College was founded as a school for the sons of the clergy, gradually becoming a public school for a wide variety of upper middle-class students.

After his spectacular victory at the battle of Blenheim in 1704, John Churchill was granted the title Duke of Marlborough. His victory changed the balance of power in Europe. Because of this association with the glorious Marlborough name, the school enthusiastically trained boys in the cadet force to be potential officers for the British Army. My father, Julian, was academically above average in all subjects and best in the arts. His older brother, Harry; was gifted in science and mathematics. I don't know if Harry was successful in sports. My grandfather must have been good at at least one sport because I found a velvet cap of his amongst my father's caps. My father was described by a contemporary as a 'good-looking boy' and a brilliant essay writer and athlete. Julian was Captain of his house at hockey and cricket. He was a leading three-quarter-line player in the school rugby team, and a good rackets player. There were several Marlborough velvet caps on his dressing table at home. Like his father, my father played a wind instrument in a school band at Marlborough.

Julian was born on the 15th of July 1897 Christmas 1897 was a joyous time for the family.

(Pictures are from the illustrated London News’ Christmas 1897 edition)