Authors and Book Reviews  

April 10 - 17, 2000


 Coastweek   Kenya

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Coastweek - - IN THE EARLY HOURS of 24 January 1941, Kenya's Assistant Military Secre-tary, Captain the Hon. Josslyn Victor Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll was shot at point blank range on a lonely road in Karen, the outskirts of Nairobi in the Colony of Kenya.

The bullet which ended this particular life succeeded also in setting off half a century of speculation, at a time when death was an hourly occurrence among men in uniform, through-out Europe, during the Second World War.

It was alleged that the motive the Earl of Erroll's murder, was a crime committed in revenge.

Jealously was an obvious enough motive, especially since the Earl, whose reputation as a seducer par excellence, of married women, was well know.

'Joss' as his friends called him, had been conducting a very public affair with Diana, the bride of Sir Jock Delves Broughton.

This newly married couple had wed in South Africa barely six weeks earlier.

Coastweek - - Kenya's
Assistant Military Secretary,
Captain the Hon. Josslyn
Victor Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll

Therefore Broughton was obviously the most likely candidate to have taken his revenge.

After a sensational trial, which enlivened the pages of the tabloids for weeks in South Africa and London, he was acquitted however.

The case fell part on the ballistics evidence and the Coroner brought in the verdict, 'murder by persons unknown.'

The case continued to generate endless speculation, was never re-investigated, and thus the Erroll murder became one of the last century's great unsolved crimes: the 'Happy Valley' coterie became synonymous with the scandal.

My own brush with the clique was with Idina, nee Sackville, Joss's first wife who had abandoned her fourth husband when I met her.

I was a young girl, having departed from post war Britain, when I was newly transplanted to Kenya in the Fifties.

The a 'Mau Mau Emergency' was at its height (I never heard the expression 'Happy Valley' - until 'White Mischief' was published in the 'Eighties.)

However since writing my first biography, 'Silence Will Speak' about Denys Finch Hatton, I have frequently been on the receiving end of resentment for the Happy Valley set.

The (British) residents of Kenya have been ill at ease for years with the popular but dismissive attitude towards themselves and their sybaritic way of life; the accusation that this had been created largely by Erroll, the king-pin and his murder, has slipped into legend as the 'White Mischief Murder' gene-rated more muck-raking.

Rumour depicted a nauseous picture of Colonial Europeans and today I have to say that their resentment about exaggerated tales of debauchery among a glamorous bunch of aristocratic European settlers, has been thoroughly justified.

The coterie in question, amounted to less than a dozen characters.

If Kenya's (Colonial) reputation has suffered badly from this unsolved murder, what has emerged while researching during the past five years for my new biography, "The Life and Death of Lord Erroll", is that the gossip was clever propaganda, a smoke screen which has been steadfastly fuelled so as to protect those who arranged for the killing of Erroll in 1941.

The implication has successfully been planted that the former British Colony was filled with wastrels, decadent people, who were too arrogant to do a hand's turn.

And every time there has been any coverage, a subject which has proliferated down the years, the image has been regurgitated, aided and abetted relentlessly.

So I was quite surprised to discover that the Earl of Erroll, far from being a thoroughly bad lot, had not got his just desserts, and nor had he lost his life as the result of a crime of passion.





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