Idina Sackville: A WW1 marriage

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Idina Sackville & Euan Wallace. A First World War marriage.

Idina_SackvilleAlthough Idina and Euan were definitely from the top drawer of society, the sad story of their marriage must have happened to so many couples during the First World War.

They were both quite young when they married. Idina was twenty and Euan less than a year older. They both enjoyed parties, dancing and having fun.

They were madly in love.

She was a sparkling socialite and he was a dashing army captain. They were married in 1913, just a few months before war was declared. Euan came from a very wealthy family and the couple seemed to have everything in place to have a successful and happy life together.

Within a month of their marriage, Idina became pregnant and, after her first son was born, the other wasn’t too far behind. But my that time, he husband was in France fighting with his regiment.

Sometimes he came home on leave – not very often – and when he did, the couple made the most of every moment by going out to parties, dancing and spending happy hours together. Idina even made the dangerous journey to Paris when they discovered that it was easier for Euan to get leave to visit the city than to get back to England.

At first, they wrote to each other every day – long and loving letters.

Whenever he could get leave, he’d be back with Idina in England. They visited friends and went to dinner parties. Idina’s younger sister, now eighteen, joined in with her female friends. Those times together were hectic – one never knew what the future held. Their credo was to live for the moment.

Then, the couple we delighted because Euan was sent back to England to attend a training course. They were elated – they could be together in England for four months.Idina became ill with bronchitis. Euan called for a doctor and saw that she was attended to but he saw no reason why he should spend his leave nursing her – you can’t really blame him. Once he returned to the horrors of the war in France, he never knew if this moment would be his last. He escorted Idina’s sisters and her female friends instead. And Idina’s illness became worse. She needed an operation and physiotherapy. She was bedridden. But she couldn’t ask her husband miss enjoying himself. She didn’t see him for six weeks as he travelled to house parties when he wasn’t attending his training course.

With the frantic situation in Europe, morality was changing.  Extramarital affairs were now becoming acceptable. When Idina had recovered and before Euan returned to France, they went to a few parties together but went their own ways as soon as they arrived. Idina realised that her marriage was crumbling. She decided that if the marriage was going to fail, she wouldn’t be the one who was left abandoned and alone. When Euan returned to France she didn’t see him off at the station and soon embarked on an affair of her own.

She was twenty five in November 1918. Just after the end of the war she wrote to Eun asking for a divorce. When he returned, they discussed the matter, seemingly amicably. They had been married for five years, had two children but yet they had spent less than eighteen months together because of the war.

Idina was determined to make anew life in East Africa. The problem was the children. They both wanted the boys to be educated in England,of course. And Euan didn’t want them to be disrupted. He didn’t want them to be travelling from England to East Africa at the whim of their parents. They could not come to an agreement. The only alternative was to make the marriage work. Euan told her that he was happy to take her back,despite her affair but she must make up her mind within two weeks. Two weeks passed and she didn’t contact him. In March 1919, he started divorce proceedings. His money greased the wheels of the divorce. It took only a few weeks whereupon Idina married her lover and left for East Africa – leaving behind her family and her two sons.

Both sons were killed in action in the Second World War.

War had broken her marriage and later, war took her two sons. Idina married several more times and was involved in various scandals throughout her life. In later life,she always maintained that she should have stayed with Euan. She had a photograph of him by her bed when she died in 1955.

Fast forward

In 1983, Frances Osborne was thirteen years old and had been reading about the East African Happy Valley Set and their scandalous lives. One of the members of this group was a woman called Idina Sackville. In the book you see here,she describes how with a twinkle in his eye, her father turned to her mother and said ‘you’ve got to tell her’. What was the big secret?

Frances discovered that Idina had been her great-grandmother.

When Frances was twenty one, a relative died and her family received a pile of photograph albums and cardboard boxes full of papers and journals.  Later, her mother gave her a large box containing Euan’s diaries. There were also two old briefcases ‘overflowing with photographs and letters’.

Using these, along with additional research, she created the book you see here which is full of photographs and extracts from journals and letters.

The story above about  Idina’s first marriage is only a small part of her story.She was married and divorced five times. She was involved in many scandals. One of her ex-husbands was bizarrely murdered.  Her life tumbled through chaos.

They say that the truth is stranger than fiction. This book will show you why.


Hear about the book from the author



Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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