Norman Smith – cleaning up after Edward VIII
Norman had retired before I met him in the Maldon area some years ago. At the beginning of his career he had found himself working in Austria as the manager for a British dry-cleaning firm, Achille Serre.
In the late nineteen-thirties Britain experienced what we now refer to as the Abdication Crisis. Our present queen’s grandfather, George the Fifth died in December 1935 and was succeeded by her uncle, who was proclaimed King, as Edward the Eighth. He had been popular with many of his subjects but was notorious as a play-boy. His affaires with married women were taken rather more seriously than they might be today and the prospect of his latest woman friend, a twice-divorced socialite, becoming queen horrified many people. You may remember the concern after Princess Diana’s death, when Prince Charles set out to marry Camilla, the present Duchess of Cornwall. Opposition to Mrs Simpson, in nineteen thirty-six, was far, far more powerful. It was a time of great poverty and mass unemployment and their way of life in which they seemed to show off their wealth and easy life-style caused much resentment. Politicians and church leaders were determined that Mrs Simpson should under no circumstances join Edward as his queen.
Edward the Eight realised that he could not force his woman friend on the British populace and resigned, abdicated as we call it, almost a year later and his younger brother became George the Sixth, father of our present queen. Edward and Mrs Simpson left the country for France, where they were married and then set off for Austria where they were to spend their honeymoon in a castle belonging to wealthy friends, the Rothschilds. This is where Norman took up his contribution to this story, a contribution that few people will have heard but which tells us a good deal about this couple who had now become the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Norman ran the dry-cleaners in this particular Austrian town and knew well the people who ran lots of the shops and small businesses there. Soon there were orders from the castle, for food and drink and for other items that they required. Wealthy people then would not have paid for individual items, but would have settled accounts regularly, probably on a monthly basis. They would have been trusted to do this and, in fact, a business that refused to trust wealthy people and insisted on cash payments would have lost business. In other words, small businesses would have had no option but to trust these aristocratic visitors to pay their bills.
It was not until the honeymooners had moved on after some six weeks that Norman began to hear from his business neighbours. The bills of the aristocracy tend to be large bills and these poor people had been left high and dry. They were desperate. The behaviour of the Windsors was that of the worst of high-handed aristocrats who had no concern for people whom they regarded as social inferiors, of little or no importance, whose misfortunes they regarded as none of their business.
And then the matter was resolved. Their situation had come to the attention of the new King, George the Sixth, who saw that they were paid.
What did people dislike about the man who became Edward the Eighth?
Why do you think this story about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor was not well-known?