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21 December 1975

Extract from a letter from Nico Llewelyn Davies to Andrew Birkin, 21 December 1975

Since my last letter to you - mainly concerning Peter's death - I've been thinking I should tell you a detail or two about George's and Michael's as they will presumably crop up (the deaths, I mean!) in your trilogy whereas Peter's of course was years later.

George. Killed "in action" 15 March 1915 (Ides of March!). One night, presumably between 16 and 23 March, I and Mary Hodgson (in fact an extremely intrinsic character in our set-up - eventually chiefly in "my" set-up, but a peculiarly vital piece in each of our personal jigsaws) were sleeping in the night-nursery at 23 Campden Hill Square. I, 11 years old; Michael at Eton 14; Peter in the K.R.R.C. at Sheerness 18; Jack in the Navy 20; Uncle Jim in his third floor flat at Robert Street, Adelphi. Suddenly there came a banging on the front door, and the front door-bell ringing and ringing. Mary got out of bed and went downstairs, while I sat half up with ears pricked etc. Voices soon came up the stairs and seemed to stop just short of our floor, though they may have gone into the day-nursery next door. Uncle Jim's voice was of the eerie, Scots, Banshee wail sort of thing of which the only words I sort of remember are: "Ah-h-h-h - they'll all go, Mary - Jack, Peter, Michael, and even little Nico - this awful war will get them all!" A little later, realising I was awake, he came and sat on my bed for a bit, but I can remember nothing of this. I have an idea that this time I didn't blub - can't think why not! He stayed the night, I fancy, in a room downstairs - used to be Mother's, then George's: I vividly remember all the brothers being there next day, or the day after, and I can see Jack standing by the dining-room window looking down the square with big tears dropping to the floor. For myself, my chief feeling was, I think, thrill at seeing Jack and Peter in their uniforms. Without doubt, George's death made ALL the difference to the future of each one of us in that room. He was the level-headed one.

Michael. 19 May 1921 - due to come of age on 16 June. On that Thursday I had had an extra-good day; at cricket that afternoon at Eton, playing for the VIII and others against the XI on Upper Club I had kept wicket brilliantly - particularly to the great George Hirst who said that one of my catches was about the best he'd ever seen (!) and had also made a good many runs and I could seriously think I might get my Eleven this year; followed by a Musical Society Evening where I had been singing my heart out. At about 10 PM, shortly after "Lights Out", my door opened and my tutor came into the room and said he had something bad tell me etc etc. Nothing certain etc, but it appears that Michael and a friend went bathing and they haven't returned and they think they may have had an accident and been drowned - I'd better stay out of Early School tomorrow. When he left me, I got out of bed, prayed, looked out of the window - a glorious moonlit night - didn't believe a word of it, thought how splendid to miss Early School, and had a wonderful sleep. Next morning, just after I'd heard the last Early School boys scampering away, my door opened and who should walk into my room (7:30 AM) but my brother Peter! That did it of course, and the tears came. Something of a relief to dear Peter that I "knew". We were getting through it all right until my earlier (and much loved) tutor, now Vice-Provost, Hugh Macnaghten (Michael had been his favourite boy) came into the room, knelt by the bed, one hand to Peter, one to me, all very dramatic and weepie for me though the splendid Peter could wink at me! Peter and I motored to Slough for breakfast and then on to the Flat. Into the famous study. Who actually was there I don't remember - Uncle Jim hadn't been to bed - probably Cynthia, maybe another or two - Uncle Jim's immediate reaction on seeing me was "Oh - take him away!" Strangely I don't remember feeling hurt at this - rather did I understand in some way how my very closeness to Michael made his more or less uncontrollable grief even more uncontrollable. Peter, anyway, looked after me for a bit.

My first "duty" was to go and break the news to Mary Hodgson who, at this date, was working as a midwife for Queen Charlotte's Hospital. I was riding on the top of a bus, and saw Mary walking along the street. It was a pretty ghastly hour we got through. I was discouraged (praise the Lord!) from going to the funeral and went to stay in Cannon Hall with the du Mauriers - about half a mile from the church.

I've always had something of a hunch that Michael's drowning was suicide - he was in a way the "type" i.e. exceptionally clever with varying moods. He couldn't swim a yard, though Rupert Buxton with whom he drowned (also exceptionally clever) was a very good swimmer - but why did they choose a known danger spot which already had a memorial announcing a death by drowning? When "found", their arms were round each other. Most presume one went to save the other - probably correct - but which? In a strange way I would prefer it to have been intentional rather than accidental. [...]