Author Topic: Medina Lewis remembers  (Read 6771 times)


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Medina Lewis remembers
« on: October 19, 2011, 09:30:25 PM »
For no particular reason I've started sifting through the several hundred letters I received during the writing of "The Lost Boys", starting in 1976. Among them I found a dozen or more from the wonderful Medina Lewis, then in her 80s. 

Sharon Goode and I met Medina and her sister Eiluned at the suggestion of Nico; they - and their brother Peter - were the so-called "Welsh Lewises", whose home - Glan Hafren, on the banks of the Severn - had provided a haven for Barrie, Michael and Nico during the school holidays throughout the First World War. In 1912, Mrs Lewis had sent Barrie a drawing by her then 4-year old son Peter after listening to "The Little White Bird"; intrigued, Barrie tracked her down, and so began a relationship that lasted for the rest of their respective lives (see page 208, 253 etc in my book, page 438 in Mackail for further info).

Eiluned was the more sophisticated of the two sisters - she was an authoress of some repute and wrote regularly for "Country Life" - while her elder sister Medina was more self-effacing but an absolute charmer, and a formidable adventurer to boot. After having met them both for dinner, I began a correspondence with Medina (Eiluned being busy on a project). Her first letter to me (13 Feb 1976) was typically generous:

Dear Andrew,

 It was so nice to have a word with you on the phone last night. I live alone in a cottage in my brother’s garden, so if you fail to get an answer here you might try him. ... I am so glad you are doing this programme; I feel you will give a true picture of JMB and his boys which has not appeared before. ...

No, Eiluned and I never knew Peter. JMB brought him to stay at our home on his first visit here, but Eiluned and I were both away at boarding school at the time, and thereafter Peter was always fighting in France except for short leaves.  After the war, JMB once asked my mother if Peter could come and stay with us, but for some reason (illness of one of the family I believe) she had to refuse & she always deeply regretted it, for about that time Peter “took up” with a married woman a good deal older than himself [Vera Willoughby] and went to stay with her. This was a great worry to JMB. My mother always felt it was probably rather a mother and son relationship. This may be quite wrong: Nico will know. I should think Peter was probably the one of the boys who felt the loss of his mother most acutely. This is only surmise on my part, but he would have been old enough to appreciate the tragedy of her death, and young enough to miss her physical presence deeply, but you know much more about all this from Nico than I can tell you. JMB once told my mother that when he broke the news of his mother’s death to Michael, the small boy broke into a rage, stamping his feet with fury. Nico I imagine must have been too small to take it in at all.

 After the war, as you will know, Peter opened an antique shop for a time. My father went to see him there and was shocked to find how thin and ill he looked. As Nico says, he seems somehow to have been doomed. I fancy his wife cannot have been very much help. I know Nico told Eiluned how much better his Mary would have been under the circumstances. ...

 That first visit of JMB and Peter to our house was evidently a success as JMB said afterwards in a letter that they talked of it so much that Michael expressed a desire to come too. Up to then, Michael’s one idea of a holiday seems to have been fishing in Scotland. ... I think that these holiday visits, which meant such an enormous amount to us, were also welcome to the boys, for as Eiluned has said they provided a background of family life, complete with sisters of their own age, which the boys had not known before. It was wartime, so many of the large country houses, in which they were later welcome guests, were being used as Red Cross hospitals, or were so depleted in staff that all normal life had more or less ceased. Our home, on the other hand, being of a much humbler type, continued more or less unimpaired. Our coachman and gardeners were old, so not called up, and there were no munition works at hand to absorb our few maids. We had kept our horses and carriages, and were still able to get about, while so many other households - with only cars – were immobile. We did not farm but kept cows, chickens and pigs for our own use, so food was never short. So many young people at that time were rather hungry; I remember how hungry Eiluned and I were in term time at our boarding school near London.  My mother was an excellent housekeeper and always managed to give the boys their favourite dishes, and though it was quite plain wartime fare really, I think it was more interesting than what Mary, their nurse, produced for them at home, and they enjoyed it.
 My father was a very charming man, with a boyish side, and he would enter into all sorts of jokes and nonsense with the boys, which JMB with all his wit could never do.
 I remember one incident, when we had been down to Eton with JMB and Nico, to see Michael play in some house match. Coming back, and walking up the Paddington exit, my mother and JMB were in front, his perpetual cough was worse than usual, and she was very concerned. We young ones were loitering behind at the end of a long hot day, and my father and Nico, one each side of the street, were making faces at each other like a couple of school boys. A taxi came along, JMB hailed it and got in, followed by Nico. My father, as a parting shot, made a “long nose” at Nico, who responded by acting “the death of the Fat Boy” over the back of the open taxi, JMB still coughing and ignorant of the antics going on beside him. “The Death of the Fat Boy” was a wonderful invention of Nico’s, in which with puffed out cheeks and rolling, squinting eyes he gave a life-like representation of an apoplectic fit.* The road was practically empty at the time, but I can still see the puzzled, disapproving expression of one lady passing by.
 The contact with JMB and the boys meant an enormous amount to us in our quiet country life, broken only by boarding school. Of course to them, with their far wider circle, it meant much, much less. After the war the boys’ horizons widened, with more friends and other types of holiday available, and we saw less of them, and after the death of Michael and my father, the visits to our home ceased altogether, tho’ we always kept in touch with JMB.
 Young people did not grow up so fast in those days, and though we were in our young teens, the modern idea of “boyfriend” and “girl friend” never entered our heads; we just larked around and played our games. I remember I had a rather nice blue cardigan with a sash to which Michael had a fancy, and would appropriate and wear whenever he got a chance until he was pursued and had it forcibly removed from him. My mother told me years later that watching us on the lawn one day JMB had remarked, “It is so innocent, it almost hurts,” and on another occasion said, “They mean so much to us, and we mean so little to them.” My mother had replied, “well, that is right, isn’t it? You surely would not have it otherwise.”

 Perhaps his affection for the boys may have been rather intense, but I do not think they found it at all over-powering, except perhaps Michael towards the end, when he realised what hopes and expectations were centered on him.
 I shall be so intensely interested to see how the whole relationship strikes you when you have made all the contacts. I feel you will get it right. Janet Dunbar did not, in spite of having access to so much from Peter, who I feel was clearest sighted over the whole situation. Mackail I feel was little more than conscientiously documentary. ...


Medina and I kept in regular contact throughout the writing and filming of "The Lost Boys", as well as the subsequent book. Later, while I was working with Francis Ford Coppola on his abortive film of "Peter Pan" (ah, that would have been something!), Medina dropped by Zoetrope Studios in the course of her round-the-world voyage (aged 88 - so very typical of her vivacity). Coppola gave her a guided tour of the studio, and received in return perhaps the last living memories of JMB...

* Type in "fat boy" in the database. For other photos of the Lewises, try "Glan Hafren". For a fascinating article about the Lewis family, go to:

« Last Edit: December 08, 2011, 10:33:25 PM by Andrew »

Holly G.

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Re: Medina Lewis remembers
« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2011, 02:24:19 PM »
I love her!!!
This letter moved me a lot, because of its tone. I am going to translate this one as soon as I can.
“They mean so much to us, and we mean so little to them.” How true it is!
I hope you will  have the time to transcribe the other letters.
Many thanks for this one.


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Re: Medina Lewis remembers
« Reply #2 on: December 08, 2011, 06:58:55 PM »
I had not stopped by for a while and when I did, I was delighted to see this letter of Medina Lewis transcribed!  I hope that somehow we can read some more of her letters - she offers a different perspective on events - a bit outside the usual family or male schoolfriends, that make up so much of what we know of Barrie and the boys at this time.

I remember once reading an article published I believe in Country Life, where Eiluned gave some of her memories of their visits.

Thank you so much Andrew! ;D

And I love the "fat boy"!  Nico was so funny! 
« Last Edit: December 08, 2011, 07:04:19 PM by ecb »