At the remarkable age of 105 Lady Milverton died on 11 September 2010.
Benda Whitehead, beautiful daughter of an eccentric Colonial Police Officer in Malaya,
was wooed by Arthur Richards, then a senior officer in the Secretariat. When Whitehead
violently opposed their match Richards continued to pursue her. They eloped and married
without his consent. He rose to be Governor of North Borneo, Gambia, Fiji, Jamaica and
finally Nigeria where 1 met them on the gubernatorial yacht at Onitsha in 1945.
1 was really too junior to be invited but we had met at a jumble sale I was running for the
Win The War Fund. Sir Arthur must have decided 1 deserved a reward and summoned me to
the party on board. We had a long talk about books. Two years later I was summoned
again to be his ADC - much against my will as I was essentially a Bush officer.
I found Lady Richards the archetypal Governor's wife, gracious and devoted to the support
of her husband. She was also still a beautiful woman. Life for me was far from easy. Sir
Arthur required few hours sleep and was very demanding. At table he could be rude to the
point of cruelty with those like Mrs Creech Jones, the Colonial Secretary's wife who was a
guest and whose views he decried. It was embarrassing and distressing for his wife. She
kept loyally mum.
We met again after retirement. 1 was a volunteer manager of the Country Houses
Association which had rented Flete from the Mildmays. Lady Benda came late for lunch,
and seeing me there paused dramatically at the entrance and exclaimed "My God! My past
is catching up with me." After that we had much to talk about - not just old times. She led
a very active and worthwhile retirement, painting, playing her beloved piano, buzzing about
the country in her little car - and also sunbathing starkers on the sheltered balcony of her
apartment. She was an inveterate traveller, a great character and a good companion.
1 happened to be there when she received a copy of Old Sinister, Dick Peel's biography of
Lord Milverton, and also when the nickname was given by the young men in the
Secretariat. She was distressed. I hastened to assure her that it was a term of affection! It
was a comfort but I do not suppose she quite believed me.
Her lifelong support of the Red Cross from its foundation in 1921 was rewarded in 2004
when she was 100 and guest of honour at the Devon Festival of Remembrance. She
continued to collect until the year of her death. Even that occurred by accident. She had
always eschewed the lift and eventually fell on the stairs.
She was for many years a member of our Association and truly a great lady.