Lady Decima Guggisberg, C.B.E.

Contributed by Daniel Guggisberg

Place of BirthBrighton, Sussex

Lady Decima Guggisberg, C.B.E. was born Lilian Decima Moore in Brighton, Sussex on the 11th December 1871, the tenth daughter of Edward Henry Moore, county analytical chemist for Sussex, and was educated at Boswell House College from which she won a scholarship to the Blackheath Conservatoire of Music. Moore made her debut in London, aged 17, at the Savoy Theatre on the 7th December 1889, playing 'Casilda' in the Gilbert and Sullivan opera The Gondoliers. It was a hit and more work followed. Two of her roles mentioned by George Bernard Shaw in his book, 'Our Theatres in the Nineties', were in The White Silk Dress and Lost, Stolen and Strayed. In 1901 Moore was playing in both 'A Diplomatic Theft' at the Garrick Theatre, London and 'The Swineherd and the Princess' at the Royalty. She had four sisters, all of whom were on the concert platform or the stage as singers. Her preferred roles were in musical comedy and light drama. In 1932 Moore appeared in the film Nine till Six.

On the 18th September 1894 in Richmond, New York, whilst touring in the show 'The Gaiety Girl', Moore married a fellow cast member, Cecil Ainslie Walker-Leigh. Later, in 1896, to please her mother, she had a church wedding in London. Cecil was a career officer in the British Army, born at Ballyseedy Castle, Tralee, Ireland and who served in the Boer and Great War, retiring with the rank of Colonel. A son was born in 1898, William Esmond Ormond Walker-Leigh, but Moore subsequently divorced her husband, the divorce being finalised in 1902.

Lady Decima
On the 15th August 1905 in Staines, Middlesex she became the second wife of Major Frederick Gordon Guggisberg, (later Brigadier-General Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg, K.C.M.G., D.S.O., R.E.) who was to become Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Gold Coast and British Guiana. Four years later she published jointly with him "We Two in West Africa", an informative account of life in that country at an interesting period in its development. Moore continued to act in the theatre until 1914, after which, on the outbreak of the First World War, she was engaged on war work in France. She founded the Women's Emergency Corps and also established a number of leave clubs in France, most notably the British Navy, Army and Air Force Leave Club in Paris of which she was the honorary organiser and director general. She was awarded the C.B.E. (Commander of the British Empire) in 1918.

At the time when her husband was a colonial governor, she acted with great success as exhibition commissioner and chairman of the Gold Coast Pavillon at the British Empire Exhibitions at Wembley in 1923, 1924 and 1925. In the Second World War she reestablished the British Leave Club in Paris and left the city in June 1940, only a few hours before the entry of the Germans, leaving on the doors of the club a notice "Temporarily Closed". Lady Decima Moore-Guggisberg died in Kensington, London at the age of 93 on the 18th February 1964.

Trivia: her younger sister, Eva Moore, was the mother of Jill Esmond, the first wife of actor Laurence Olivier.

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by Stephen Luscombe