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Remembering a

Most Remarkable Woman

Melanie Petre - “Memories of Jo”

 7th October 2011


Jo was a wonderful friend to me and to Tessa (Flemming) Davies for over 60 years.

We all met at the Hall School, Somerset, when we were ten. I never did discover why, when her family lived in Cornwall, Jo was sent to boarding school in Somerset (Tessa and I were locals.) It was a very happy school, with an emphasis on art, handwork and music and Jo always showed a shining musical talent, playing the piano most beautifully and inspiring a lot of us with her love of classical music. School life was pretty uncomfortable; one dormitory held 23 of us and was called “The Roosters”. Lessons took place in Nissen huts which were incredibly cold in winter and we all got chilblains.

I often used to stay with Jo in Cornwall, at her parents’ magical old house, Trewarne. At Christmas time, in the stone flagged dining room, there would be a huge Christmas tree decorated entirely in white and silver. Jo even then was a great cook and one speciality was Corn Fritters and Mushroom Sauce. We listened to music and played the piano, read a lot of books and played cards and darts – there was, of course, no television in the late Forties.

On one visit I unfortunately developed measles, which Jo promptly caught and her very kind and dear mother had to nurse both of us for at least a fortnight I remember her reading to us, rather appropriately, “Bleak House”. Jo’s father was great fun and would come out with some splendidly dismissive one-liners. “They hunt with the Heythrop and fish with Macfisheries” always made me laugh. The Thompson family had two Dachshunds, Topper and Truffle, in whose honour they all successfully backed Royal Tan in the 1954 Grand National. They also had guinea pigs called Lord Palmerston and Highly Mollases.

In the summer we would go surfing at Polzeath, find small, out of the way coves to swim in and try (unsuccessfully) to catch crabs and lobsters by hand. I don’t remember grown-ups being present on these forays – children were allowed so much independence in those days. Julian was usually there, often with a friend staying and I remember him taking Jo and me out rabbit shooting. For target practice we took pot shots at telegraph poles – a bit dangerous, perhaps, General?

Jo would come and stay with me and we were often joined by Tessa. I had ponies so we rode a lot. Jo, having ridden in India where it seemed the horses had no brakes, used to disappear fearlessly at full gallop – we all decided she had an “electric bottom”.

Once we grew up, inevitably Jo’s and my lives took different paths, but I am godmother to Susan and we were neighbours in Fulham from 1978 until Jo left London, so we always kept in touch (and remembered each other’s birthdays, usually with cards depicting Dachshunds.)

I admired and miss Jo enormously. She was incredibly brave all her life whenever illness and adversity struck, a great wife to all her husbands and wonderful company, with a strong opinion on everything – she could be quite confrontational. She was a supremely loving and supportive mother to Susan and Jenny and an incredibly talented musician who realised her talents in every way possible, particularly towards the end of her life when she knew she had an abundance of support but little time left.

Jo was altogether very special and it was a great privilege to have been her friend.