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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Alexandra Dick

Writing up Isabel Thorne the other day, I have to confess a certain amount of smugness. After all, it was a pretty good bit of detective work to get from Isabel Thorne to Mary Quelch and find her birth (back when she was Mary Harrison) and death (in Canada).

Other days bring you back to earth. You would think that Cicely Sibyl Alexandra Dick-Erikson would be a pretty easy name to track. It's not like she's a complete unknown, having written a good many novels under the name Alexandra Dick. But I drew a blank on my first look.

However, my mate John turned up the fact that she married in Chelsea, London, in 1937. Her surname was actually Abercromby-Dick and she married one Andrew V. A. Erikson.

From this little clue I turned up an interesting snippet: Cicely Sibyl was the only daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel and Mrs. Abercromby Dick of Ker Manach, Dinard, in France. In June 1934 her engagement to Patrick George Hamilton, was announced in The Times. He was the son of Sir George Hamilton, M.P., and Lady Hamilton of Cransford Hall, Saxmundham. A few weeks later, a second notice announced that the marriage between Mr Hamilton and Miss Abercromby Dick would now not take place due.

Cicely's father was Lieut.-Col. Dighton Hay Abercromby-Dick, D.S.O., Royal Scots Fusiliers, born in Alahabad, India, 26 January 1869, died 27 February 1941, who had married Lillian Stephanie Ricardo on 24 April 1902 at St. Thomas, Portman Square, London. Dick had served in the North West Frontier of India (the Tirah Campaign) and South Africa (where he was severely wounded) before retiring in 1910. He served with the Special Reserve Battalion in France being twice mentioned in despatches and was created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order in 1915. Prior to the Great War, Dighton Abercromby Dick was listed in the phone book with an address at Inverdon, Ayr, Scotland, and, in the 1920s, he travelled to South Africa on at least two occasions, and it was noted that his permanent address at that time (1924/26) was Scotland, although he gave his address as New Club, Edinburgh.

In the 1930s, the family were living in France, as we have seen. Dighton Abercromby-Dick died "somewhere in France" in March 1941, according to a notice in The Times. In fact, Dighton and his wife had been captured by the Germans and interned in a prison camp at Besancon, in the east of France close to the border with Switzerland. It was there that Dighton died. His wife, after being initially imprisoned, was freed and lived in a hotel in Rennes and, in August 1944, an announcement appeared, again in The Times, that "News has been received by her sisters of her safety in liberated Brittany." She returned to Dinard, where she died on 3 August 1963.

The Abercromby-Dicks had two children. David Francis Abercromby Dick was born on 1 March 1905 and was later married to Evelyn Francis-Loyd. Cicely Sybil was born 5 June 1906, in Ayr, Scotland. She grew up in Edinburgh, where her father commanded the garrson at the Castle at the time of the state visit of the Crown Prince of Japan Hirohito (c.1921). The family lived at 17 Heriot Row, formerly the home of Robert Louis Stevenson, and Cicely attended a French school at 61 Manor Place where her language skills became apparent. As well as learning almost perfect French, she would later become fluent in Swedish and Italian, and conversant in Russian.

The family moved to Dinard, Brittany, in the early 1920s, although Cicely spent some time living with a family in Paris before moving back to England, where she studied at the Webber-Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art in Knightsbridge, where one of her best friends was a soprano of Algerian descent, Leila ben Sédira. Cicely, then living at Swan Court, Chelsea, did a little writing, singing and acting, performing in A. P. Herbert's comic opera Tantivy Towers in London. She then returned to Paris and sang with the Opéra Comique, which included a tour of Egypt.

In 1937, she took a cruise in the Baltic and on board ship met Andrew Erikson of 36 Erik Dahlbergsgatan, Stockholm. They had a whirlwind romance and married on 30 October 1937. They were living in Stockholm when the Second World War broke out and Cicely volunteered to work at the British Legation where she was involved in helping Polish refugees, many of whom escaped to Sweden, and possibly also for the Intelligence section.

Cicely and her husband had a son, born on 16 August 1945, at which time the Erikson's were living at 84 Skeppargatan, Stockholm. They were, however, very different characters and divorced a few years later. Cicely took her son to England and, in 1953, settled in a house near Lymington, Hampshire, where they lived until 1963.

When her son finished his schooling, Cicely moved to Spain but, after only six months, decided that Spain was not for her. Along with her son (on his gap year), she moved to Florence in 1964. Two years later she moved to a flat outside the city, a fortunate move as, in 1966, a flood devestated Florence. Cicely devoted  a great deal of time and energy working for the British Consul's Flood Relief Committee to aid flood victims, arranging for 1,000 kerosene stoves to be sent out from Edinburgh amongst other things. She was given a medal and a parchment expressing gratitude by the local authorities for her efforts.

She continued to live in the area of Florence for the next 23 years. Her interests revolved largely around her dogs and working with local animal charities. On 28 September 1989, she went to the local hospital for an x-ray and was given a barium meal. The following day, she suffered from severe convulsions and was taken to hospital, where she died of an intestinal occlusion. Questions about the quality of her treatment and the legality of the investigation that followed led to the case being taken to the European Court of Human Rights; it was, however, declared inadmissible (the full decision can be found here).

I began by mentioning Isabel Thorne. It was she who, as fiction editor of the Weekly Tale-Teller, first published the famous Sanders of the River stories by Edgar Wallace. Another character from the series was Francis Augustus Tibbetts, otherwise known as 'Bones', who finds himself seconded to British Africa under a character named Patrick George Hamilton. Not the same guy who almost married Cicely Sibyl Abercromby Dick, obviously (one's fictional, the other became 2nd Bt. of Ilford), but I'm always amazed how, if you dig deep enough, you can always find links and connections.


Novels as Alexandra Dick (series: Alastair MacAlastair)
The First Man. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1937.
Comet's Tail. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1938.
No Sentiment (MacAlastair). London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1939.
Yellowing Hay. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1939.
A Pack of Cards. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1940.
How Can We Sing. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1942.
Never to Me. London, Hurst & Blackett, 1943.
And Only Man (MacAlastair). London, Hurst & Blackett, 1944.
Many a Flower. London, Hurst & Blackett, 1944.
An Old-fashioned Christmas (MacAlastair). London, Hurst & Blackett, 1944.
The Curate's Crime (MacAlastair). London, Hurst & Blackett, 1945; as by Sibyl Ericson, New York, Mystery House, 1946.
Dear Angel. London, Hurst & Blackett, 1946.
MacAlastair Looks On (MacAlastair). London, Hurst & Blackett, 1947.
The Sleeping Beauty's Daughter. London, Hurst & Blackett, 1947.
Cross Purposes (MacAlastair). London, Hurst & Blackett, 1950.
The Witch's Doing. London, Hurst & Blackett, 1951.
The Innocence of Rosamond Prior. London, Robert Hale, 1953.
The Irresistible. The love story of Louis the Fourteenth and Madame de Montespan. London, Macdonald, 1953.
Imperial Venus. London, Robert Hale, 1954.
Crime in the Close. London, Robert Hale, 1955.
Death at the Golden Crown. London, Robert Hale, 1956.
One is One. London, Robert Hale, 1958.

Novels as Frances Hay
Traitor's Island. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1956.
There Was No Moon. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1957.
Lady With a Rose. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1960.
Barbary Kate. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1964.

Others (translations)
The Last Attempt by Birger Dahlerus. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1947.
The Dwarf [Dvärgen] by Pär Lagerkvist. London, Chatto & Windus, 1953.

(* With thanks to Torquil Dick-Erikson and Jamie Sturgeon.)

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