Melody Ryle 1917-2007
Victoria Melody Wrench Ryle
Born 12 March 1917, died 20 October 2007
My sisters, Anne and Caroline, and myself would like to thank you for being with us today. We would also like to thank those who have written to us or spoken with us in recent weeks, and others who can’t be here, including some of Melody’s oldest friends.
Our dearly loved mother, Victoria Melody Wrench Jackson, was born in London on 12 March, 1917, the daughter of Winifred and Rowland Jackson. Her own mother, Winifred, was the daughter of an engineer, Walter Claude Johnson, a pioneer in the field of transatlantic telecommunications. Her father, Rowland Bower Jackson, was a stockbroker in the City of London. Melody was the second of their two children, both daughters. She was born in Chelsea and christened at St Michael’s, Cornhill, where her grandfather and namesake, the Reverend T.W.Wrench, had been Rector.
Her first name, Victoria, was a tribute to her godmother, Princess Victoria Alexandra. But she was always known by her second given name, Melody, the name that suited her so well.
The year that she was born was the darkest period of the First World War. In the trenches at Passchendaele the young men of Europe were dying in tens of thousands. In England, there was growing privation: first eggs and butter were rationed, then bread and potatoes.
Melody’s father was a Royal Navy reservist, but above the age to be sent to sea. He manned a defence unit at Sandringham: a Rolls-Royce sedan with an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the back. A year later, the war over, he returned to the City. He and Winifred raised their two daughters in London and in West Wittering, a seaside village on Chichester Harbour. This was a place that Melody enjoyed revisiting all her life.
She and her elder sister Pauline attended Francis Holland School, near Sloane Square. As adults it amused them to recall the elevated tone of their school motto, taken from Psalm 144. “That our sons may grow up as the young plants,” the verse begins. Then comes the motto: “And that Our Daughters May Be As The Polished Corners of the Temple.”
A wild pear tree on the Downs
In 1934, when Melody was seventeen, on the threshold of adulthood, her mother died suddenly. She and Pauline took a flat on the Embankment in London, in the then newly-built residential development in Dolphin Square. Over the next two years Melody studied domestic science at King’s College and painting and drawing at the Central School of Art—skills that she continued to practice all her life. And she qualified as a nurse and physiotherapist.
On a ward round at St Bartholomew’s Hospital she met the man she was to marry. If it was not love at first sight, then love followed soon thereafter. But the war came between them. John Ryle joined the navy at the outbreak of war, in 1939, and was posted as medical officer on a minesweeper in the Eastern Mediterranean. It was a posting from which only the lucky came back alive. He told her not to wait for him. But she did wait. When he returned to England on leave in 1943, they got engaged beneath a wild pear tree on the Sussex Downs. They were married a week later at Chelsea registry office.
It was a time when sugar, like everything else, was rationed; their wedding cake was made with honey from beehives that John’s mother kept on the Downs. The wedding photographs show our mother and father in the height of their youth, a wonderfully good-looking couple.
But 1943 was a perilous year in Europe, as perilous as 1917, the year of Melody’s birth. John returned to naval duty in the Mediterranean; and Melody went back to Bart’s. She worked there through the Blitz, making her way to the hospital each day along the Thames by water taxi, with warehouses in flames on either side. Among her most vivid recollections from that time was the appearance of the victims of air raids as they arrived in the Casualty Department at Bart’s, pale and ghostlike, caked in blood and dust.
After the arrival of their first child, Anne, Melody moved with her new-born to live near friends in Amersham. There, one night, a buzz-bomb fell on the house next door to theirs, obliterating it, and hurling shards of glass into the living room where she stood holding Anne in her arms. But mother and child remained miraculously untouched.
So she and Anne survived. And our father survived the war in the Mediterranean. And peace returned to Europe.