THIS week, Mark Muller delves into the diary of Evelyn Brass...

My good friend Theo Whalley has appeared fairly frequently albeit briefly in these pages, largely because of the immense amount of history that emerges from in and around his home at Haroldston House; and it seems that the history never stops.

Theo and his wife Anne moved into their beautiful home more than 50 years ago, but recently Theo has shared with me a remarkable diary, found by a neighbour who was helping to clear the house just prior to their moving in.

Written by Evelyn Brass, it covers roughly the period 1929 (the year of her marriage) to the point that she and her husband Commander John Brass moved into Haroldston House in 1948, and their subsequent stay there for about fifteen years. It is crammed with photographs, some helpfully captioned by Evelyn.

Throughout it Evelyn tells, in an un-dramatic manner, and a little strangely in the third person, tales of ancient aristocracy from which she was descended and considerably more modern aspects of the Second World War and how they affected her and her naval officer husband.

Evelyn was born Evelyn Roche. Her ancestry can be traced back to the de la Roche family (also termed de Rupe), of Flemish extraction who came to Pembrokeshire with the Normans and who were of sufficient substance to build Benton and Roch castles and Pill Priory, in Milford Haven.

In time the Roches became part of the Anglo Irish expedition under Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke (known as Strongbow) who carved out fiefdoms for themselves in Ireland in the 12th century.

The de la Roches did extremely well for themselves, as testified by the number of Roche Castles, or Rochetowns that dot south-eastern Ireland.

Evelyn’s husband, John, joined the Navy in 1912 aged 13, and rose to the rank of Lieutenant by 1919.

He remained in the Navy until 1934 when the prospect of being reduced to half pay as a reserve officer led him to leave the service and obtain employment initially on a whaling ship in the Antarctic and a year later as a Fisheries Officer with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

By this time, Evelyn and John had become parents to Anne (born 1930) and David (born 1936).

Evelyn describes the immense financial difficulties that plagued them and of living in two rooms in Grimsby which she found, ‘squalid’.

But in between these complaints and descriptions of hard times, there are unpretentious and charming comments that perhaps tell us that financial difficulties might be relative.

She mentions having bought a beautiful Labrador named Chance from Lord Hollenden for three guineas and - when keeping a pet became difficult - of the dog being given a home by Lord Portman.

She describes being helped with the children by Dowager Countess Drogheda, who she also calls 'Granny Drogheda’ and when the war came, of ‘such staff as we had’ deserting them.

"War came," says Evelyn, "and was not pretty."

"In 1940 we expected an invasion daily.

"Johnny (who had been immediately called back into service) sailed at 24 hours notice for his command at Molde (Norway) and found it to be a blazing hell.

"He was back within days and flew to Bucharest as assistant Naval Attaché, later Naval Attaché, as relief for Captain Max Despard."

Historian and author Elizabeth Barker describes Captain Max Despard as ‘a man of powerful personality with a gift for alarming and upsetting’.

The plan put forward by Despard and others was to cause such massive explosions in the ravine on the river Danube, known as the ‘Iron Gates’, that Nazi use of the river would be seriously disrupted.

The plan failed and when Romania declared for the Nazis in November 1940, all British personnel were expelled.

"Johnny was hounded out of Romania by the Nazis and lost many of his possessions," laments Evelyn. Commander Brass made it to Athens where he was appointed Assistant Naval Attaché under Admiral Turle.

But life in Greece would prove to be tough…

Part two continues next week.