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Three Lives in World War 2

Joan Mary Dibdin

1.   Contents and Introduction
2.   Joan Mary Dibdin 5.  Anthony Benoit Guise 8. 1944 A Difficult Year
3 .  1939 the Start of WW2 6.  The Wedding 9. The Final Blow
4..  The Guise Family 7. 1943 and India  10 After the War


This article is intended to start in late 1939 but it gives the opportunity to look a little at the two main characters, Joan Dibdin and Anthony Guise. Joan was 19 years old and had been in London for about two years, studying at the Royal Academy of Music. She must have joined the Royal Academy at the age of 17 in Sept 1937 although this is to be confirmed. Her going to London to study music and possibly find the opportunity of becoming a film star was contrary to the wishes of her Aunt Edith, who had cared for her since she was 13 after her parents died in a plane crash. He brother, Peter, however supported her choice of study and there is evidence of a clash over the issue. During those two years she lived a very active life going to the theatre, going to concerts, spending time with friends and family as well as a attending a very full list of lessons and lectures.

It should be mentioned that although she had a strong interest in drama and had childhood ambitions of becoming a film star her main strength was the piano. At the Royal Academy, she had lessons from Max Pirani, a well established musician, who went on to set up the Music Teachers' College at University of Western Ontario –Canada. In a letter written in 1945 to Joan he expresses how capable she could have been as a pianist at his at performance level.

Max Pirani (Arranger)

Born: August 4, 1898 - Melbourne, Australia
Died: August 5, 1975 - London, England

The Australian-born English pianist and teacher, Max (Gabriel) Pirani, studied at the Melbourne Conservatory and later with Max Vogrich in New York.

In 1923 Max Pirani formed the Pirani Trio with the violinist Leila Doubleday (later Pirani) and the cellist Charles Hambourg. The trio toured widely in Europe, the Commonwealth, and the USA until 1940. In 1926 Pirani joined the faculty of the Royal Academy of Music in London. After several visits to Canada in the late 1930's, he served from 1941 to 1947 as director of the piano department of the Banff Centre for the Arts. He was a lecturer and recitalist in 1942-1944 at the Western Ontario Conservatory of Music (WOCM), and the founding director from 1945 to 1947 of the Music Teachers' College at the University of Western Ontario. His Canadian pupils included Dorothy Bee, Gordon K. Greene, Audrey Johannesen, Warren Mould, and John Searchfield. In 1948 he returned to England, thereafter publicising and developing the technique of Emanuel Moór and completing the definitive biography Emanuel Moor (London, 1959).

In Max Pirani's obituary in The Times (August 12, 1975) Sir Thomas Armstrong wrote: '[Pirani's] methods derived from the main-stream of European pianism... and they were always at the service of an exceptionally broad and discriminating musicianship.'

During those two years at the Royal Academy, Joan must have been in a highly charged state of mind. Not only do we see record of a busy student with lessons, lectures and music practice but also someone with a very active social life. She was seeing a lot of friends and did keep in contact with several aunts and uncles and their offspring and I believe must have been seen by them as somewhat wild at the time.

Friends and Family

Don Haycraft - cousin
Peter Dibdin - brother
Mrs Midd – Family retainer
David Muir -boy next door
Redford Family - Carshalton
Tony Mikado
Frank and Norma

Jane Friend from Q.A.House
Aunt Gertie in Reigate
Aunt Laetitia in Ruislip - Mrs Frewin – (Laetitia Dibdin the singer.)
Marian Montford and family - Sutton



Drama – Elocution Piano
Visits to concerts at Wigmore hall
Going to Parties , Picture Concerts - Theatre and to sports clubs

Also throughout this time, there are letters of rejection or encouragement from a number of theatre companies regarding opportunities with them. She wrote to the Old Vic in the middle of 1938 and a number of companies in the country in mid 1939. As late as January 1940 before the blitz started Joan was still looking for acting opportunities and a letter from Max Pirani shows the help he was offering through contacts. Just in passing it must have pleased Max when, in 1950, Joan finally passed her music exams and became a qualified musician – qualified to teach.

It was probable that, when first in London, Joan live at Queen Alexander’s House, next to the Albert Hall, which may have been like a hall of residence and it was of her time here that we find reports of her rage and unhappiness.

We have one memorable reference to Joan at that time in a letter written later written in 1943 by a close friend Jane, from Leeds, refers to that early time at college.

" My dear you would just go and be a dispatch rider – how you didn’t kill yourself I don’t know. Secretly I am filled with admiration because I know I should never have had the nerve."

"Do you look back on those years we knew each other with great pleasure or have you had nicer things happen since? I shall always remember you rampaging up & down those tiny Q-A rooms (Queen Alexander House) like a caged lion – saying you must leave the place come what may! Poor Jo, you did hate it and us sometimes. How silly it is that I still think of you as someone who needs looking after and here you are far more responsible and experienced than I am."

From a letter dated 24th December 1943

From Jane – married to Harold and
working in the War Effort for the
Mechanised Transport Corp in Leeds.- 25 of them

By 9th Aug 1939, we have her address as 28 Cranley Gardens and on 13th Aug 1939, Joan moved to 95 Queens Gate and then by 21st Oct 1939, after the outbreak of war, Joan was living further into town at 12 Granville Place, Portman Square W1.


We have another delightful letter written by Jane in December 1944 from Leeds who was writing a sympathy letter, remembering back to the old days …

"You never mention your music in your letters, surely it must be an outlet for your feelings and energy? Remember the old days when after a successful elocution or music lesson you used to hurl yourself at the piano, and fairly let off steam? Legs, long dark hair, fingers – all flying about in every direction in your

exuberance? Do it now. …."

Peter, her brother was working in Town for a Government organisation having left what had been his Family business a few years before. Although Joan and Peter used to fight like cat and dog in their childhood, there is evidence of how supportive Peter was of Joan after the 1933 disaster and there are considerable references to her meeting Peter in town socially during her time in London, just before the war and during. Also David Muir the young man who lived next door to Joan’s family in Carshalton comes into the picture a lot and once war was imminent and Peter had joined up they both used to visit him at camp in the South. David, it seems, always had a soft spot for Joan and had been a close friend of Peter, touring on the continent two years running in 1936 and 1937 for holidays. There is evidence that, in fact, he was very much in love with Joan, with a passion that stayed until about 1951

Another key figure in Joan’s life at the time was her first cousin, Don Haycraft, from Nottingham. He was Joan’s Uncle Bernard’s son. It is not clear what Don was doing in London before the war but there is reference to him taking exams, as early in 1939. It is likely that he joined up as the war started and as will be seen later was training as a Sergeant in Scotland in the early part of the war. It was indirectly through Don that she was to be set on track for much of her life.

Joan’s diaries refer continuously to meeting up with the three mentioned above, Peter, Don and David as well as the many others listed earlier.

There were, at this time, a number of close families that must have been some support to Joan at this time. The Davis family in Reigate that centred on her mother’s sister Gertie (nee Haycraft) was a haven of peace and order and Joan would have known well her three son’s John, Pat and Geoffrey. It is worthy of mention that her last grandparent, Georgina Haycraft (nee Lawton), widow of Samuel, died in 24th December 1939. Although Joan never spoke of this grandparent, she was the matriarch of a close family that live in the Sutton area for many years.

The other Haycraft family was based on her mother’s brother Bernard who had moved to Nottingham and despite the distance from London, Joan knew well his children and they figure strongly in her early years.

It may be that during her holidays from boarding school, Ancaster House in Bexhill, she would visit them as a break from the austerity of living with her Aunt Edith in Saltburn and Castleton.

Despite, or perhaps because of, Joan living with her and being under her supervision from the age of 13, we read little of Joan’s Aunt Edith during the war years and we know of her death on 13th March 1944, only because of a small insert in Joan’s diary.

The other family of significance was the Montford family at Sutton. Marian Montford (nee Dibdin) and her three children had returned from Australia in 1938 after Paul Montford, the sculptor, died. Marian had hated Australia for the whole time they were there from the early 1920’s. On returning to England they probably had little money and were offered the chance to rent a family house, Cremona, Cavendish Road in Sutton. This was owned by the two Aglio Aunts, daughters of Augustine Aglio and in effect was a spare house. The Montfords were an artistic family, with Marian a very good painter in her own right and with her children Bobby, a ballet dancer, Nina, a painter and Adrian a painter sculptor. Joan would have felt very much at home with in this group. It so happened that at that time, Marian’s sister, Margaret, had returned from India in 1938/39 with her three children and as they had no place to live it was suggested that they join the Montfords at Cremona. Happy families and in 1939 there was war. The stories of life in that household, two sisters and their 6 offspring, are told elsewhere in an autobiography written by Margaret’s daughter Mary - "Unspoken Hope".

Joan, the orphan from the age of 13 years old, must have felt like a loose canon amongst these established families and may have derived comfort from their existence and pleasure from their company, despite probably being scornful of their advice or attitudes to her activities.

It would be interesting to be able to talk to these key people in Joan’s life and develop more insight into what she was really up to and what sort of heaven or hell she was experiencing.

It may be worth a few lines here just to try to put Joan’s position in perspective. When she was 13 years old and her parents died, she had already been at boarding school at Ancaster House in Bexhill on Sea for about a year. It is considered that the reason for her being their was that it was within the family culture to consider that public school was the best one could do for one’s children but there may have been an element of hope that boarding school would settle a somewhat unruly child.

There were issues about who would look after Joan after the 1933 disaster and it fell upon a maiden Aunt Edith, sister of Joan’s mother and a working headmistress, to take on the responsibility as she had promise her sister to do so some years before when Cecily was poorly in hospital.

So between the ages of 13 to 17 Joan spent her time either at school or staying with a Headmistress, who later retired, in Saltburn or Castleton in the North Yorkshire Moors.

Those in control in 1933, decided that the "children" could not stay on in the family home which was sold from under them.

Her brother who at the time was still only 20 had no legal say.

Lane Bombardier Peter Haycraft Dibdin
Royal Artillery February 1913 - September 1943

A comment was made by a member of the family that Peter was one of those people with whom it was always a pleasure to be with.

1939 Sept 3rd WAR DECLARED - World War 2