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Eily Beatrice Delany (1895–c. 1974)

by Brian Wills-Johnson

Eily Delany, n.d.

Eily Delany, n.d.

Eily Delany was born on 21 July, 1895, in Prahran, a suburb of Melbourne. She was the youngest of the four children of Samuel Joseph Delany and Isabella McDonald, nee Hutton.  Her registered birth name was Beatrice Gwendoline Delany[1] but it appears that her parents had changed their minds (or corrected an error) by the time she was christened, when she became Eiley (sic) Beatrice Gwendoline Delany.[2] The baptismal record shows that her older brother, Leslie Stephens Delany, was christened at the same ceremony on 15 December 1895 (at the age of 3). The family was living at 355 High Street in Prahran, with Samuel employed as a miner.[3]

Isabella and her family followed Sam Delany to the Murchison goldfield in Western Australia, where he had been developing his gold mining interests for several years, and where the children grew up in the gold rush settlements of Cue and Mt Magnet. The children were educated by the Dominican nuns, first at Cue and then at the convent school in Dongara.[4] Eily’s career as a nurse began when she trained for three years at the Perth Public Hospital, completing her training in December 1916.

In 1917 Eily returned to Mt Magnet on ‘long leave’ after gaining her nursing qualifications.  The local newspaper noted that she had grown up in the town, and that she was “given a farewell social, and presented with a purse of notes, as a mark of the esteem” of the Mt Magnet populace.[5] On 16 November 1917 she joined the 8th Australian General Hospital in Fremantle from which, a week later, she left on the Canberra for Bombay as part of a contingent of Australian nurses who had answered the call for nursing support in British theatres of war.[6] She returned home, having been promoted to Sister, on the S.S. Janus which reached Fremantle from Calcutta, via Singapore, on 26 December 1919.[7] Her promotion, by the Australian Army Nursing Service, had come through on 20 November 1919, just before she left for home.[8]

The family, including her brother Leslie (who had volunteered for the AIF, been captured at Bullecourt, and returned to Australia in May 1919) held a reunion in Perth, the first time in 10 years that all members had been together. Eily then returned to Mt Magnet with her parents where, at the end of January, the local Soldiers Welcome Home Committee organised a dance-social in her honour. It appears from one speech that Eily might have already come to an understanding with her future husband, as the speaker “did not know if he was telling a secret, but the W.A. boys were too slow, and he congratulated the lucky man.” Two days later, Eily was on the train to return to nursing at the 8th Australian General Hospital in Fremantle, the so-called Base Hospital.[9]

This was, however, a stop-gap job and Eily’s prospective marriage was confirmed when she left Fremantle on 8 June 1920 on the R.M.S. Orsova, “… on a matrimonial mission. The prospective bridegroom is Captain Roy Richdale, of the British-Indian Army.”[10] The young couple wasted no time.

On 21 June 1920, Eily married Conroy (“Roy”) Richdale Richdale, in the Anglican Cathedral in Bombay, India.[11] She gave her birth date as 1897 and her age as 23, but she was in fact a month short of her 25th birthday. Her spouse, Roy Richdale, gave his birthdate as 1898 and his age as 22, but several sources give a date of birth as 29 October 1897.[12] His name presents a small family mystery. He was born Conroy Richdale Jones in Stafford, England, a son of Thomas Ernest Jones and Ada Elizabeth, nee Brookes.[13] When he changed his surname from Jones to Richdale, as did his parents and brother, he kept his second Christian name, hence the repetition. Richdale became the family name of the Joneses at the instigation of Roy’s mother, Ada, who presumably felt that Jones was a bit dull. Richdale was Ada’s mother’s maiden name, so perhaps there was also an intention to keep this name extant.[14]

Roy Richdale had joined the army early in 1915, at the age of 17, when a girl had given him a white feather as he was walking home from school. He was quickly commissioned, and went with the Devons to Mesopotamia some months later.[15]

Eily and Roy had one child, Victor Conroy, born prematurely in India in 1922, who died in Lahore at about three months.[16] The marriage, however, did restore Roy’s mother’s voice. In 1915 a bomb dropped from a German Zeppelin close to the family home in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, had so shocked Mrs Richdale that she lost her voice, and could only speak in a whisper. She was reduced to handing notes to shop-keepers, and suffering reactions such as being shouted at because they thought she was deaf, or being treated as if she had a mental incapacity. In 1919, however, she received a letter from Roy in India with the news that he was to be married. “What had been lost to shock was restored by the same medium, and to the astonishment of her family, she suddenly found herself able to express her opinion with admirable clarity and volume.”[17]

In 1922 Roy Richdale returned to England, having resigned his commission as a Captain in the Indian Army, and “bringing his pretty Australian bride Eily, back with him.”[18] He had spent two post-war years fighting on the North-West frontier, but had decided that he was unlikely to be promoted further in the Indian Army, so retired to take up poultry farming at Lentham in Kent. It was, however, an economic failure and the Richdales sold it two years later. Roy subsequently joined the Kent Police and became a detective inspector, which stood him in good stead when he returned to a military career.[19]

On 10 August 1931, Roy Richdale (listed at the time as Indian Army, retired) returned to military life when he was commissioned in the Royal Air Force with the rank of Flying Officer on probation (Honorary Flight Lieutenant), in the position of Assistant Provost Marshal and Deputy Chief of Air Force Police.[20] It was a permanent career move, and he was to remain an RAF officer for the next 20 years. By the time war again broke out he was a Squadron Leader, and in 1945 he was appointed Provost Marshall of the Mediterranean Allied Air Force with the rank of Wing Commander, earning himself a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in the same year. His service to the Allied cause was also recognised by the United States with a Bronze Star Medal. He retired, with the rank of Group Captain, in October 1952.[21]

…in September 1939 he was sent over to France with the First British Expeditionary Force. He was injured by a bomb blast while there, and eventually escaped to England from Le Bourget on the day the Germans entered Paris. In 1942 he was sent out to South Africa in charge of a unit of R.A.F. police, and for some months he was stationed at Zwartkops… [sic – Swartkop air force base] …after a time he was sent up to North Africa, and went with the Eighth Army into Italy. … After the war he served for a time in Berlin and was then sent to Egypt, where he had two years of excitement in command of the R.A.F. station at Ismailia at the height of the Egyptian crisis.[22]

With war looming, Eily also joined the armed forces, enlisting in 1938 in the 99th (Bucks) RAF company of the Auxiliary Territorial Service.[23] The ATS was not formed until September 1938, so the timing and her service number – 190 – indicate that she was among the very first recruits. When the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) was formed in 1939 the ATS units immediately transferred to it. The Aeroplane recorded her busy career in 1947:

Group Officer E. B. Richdale has been Inspector of the W.A.A.F. since October, 1945, prior to which she was W.A.A.F. Staff Officer at Headquarters, Technical Training Command. … Group Officer Richdale was commissioned before the outbreak of war and subsequently served at R.A.F. Station, Halton, and as W.A.A.F. Staff Officer at No. 32 Balloon Group from January, 1940, until July, 1941, being promoted Squadron Officer in November 1940. [The Balloon Groups were responsible for the barrage balloon defence of British cities.] After appointments at No. 16 (Coastal) Group and No. 1 W.A.A.F. Depot, Bridgnorth, she was posted to Air Ministry, W.A.A.F. Directorate, in charge of all officer personnel matters, [and] promoted Wing Officer in January 1943. She left this post on promotion to Group Officer and appointment to Headquarters, Technical Training Command in December, 1944.[24]

Having risen quickly through the ranks, Eily eventually drew media attention when the Evening Standard announced that she was the only example in the WAAF of an officer equalling her husband in rank. As a Group Officer, her rank was equivalent to Roy’s Group Captain.[25] Her position demanded frequent travel, with the Evening Standard noting that while Roy had recently returned to England from a tour of duty in the Middle East and the Far East, “his wife is at present making a similar tour in these areas”.[26]

Eily’s high rank was no doubt the reason she was invited, as a representative of the WAAF service, to the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh on 20 November 1947 in Westminster Abbey. The invitation required serving officers to wear service dress, so she would have appeared as shown in the portrait photo (accompany article).[27] At the time of the wedding, although the war was over, she was a recently-appointed WAAF Staff Officer at the headquarters of Reserve Command.[28]

Roy retired in October 1952, and he and Eily decided to live in South Africa. They chose Southbroom on the coast of what is now the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, 140km south of Durban, and lived in ‘Wendover’ close to the Southbroom Golf Club – “…where he conducts a private war on the mambas and other snakes which occasionally (and very unwisely) put in an appearance…”.[29] He died on 15 June 1968.[30] Eily lived on at ‘Crossways’ for three years before moving into Caister Hotel in Durban.[31] It is presumed that she died there, circa 1974, but so far no records of her death or burial have been found.

Footnotes
[1] Birth registration no. 23760 of 1895, Registrar General of Victoria, indexes.

[2] Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) film of the Register of Baptisms at St Matthew’s Anglican Church, Prahran, film no. 007717348, image no. 262.

[3] Ibid.

[4] W.A. Record, 9 January 1904, p. 14, is one of many reports of school concerts and prizes mentioning the Delany children.

[5] Murchison Times and Day Dawn Gazette, 20 November 1917, p. 3.

[6] “First World War Embarkation Roll”, Australian War Memorial, p. 42. The list shows her pay book no. as 801546, age 24, and enlistment date as 11 May 1917.

[7] The Daily News, 23 December 1919, p. 8; The West Australian, 27 December 1919, p. 6.

[8] Virtual War Memorial Australia, website, accessed at https://vwma.org.au/explore/people/167348 in December 2018.

[9] Mount Magnet Miner and Lennonville Leader, 31 January 1920, p. 2.

[10] The Daily News, 8 June 1920, p. 4; The Australian, 11 June 1920, p. 1.

[11] LDS, op. cit., accessed from https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FGV5-G4D in December 2018; The West Australian, 2 August 1920, p. 1.

[12] His birth at Stafford, Staffordshire, was registered in the December quarter of 1897 – England and Wales Birth Registration Index, Vol. 6B, p. 14, line 341. He was baptised on 12 December 1897 at Castle Church, Staffordshire – Staffordshire Church Records 1538-1944 (LDS website).

[13] “Royal Air Force (RAF) Officers 1939-1945”, accessed from webpage at http://www.unithistories.com/officers/raf_officers_r01.html in December 2018.

[14] Information from Angela Shelley, a great niece of Ada Jones/Richdale. Alfred Frederick Brookes married Elizabeth Richdale on 24 September 1866 (Birmingham, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1937).

[15] Gordon Richdale, The Sunlit Years, Collins, London, 1962, p. 22.

[16] British India Office register of deaths and burials.

[17] Gordon Richdale, The Sunlit Years, op. cit., pp. 20-21.

[18] Ibid., pp. 22 & 28.

[19] “Points of Interest in the History of the Royal Air Force Police”, Stephen Davies, http://www.rafpa.com/ConciseRAFPHistory.pdf accessed December 2018.

[20] The London Gazette, 18 August 1931, p. 5402.

[21] RAF Officers, op. cit.

[22] Gordon Richdale, The Sunlit Years, op. cit. p. 207.

[23] Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C280563 accessed December 2018.

[24] The Aeroplane, 17 October 1947.

[25] Press cutting in the family’s archive. The Western Australian report quotes the Evening Standard of January 9, but it is not dated.

[26] Archived press cutting, op. cit.

[27] Original invitation card, in the family’s archive.

[28] The Aeroplane, op. cit.

[29] Gordon Richdale, The Sunlit Years, op. cit. p. 207.

[30] Research by Christopher Stevens, posted at www.ancestry.com

[31] Letter from Eily Richdale to Dorothy Wills-Johnson, dated 22 September 1974, posted 11 November 1974. It is not known when the Richdales moved from ‘Wendover’ to ‘Crossways’.

Original Publication

Citation details

Brian Wills-Johnson, 'Delany, Eily Beatrice (1895–c. 1974)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/delany-eily-beatrice-32906/text40988, accessed 19 April 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Eily Delany, n.d.

Eily Delany, n.d.

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Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Delany, Beatrice Gwendoline
  • Richdale, Eily Beatrice
Birth

21 July, 1895
Prahran, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Death

c. 1974 (aged ~ 78)
Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Occupation
Military Service