Simp­son’s Jewish se­cret

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features -

to avoid snakes), I be­gan to un­ravel the strange­ta­leof ErnestSimp­son,the­fa­ther of my Mex­i­can div­ing in­struc­tor.

Ernest­was­born­in­toanob­ser­van­tJewish fam­ily of Ham­burg ship­ping traders, whoamere­gen­er­a­tionback,had­set­tled in Ply­mouth. Ernest’s fa­ther broke away, changed his name from Solomon to Simp­son on mov­ing to New York, where he mar­ried into a Waspish fam­ily and gave young Ernest at 21 a choice of be­ing English or Amer­i­can. Ernest chose Eng­land and joined the Cold­stream Guards. He was fair with blue eyes, tall and g o o d - l ook­ing and had n o d i f - fi­culty in l e a v i n g b e h i n d any trace o f h i s J e w i s h ori­gins. In those days the clubs and ma­son­i­clodgeshe­want­ed­to­join­would not have ac­cepted a Jew, so he hid his iden­tity, even from his son, ab­sorb­ing the mild anti-semitism of the then Bri­tish es­tab­lish­ment.

Ernest re­mained mar­ried to Wallis from 1928 un­til the fa­mous di­vorce in 1937. Then he mar­ried Wallis’s best friend, Mary Kirk Raf­fray, and Henry was born in 1939. But two years later, Mary died of cancer and the baby was sent to live in Amer­ica with friends. By the time he re­turned to Eng­land, Ernest had mar­ried again and young Henry was packed off to board­ing school where he was teased for be­ing the son of Ernest Simp­son. Yet he knew nei­ther of his par­ents nor the scan­dal sur­round­ing their lives un­til, in 1958, Ernest died of throat cancer and his aunt, Maud Kerr-Smi­ley, Ernest’s older sis­ter, de­cided it was time the un­happy teenager knew the truth about his Jewish her­itage.

“I be­lieve Maud wanted to spite her younger brother,” Aharon ex­plains. “But sud­denly I felt I be­longed some­where. I had al­ways felt nei­ther fully English nor Amer­i­can, but I could be­come Is­raeli. I changed­my­name­towhatIthought­was the fam­ily sur­name and went to live in Is­rael.” Aharon im­me­di­ately joined the IDF and in 1973 was fight­ing in the Golan Heights. Two sons, Uri and Na­dav, who still live in Is­rael, have also served in the IDF.

For five days we dis­cussed what sort of man Ernest must have been to have fallen in love with Wallis and then con­done her re­la­tion­ship with the Prince of Wales. “He wanted noth­ing more than to be con­sid­ered an English gen­tle- man,” his son says. “This meant not only be­hav­ing in a gen­tle­manly way by never in­sult­ing a lady, but wear­ing his Guards tie most days. He had a fine col­lec­tion of an­ti­quar­ian books and was happy spend­ing an evening in his study read­ing Latin and Greek.”

Wallis was the party an­i­mal and Ernest, so in love with her, tried to give her what she wanted. But he was also deeply­i­naweof theBri­tish­monar­chyso that even af­ter the ab­di­ca­tion, even af­ter he had lost his wife to the King, Mary, his third­wife­andAharon’smother,wrotein her di­ary: “Ernest still thinks the Wind­sors are per­fect”.

Aharon, who had never known Wallis her­self, gave me var­i­ous in­tro­duc­tions to his ex­tended fam­ily. Over the next months I made trips to cities around the world in my quest to find them. On one of these, nearly two years af­ter my trip to the Mex­i­can desert, I was shown a cache let­ters and diaries that dra­mat­i­cally changes the tra­di­tional in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the ab­di­ca­tion cri­sis. But, had she been Mrs Solomon, Wallis’s re­la­tion­ship with Ed­ward would prob­a­bly

never have started. ‘That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simp­son’ Duchess of Wind­sor by Anne Sebba is pub­lished by Wei­den­feld & Ni­col­son at £20.00. ‘Wallis Simp­son The Se­cret Let­ters’ is on Chan­nel 4 on Wed­nes­day at 9pm


Wind­sor — Wallis and Ed­ward — newly mar­ried af­ter the ab­di­ca­tion, in the Duke took his bride to meet Hitler. Left: Ernest Simp­son

Ernest’s son Aharon

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