Simpson’s Jewish secret
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