Kenneth FitzGerald Simonds was born in February 1920 at the new family home at Mertonford, on the Murdoch Road in Wokingham just 2½ years after his brother Duncan. Where they lived until 1931 when they moved to Audleys Wood. He was the 3rd son of Eric & Amy Simonds. The 3 brothers were very close.
Educated first at St Neots School in Eversley then from 1933-1938 at H.G.B.S.’s house in Eton. (Harry Babington-Smith)
He went up to University College, Oxford in 1938, where he was tutored in Economics by Harold Wilson, later Prime Minister, but left at the outbreak of war in September 1939 to join the Royal Artillery and was promptly sent off to Officer’s Training Camp at Catterick in Yorkshire, passing out Second Lieutenant Simonds, a gunner in the Surrey and Sussex Yeomanry. By January 1941 after more training and a long voyage round South Africa, still before his 21st birthday, 2nd Lt. Simonds of the Gazelle Force was commanding a 25-pounder gun position at the Keru Gorge in Eritrea during The Battle of Agordat, when he related: “We stood to at dawn on the 22nd, with light scrub all round and the Indian cavalry up front. There were soon sounds of small arms fire and grenades and a number of people who were supposed to be protecting us and should have known better, came back rather too fast through my gun position, shouting to us to withdraw, but we stood our ground. The noises increased and got closer until to our amazement, a squadron of native horsed cavalry, led by an Italian officer on a white horse, burst through the scrub and charged the guns. At this point my batman ran over from my tent carrying my revolver. ‘You might be needing this Sir,’ he said. I had to use my ‘useless’ officer’s .38 revolver to engage them, firing over the guard of the guns, when the horses came too close! Their officer was riding a splendid white charger which was shot from under him by a Boyes anti-tank gun on my left flank and he was taken prisoner, This was ‘Count Amedeo’ whose path I was to cross again in the war and indeed again much later in October 2003 when I went to meet him at his stud farm at Co. Meath in Ireland.” Kenneth took great delight in recalling that this was the last ever cavalry charge against British troops.
Amadeo on his white horse Sultan with the Amhara Squadron in 1940. His Obituary in the Financial Times relates the story – from his side; Obituary HERE. Kenneth gave me a book about Count Amedeo’s life by Sebastian O’Kelly, simply called ‘Amedeo’ in which he made numerous annotations in the margins. The book however was largely written by the Count himself so historians have tended to offer different versions. One was published in 1977 by the Military History Society, on the bookshelf below.
Kenneth dictated or wrote several notes on his experiences from University in 1938 through WWll to 1945 that were transcribed under his supervision. Oxford & The War years is on the bookshelf below.
Kenneth’s war took him round Africa from Egypt through Sudan, Ethiopia & Eritrea, then across North Africa to the siege of Tobruk and back to the forgotten wars of the Eastern Mediterranean in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon & Palestine. Before in May 1945 finally sailing for home from Alexandria aboard HMT Alcantara. His travels are detailed in an old school book that I transcribed, along with the scribbled original pages called: Travel Diary 1940-45 which is the 2nd part of the ‘War Years’ booklet..
In October 1943 he found himself in Cairo at the same time as his brothers Louis & Duncan, which was the 1st time they had all met since September 1940 and resulted in this iconic family photo. Louis was there as part of the drive to supply troops with beer and Duncan on leave from the North African campaign. It is worthy of note that Kenneth was serving away from home from October 1940 to May 1945, some 5½ years during which time he saw his 2 brothers just twice and one of those was just a few snatched minutes!
Duncan, Louis, Kenneth, Cairo, October 1943 – in North Africa 1941-42 – Theo – George – Derek – David – Kenneth [Surnames unknown]
On returning from the war, he volunteered to join the Territorial Army, The Surrey Yeomanry, for some years. Kenneth decided not to join the family brewery, concerned at the friction he had seen between brothers in the business in previous generations. So he joined a subsidiary, Saccone & Speed, a wine merchant and ships chandler, where by 1952 he was Managing Director, London, with operations in the UK & in Gibraltar to this day. In 1953 he achieved ‘Master of Wine’, the highest accolade of the Wine & Spirit Association, in the very first year of its existence.
The Duke of Gloucester, Master of the Vintner’s company, presents the award, Bishop of London behind. 20/10/1953
Kenneth was brought up in ‘another era’ becoming a civilised and cultured man, a man of the greatest courtesy and charm, with a wicked sense of humour. Confident and outspoken, he was perhaps not well suited to corporate life as his outspoken opinions once got him fired. Over the next twenty years, he worked for Lockhart Smith, for Peter Merchant Ltd and finally for Monsanto, where he was responsible for a project to develop soya protein using a technology that Kenneth always believed was better than that currently in commercial use. Following a take-over, Monsanto abandoned their work on soya proteins and Kenneth left them. It was during his time with Monsanto that he fell in love with Monmouthshire and Herefordshire, moving to ‘Bron Mynwy’ in Grosmont, near Abergavenny and four years later, mid 1960’s, to The Old Rectory in Kentchurch, an idyllic spot close to the River Monnow where he had fishing rights and where he spent some of the happiest times of his life. From Kentchurch he moved at the end of 1990 back to London, living in an Edwardian terrace, Lampard House on Maida Avenue in Little Venice, overlooking the canal and thence to Bradford on Avon with a fabulous view across his precipitous garden to a Saxon chapel & the river. In each place he invested his energies in creating beautiful gardens & a welcoming atmosphere for his many & varied guests. Then finally to sheltered accomodation at Sutton Manor in Sutton Scotney outside Winchester, the former estate of the Rank family that he had known in his youth.
Never mentioned was his status as a ‘Member of St John’ known as confrères, the ancient & charitable organisation of The Order of Saint John (chartered in 1888). Membership is by invitation only.
He became an ‘Angel Investor’ and a Lloyds Name. He backed a film production company, with reasonable success, then a hamburger bar which proved to be rather less so. Finally came Thunder Balloons, manufacturing hot-air balloons of ever greater size & complexity. Whilst not a great financial success, he travelled widely and what a lot of fun he had. Relating how, to the utter mystification of the assembled VIP’s & Sheiks in the UAE, they launched a balloon which flew high and out into the Persian Gulf – only to return soon after, flying just above sea level! He was hugely proud at being Europe’s biggest aircraft manufacturer – measured by the number of units produced!
Like his father Eric, a lifelong Conservative, he was a Councillor for Kensington for 20 years, much of the time whilst living on the Welsh border. He maintained a London base at the Carlton Club, where he enjoyed rubbing shoulders with the movers and shakers of the Conservative Party.
Kenneth’s greatest passions revolved round his extended family to whom he was a devoted ‘Uncle’. Despite never marrying, he lived a life packed with a huge range of activities, hobbies & social engagements. A lover of fine wines and an accomplished chef he became a celebrated ‘bon-viveur’. This, combined with being a superb networker, led to his entertaining family & friends wherever he lived and especially holding parties where he worked tirelessly to bring together the widely dispersed members of the Simonds family. A favoured venue was his old family home Audleys Wood in Basingstoke where those members of the family who ‘he thought should know each other’ were regaled with anecdotes on the origins of our far flung ancestors and with whose branches he retained contact.
PHOTOS HERE TO FOLLOW
He cherished our extraordinarily diverse family origins and especially his own links to the FitzGerald family of Ireland through his Irish grandmother Amy FitzGerald (1857-1933) who was born in India. He researched and then issued a stream of updated family trees and articles about his FitzGerald family history, the final ones were: Simonds-FitzGerald Connection and The FitzGeralds of Ballydavis is on the bookshelf at the bottom of this page. My interest in family history and therefore this website is largely due to his influence.
He was a keen fly fisherman, for trout or salmon. Often with rights to fish local streams like the river Monnow in Wales, where he vainly tried to teach me how to fish. He travelled regularly to his favourite lodgings & loughs in the West of Ireland and to Loch Ba on Mull in Scotland.
A man of great faith, he was always deeply involved in his local church and a member of various church groups. In one of which during the 1950’s he met H.R.H. Princess Margaret and they became lifelong friends. Kenneth was a guest at her wedding to Anthony Armstrong Jones, held in Westminster Abbey on May 6th 1960. His wedding souvenirs are on the bookshelf.
He died at his home in Sutton Manor and was buried in the family plot beside his brother Duncan and his parents at St Leonards Church in Cliddesden, close to his old family home, Audleys Wood.
Raymond Simonds, February 2021