December 06, 2022
Robert Keable's girlfriend during the War, Jolie Buck was my grandmother, so when I began to reasearch Robert Keable's life I clearly had a vested interest in finding out as much as I could about her as well. Her mother had been a Beresford so I thought it would be fun to join the Beresford Society. Very kindly they have published a short article by me, on Jolie, in their society magazine under the heading Beresford girl Jolie Buck.
Article for the Beresford (Autumn 2022)
The novel Simon Called Peter was first published in 1921. The plot centred on a love affair between an army chaplain and a nurse, behind the lines in France, during WW1. The Church Times called it a ‘disgrace’, The Guardian ‘very offensive’ and F Scott Fitzgerald ‘Utterly Immoral’ – later mocking it in The Great Gatsby. Despite the reviews the book was a huge bestseller, becoming the most bought book in America in 1922 and turning its author into an international celebrity.
The Pall Mall Gazette suggested the ‘unwholesome love affair’ was ‘most unsavoury reading’, but what few people knew at the time was the book was autobiographical, describing – with a few changes – the beginning of a love affair between the author Robert Keable and a Beresford girl, Jolie Buck.
Jolie Buck was born in India in 1899, the granddaughter of Charles Beresford whose parents and five sisters had all been slaughtered during the Indian Mutiny. Charles’ daughter, Beatrice Beresford married Captain William Buck, who served with the Durham Ligmainly in India. Jolie and her sister were bought up in Bath by an aunt, attending the Royal School for Daughters of Officers of the Army. Jolie’s father died when she was 12 and she joined her mother and brothers in London, while her younger sister stayed on in Bath. By the age of 16 she began to rebel against her mother’s strictures, left school and moved out. She learnt to drive and went from chauffeuring the top brass round London to driving lorries for the Canadian Forestry Corps in Northern France. In 1917, still only 18, she met and fell in love with Robert Keable – a chaplain to the South African Native Labour Corps. The initial affair only lasted nine months before Robert returned to his parish church – and his wife – in Basutoland, now Lesotho.
Three years later Robert and Jolie met up again in London. Jolie was back home with her mother and teaching at a dance studio. Robert having left the church was teaching at Dulwich College. Together Robert and Jolie planned their escape to Tahiti. Robert’s wife having converted to Catholicism, refused him a divorce but agreed to separate. Jolie not wishing to cause any scandal in England that would embarrass her mother and the Beresford and Buck families, travelled alone to Tahiti changing her name to Keable on the way.
Once in Tahiti they searched for the French Impressionist Paul Gauguin’s old house and Jolie made it habitable. After nine months there they designed and commissioned a new house on the island and returned to Europe to travel – and buy furniture – for the new house. Early in 1924. while on a Grand Tour Jolie became pregnant and returned to England for the birth. An overdose of chloroform - used as pain relief – caused her death in childbirth, aged just 25.
Jolie and Robert’s son, Dr Tony Keable-Elliott, died just two years ago aged 95 having been a GP, Chairman of the GMSC, and Treasurer of the BMA.