Helen Russell Cooke

Dec 29, 2006
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Witney
Captain Smith’s daughter, Helen Russell Cooke, resided for many years in a cottage known as "Pratt's" on the south side of the village green at Leafield, near Witney in Oxfordshire. At the time of the sinking Helen Melville Smith was a child of five. In 1922 she married a stockbroker, Mr Sidney Russell Cooke, who had family connections with the Isle of Wight. Sadly, Mr Russell Cooke, who was said to have suffered from shell shock during World War I, died in a shooting incident in his chambers at Kings Bench Walk, The Temple, London, on 18th August 1930; he was apparently cleaning his double-barrelled shotgun while holding it towards his stomach, when it went off.

A few months later, in April 1931, Mrs Russell Cooke’s mother, Eleanor Smith, died after being knocked down by a taxi cab in London, while her son Simon was shot down over the sea while serving with the RAF in World War II, and her daughter Priscilla died of polio in 1947.

Mrs Russell Cooke died at Leafield on 18th August 1973, and the instructions for ringing the bells at her funeral were framed and displayed within the church. I was told today that, in accordance with her will (?) the church bells were rung on Sunday 15th April 2012 to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking. There has been little press coverage, but I understand they were tolled 24 times.
 

hazel mccully

Member
Apr 16, 2012
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Poor Helen. She suffered a lot of loss in her life.

I think it shows how much she felt the loss of her father if she put it in her will for the church to toll the bells on the 100th anniversary of his death.
She was actually 14 years old when he died so it must have been harrowing for her.

I found the following when looking up her age :)

Name: Helen Melville Smith
Date of Registration: Apr-May-Jun 1898
Registration district: West Derby
Inferred County: Lancashire
Volume: 8b
Page: 507
------------------------------------------
Name: Helen Melville Smith
Event: Census
Event Date: 1911
Gender: Female
Age: 13
Birthplace: Waterloo Liverpool, Lancashire
Record Type: Household
Registration District: Southampton
Sub-district: Southampton Eastern
Parish: Portswood
County: Hampshire
 
Dec 29, 2006
729
5
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Witney
Indeed, she would have been 14 in 1912 - don't know where I got the "five" from. It was particularly tragic that, having lost almost her entire family she should then have lost her son who, although in the air force, would have died at sea. His body was never recovered.
 

crcole

Member
May 10, 2012
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helen melville smith

Indeed, she would have been 14 in 1912 - don't know where I got the "five" from. It was particularly tragic that, having lost almost her entire family she should then have lost her son who, although in the air force, would have died at sea. His body was never recovered.
Hello
I actually live in Pratts - where Helen lived. I wonder if anyone knows why she moved to Leafield?
 
Dec 29, 2006
729
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Witney
I had a look at Pratt's Cottage earlier in the year, but was unable to obtain a photograph because the cottage is hidden behind a hedge. I was unable to find the information about Helen Russel Smith in the church - I assume it has been removed from the window ledge. I don't know why she moved to Leafield.
 

roberte

Member
Sep 2, 2012
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portrait of Helen Russell Cooke

You may be interested to see this portrait of Helen Russell Cooke by David Rolt, the British artist who was a long term friend of Helen. She was known to Rolt and his family as Mel (presumably an abbreviation of her maiden name Helen Melville Smith).

Portrait of Mel.jpg

More information about the artist and his friendship with Mel can be found at David Rolt - Artist - Oil Painting - Ink Drawings - Water colours

Portrait of Mel.jpg
 
T

tedgorton

Guest
Hello
I actually live in Pratts - where Helen lived. I wonder if anyone knows why she moved to Leafield?
My wife and I were students at Oxford in the early 70's, and rented a tiny cottage ("Linden Cottage") on the other side of the paddock from Mel Russell-Cooke. She was terribly kind to us and used to have us over on Sundays for some of her wonderful sherry and a simple lunch. She told us they had been living on a channel island (Guernsey?) when the Nazi invasion loomed, and not knowing England well they took a map and found the spot furthest from any seacoast, namely Leafield. I have no idea whether she was serious (or indeed whether Leafield really fits that description), but it matters little. Despite the inhuman number of tragedies she had borne, she was full of joy and charm and a kind of class that one does not find anymore; the sort of person who could mix real (and substantial) jewels with fantasy ones, and carry it off, as she did for her 74th birthday which we attended. One of those persons who leave the world a poorer place.
 

roberte

Member
Sep 2, 2012
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As well as the portrait I posted last year, I'm wondering whether either or both of these portraits could also be of her. They were painted by her close friend David Rolt who painted many leading figures from the arts, politics and high society during the 1940s and 50s. I am currently cataloguing the collection of paintings that David Rolt left to his family when he died in 1985. I have found - among others - portraits of the late Duchess of Westminster, the writer and politician Harold Nicholson and the actresses Valerie Hobson and Irene Handl, but there are still quite few for which I have so far been unable to identify the sitter. A member of Rolt's family has suggested that the lady in the ball gown might be Helen - or "Mel" as they called her. Could the other portrait also be of her a bit later in her life? I would be very interested to hear - whether yea nor nay - from anyone else who knew her. Please contact me at robert@roberteaglefineart.com
293 - 15.50 x 19.50 copy.jpg299 - 41.25 x 21.25 copy.jpg

293 - 15.50 x 19.50 copy.jpg


299 - 41.25 x 21.25 copy.jpg
 
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tedgorton

Guest
I am relatively sure the portrait (bust) on the left is Mel. that is how she looked when we knew her. The one in the ball gown does not look familiar but then she was much older by the time we met.

[Moderator's note: Edited to remove unnecessary quote back of entire preceding message. MAB]