Unity Mitford - Return To Britain

Return To Britain

In December, she was moved to a hospital in Bern in the neutral country of Switzerland, where her mother and youngest sister, Deborah, went to collect her. In a 2002 letter to The Guardian Deborah relates the experience: "We were not prepared for what we found - the person lying in bed was desperately ill. She had lost two stone (28 pounds), was all huge eyes and matted hair, untouched since the bullet went through her skull. The bullet was still in her head, inoperable the doctor said. She could not walk, talked with difficulty and was a changed personality, like one who had had a stroke. Not only was her appearance shocking, she was a stranger, someone we did not know. We brought her back to England in an ambulance coach attached to a train. Every jolt was agony to her."

Stating she could remember nothing of the incident, Mitford returned to England with her mother and sister in January 1940 amid a flurry of press interest and her comment, "I'm glad to be in England, even if I'm not on your side", led to public calls for her internment as a traitor. Due to the intervention by Home Secretary John Anderson, at the behest of her father, she was left to live out her days with her mother at the family home at Swinbrook, Oxfordshire. Under the care of Professor Cairns, neurosurgeon at the Nuffield Hospital in Oxford, "She learned to walk again, but never fully recovered. She was incontinent and childish." Mitford was keen to visit her sister Diana in Holloway Prison, and Norah Elam offered to look after Unity at their home in Logan Place for a short period. Norah Elam and her husband Dudley escorted Mitford to see Diana and Oswald Mosley in Holloway on 18 March 1943.

Up to 11 September 1941, Mitford is reported to have had an affair with RAF Pilot Officer John Andrews, a test pilot, who was stationed at the nearby RAF Brize Norton. MI5 learned of this and reported it to Home Secretary Herbert Morrison in October. He had heard that she "drives about the countryside … and picks up airmen, etc, and … interrogates them." Andrews, a former bank clerk, a married father, was "removed as far away as the limited extent of the British Isles permits." He was re-posted to the far north of Scotland where he died in a Spitfire crash in 1945. Authorities then concluded that Mitford did not pose a significant threat.

She was taken seriously ill on a visit to the family-owned island of Inch Kenneth and was taken to hospital in Oban. Doctors had decided it was too dangerous to remove the lodged bullet, and she eventually died of meningitis caused by the cerebral swelling around the bullet. "Her sisters, even those who deplored her politics and hated her association with Hitler, mourned her deeply." She was buried at Swinbrook Churchyard. Her gravestone reads, "Say not the struggle naught availeth."

The novel Unity, by Michael Arditti, concerns the making of a film about Mitford's life. A young British aristocrat takes the title role, however the film is abandoned when the actress gets mixed up with Baader-Meinhof gang and leftist politics and is killed in a terrorist incident.

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