Sunday, 31 January 2016

A footnote to Ian Fleming's Oxfordshire

Earlier this month, the excellent Artistic Licence Renewed website published an article of mine about Ian Fleming's Oxfordshire. The piece takes readers on a tour of the places in the county closely associated with Fleming, including his grandparents' home of Joyce Grove in Nettlebed, and his childhood home of Braziers Park in Ipsden.

Another place worth visiting, though not mentioned in the article, is the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock. The museum tells the story of two Oxfordshire regiments, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars. It is this latter regiment that may of interest to Fleming aficionados, because it was the regiment in which Valentine Fleming, Ian's father, served.

Valentine Fleming had enlisted in the yeomanry regiment by the time he had been elected Conservative member of parliament for the Henley Division of South Oxfordshire in 1910. He was in good company; his friend and fellow officer in the Hussars was Winston Churchill. Just four years later, Britain was at war, and in August 1914 the regiment headed to Flanders on the Western Front. Tragically, Major Valentine Fleming was killed in May 1917 while in command of a squadron of Hussars who were defending their position at Gillemont Farm against two companies of German infantry.

The Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, which is situated in the grounds of the Oxfordshire Museum, has a display about Valentine Fleming's role in the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars, and his sons, including Ian, are mentioned too. Incidentally, the museum is a stone's throw from Blenheim Palace, which was the home of Winston Churchill, and latterly doubled for the headquarters of Spectre in the latest Bond film.

Speaking of Winston Churchill, the Second World War leader is given a starring role in Peter Fleming's witty novella, The Flying Visit (1940), which imagines Hitler parachuting into England to appeal to the people, but being thwarted by a hard-of-hearing villager, a fancy dress party, and a toilet cubicle. As with his brother Ian, Peter Fleming had nothing but admiration for Churchill, and in this book, Churchill is naturally decisive and suitably pragmatic.

I mentioned in my tour of Fleming's Oxfordshire article that while Ian Fleming knew south Oxfordshire intimately, the county makes only the most fleeting appearances in the Bond books. This is in contrast to Fleming's other haunts in London, Kent and Jamaica, which became important locations in James Bond's adventures.

Peter Fleming does not ignore his home county, with The Flying Visit being set mainly around the hills above Henley, a location that takes in Nettlebed, where Peter lived throughout much of his life. Hitler lands near the hamlet of Bix, which neighbours Nettlebed, and there is a reference to Huntercombe, where Peter's grandmother, Kate, as well as Ian, played golf. And it is not difficult to imagine that the fictional village of Fidney, through which Hitler stumbles, owes something to Nettlebed itself. The Flying Visit is well worth a read.


Eddershaw, D, 1998 The story of the Oxfordshire Yeomanry, the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars, 1798–1998, Oxfordshire Yeomanry Trust
Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: the man behind James Bond, Turner

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