Olga Pyne Clarke (1915-1996): Famous Encounters

Throughout her life, Olga Pyne Clarke encountered some people of notoriety. Due to her upbringing in the Irish Troubles and her father’s position as a respected member of society, Olga encountered two famous British army officers. The first was Peter Strickland, an officer who survived an assassination attempt in 1920 at Olga’s home town county Cork. Olga was only five years old at the time but remembers clearly that her father had to speak with Strickland during the Partition of Ireland. He asked for help with how to deal with the local Irish community stating that: ‘it’s your duty to give me information’ (p.56). Olga’s father refused this request replying: ‘I will not inform against my own countrymen’ (p.56). Quite humorously, Olga remembers finding Strickland’s personality to be ‘extremely rude’ (p.57) in this recollection.

      The other officer, Frank Percy Crozier, was a man who became disillusioned with the British military after the Black and Tan’s treatment of Ireland. He resigned as a British officer in protest of the news that twenty-one of the Auxiliaries that he had previously dismissed were being reinstated by the Government. These twenty-one Auxiliaries were responsible for the deaths of two innocent young men during British military raids. Olga recalls how Crozier was ‘Nearly in tears’ (p.57) in her father’s office. He explained to Olga’s father how Strickland was suppressing information about the ‘atrocities’ (p.57) of the Black and Tans to England: Olga was witnessing history first-hand. 

      Attending a ‘big banquet’ in London, Olga rubbed elbows with some of the most important figures of British society. Both the German Ambassador Von Ribbentrop and other high-ranking English diplomats attended this dinner. Olga recalls how many of these high-society figures were ‘pro-Hitler’ (p.158). Olga, in a fit of annoyance, told the table that by sticking their heads in the sand ‘all this – indicating the table – will be swept away forever’ (p.159). It was this sentiment that the famous Army man Fritz Renton agreed with wholeheartedly, becoming one of her ‘greatest friends’ (p.160) at the table. Renton, Olga explains, was ‘employed by the wealthy British Jews who ran the country, to bring out as many Jewish families’ (p.160) from Germany and Austria. He worked undercover as a spy, pretending to be a friend of Hitler’s working on the inside. Olga, it seems, made friends with people throughout her life who had powerful connections.

      As a child, Olga occasionally travelled abroad with her family. In the autumn of 1920, Olga ‘dined in a very small quayside restaurant’ (p.92) on the way back to Brussels. There, Olga’s uncle recognised the world-famous operatic tenor Enrico Caruso. She recalls how a ‘starving old street singer’ began to sing a ‘horrific rendering of La Donna Mobile’ (p.92). Hearing this, Caruso ‘pushed the old fellow down on a chair, ordered him food’ (p.92) and then sang La Donna Mobile ‘as it should be sung’ (p.93). After this, Caruso took a hat around the room and gave all the earnings to the old man. Sadly, Caruso would have been very ill when this happened: he died within the year. Here, Olga offers here a sweet anecdote about a man at the end of his life adding humanity behind the legend of a celebrity.     

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