Drink, drugs and death: Juanita Carberry’s Happy Valley childhood
The unconventional writer and sailor, who died last weekend, was the teenage witness in the White Mischief murder case
Delves Broughton, who was known as Jock, had been kind to the friendless Juanita – he told her now “not to be frightened when the police came” – and this kindness guaranteed the girl’s loyalty to him, and her silence.
“The key to it was loneliness,” Juanita eventually told the author of White Mischief, James Fox. “ He had been provoked to do it. There was nothing premeditated about it. They had gone too far . . . And the fact is that he was in love with Diana.”
Delves Boughton was acquitted after a sensational trial that turned the spotlight on the decadent goings-on in what was known as Happy Valley. In the middle of the second World War, with death and deprivation in Europe, the behaviour of a drink-ridden, drug-addled orgiastic group of aristocrats was not received kindly.
Hay, the victim, was a careless man who liked rich, married mistresses, and was not above publicly humiliating their husbands. He was noble – he was lord high constable of Scotland by birth – but he was bright, and at the time of his death was working hard as the colony’s military secretary. He was also bully to his African servants, and had toyed, briefly, with fascism.
He lost interest in his second wife, although not in her money. Countess Molly subsequently died at the lovely house they shared, which was called the Djinn Palace, and which the visiting GP, an Irishman called Joseph Gregory, remembered during her decline as smelling of “champagne and vomit.” Her body was covered with heroin abscesses.
The accused, Delves Broughton, was later described by fellow members at his club in London as “dishonest, charmless, morose”. He was widely believed to have faked sunstroke in order to avoid going to the front with the Irish Guards in 1914. He swindled insurance companies and his family to pay gambling debts – he was a racing man. His friend Lord (Paddy) Carnarvon, also a racing man, later said of him: “Jock was perhaps a little vain and I think damn stupid, if you ask me.”
After the trial Delves Broughton, who had been widely ostracised because of it and who dreaded loneliness, killed himself in an English hotel. His lovely widow married twice more, eventually becoming Lady Delamere and, in her turn, an enthusiastic racehorse owner.
Carberry became something else. As a teenager, and strictly teetotal, she had joined the merchant navy. Cyril Connolly, who began the investigation that became White Mischief, wrote of meeting her in 1971: “JC late. Small, close cropped, medium colouring, nice quiet voice. Works as a steward on tankers. Knows many languages, fluent Swahili, etc. Lunched at Le Francais, drinks milk, orders in French. Impressions: great integrity, sensiblity, observation etc.”
That serves as a good obituary for her now. She was the perfect witness to the end.