THE BALMORAL FILE by Carl Innes




Note from author.


While recuperating from an injury sustained on duty when I was a Metropolitan Police Officer in London, England I was posted to the Police Training College in Hendon, north London. There I was involved in various physiotherapy programs. In between rehabilitation sessions, in order to justify my salary, I had been asked to assist at the Metropolitan Police Museum that is situated on the same campus.


The curator, a crusty old former sergeant, showed me how to list and register the backlog of previously unrecorded donations that the museum had received. The donations came from various sources, members of the public, former officers, and their families.


On my second day I came across the personal diary of a former Special Branch Chief Inspector, Rollo Wilson, who had served in Special Branch, in the early 1900’s. It was my lunch break and I decided to read the journal to pass the time while I ate.


The journal had been donated to the Metropolitan Police Museum by the Chief Inspector’s great grand- daughter in 1996.

I’m pretty confident when I say that given the nature of the revelations contained within the diary, that the great granddaughter could not have conceivably read the contents before donating it.


The following is an excerpt taken directly from the diary.


****

Chief Inspector Rollo Wilson.

Special Branch - October 25th, 1910.

In relation to the next entry, I must first and foremost offer an apology to the institution which has provided myself not only a living but also a much-needed sense of purpose. I had returned from military service a broken man and the Metropolitan Police Force has replaced much of the camaraderie and professional focus I so sorely missed.


The apology is offered for my apparent lack of professionalism in so far as I have chosen to detail the following events within my private diary as opposed to limiting their knowledge within the context of my official reports.


Perhaps given the nature of the revelation I shall be detailing I could assume that what I am about to relay could be viewed as fanciful and outlandish. This I wholeheartedly accept and acknowledge will be the likely outcome.


Nevertheless, I shall endeavour to report the facts as succinctly as I experienced them and leave the reader to decide as to my credibility.

It was a crisp Autumn afternoon that greeted me as I alighted from the train from London when we stopped at Aviemore. I found myself to be the only passenger on the platform as the elegant steam train bellowed her way from the station on route to her next destination.


I had been despatched from the Metropolitan Police Head Quarters at Scotland yard as part of a new initiative implemented in response to the inauguration of George V.

I had been tasked to attend Balmoral Castle, the summer residence of the Royal Family, where I would be interviewing all the castle staff currently employed. The purpose of the interviews was to ascertain their suitability to serve the Family, given their proximity, and access to, the Royals when they were in residence.


To this end I was to consider a myriad of information, from previous employment to personal habits, religious leanings and of course, overt political views and ideology. These were fraught times and widespread knowledge of subversive forces at work both at home and abroad had necessitated the implementation of such new measures.


I collected my overnight bag and proceeded to enter the small stone building that formed part of the main station area. I was greeted by the sight of the sole visible employee, a ticket inspector, who was perched on a stool near the main entrance. The chap barely looked up from his newspaper as I approached. I attempted tor recover my ticket from my overcoat pocket, but he waved away my efforts with barely a glance up from the crossword puzzle he was attempting.


As I passed the ticket inspector I nodded in thanks.


“The car from the castle will be here shortly” he said in a broad Scottish accent.


I turned to see if any other information would be forthcoming. It was not. The ticket inspector had already returned to his puzzle.


Outside the front of the station, it was equally as quiet. I looked down the road to the village of Aviemore a mere half mile away and took a moment to marvel at the uniform, rigid, white plumbs of smoke, that seemed to be emanating equally from every household, slicing effortlessly into the afternoon sky.


A bike bell sounded form behind me, and I turned to see the butcher’s delivery boy on a pillar box red bike whipping his way in my direction. At the last moment he swerved to avoid me and winked cheekily before continuing on his way towards the village.


Moments later the sound of a vehicle caused me to turn yet again, and I was greeted by the unmistakable sight of a Royal Royce Silver Ghost car as it barrelled towards me. I wondered if this was to be my mode of transportation to the castle and then I wondered if and how the driver could even hope to stop the vehicle before he reached my location such was the speed at which he was travelling.


The daredevil driver stopped the vehicle just a few feet from where I was positioned. (So close was he that I must confess I momentarily considered throwing myself out of harms way.) Once stopped the driver bounded from the vehicle towards me with his hand outstretched in greeting while maintaining a large affable grin. Despite his enthusiasm I did notice that he bore a noticeable limp in his right leg.

I extended my right hand also and we shook vigorously.


“You’ll be Chief Inspector Wilson Sir. I’m Gavin Escott driver and general dog’s body from the castle. Former NCO.”


“What unit?”


“Duke of Wellingtons.”


“Fine mob.”

I took a gamble and nodded towards the affected limb. “Old war wound?”

Gavin scooped up my bag and placed it in the boot as we spoke.


“Afraid so. But I can’t complain, life is good. What with my Army pension and what the castle pays me I’m a lot better off than most.”

Gavin opened the rear door to the Rolls, but I declined. “Mind if I travel up front with you?”


Gavin seemed rather elated that I had chosen to ride with him. My reasoning was simple. I first and foremost did not wish to endure the false regality of being chauffeured in a Rolls Royce vehicle normally used by the Royal Family. Secondly, I wished to get to know the man who was ferrying me to the castle.

I did not have to work hard to achieve a rapport with Gavin. He was as he appeared to be. An extremely affable former British soldier. The type of man who could be described as the backbone of working-class society in Britain. The type of man the Empire was built on. Gavin chatted animatedly about his family, life in the military, cricket and the relative merits and demerits of blended versus single malt whiskey.


The main driveway to the castle could be described as undeniably regal yet somewhat comfortable if that is indeed possible. I was dismayed when Gavin told me we would be using the front entrance for the reason I had already mentioned. As we pulled up to the front doors of the castle, I saw Mrs. Mylecrest for the first time. We had spoken over the phone on a few occasions prior to my trip but it was a great pleasure to meet her in person.


Diminutive and welcoming, the petite and yet vibrant head of the Balmoral household staff ignored my offered hand and instead greeted me with a hug. which I found to be surprisingly natural.


“Pleased to meet you Inspector” she said in her broad Scottish brogue. “I trust your trip was pleasant enough?”


“Very much so” I replied. “I love train travel and the scenery was wonderful.”


I took a moment to marvel at the castle as she ushered me towards the main doors.


“It’s quite beautiful, isn’t it? We do so love the opportunity to show off when we can. The household only comes into itself for the six weeks or so that the family are in residence so for the rest of the time we are simply maintaining.”


Once over the threshold I was struck by the relative simpleness of the decoration. Mrs. Mylecrest was kind enough to point out a couple of noticeable pieces of artwork and took great delight in explaining their relevance and heritage, before showing me up the main stairwell and along a myriad of corridors to my room.

“I’ll leave you to unpack. Come back to the parlour off the front hall when you are ready, and I’ll set out some tea and sandwiches for you.”


I thanked Mrs. Mylecrest profusely and when she left, I spent a few minutes exploring my temporary lodgings. The large four poster bed dominated the room that benefited from a wonderful view of the main driveway. There was a handsome desk near the window and much to my delight a bathroom attached to the bedroom.


When I had unpacked and had refreshed myself, I left my room and proceeded to get lost in the maze of corridors. A kindly maid took pity on me and showed me down to the main parlour where Mrs. Mylecrest greeted me again.


We sat in two high wing backed chairs near the fireplace as she poured me a cup of tea. I helped myself to a couple of the delightful delicate sandwiches which had been prepared and eyed the fruit cake that was also waiting for my consumption.


Mrs. Mylecrest added not sugar but honey to her tea and stirred her cup slowly as she relaxed and spoke.


“I was mindful of what you asked about time being an issue and your desire to proceed with the interviews of the household staff as quickly as possible. Now I’ve scheduled your first interviews to begin in half an hour. The stable staff, grounds staff and the gardeners will be first. Tomorrow you’ll meet the inside staff, and you should be able to complete all your interviews over the course of day.”


“I have my copy of the household master list you sent me, thank you.”


“I must tell you Chief Inspector that many of the staff are so nervous about your visit. Some are worried about their jobs.”


“Please assure them Mrs. Mylecrest that is not my intention to have them fear for their livelihood. I know full well that had you had any reservations whatsoever about any of the individuals serving here then you would have given them their marching orders long before I arrived.”


My comment was meant to reassure Mrs. Mylecrest but I registered a flicker of doubt that touched her eyes.


“Quite so. Quite so.”

We chatted aimlessly and easily for a further quarter off an hour during which time I developed the distinct feeling that had not distance been a hurdle we would become firm friends. At four thirty Mrs. Mylecrest stood and excused herself saying she would send in the first interviewee shortly.


I took a few moments to prepare myself at the table that had ben set aside for me I placed all the personal files on one side of the table and a swathe of loose paper sheets on the other with my favourite Waterman’s ink pen at hand.

At four thirty-five there came a knock at the door. “Come in “I replied.

The door was opened by Mrs. Mylecrest who ushered in a decidedly worried looking Gregory Macdonald into the study.


I arose from my chair and did my best to smile widely in greeting.


“This is Mr. Macdonald our head gardener,” said Mrs. Mylecrest.


Cap in hand Mr. Macdonald came towards the desk I stepped around and greeted him. He had a firm handshake which I found to be promising. My father had always told me that one can tell a great deal about a man by his handshake.


“Pleased to meet you Mr. Macdonald. Please take a seat. Thank you, Mrs. Mylecrest.”


Mrs. Mylecrest shut the door behind her as I took up my pen and wrote Mr. Macdonald’s name on the top of the first sheet of paper. I nodded towards the brutish storm that had started up outside.


“The weather certainly changed quickly this evening.”


Mr. Macdonald followed my gaze and stared outside for a few moments.


“Aye there’ll be a lot of debris to pick up after this one”.


I nodded and took a deep breath before beginning my questioning.

After Mr. Macdonald came the McCarthy brothers and then a very sheepish junior gardener named Simon Carlisle who rather amusingly admitted within seconds of arrival that he’d once shot a pheasant on Royal land. I thanked him for his honesty and reaffirmed that he would not be losing his job for this particular transgression.


When Robert left at a little after eight Mrs. Mylecrest came in to wish me good night. She told me there was a mug of cocoa awaiting me in my room with a plate of drop scones.


I thanked her profusely and wished her goodnight thinking that any longer a stay at the castle would undoubtedly necessitate a vigorous exercise program to offset the countless baked offerings.


The following morning, I arose at five thirty and after a thoroughly delicious breakfast of buttered kippers in the company of Mrs. Mylecrest in the servant’s quarters I began my interviews again.

The day passed quickly and bore no surprises in relation to the staff. All the series of interviews did was reinforce my notion that Mrs. Mylecrest was a shrewd judge of character when it came to employees for the castle.

After a late dinner I returned to the study and checked my records to see that there were only two remaining members of staff that had yet to be interviewed. The Strachans were apparently a married couple who only worked nights at the castle. There file did not detail when they first started or exactly in what capacity they worked at the castle.

Mrs. Mylecrest came into the study at a little before nine as I was sorting through my files. I was booked on the early train the next morning back to London and I wanted to be prepared.


“They’re here now Inspector.”


“Thank you, Mrs. Mylecrest. Could you show Mr. Strachan in first please.?”

For only the second time since I had been at the castle Mrs. Mylecrest looked anxious and even wrang her hands a little as she spoke.


“Would it be possible for you to see the Strachans together? Mrs. Strachan is very nervous and doesn’t do well by herself.”

I could see that Mrs. Mylecrest was subject to a degree of inner turmoil and for all the kindness she had shown me I wanted to alleviate her anxiety as much as possible.


“That would be fine.”


“Thank you so much.”

Mrs. Mylecrest turned to leave but when she got to the door she turned once more with concern still etched on her face.


“The Strachans are, well, are rather special. They do a lot for the castle, and I’ve never had any concerns with them at all.”


I was a little disarmed by her advocating for the Strachans in such an obvious way as she had not done so for any of the other staff. What was I to expect?


“I’m sure they’ll be fine Mrs. Mylecrest.”


Mrs. Mylecrest forced a tight smile before stepping into the hallway.


“The Chief Inspector will see you now.”

The Strachans came into the study together walking side by side. I was instantly aware of how unremarkable they were as individuals, and as a couple. Mr. Strachan was probably about sixty-five and stood about five foot six. He was a little overweight and looked decidedly depressed. Mrs. Strachan by contrast was shorter and slightly heavier than her husband and also seemed rather sullen. The clothes they wore were clean but worn looking.

I grabbed another chair and placed it in front of the desk. The chairs positioning was not to the Strachan’s liking as Mr. Strachan moved his chair even closer to his wife before they sat. Mrs. Mylecrest smiled nervously once more at the doorway.


“I’ll leave you to it then.”


“Thank you, Mrs. Mylecrest.”


When she had left, I turned my attention to the Strachans. “Good evening to you both.”

“Good evening, Chief Inspector” said Mr. Strachan formally. Mrs. Strachan barely nodded towards me in response.

The interview felt strained before it had even started so I tried to alleviate some of the tension.


“Quite a storm out. Do you have far to travel?” Mr. Strachan cleared his throat before responding. “We have a cottage up the Glen a few miles away.”


“It’s ours. It’s been in the family for years. It’s only small but it’s home” Mrs. Strachan said quietly.


“Nothing like home at the end of a hard day. Or in your case after a hard night, I suppose.”


Mrs. Strachan nodded nervously and looked at her husband who put a reassuring hand on his wife’s leg.


“Yes” he replied. “It’s our sanctuary.”


I began to make few notes.


“How long have you worked nights here at the castle?”


“Since we started with his Majesty’s predecessor,” said Mr. Strachan.


“King Edward?”


I received no reply from either, so I looked up from my note-taking.


Mr. Strachan sighed.


“No Sir.”


“Oh, Queen Victoria.”


“No Sir.”


Mr. Strachan shifted in his seat and looked at his wife before continuing.


“No Sir. Edward. That is King Edward.”


I looked down at my notes and did some quick mental calculations. I directed my next question to both the Strachans.


“So, you both would have started working here literally straight from school at what? Fifteen years of age?”

The couple just kept staring at me and neither answered. I must confess I felt somewhat frustrated with the lack of forthcoming information. I decided to change tact and pursue my quest via another avenue.


“Do your duties at the castle change every night?” It was Mrs. Strachan who answered this time.


“Yes, we seldom know what’s planned for us. We don’t mind it. Makes life more interesting that way.”


Mrs. Strachan looked to her husband for support once more. “Aye, there’s not much we can’t handle” he said.


There was a knock at the door and before I could answer a tea trolley was brought in by one of the maids, Bronwyn, who I had interviewed earlier that day. Bronwyn pushed the cart over to my desk.


“Mrs. Mylecrest has gone home for the night, but I thought you might like some tea.”


“Thank you, Bronwyn, we’ll pour ourselves” I said as I stood up next to the tea trolley.


“Very good sir. Good night.”


“Good night, Bronwyn.”

I noticed Bronwyn smile kindly at the Strachans before she left.


I was glad of the tea trolley and the diversion it offered. “Mr. and Mrs. Strachan, tea?”