The Law of Contact

Pauline de Chalus

by Julian Watson

Pauline de ChalusPauline Marionette de Chalus, also known as Polly and Poppet was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on the 9th November 1922, the second daughter of six girls (my mother, Jacqueline, the sixth girl has always said with a smile that she suspects that when her father saw her at her birth he must have said 'not another one'! Indeed, the seventh child was a son, Gaston, who was given seven Christian names which rather implies he was most keenly awaited) to a French gentleman, Clarence Henri François de Chalus and his Scottish wife, Georgina Mackay. (He met her when he was at Edinburgh University studying medicine).

When Pauline was young, her father, now qualified as a Doctor, moved the family to Newcastle upon Tyne in England and whilst at school there plays would be put on in the Haymarket theatre, Pauline played some minor parts.

The family moved to Inverness Gardens, Kensington, London, in 1936 and from there she was selected to play the part of Maggie (as a child) in “Mill on the Floss” which was filmed in 1938 and released in 1939. Director Tim Whelan also had her in his next film “Action for Slander”.

She met Queen Mary briefly in an arranged meeting which was recorded by the Newcastle newspaper with great pride. See attached photos.

On the 3rd of September 1939 Britain declared war on Germany after Germany's invasion of Poland and a promising film career was nipped in the bud. Pauline and her younger siblings went up to the north of Scotland as air raids on London were expected. However, soon after they got there (14th October 1939) German submarines broke through the defences of Scapa Flow and sunk a British battleship. The remoteness of Scotland now made it seem vulnerable and the children returned to England. The youngest four were evacuated to Penzance, a small seaside resort at the tip of Cornwall.

Pauline joined the London Ambulance Service and during the Blitz (day and night bombing of British cities which lasted from 7 September 1940 until the 11 May 1941 during which 40,000 civilians were killed and another 50-100,000 injured and more than a million homes destroyed) she drove makeshift trucks and vans which had been converted to be ambulances. Legend has it that being under five foot tall she had to sit on a telephone directory, which in those days were a few inches thick, in order to see out of the windscreen. Driving an ambulance during and after these terrifying raids, with London burning about her, required a courage that one can only imagine. Quite aside from that, the war was to continue to have an terrible impact on the family.

On the 8th of November 1940, the Luftwaffe, after a bombing raid on Cardiff (it is thought), had some spare bombs and on their return journey dropped them on Penzance, killing Odile de Chalus, Pauline’s 13 year old sister.

Towards the end of the year a bomb fell near the family home in Inverness Gardens and the house, whilst not hit, was deemed to be structurally unsound and Pauline and her mother had to move.

At the beginning of the war her father had joined the army and became a Captain in the Medical Corps but tragically died of a heart attack on the 23rd of December 1941 at the tender age of 45. His commanding officer said it would take three men to replace him.

Two of Pauline’s sisters, when they were old enough, worked towards the war effort, Babette on an anti-aircraft gun site in Battersea Park and Marie José in a factory making wirelesses which, of course, were indispensable for keeping people in touch with the news and the progress of the war.

In London, the theatres were closed during the Blitz but it was felt that the populous needed entertainment to distract them from the daily grind of living on minimal rations, under siege by the Nazis and the daily threats of terror from the air and invasion from the sea. When the worst of the bombing was over, Pauline had a small part in a play called “Dear Octopus” which starred John Guilgud at the Drury Lane theatre. Sadly, this was her last opportunity to act.

Soon after the war, Pauline went to Germany to work with the UNRA, a relief mission repatriating the millions of displaced persons, this she did for five years.

When she returned to England she worked at Saint Bartholomew's , better known as Bart's hospital in the East End of London running the X-ray department. There is an anecdote of this time. A nun asked her for directions to a department that Pauline did not know - somehow she guided her to the Ante-Natal unit not knowing what that was - the nun was not amused.

Later in the 1960s Pauline joined the British Foreign office where three of her sisters had already worked and where she stayed until she retired in 1982.

Now, in January 2018, aged 95, she is living in Kensington, London, in the same flat her family moved to after being bombed out of their home in 1940. Bizarrely, the actress Ann Todd who was also in "Action for Slander", onetime wife of legendary British producer and director David Lean, lived in the flat above her.

She is much amused that anyone should be thinking about her brief acting career 80 years ago.

Julian Watson 26/01/2018

Watch Pauline de Chalus Movies —»

Mill on the Floss oil painting
Oil painting of the Mill on the Floss, given to the cast members
James Mason
James Mason's Signature on Pauline's oil painting
Pauline de Chalus
Pauline de Chalus publicity photo
Pauline de Chalus publicity photo
Pauline de Chalus
Photo for IMDB entry
Meeting Queen Mary
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