Moyra Prendergast (1887-1972) was a classically trained and accomplished violinist born in Cuckfield. As a gifted musician and entertainer she volunteered at the outbreak of WW1, to entertain the troops at the many training camps on Salisbury Plain before the soldiers left for the front.
Initially Moyra was part of a group put together by John Rowlands, a long-time friend. The Bristol based concert party called the ‘Grand Sacred' did many tours on the Plains entertaining the soldiers with a popular mix of music and humour. It was a huge success.
In August 1916 a tour was organised with the patronage of Dr Barclay Baron and Mrs Baron, Lord Mayor of Bristol and his wife. They began in Fovant where they were royally greeted by the Commanding Officer Brigadier-General Antill, his staff and their ladies. There was a gymkhana for their entertainment then, after tea, a performance was given for hospital patients.
Moyra was the daughter of James Prendergast (1852-1908) and Martha Elizabeth Edrupt (1854-1933). James, born in County Waterford in Ireland, was employed as a butler at Brantridge Park, Cuckfield (between Balcombe and Staplefield), by an Australian named Finley Campbell. The two Prendergast children - Moyra and her brother Edrupt - were born.
We know that in 1901, James had become a wine merchant in Islington and the family was together at this time - but by 1911, clearly the relationship had fallen apart and Moyra was living with her widowed mother and brother in Bristol where both she and her mother are recorded as living on 'private means'.
Moyra did not marry until late in her life and threw her energies into her devotion for music and entertaining - initially playing for troops and then touring with concert parties in the 1920s.
On the occasion of her 100th visit to Salisbury Plain in October 1916 she was presented with a fur-lined motor coat by the grateful soldiers. Her popularity is clear from an item in a west country newspaper:
There were more cheers, heartier than ever, and when they had subsided and the last words of 'For she's a jolly good fellow' had been sung, Miss Prendergast stood up and made as neat a little speech as one could wish for. This is what she said:
I feel it difficult to tell you how much I thank you for this handsome present. I can assure you I did not need this token of your appreciation to remind me of the many happy hours it has been my privilege to spend amongst you. But I shall value it, and the generous impulse that prompted the gift, beyond measure. It has been a real pleasure to come down here, and I am proud to think I have been able to do something to brighten your stay on Salisbury Plain.
My thanks are due to Mr Rowlands for his kindness and consideration to me. It is entirely owing to his kindness that I have been able to come. I hope you will have a safe passage through the terrible war and a speedy return home after the accomplishment of that honourable peace which your efforts will help to achieve.
Mr Rowlands, in sincere words, also expressed his thanks, and mentioned that his 200 trips to [and from] the Plain had involved, travelling by motorcar, a distance equal to a journey round the world.
[Source: Western Daily Press ?]
After the First World War Moyra continued with her very successful career as a member of concert parties well into the 1920s. Entertainment included classical, burlesque, comedy through to jazz. She and her widowed mother were known to be running a boarding house for musicians in Chiswick in 1939. Records show that Moyra didn't marry until possibly 1965 in Surrey to a Roger E Welland - but we have no further information or confirmation of this. Moyra died in Ottershaw, Surrey in 1972.
From Fovant Village website recalling characters and the army camps Village:https://www.fovantvillage.com/_files/ugd/9a4070_141df7c258c24e59b22723ac58e43956.pdf
Photos and information provided by Mrs Olivia Roper (nee Prendergast) Moyra’s great niece.
Top: Bob Roberts and the Royal Quixotes in 1927. Colourised image.
Leas Pavilion, Folkestone poster: Royal Quixotes’, the 1926 edition presented by Bob Roberts. Dancing, Vocalism, Comedy, Sketches and Burlesques. The Friends of the Leas Pavilion are promoting a campaign to restore the building as a heritage asset. https://www.leaspavilionarchive.org.uk
The YMCA at Fovant, nearSalisbury Plain, crammed with soldiers. In those days there was little concern for ‘health and safety’. The call for encores was so insistent that eventually Brigadier General Antill had to sweep the performers off to join him for supper in his quarters.
Some of the photographs have been kindly provided by family members Olivia Roper(née Prendergast) Moyra’s great niece and Andrew Prendergast.
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.