Rosette Savill (1898-1983)

Established a Free French Recuperation Hospital and Paddock Wood Finishing School

Rosette Veronique Savill was an inspirational and determined lady, who, along with her husband Stewart Savill set up in their Lightwater home, a Free French Recuperation Hospital in the Second World War which later developed into Paddock Wood Finishing School.
The Savill couple moved from Monaco to London in 1931 and opened a successful couturier business in Grosvenor Street, designing clothes for many social events (e.g. Royal garden parties and Ascot Races). She closed the business shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War.

After the collapse of France and General de Gaulle’s call up in 1940, Rosette offered her services to the French Vice Admiral Muselier and joined General de Gaulle’s Free French Forces as a Welfare Officer. General de Gaulle wanted her to direct the French forces in the UK but as she recalled to one journalist in the 1980s, she didn’t take General de Gaulle up on his offer, as she “didn’t like khaki“! In July 1940, the Marchioness of Crewe organised the Benevolence Committee and ‘French in Great Britain Fund’ and became it’s President; she asked her great friend Rosette to manage the Fund.

In 1941, Mr & Mrs Savill purchased her beautiful country home Paddock Wood, Red Road, Lightwater with 7.5 acres of land. The house was close to the French Military Hospital and Camp at the Old Dean in Camberley and they could continue their war effort work in relative safety. Here in the grounds of their new home under massive security, the Savill’s set up a secret reception centre (or safe house), for the French Resistance Movement, where agents could rest between spells of duty in occupied France. They converted Paddock Wood’s coach house and stable block into a convalescent and rehabilitation home for wounded soldiers who had lost limbs in the war.

Rosette Savill (Courtesy of Surrey Heath Museum)

Between 1941 and 1943 with the help of her husband and the support of a distinguished committee of public figures, Rosette organised fetes, charity sales, concerts etc, to raise money for 12 military service clubs she had founded. She sourced supplies of bedding and furniture necessary for the upkeep of these centres and worked tirelessly for charitable organisations set up to feed and clothe escapees, arriving from France. At the end of the war, Mrs Savill was awarded the Medaille de la Reconnaissance Francais, the French Medal of Recognition for her war effort.
In 1967 after 3 years of investigations by the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Paris into her war-time activities, Rosette was made a Chevalier de l’Order National du Mérite (a Knight of the National Order of Merit), for her “exceptional service given to the armed forces during the War“. When the French Consul General asked her what made her do what she did in the war, her reply was typically modest: “I did it because I felt I had to.”

After the war, Paddock Wood had been extended out of all proportion to her family needs and many soldiers, who had returned home and were now fathers, wrote to her asking if she would arrange an English education for their girls. In 1946 the Savills developed their country home into a holiday centre offering initially a 3-week summer school at Paddock Wood to learn English. In 1949, after 3 years as a summer school, it had developed into a finishing school with the help of 4 patrons. The school offered a mixed academic curriculum combining practical and gracious studies – sociology, current affairs, politics, dressmaking, cookery, Pitman’s shorthand and typing. The school was a major employer in Lightwater and successful until the late 1970s, when, as a result of the revolution in Iran and the start of the Falklands War in 1982, Middle Eastern and South American students stopped visiting the UK and enrolling at Paddock Wood. Various attempts were tried to save the school but early in 1983 it closed its doors for good. Coincidentally, Rosette passed away later that year and is buried alongside her husband in Brookwood Cemetery.

Rosette never shared her remarkable past with her students and so she her story and her school have been largely forgotten locally. However, every 5 years over 400 former students all over the world reunite through their alumna, to celebrate their remarkable Principal, one of our Women of Surrey Heath.

Rosette is just one of the talented Surrey Women featured in Surrey Museums Month 2017. To find out more about the event and other celebrated Surrey Women click here.

Text kindly produced by Pippa Anderson on behalf of Surrey Heath Museum.

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