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Chale plot is a page turner

Friday, March 12, 2010 - 11:05

WIGHT LIVING

FOR years it lay untended, with nothing to mark its incredible story, but the little-known history of a small plot at an Island cemetery has finally been revived.
Thanks to the chance discovery of a short entry in a visitors’ book, and some Island detective work, the twist-filled story of how Chale Church became the not-so-final resting place of Hungary’s first president and his dashing pilot son has come to light.
On Monday, November 2, last year, the latest development in the tale took place, with the daughter and other members of the family of Count Mihaly Karolyi invited to unveil a memorial bench at the plot where he and his son, Adam, were buried.


As the dust settled at the end of the First World War, Mihaly became the ill-fated first president of a new Hungarian democracy.
He led the left-wing revolution that established democracy in the country but soon found himself out of favour, clashing with parliament over land ownership and the punitive armistice terms levied against them by the Allies.
The family went into exile and became regular visitors to the Island, staying at Chale’s Clarendon Hotel, also known as the White Mouse Inn.
Mihaly’s children, including Adam, were educated in Britain and the family developed lasting ties with the Island.
Adam, who trained as a pilot and planned to join the RAF if war broke out, died days before the start of the Second World War in an horrific plane crash near Sandown.
Among those to remember his death was Gurnard resident and daughter of a Russian countess, Zoe Langford, who days earlier had partied with the dashing young pilot.
She declined an offer to go flying with him but her brother took a flight with daredevil Adam, who terrified his young passenger by buzzing as close as possible past a Shanklin church steeple in his Gipsy Moth.
The next day, on a flight with a London businessman, the joystick came away in his hand and the out-of-control aircraft plunged to the ground.
Adam, 21, was flung from the wreckage but suffered 75 per cent burns and died in Shanklin Cottage Hospital the next day.
His girlfriend, Joan Broadsmith, daughter of Saunders Roe’s managing director Harry Broadsmith, was so traumatised by Adam’s death she doused herself in paraffin and set herself alight but survived. She died in 1992.
It was this story, told to him by Miss Langford, that sparked the interest of retired policeman Jim Green, who turned his detective skills to the case.
"We were sitting in her kitchen and she told me this incredible story. I realised how important it was but I did not think it would lead to all of this," said Mr Green, of Worsley Road, Gurnard.
Mr Green used directory enquiries and discovered there were two listings nationally for Karolyi. He called a London listing and found himself chatting with Judith Karolyi, Adam’s 91-year-old sister.
"We were on the phone for about an hour. She was lovely," said Mr Green.

Memorial bench.
At the unveiling of the memorial bench at Chale in November, from left, Countess Judith Karolyi, sister of the late Adam Karolyi and daughter of Mihaly Karolyi, Zoe Langford, who met Adam before he died, and Derek Sprake, who helps care for the churchyard at Chale.
Mr Green researched County Press archives and found inquest reports of Adam’s death.
His investigation took him to Chale Church, where he met Derek Sprake, who helped care for the churchyard where Adam had been buried.
Church records showed that when Adam’s father Mihaly, 80, died in 1955, he was buried alongside his son.
In the 1960s, after a change of government in Hungary, the pair were exhumed, repatriated and given a state burial.
But church records revealed it was not the first time Adam’s body had been exhumed.
In 1941, he was one of many foreign nationals to be dug up under government orders, so he could be searched for documents or effects which might have been of use to the war effort.
When the two men were eventually returned to Hungary, the circumstances were considerably different to when Mihaly was forced to leave the country in 1919.
According to Mihaly’s memoirs, he was informed of his own resignation as president, only after the socialist newspaper Nepszava had reported it.
Although he was allowed to return briefly during the 1940s, taking a role as ambassador to France, his relationship with Hungary again ended in acrimony after he spoke out over the trial of politician Laszlo Rajk.
"I became, for the second time, an emigre. All my belongings were seized as they had been 28 years before. This time there was no hope of return," he wrote.
But Mihaly was to return and following the exhumation of the bodies, the plot at Chale became a dump for unwanted wreaths and flowers.
Most visitors were unaware of its past and it was only after Mr Sprake found an entry from Mrs Karolyi in the Chale Church visitors’ book that work began to restore the plot and erect a lasting memorial to its past.
"It has been quite an honour for Chale," said Mr Sprake.

Reporter: [email protected]

 


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