LYME Regis is mourning the death of Diana Shervington, aged 99, a popular character in the town known as a direct descendant of author Jane Austen.
Born in Ireland in 1919, she moved as a baby to the Isle of Man and later to Chawton in Hampshire.
Her grandmothers, Louisa and Elizabeth, were sisters, and granddaughters of Edward, Jane Austen’s brother. At age 15, Diana inherited a collection of Jane’s personal items, thus starting a life-long interest in the life and work of the famed author.
Diana was educated locally before studying at St Mary’s, Calne, where she excelled in the arts and music in particular. She played piano and cello and used the music books that Jane Austen had written out by hand.
During the Second World War, Diana joined the Women’s Auxilary Air Force (WAAF). Her sister Felicity flew planes during the war as an Air Transport Pilot but their mother wouldn’t allow Diana to do the same.
Her first posting in the WAAF was to London for an intelligence job and she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone where it was or what she was doing. Diana was in charge of the telephone exchange which Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin used for their discussions, and she later analysed aerial reconnaissance photos from the French coast, looking for German submarines and submarine pens, and V2 rocket launching sites.
Diana remained in London during the whole of the Blitz, often having to walk to work through bomb-shattered streets because there was no transport.
Having been given time off to look after her sick mother, she volunteered in a canteen for servicemen at the local camp. One day at the camp, the air raid siren went off and Diana was flung into a trench by a sergeant who jumped in on top of her as a German aircraft opened fire, killing three men and injuring many more.
The sergeant’s name was Rupert and later became Diana’s husband. They were married at St Mary’s, Paddington, in February 1941.
Rupert spent most of the war in Burma and India while Diana remained at home raising their three children. They lived in Medstead and, after the war, Rupert began a career with the railways, working his way up to become the chief operating manager at Waterloo, later being in charge of all services to Scotland at Kings Cross.
Diana and Rupert shared a love of art, with Rupert taking up art classes in London and Diana gaining a degree in ceramics from an art school in St Alban’s. After Rupert took early retirement, he studied art full-time in London for four years before the family eventually moved to Lyme Regis in 1986 – the town where Jane Austen had visited in the 1800s and where part of her famous novel ‘Persuasion’ was based.
Rupert taught art locally for 15 years while Jane continued her pottery work and started lecturing for the Jane Austen Society – her delightfully colourful and eccentric nature increasingly sought out by ‘Janites’ from around the world, eager to meet the closest descendant of the Austen family.
Her most treasured items from her collection of Jane’s personal items were donated to Lyme Regis Museum and are still on display in the literary gallery.
Rupert died in 2003 and Diana Shervington is survived by their son and two daughters.