The life and times of Gilbert Evans : Summer in February
The life and times of Gilbert Evans : Summer in February
Gilbert accepted the invitation of his friend, Colonel Paynter, to go to Lamorna, a small coastal village lying between Penzance and Land's End in the south west corner of Cornwall, and run Paynter's Boskenna estate. The photo of Lamorna Cove is c.1920.
The young Captain Evans lived in what is now The Cove Hotel where he became involved in the social lives of a group of artists, some associated with the Newlyn School, who had moved to Lamorna to paint, inspired by the beautiful scenery and quality of light.
Gilbert befriended amongst others Alfred Munnings, Harold and Laura Knight and S.J. "Lamorna" Birch, all of whom would become Royal Academians.
Gilbert's first recorded meeting with Florence Carter-Wood (above) was on 1st March, 1910 when he recorded that she, along with Knights, came to dinner.
When Munnings first appears in Gilbert's diaries on 1st September, he records that "Mrs Knight, Miss Carter-Wood and Munnings came to tea. After supper at the Birches', Mrs Knight, Mrs Carter-Wood, Munnings and couple of others came, and we danced to the Gramophone".
It was only just over three weeks later that on 24th September, 1910, Gilbert's reveals that he dined at Trewarveneth, where much to the surprise of all, Laura Knight advised that Florence and Alfred (pictured above) were engaged.
There is, however, no evidence to suggest that Gilbert was upset by the news of this engagement. It is therefore assumed that he became close to Florence (whose nickname was Blote) possibly between 1912 and 1913 when she was already married to Munnings: he was frequently away from Lamorna and Gilbert spent a lot of time with her.
In her biography of Alfred, "The Life of Alfred Munnings", Jean Goodman wrote, "Gilbert took her for long walks and out for lunch and tea on several occasions. They made a handsome couple; he unfailingly sensitive and gentlemanly in contrast to her unpredictable husband and probably a much more understanding and relaxing companion."
Clearly Gilbert and Florence were falling for each other. The continued absence of Alfred brought them closer together. She found solace in Gilbert - she obviously had a tempestuous relationship with Munnings and had even attempted suicide on their wedding night.
Gilbert made several entries during this time but the one that describes best the emotion is the one he wrote on 22nd February 1914 that inspired the title of the title of Jonathan Smith's novel.
"Early lunch with Florence in my rooms and then for a walk over the cliffs to Penberth, where we had tea and then back by road in the evening. A summer's day to be remembered."
Gilbert was realistic and saw the impossibility of the situation he was in having fallen in love with the wife of his great friend, Alfred, and decided to leave for a post with a Royal Engineers Survey party going out to Nigeria.
He last saw Florence in London when the artists and their wives were in London for the opening of the Royal Academy.
25th April, 1914: "Met Florence at twelve and went into the park and sat and talked. Back to the Trocadero for lunch. She saw me off at Paddington - we parted at 3.15. I went to the train alone and very sad."
Further sadness and tragedy was to follow. A few months later he was to add to that entry with the words "This was the last time I saw her alive."
Florence died by her own hand, taking cyanide some short months after Gilbert's departure. Unhappy both with her marriage (the night before she died, Munnings had raged at her and called her bloody whore) and with Gilbert having left, she presumably saw no other way forward.
Though there is no real evidence to suggest she was pregnant by Gilbert, it was hinted at in the book and shown quite obviously in the film. There are undisclosed letters to the Royal Academy from Laura Knight that led the makers of the film to this assumption. Her marriage to Munnings was apparently never consummated.
Gilbert learned of Florence's death some weeks after the event. From the actual diary entry, he was clearly distraught as you will see on his diary extract above.
The painting that adorns the original cover of the book, is the portrait of Florence on Merrilegs by Alfred Munnings.
In a gesture of great sensitivity and generosity to his good friend, knowing that his late wife and Gilbert were very close, when Munnings finally left Lamorna, he left the picture with the Knights, which Gilbert collected upon his return from Nigeria.
Gilbert displayed the painting (above) for the rest of his life in a prime position in his home in Lamorna, where he retired to in 1933 until his death in 1966.
The following humorous story of the time when Gilbert saved the day (celebrated by Munnings and his wife, Florence, amongst other artists and friends) was recounted by the late David Evans in an article in 2005.
"Spring often comes early to West Cornwall and by the end of March1912, sunny days and warm evenings were evident. On Sunday 31st March, the artists, their wives and friends decided to have a barbecue in Trevelloe wood. The fire was glowing steadily and the drink that they had brought was flowing nicely, when to their horror, they realised the box that was lying quietly on the ground and which was supposed to contain sausages was empty!
Quietly without making a fuss, Gilbert Evans, my father, got on his bicycle and headed for Newlyn an at high speed. On arrival at the bottom of Paul Hill, he knocked up a butcher that he knew who was not best pleased at the intrusion with it being a Sunday, and Palm Sunday at that! However, after much pleading he provided boxes of sausages which my father strapped on to his bicycle rack and headed back to Trevelloe.
On arrival, the scene that greeted him was despair coupled with over indulgence. Those present had decided to drown their sorrows with yet more drink. All hope had been lost. However, his arrival with food was met with amazement and joy. The fire was rekindled and a jolly evening was had by all. Munnings got up and announced the Evans' heroism should be rewarded by holding a Sausage Supper in his honour at Cliff House (now the Lamorna Cove Hotel) and that all the artists should present him with a picture."
The following week, on Saturday 6th April, a Sausage Supper was duly held at Jory's Hotel. Munnings gave a flowery speech, which he had written out in his own hand and which still remains with the Evans family.
"Ladies and gentlemen, on this presentation to Captain Evans, may I propose a toast to him. I don't think an occasion of this kind often falls our way - or an occasion on which we could toast or drink more heartily. Never were honours more due nor wreaths more becoming to any noble brow or more well deserved than upon our friend, Evans."
He continued with this rather over the top speech and concluded with a few lines from Longfellow. All the artists present gave my father a picture and the one reproduced (above) is the one that Munnings gave him."
Those attending were Gilbert and Munnings who headed the ends of the table, Thomas and Caroline Golch, Crosbie Garstin, Gerard Shaw, Benjie Leader, Dolly, Hogg, John and Mrs Birch, Laura Knight, Peter Ulman Gerard Shaw's mother, Mrs Shaw, and his sister Dod (later to become Dod Procter), Lionel Evans (Gilbert's brother), Bel Leader, Dennis Garstin, Arthur Tanner, Florence Munnings, Alfred and Cecily Sidgwick, Dick Ulman, Harold Knight.