The s(h)ands of another time

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Local historian Peter Tyrrell has been looking into the issue of royal heritage in East Sussex. And he points out that it could have taken another course if a World War Two desert encounter had claimed a certain life.

Major Bruce Shand MC and Bar (1917-2006) was commissioned in the 12th Royal Lancers in 1937 from Sandhurst. During the BEF withdrawal from Belgium he was awarded the Military Cross.

In October, 1942, at the battle of El Alamein, Shand’s squadron was ordered to the coast to ensure it was clear of the enemy. The area was approachable only by descending a steep track off the desert escarpment. While negotiating this terrain a large enemy group came into view.

Shand’s lightly armoured car was set ablaze in the ensuing firefight and his two crew members were killed. Shand was wounded by a bullet passing through his cheeks and a knee wound and was taken prisoner.

But after the war he married and between 1948 and 1951 owned and lived at West Dean Manor near Exceat. He was Master of the Southdown Fox Hounds and Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Sussex.

Camilla Shand - later to marry Charles - was born in London in 1947 and baptised at St Peter’s, Firle. Camilla’s maternal grandmother was Alice Kepple, a courtesan of King Edward VII.

Added Peter: ‘The Shand family later lived opposite Plumpton Racecourse and Camilla attended Dumbrells School in Ditchling. That was all well before more recent events that have captured the headlines.

‘However they could have been quite different if the wounded Major had succumbed to another fate.’