Bundles for Britain founderLady Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton

Born Natalie Scarritt Wales in Massachusetts, Douglas-Hamilton lived a privileged Manhattan life, going to charity balls, appearing in Vogue and Life magazines, and getting married and divorced — twice (scandalous in that era). In 1940, with the start of World War II, her name was Natalie Latham (as the wife of former diplomat Edward Latham), and she was outraged at the German attacks on Britain. “I had never had time to think before,” she said in 1941. “I began to think of Britain.” Wanting to do something for the war effort (even though the U.S. was not to enter the war for two more years), she set up a “knitting bee” among her local friends to make hats, gloves, scarves, and socks for British sailors. The idea quickly multiplied: soon more than 1.5 million volunteers across the U.S. were making not just sweaters and socks, but also buying blankets, cots, ambulances, x-ray machines, food, surgical instruments, and much more, all sent marked “From your American friends.” The effort was dubbed “Bundles for Britain” — and it produced so many goods that British civilians, as well as soldiers and sailors, benefited. (Thank-you letters generally started, “Dear Bundles…”. Latham organized a group of debutante friends to answer them all.)

Queen Elizabeth helped the Bundles fundraising effort, donating a red, white, and blue (from rubies, diamonds, and sapphires) cigarette case, which was given away in a raffle. King George VI awarded Latham the honorary title of Commander, Order of the British Empire — the first non-British woman so honored. In 1947 Natalie and her third husband, Edward Bragg Paine, co-founded Common Cause (a moderate anti-Communist organization, not the 1970 liberal group of the same name). After Paine died, she spoke to the House of Commons as the President of Common Cause. There she met the 13th Duke of Hamilton, Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton, himself divorced (from one of Queen Elizabeth’s cousins); they married in 1953. The couple moved to the U.S., where they co-founded the American-Scottish Foundation, which worked to promote Scotland in the U.S. (He died in 1964, in a plane crash.) Lady Malcolm died at a nursing home in New Jersey on January 14. She was 103.

From This is True for 20 January 2013