|The graveyard of St Andrew's Church in Tangier.|
|Gravestone of Commander H R B Howell, Royal Navy.|
|Commander Howell's gravestone, but there was no sign of Claire's.|
The mystery was that though Commander Howell mentions his wife Claire de Menasce on his gravestone, her gravestone was nowhere to be seen.
Claire's father was the financier Baron Felix de Menasce, one of the wealthiest men in Alexandria. He obliged his wife, a Frenchwoman called Rosette, who was raised a Catholic, to convert to Judaism before their marriage. But though their son Jean became an ardent Zionist like his father, he converted to Catholicism and became a priest. As I explained to Jonathan, it was possible that Claire was buried in the Jewish cemetery, or in the Catholic cemetery, though I very much doubted she would care to be buried anywhere other than with her husband.
Jonathan's searches through the records of Tangier's Catholic and Jewish cemeteries drew a blank, just as he had discovered nothing when looking round the graveyard of St Andrew's. But he had not yet searched the church records; the church warden was ill and was away for several months and Jonathan's search would have to wait.
|Claire, Denise, Felix and Jean de Menasce. Felix' grandfather|
Yaqub had been made a baron of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
and the title was inheritable by all his children, male and female.
Claire therefore was a baronne.
More about Claire's life in Alexandria can be found by clicking here and
|Claire Vincendon, née Menasce, far right, in a 1934 Alexandrian review which she presented, acted in and designed the costumes for.|
|Tangier was an international zone until 1956 and had a cosmopolitan atmosphere many years afterwards. It attracted literary figures like Paul Bowles and William Burroughs; the latter wrote Naked Lunch in Tangier.|
Claire died of cancer in Tangier in 1965. Less than two years later her daughter Claude, Lawrence Durrell's wife, died in Geneva, also of cancer.
|A 1905 view of the Grand Socco, an open square in the centre of Tangier, showing St Andrew's Church on the left. It was built in 1894 on land donated by the sultan of Morocco and resembles a whitewashed mosque.|
The return of the church warden and access to the burial records quickly solved the mystery of Claire's whereabouts. She had been buried in front of her husband's own grave, divided by a wide path, but her stone had fallen flat, had broken into several pieces, and had become covered by yellow lantana. Jonathan had the stone cleaned up and pieced together, but it has not been possible to make it stand up so it lies where it once stood. The stone is not well engraved and Jonathan would like to make full repairs or replace it altogether if Claire's family agrees.
'It's a nice sunny spot', says Jonathan, 'and her neighbours include Sir Basil Scott, former Chief Justice of Bombay (1925), Caid Sir Harry McLean, I forget the date but during the 1920s and a great and flamboyant self-invention, trainer of the Cherifien military under Sultan Moulay Abdelaziz who abdicated in 1909; David Herbert - from Wilton and always known as the Queen Mother of Tangier but really a prickly, snobbish old monster (1995) ... so Claire is in "character corner"'.
|Baronne Claire Andre de Menasce, beloved wife of Commander H R B Howell, died 5 February 1965, aged 63.|