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My father Rory Langford-Rae's birth certificate states that his parents are Bertram Langford Rae and Ethel Langford Rae née Shirran, and we also know from the registry records that Ethel Maud Shirran married Bertram Langford Rae. In fact she married him twice, once in Edinburgh in 1923, and again in Mandalay in 1924.
Following Rory's death in 1965, the probate report said that he had died intestate and that all his possessions therefore went to "Elisa Maria Dorgi Khangsarpa the lawful mother". It is a matter of public record that Elisa Maria Dorgi Khangsarpa was the wife of Kazi Lhendup Dorgi Khangsarpa of Sikkim, and that prior to her marriage to the Kazi her name was Elisa Maria or Marie Elise Langford-Rae.
Now, "lawful mother" is a slightly ambiguous phrase: it can refer to a stepmother or guardian, as well as to a biological mother. If we go by that alone, Elisa Maria Langford-Rae could have been some female relative of Bertram's who became Rory's guardian after his own mother died - especially as Ethel Maud Shirran was half Scots, a quarter English and a quarter Southern Irish and all working or lower middle class, and Elisa Maria generally claimed to be, and was widely believed to be, a Belgian aristocrat. When I began to investigate my grandmother's life, in August 2010, my first task therefore was to prove that she really was my grandmother.
In his 1984 book Smash and Grab: Annexation of Sikkim Sunanda K Datta-Ray, writing about her appearance in Kalimpong in the late 1950s, commented on the future Kazini that "She called herself Elisa-Maria Langford-Rae, but Vicky Williams, who had peeped into the register of foreigners at the police-station, let it be known that the glamorous if no longer young blonde had been christened plain Ethel Maud. [cut] A missionary woman from Gangtok had actually run to earth Mrs Langford-Rae's sister, a doctor's widow, in the middle class respectability of an Edinburgh flat. That was the closest that anyone ever got to her origins." Ethel Maud Shirran had a sister Jessie Forsyth Caddell (born Florence Caroline Jessie Shirran) who was a doctor's widow in Edinburgh.
On 29th October 1974 the European issue of the American paper The Stars and Stripes carried an article about Sikkimese politics and the tension between the Kazini and the Gyalmo (Hope Cook, the American wife of the local ruler or Chogyal), in which it referred to the Kazini as "a fiery Scotswoman" and as "a Scottish divorcee named Ethel Maud [cut] who, still vibrant at the age of 70, now has changed her name to Kazini Eliza Maria of Khangsarpa". Ethel Maud Shirran was born in January 1904, so the age fits.
As well as Jessie, another of Ethel Maud Shirran's sisters was Lillian Currie, who lived in Kilmarnock. A descendant of Lillian's told me: "I didn’t know until I saw your post, Whitehound, that great-aunt Ethel had any living descendants. She did reinvent herself – I think she presented herself as Belgian about the time she married the future first minister of Sikkim. She was certainly the daughter of George Shirran. She kept in touch with her sister Jessie in Edinburgh throughout her life. [cut] Jessie was the doctor’s widow who lived in Edinburgh. My only memory of her is the Borzoi dogs she kept." My father's half-brother Peter, the stepson of Kazini Elisa Maria, visited Edinburgh with the Kazini, called on her sister, and observed that her sister kept Borzois - an exceptionally rare dog in Britain. I think I've only seen one in the flesh once in my life.
Ethel Maud Shirran, my father's biological mother, and Elisa Maria Dorgi Khangsarpa, my father's lawful mother, shared the personal name Ethel Maud and the married name Langford Rae, were both seventy in 1974, were both Scots, both had a sister in Edinburgh who was a doctor's widow and kept Borzois, both claimed to be Belgian and were known to the Shirran family to be the same person. Clearly, they were the same person. The history of the Kazini is the history of Ethel Maud.