DINWIDDIE - Romantic Chance Encounters

Rex Johnston-Smith

IN 1912 my uncle Donald MacKenzie Dinwiddie, an engineer, was employed in the development of the railways in Argentina. On the journey out he was accompanied by his then unmarried sister, Eileen Mary Dinwiddie (my mother). She left her brother in the River Plate and continued her journey via the Straits of Magellan to spend a year with friends in Vina del Mal, Valparaiso, Chile.

My father at that time was in Northern Chile, at Iquique, involved in the nitrate business, where his grandfather, an engineer, had discovered the nitrate fields with the 1st Lord Aldenharn. Their claim was marked by wheeling a barrow across the desert! My father went south to Vifia to play in a cricket tournament and amongst those introduced to the teams was my mother.

In 1913 my mother sailed back to England and in 1914 both my father and uncle returned to join the forces. My father, although a member of the London Scottish Regt., was turned down for military service, being slightly deaf. He was advised to return to Chile and serve his country by exporting nitrates and foodstuffs to Britain. While in London waiting for a berth, he went to a Post Off ice in Oxford Street where he bumped into my mother buying stamps. It was the "coup de foudre"! They soon became engaged and she followed my father back to Chile where they were married in December 1915.

Donald, who served as a Major RE, after the war established himself in Paris as an inventor. Walking down the Champs Elys6es circa 1920, a taxi cab stopped near him and a woman fell out at his feet. He literally picked her up! She was the Russian Countess Olga Stenbock Fermor. They married in 1928.

Chance played a remarkable role in the life of both brother and sister.