Faberge from the Front

20th January 2009

Items of Fabergé from the Russian career of one of Salisbury's most distinguished First World War veterans are being sold in the city on 29th January. The late Major General Geoffrey Brooke was a familiar, if slightly eccentric, figure to residents prior to his death in 1966. He was a keen and superb horseman, both in his military role for the 16th Lancers, and in countless cups and competitions away from the battlefield. His skill and bravery during the 1914-18 conflict saw his rapid promotion through the ranks, his award of a Distinguished Service Order, and bar; importantly, he was also the very first man to be gazetted for the new Military Cross on 1st January 1915.

Prior to the war, Brooke was stationed in St Petersburg as part of the military attachment to the British Embassy. It was here that he met his first wife, Veronica von Mechin (known as Vera), daughter of General Baron Saltz and part of an immensely wealthy Russian family. The Brookes' marriage did not survive the war and they divorced in 1922.

The only lasting mementoes of this doomed relationship are two Karl Fabergé enamel photo frames and a set of six buttons, now being sold at Woolley and Wallis Salerooms by Major General Brooke's grandson. Roughly dating from the time of the marriage in the early years of the 20th century, the pieces are fine examples of the work of Russia's most famous craftsman and are estimated in the Jewellery sale between £2,000 - 6,000. Having been in the family for over 100 years, Brooke's descendants had no idea of their value and were delighted when they brought them to jewellery specialist, Jonathan Edwards, for appraisal. Jonathan is confident that the pieces will do well; "Fabergé items are very strong at the moment and are really defying the current economic downturn. The Star of David frame in particular is highly unusual and I have strong hopes that this legacy from Major General Brooke's Russian marriage will be very popular".

Brooke remarried in 1926 and helped his new wife, Dorothy, to set up the Brooke Hospital for veteran war equines in Cairo, a welfare charity which still survives today. The couple's love of horses dominated their retirement and Major General Brooke wrote countless books, both instructional and fictional, on horse husbandry and hunting. The walking stick which he was so often seen with around Salisbury in later years, in fact converted to a stick for measuring polo ponies. Perhaps Brooke's devotion to horses was in part a reflection of the service he received in wartime from his equine comrades, as he took them into battle against an increasingly mechanised and heavily armed enemy.

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