An iron railing frames the grave of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon which sits on one side within the fallen circular ramparts of the Iron Age fort on Beacon Hill overlooking the Highclere Estate. Walking up there, the hillsides smell of the different grasses and thickets of thorn grow down the steep north slopes beyond the grave. Field fares flock along the lower slopes, the tiny birds suddenly rising en masse, a wonderful sight, and even I can distinguish the lapwings by their rather caustic cry.
It is a remarkable place to be buried, but the 5th Earl was a man who had achieved a pre-eminent role on the world stage through diligence and tenacity. In 1922, with Howard Carter, he discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. He died, however, just five months later in Cairo of blood poisoning: septicaemia or sepsis. Following the media frenzy around the tomb of the Boy King Tutankhamun, he had sailed up the Nile to Aswan on a dahabiya for a short break and, whilst shaving one morning, nicked an existing mosquito bite. Failing to daub iodine on it, the cure at the time, it became infected. Returning to the Winter Palace in Luxor, his daughter tried to nurse him before they took the train back to Cairo for further medical support.
Evelyn phoned her mother Almina who hired a private plane to hasten her journey to her husband’s bedside. Carnarvon rallied several times but ultimately was too frail, the result of earlier mishaps and injuries. Despite his wife’s formidable nursing skills, he could not conquer the sepsis. He died on April 6th 1923 at the age of 56. Today sepsis is beginning to get more media coverage and more understanding given the fundamental impact and threat to too many lives. In the UK alone, 44,000 people die each year from sepsis whilst many others lose limbs.
One of the charities Highclere is supporting this September at our “Heroes at Highclere” event is The UK Sepsis Trust: a remarkable small charity which works hard to raise money for, and awareness of, sepsis. If any of you are watching ITV’s Coronation Street at the moment, you will be wrapped up in the story of a seven year old boy, Jack, who now has sepsis after falling while playing football. He is in hospital fighting for his life. It is so shocking because he is so young and the possibility of his death has come quite out of the blue. (A link to the story and interview is at the bottom of this blog)
Television stories can have a key role is raising awareness and, ultimately, in prevention. Here at Highclere, Lady Almina Carnarvon fought sepsis in the Hospital she set up here at the Castle during the First World War. It was exemplary in terms of cleanliness and, as a result, there were, in fact, disproportionally fewer deaths and amputations in Lady Carnarvon’s hospital than in others. This remarkable little lady saved both lives and limbs.
One of the few peaceful moments in the four gruesome years of the First World War was playing football on Christmas Day in December 1914. So I thought we should play short games of 5 or 7 aside football in front of the Castle in September, climbing out of the ha-ha, which can act as a trench, to a pitch marked by sandbags. We are hopeful that, through The UK Sepsis Trust, we might have a “Coronation Street” team play here and I am hoping a few other teams from other TV shows might join in. Like everyone else, I am completely enthralled with the World Cup at the moment, and just like the games on television, I think we need to persuade some pretty experienced referees to come here.
To add to the football, Morgan Pearse, an outstanding young baritone is going to join us and sing “Stille Nacht” to kick off though, at this rate, perhaps he and we need to sing “Three lions” as well. Here’s hoping!……I just need a band.
David Hume, a Scottish philosopher wrote: “It’s when we start working together that the real healing takes place… it’s when we start spilling our sweat, and not our blood”; from which I have parsed a few words for the title of this blog. September is about working together.
Here is a link to the football and sepsis story