Former British PM Attlee’s kin traces roots to Shimla

Shimla, March 9: Clement Attlee’s grandson John was born in Shimla nearly nine decades ago. His great-granddaughter has just fished out her father’s birth certificate from the cavernous civic office of the ‘queen of the hills’.

Sally Camps, great-granddaughter of Clement Attlee, who served as Britain’s prime minister from 1945 to 1951, screamed excitedly as she traced her roots in this hill station. It was during Attlee’s tenure that India got its independence in 1947.

Simla, as it was then called, served as the summer capital of British India between 1864 and 1939.

Camps along with her husband Michael Camps was in this Himachal Pradesh capital last week to locate the birth records of her father John Keith Harwood, who was born here in 1926.

“They were really screaming excitedly on receiving the birth certificate,” Omesh Bharti, in-charge of the births and deaths wing of the Shimla Municipal Corporation, one of India’s oldest civic bodies, told IANS Sunday.

He said the visiting Britons were provided two birth certificates for which a fee of Rs.5 was charged per certificate.

As per the birth records with the civic office, Sally’s father John was born to Patricia – Attlee’s daughter – and George Edward Harwood, who then served in the British Indian Army.

Bharti said Sally and her husband were also shown the century-old register where the original entry was made.

“Sally was really emotional on seeing the entry made by her grandfather George in the register,” he added.

During their stay in Shimla, the couple visited British-era buildings, Oberoi Group’s Cecil, a landmark luxury hotel, and the Gaiety Theatre, which was associated with Sally’s parents.

Gaiety Theatre has been the centre of cultural activities in Shimla right from the day it was opened in 1887.

Sally said her grandmother Patricia Harwood staged plays in the theatre that was rebuilt in its original Gothic architecture.

Bharti said on an average, 10 to 15 people, mostly from Britain, visit his office every year to trace their ancestors who once lived here.

The civic body has been maintaining birth and death records since it was constituted in 1851.

Shimla is all set to walk down the memory lane, lined with 91 British-era heritage buildings still standing.

To recreate the past, the state government and other cultural agencies like the National School of Drama have planned a yearlong series of celebrations beginning from March 21 to 27.