Walter Augustus de Havilland

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Walter Augustus de Havilland

Birthplace: Lewisham, London Borough of Lewisham, Greater London, England
Death: May 20, 1968 (95)
North Vancouver, Greater Vancouver Regional District, British Columbia, Canada
Place of Burial: Cremated, Ashes scattered at sea, Specifically: Ashes scattered by Olivia and Joan off the coast of Guernsey
Immediate Family:

Son of Rev Charles Richard de Havilland and Margaret Letitia de Havilland
Husband of Yuki de Havilland and Rosemary Beaton de Havilland (Conner)
Ex-husband of Lilian Augusta Fontaine
Father of Olivia de Havilland; Joan Fontaine and Private
Brother of Agnes Carteret Clara Ollard; Arthur Molesworth de Havilland; Saumarez de Havilland; Alice Martha (de Havilland); Charles de Havilland and 2 others

Occupation: British patent attorney, Patent attorney
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Walter Augustus de Havilland

Walter Augustus de Havilland was born on 31 August 1872.

He was the son of Reverend Charles Richard de Havilland and Margaret Letitia Molesworth.
He married, firstly, Lillian Augusta Ruse, daughter of Joseph Alfred Ruse, on 30 November 1914.
He and Lillian Augusta Ruse were divorced in 1925.

He married, secondly, Yuki Matsu-Kura on 16 August 1927 at British Consulate, Tokyo, Japan.
He married, thirdly, Rosemary Beaton Connor, daughter of A. E. Connor, on 26 March 1960.

Walter Augustus de Havilland was educated at Elizabeth College, Guernsey, Channel Islands.
He graduated from Cambridge University, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England, in 1893 with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.).

He was a practising patent attorney in 1900 at Japan.

Children of Walter Augustus de Havilland and Lillian Augusta Ruse:

Olivia Mary de Havilland b. 1 Jul 1916
Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland b. 22 Oct 1917

Walter Augustus de Havilland (1872-1968) has two claims to fame: (1) for go players, he's the author of ABC of Go; and (2) for movie buffs, he's the father of two of Hollywood's great stars of the silver screen—Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine (both of whom, by the way, were born in Tokyo). The author, a British patent attorney by profession, spent a number of years in the Orient studying the copyright and patent laws of Japan and Korea (he even wrote a few booklets on the subject), and he obviously used part of his time in the Far East to be productive in other, and more useful, ways.

The youngest of ten children, Walter Augustus de Havilland was born on August 31, 1872, in Lewisham, Kent, England, and was raised in Guernsey in the Channel Islands, the ancestral home of the de Havillands. He attended Harrow and later, Cambridge, where he was reading in theology to follow in his father's profession. Given his academic orientation, he mastered Latin, Greek, and even Aramaic. But he lost interest in theology and, apparently unhappy with England's rigid class system that had perhaps prevented him from attending Eton and Oxford, where he had wanted to study, he planned to leave his native country at the earliest opportunity.

After receiving his M.A. degree, he sailed in 1893 for Japan, which, as Joan Fontaine recounts in her autobiography, he had selected as his destination in the most peculiar way: "My father placed the index finger of his left hand on the mouth of the Thames, his right index finger at the same latitude on the opposite side of the globe. He found that he was pointing to Hokkaido, a remote island in the Sea of Japan..."

At first, Walter taught English and French in Hokkaido while waiting to obtain his Japanese law degree. He later taught in Kobe, and finally in Tokyo, where, in 1913, he met Lilian Augusta Rusé (1880 or 1886-1975), Walter's first wife and the future mother of Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine. She was in Tokyo visiting her brother, who was teaching music at Waseda University. By this time, Walter, who had become a leading authority in Japan on patent law, was a prominent professor of law at the same university.

Joan describes her father as being "six feet tall, blue-eyed, and undeniably handsome." His former students, according to her, described him as strict and autocratic, and that he behaved with "supercilious hauteur." But he enjoyed upsetting the social smugness of the British colony in Tokyo as often as possible. During his long stay in Japan, he learned Japanese and Chinese.

In 1914, Walter and Lilian left Japan together for England via the Panama Canal (apparently, she was unaware of his presence on board until after the ship was at sea). They married on November 16, 1914, in New York City, honeymooned at Niagara Falls, and then resumed their trip to England. They soon returned to Japan.

The marriage was doomed to failure from the start. Although Walter's main profession at the time was that of patent attorney, he "felt that the proper role of an Englishman in Japan was to spend his leisure hours at his chess and go clubs." He was also a formidable tennis player. He was also, according to Joan, "geisha-trained." And shortly after the birth of Joan (1917), the couple's second daughter, Lilian discovered that her husband was having an affair with the household maid, Yoki-san, whom Walter had installed as his in-house mistress.

In February 1919, en route to Italy, Walter brought his wife and daughters to California where he apparently abandoned them and returned to Japan and Yoki-san, without providing any support for his family. Olivia and Joan didn't see or hear from their father again until 1933.

Lilian went back to Japan in 1924 to arrange for her divorce, which she obtained in 1925. (No alimony was stipulated, and custody for the children was not even mentioned in the divorce decree; furthermore, Lilian had to pay the court costs because Walter sued her for divorce on the grounds of wilful desertion). In 1927, Walter married Yoki-san at the British Embassy in Tokyo, an act that apparently ostracized him from the European colony there.

In 1933, Walter returned to California and visited with his two daughters for two weeks. At the end of this period, it was decided that Joan would return to Japan with her father and resume her schooling there. At this time, the de Havillands were living at Tokyo's Imperial Hotel where they had taken up residence since their marriage.

Evidence that Walter always maintained an avid interest in go after publishing his book on the game in 1910 is provided by Joan in her autobiography where she writes of her stay in Japan in 1933-34: "His days were spent at his chess and go clubs, where I watched him play in silence for hours on end, sitting cross-legged on the tatami-ed floor, the wooden playing board with its black and white stones, called ishi, before him." Joan doesn't say whether she ever took an interest in the game.

After a serious quarrel with her father in 1934, centering on Walter's improper behavior towards his daughter, Joan returned to California. She did not see him again until 1950. However, in 1937 he went to California to see his daughters, but neither one of them wanted to see him. While in California, Walter wrote to R.K.O. complaining that his daughters, whose film careers were well underway, were not supporting their aging father. According to Joan, he even held a news conference aboard his ship to complain about this to the media. (Joan feels that her father's claim of impecuniousness was bogus as he had long played the stock market, ever since the time of his first marriage, and that his life-style in Tokyo and his frequent trips to the United States were evidence that his financial situation was healthy enough.)

With the menacing storm in the Pacific gathering strength, Walter had come under suspicion by the Japanese government because of his association with a group of Englishman who had been arrested and charged with espionage. Under these conditions, Walter and Yoki-san fled to the United States in 1940. Again Walter made an effort to see his daughters, and again they refused to see him. Again he made attempts to obtain financial support, writing to both the movie studios and the media, and again nothing came of these efforts.

Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Yoki-san was interned in Colorado. Walter was able to install himself and her in the luxurious resort of Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, under self-imposed house arrest, for the duration of the conflict. After the war, they moved to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

On a fishing trip to Prince Albert Inlet, British Columbia, in 1950, Joan decided to pay a surprise visit to her father. She finally tracked him down at the Victoria Chess Club. Although he looked frail, his eccentricity and haughty aristocratic demeanor were still intact.

When Walter died in 1968, at the age of 96, his third wife, Rose Mary, contacted Olivia and Joan to inform them of his dying wish to have his ashes scattered in Guernsey. She gave each daughter a third of the ashes, which were scattered in the sea off Guernsey, while the remaining third was buried near Vancouver.


de Havilland, Walter Augustus (August 31, 1872 - May 20, 1968)

Following the end of the conflict Walter and Yuki moved to Victoria, where Yuki died in 1958. In 1960 de Havilland married for the third time, to Rosemary (Mary) Beaton of Victoria; eight years later the couple was residing in North Vancouver when de Havilland passed away at the age of ninety-five.

It is not know when de Havilland learned to play chess, but considering the limited number of opportunities to play in Japan, it seems likely that he was familiar with the game at least as early as his studies at Cambridge. Apart from learning oriental languages de Havilland also adopted some asian pastimes, including go: Joan Fontaine reported that when she was living with her father in Tokyo, he spent much of his time at his chess and go clubs. He was proficient enough to author The ABC of Go, published in 1910. It is not known whether he learned Japanese chess or shogi, although he certainly knew some shogi players.

The first specific references to de Havilland and chess come from 1933. In January World Champion Alexander Alekhine visited Tokyo and gave a 14-board blindfold simultaneous at the Imperial Hotel, which was where de Havilland happened to be living. One of Alekhine's opponents was the shogi champion Yoshio Kimura; Alekhine thought highly enough of their game to later include it in one of his volumes of best games. However, this was not their only meeting; a few days before the simultaneous the same opponents played an offhand game, which Alekhine apparently won with ease (Kimura knew the moves of occidental chess, but had had hardly any practice). The umpire on this occasion was listed as being "assisted by Mr. de Havilland, the well-known British resident of Tokyo." [Japan Times & Mail, January 20, 1933, pp. 1-2] The newspaper noted there were two umpires for the simultaneous proper, "one a foreigner and one Japanese," but did not name them: perhaps the foreigner was de Havilland. There are two photographs of the event in the Japan Times of January 22, 1933; one of them shows the umpires(?) standing next to a seated Alekhine, but the microfilmed images are not clear enough to attempt positive identifications.

After moving to Victoria chess seems to have become one of de Havilland's major pastimes, as go was during his years in Japan. He played on board 17 (out of 49) in the 1948 B.C. - Washington international team match, and was a participant in the 1950 B.C. Championship in Victoria, scoring a respectable 3/7 - this at the age of seventy-seven! During the 1950s he regularly took part in the Victoria and District Championship, generally finishing around the 50% mark, and in 1957 he sponsored a Swiss event at the Victoria chess club.

Postcript: Despite having to watch her father play go and chess, it is not known whether Joan Fontaine ever took an interest in either game. However, Olivia de Havilland was a chess player, although it seems highly unlikely she learnt the game from her father (she was largely estranged from him from the age of two onwards). A photograph in Edward Winter's Kings, Commoners and Knaves shows her contesting a game with Errol Flynn. There is also a memorable scene in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) in which Olivia (as Lady Penelope Gray) plays a game with Queen Elizabeth (Bette Davies); Penelope manages to capture the Queen's knight (symbolic of Essex/Errol Flynn), but this action is met by Elizabeth imperiously sweeping the pieces off the board.

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Walter Augustus de Havilland's Timeline

August 31, 1872
Lewisham, London Borough of Lewisham, Greater London, England
July 1, 1916
Tokyo, Japan
October 22, 1917
Tokyo, Japan
May 20, 1968
Age 95
North Vancouver, Greater Vancouver Regional District, British Columbia, Canada
Cremated, Ashes scattered at sea, Specifically: Ashes scattered by Olivia and Joan off the coast of Guernsey