|Richard Dening was born on 5th January 1920, in
Chatham, Kent, England, the son of Basil Cranmer Dening and Ruth (nee Henderson) Dening.
His father was a career army officer and was based in Chatham at the time. Richard was the
oldest of four children born into the family. He had a brother John, and two younger
sisters, Angela and Fenella.
||His father was posted to
Ireland (from 1921-1923) and while he was there, his mother Ruth, lived with Richard and
his one year younger brother, John, in Holyhead.
Ireland, Richard's father was posted to Cologne in Germany, where his mother apparently
became rather overweight from eating too many cream cakes out of sheer boredom!
Fenella recalls a family anecdote passed down from this time, of
their mother reportedly whacking a German policeman with her umbrella when he
accosted her for walking on the wrong side of the pavement. She was duly carted off to the
police station and had to be rescued by Richard's father. (Richard came from feisty,
This incident was apparently viewed less than favourably by
Dening, Tim's Uncle (who was a career diplomat and Ambassador to Japan from 1951 -1957)!
(Dening family tree here)
They subsequently returned to England in about 1924,
to a rented house in Fleet, where his two sisters, Angela and Fenella were born.
According to Angela, it was in the big wild garden in Fleet that Richard's life-long
passion for butterflies began. Angela also explains that Richard's much more familiar nick
name of 'Tim', was derived from a popular children's magazine of the time. It helped to
distinguish him from a cousin with the same name. (It was a Dening family tradition to
name the eldest son Richard.) This nick name stuck with Tim throughout his life and it was
how he was best known..
In 1929, Tim's father and mother went out to India for five years,
attached to the Indian Army, taking the two little girls with them. Tim (aged 9) and his
brother John (8) remained behind at Tormoor School in Deal, Kent and under the care of
relatives. At the outset, this arrangement was meant to continue for five years, but in
the event, his mother came back with Fenella and Angela after only three years.
The only method of travel between England and India was by boat, the
journey taking three weeks. Interim family visits home were simply not possible, so the
boys' school holidays were spent with their Grandmother Henderson and their Aunt Joyce.
||Tim's sister, Angela (on the right of the photograph)
recalls that after their return from India, they lived in another house in Fleet, which
had 4 acres of garden, including a stream and an area of heathland.
This photograph was taken prior to the outbreak of war
while Tim's father was based at Colchester.
||Tim and his younger brother, John, both collected butterflies.
They had large aquaria in the dining room and caught various fish from the Basingstoke
Canal. (You can read Tim's account of how to make,
stock and keep aquaria, written in his teenage years here.)
They were also interested in snakes and had pet Grass Snakes which crawled up
their sleeves and around their necks. (Excerpts
from Tim's boyhood field notebooks can be accessed here.)
In the summer, another favourite pastime was fighting
heath fires and there was always great excitement when the fire hooter went off.
Tim's secondary education took place at Bradfield College, where he
became a Head Boy. He always enjoyed sport and took part in both running and football at
college. He was in the School Running VIII from 1936 -1938 and Captain of the VIII
in 1938. He left the college in December 1938.
Some of Tim's school sports pictures are reproduced here.
Tim wanted to read modern languages at Cambridge and so he spent
some time in Germany prior to World War II, staying with a German family to improve his
language skills. This helped him to gain a scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge, to
read French and German (although he later transferred this to History and finally
||Before going up to Cambridge,
Tim took advantage of a nine month gap in education and crossed the North Atlantic
in an icebreaker in March 1939.
He bought an ancient car
(maximum manageable speed 40 mph!) and drove it from Montreal to Vancouver.
From Vancouver he made the trip back to New York in a Greyhound Bus,
via San Francisco, Los Angeles, South Carolina and Washington.
Tim In Kingston, USA
War broke out soon after his return. However, Tim
spent the first year of the war at Cambridge on the advice of his father, because there
were already too many volunteer recruits at that point. Sadly, Tim's father was killed in
May 1940, by a Stuka dive-bomber as he was sailing away from Dunkirk.
(Read Colonel Basil Cranmer Dening's obituary notice here.)
Tim subsequently postponed obtaining his final degree and joined the
Indian Army. This choice was prompted by family connections with the Indian Army, notably
Lieutenant-Colonel Roland Dening, who was a cousin of his father's. Tim was sent to serve
in India and Burma.
At the end of the war, Tim finished his studies and obtained a war
degree before accepting a post with the Colonial Administration in Northern Rhodesia (now
known as Zambia). He went out to Northern Rhodesia to take up his new career in 1947.
Tim loved animals and was very fond of cats. Fenella, Tim's youngest
sister, remembers how their white Persian cat, Mimi adored Tim and was always to be found
draped across his knees whenever he came home in his student days. Mimi also welcomed him
delightedly the minute he returned after the war, despite the many years of absence.
||He looked terribly glamorous
in his military uniform and Fenella insisted that he wore it when he came to take her out
when she was at boarding school, despite boiling hot weather. She recalls that
unfortunately, all her friends had gone out by the time he arrived and by the time they
returned, he was in mufti!
He took her to see Henry V, with
Laurence Olivier and they had a cream tea - such a treat!
||When Tim returned from the
war, he was horrified to find that Fenella (left) had never been to a dance, so he would take her to the dances at the
At a time when clothes rationing was still in
force, he obtained a second-hand, diaphanous, multi-coloured, long dress from one of his
girlfriends for Fenella and would then instruct her "Stop looking at your
She remembers the fun they always had
together. During Tim's time at Cambridge, they went to see Charlie Chaplin in 'Modern Times' and she recalls
how his wonderful laugh ricocheted around the small cinema. While she was at
secretarial college in London and he was preparing to go out to Northern Rhodesia, they
would have combined outings to night clubs and dances.
||Angela had her 21st birthday
while she was at Oxford, so Tim and Fenella went to celebrate with her, each travelling
under their own steam. Fenella recalls that when she got to Angela's university rooms,
everyone had already gone off to the party.
It was a freezing
night and there was no proper heating post war, so when Tim finally arrived (having caught
a later train) she was sitting there on her own, inhaling sherry in front of a gas fire.
He simply roared with laughter - as he always did.