Extract From The Dustbin Case
An Account of Dennistoun verses Dennistoun
by William Cross, FSA Scot

I am not a hypocrite, therefore I will tell the whole truth and the truth, as I will relate it, and when read it no one will think that I am hiding anything, however detrimental.

When I married Colonel Dennistoun in November, 1910, he was serving in the Grenadier Guards. I brought $50,000 to the marriage settlement, and his father allowed us $4,000 a year until he failed in 1912.

Then we became hard up. We were both accustomed to spending money. My husband, having no other visible means than a paltry sum he received as an army pay, we were rather desperate.

I was in this frame of mind when one day I met General Sir John Cowans at a party. I had known him as a girl. It was at that meeting that he requested another meeting.


My husband at that time was a Captain. The renewed friendship between Sir John Cowans, who was one of the most influential men in the British Army, and myself resulted in my procuring for my husband the position of secretary to the Governor of Jamaica.

In October 1914 we returned to England from Jamaica and again through the influence of Sir John Cowans, my husband received a staff appointment, while I became a nurse in St. John’s Ambulance Brigade.

In 1916 my husband was given an appointment to Gibraltar, where he remained for three months, and where I joined him. In April of that year I returned to London and took a flat at Queensgate.

In the Autumn, Colonel Dennistoun was given an appointment in France, and ultimately through my influence with Sir John Cowans, he became a member of the Supreme War Council, in Paris.

He remained in France after the end of the Great war. By this time, relations between us had become strained; not much affection was left.

Now going back to 1916 – My husband being ambitious was anxious to get on; and this led him to call for sacrifices from me. He knew perfectly well that down to that time he owed such preferment as had come to him to my influence with General Sir John Cowans and that my relations with the General were becoming closer and closer.

At the end of 1916, the situation in this triangle became acute. The affection between the General and myself, which my ex-husband encouraged had grown to a point that was obviously likely to have only one result. I said to him repeatedly: “You know what it means.”


My affection began to grow less towards my husband as the consciousness grew within me that he was prepared to accept from me such a sacrifice from which he proposed to benefit as he had done. In May, 1916, he wrote to me:

“My Own Girl – Darling heart, take care of yourself. You seemed suddenly such a very tiny, little, small mouse yesterday, and wanting so much care and love, and I just felt like a tiger in a cage behind, great big iron bars.

It does make me so despise myself and everything I do. I cannot help it, but there it is. Why should you be made a tool? It is the worst fate of all.

Darling heart, don’t go further than you want. Life’s too short and I want you just dreadfully.

Good night precious one. This is only just a short line to catch the post. Great big kiss.”


My former husband was not only engaged in encouraging me in this connection, but he was trying to safeguard me in it, giving me hints as to how I should behave when I quarrelled with Sir John Cowans, lest I should lose him.

Towards the end of 1913, my husband had treated it as an ordinary thing that General Sir John Cowans should visit my flat, and had even in letters urged that I should carry on the liaison.

In April, 1919 there was an interview in Paris when the Colonel said that he had no money. I informed him of a tour I was to make in France with the General. In April 1920, my position had become difficult. I informed my husband that it could not go on.


On 15 July, Colonel Dennistoun retired from the army, and on September 30, I started divorce proceedings.

Colonel Dennistoun has accused me of misconducting myself with other men. It was a pure malicious invention.

This man, after years of sponging upon me, taking all he could get and knowing of the proceedings being taken against him, made that allegation. In a later letter to me he wrote:

“I do feel dreadfully that you could have sacrificed more if you had loved me, and I can only feel now that I had been the next best thing……It is the life we were both brought up to that has killed the reality by the lack of the essential money.”

My divorce petition was granted in March, 1921. Before the divorce was made absolute in September, Colonel Dennistoun accepted various sums of money from me.

Meanwhile, I had become great friends with the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. I practically lived with them and accompanied them to Egypt, in 1922 as their guest.

It was in December, 1921 that I had asked my former husband to take some articles of mine to Lady Carnarvon. That started an acquaintance which ripened into love between Lady Carnarvon and my former husband. Even before we were divorced Colonel Dennistoun wrote to me:

“She is overwhelmingly kind to me, and she has now proceeded to buy me a country cottage.”

This was while Lord Carnarvon was alive.

Now coming to that Paris affair. My former husband and I arrived in Paris and went to a hotel where there was a note from Sir John Cowans, saying that he had arrived that same evening, and that he had taken rooms in the hotel for himself and me. My husband saw the note, and after having accompanied me to the rooms he left me there himself. He was there an hour or two with me.

The rooms General Sir John Cowans had hired in the Ritz hotel had connecting bedrooms, and I paid the price.

No one will understand this supreme sacrifice, especially no woman will. Nevertheless, I did all this for him, and would have done still more had it not been for the fact that this love-of mine began to grow cold as I began to realize that I was doing all this with the full knowledge and consent of my husband.

This man for whom I made all this sacrifice left me to fend for myself, putting me off with false promises and pleas of poverty at a time when he was possessed of vast sums of money, provided by his second wife, who is the Dowager Countess of Carnarvon.

I am the step-daughter of Sir John Miller while Lt. Colonel Ian Onslow Dennistoun my former husband, a former guard officer and member of the “Supreme War Council” was the son of a banker, whose sum failed shortly before the outbreak of the war.

During the trial many other famous names have been mentioned, including that or Prince Bela Odescalchi. The atmosphere was heavy with the scent of a hundred perfumes when I took the stand to face a strict cross-examination by one of Britain’s most famous fighting attorneys. It was a case of a slim frail little woman, fighting for her life and reputation, with the suave and thundering Sir Edward Marshall Hall.

But in the end of my courage outweighed my physical weakness, and although there were times when I swayed, I battled bravely on, fighting Sir Edward word by word and sentence by sentence. And I am not boasting if I say that my composure most of the time equalled that of Sir Edward’s.

There was nothing about him, then, of the suavity for which he is famous. The question he repeatedly thundered and which struck terror in my soul, was: “Do you suggest, Madame that he (my husband) was living on your earnings?”

Again and again I winced as though I had been flicked in the face with a glove. For days I fought. I wilted under the strain, and my pale face was finally drawn towards the end of my ordeal.

Although in the main my answers were clear, calm and definite, there were moments when I fought for time, moments too, when I spoke up sharply or emphasised my points with a wave of my hand.

Hour after hour dragged by and still that pitiless hate of insinuating questions fell and broke up on my heart. I lost my temper only on one occasion, when I showed heat, when Sir Edward was questioning me about my relations with a Spaniard to whom, I confess I had given myself for a time. The mention of his name blazed me and I was furiously angry for I loved the man.