Decima May Knight
1st Mar 1920 - 2nd Mar 2012
1st Mar 1920
Born in Richmond.
2nd Jul 1945
Married Robert Button in England.
2nd Mar 2012
Died in Pennsylvania, U.S.
Decima married an American, Robert (Bob) Button, and went to live in New Jersey.
Decima and Robert had three daughters.
Births Jun 1920 Knight Decima H Drewry Richmond S 2a 1141
Bob and Decima - from photo in Enigma in Many Keys
From the Obituary at Greenwich Time
"Decima May Knight Button 92, passed away peacefully on Friday, March 2, with her daughter Marilyn by her side. She had been living at Kendal at Longwood, in Kennett Square, PA, following the death of her husband, Robert E. Button in 2008.
She was born on March 1, 1920, in London, England, the fourth child of Annie Isabella and William F. Knight and the tenth grandchild, hence her name. Her family shared extraordinary musical and dramatic talent, leading Decima to a successful career on the London stage.
She began dancing at the age of three, graduated from the Association of Operatic Dancing, performed for several years at the Lyceum and Drury Lane Theatres in London's West End, and entertained the troops during World War II.
She gave a command performance for King George VI and his family at Windsor Castle in the late 1930's.
Decima met her husband on Christmas Day 1942, when American soldiers were welcomed to spend the holiday with English families of similar interests. Robert Button, a pianist, quickly became Decima's accompanist. A musical team was created that lasted 63 years. They were married in July of 1945 in England, and resumed their married life in February 1946, when Decima joined her husband in New Jersey on one of the first planes out of Europe after the war. She became an American citizen in 1952.
Decima shared her musical skills with a wide range of audiences: community theaters, college reunions, retirement communities, churches, schools and family gatherings. Together with her husband, she hosted an annual New Years' Eve gathering at which friends and family enjoyed a gourmet dinner followed by an evening of amateur musical performances.
A consummate seamstress and fashion enthusiast, she enjoyed haute couture in Paris, France (when Robert served under the American Ambassador to NATO); community fundraisers in Falls Church, Virginia; and, costume design with the Connecticut Playmakers. She and her husband were named Volunteer Couple of the Year for Greenwich, Connecticut, in 2000.
Decima was predeceased by her husband, Robert in 2008, and her daughter, Allyson, in 1996 ... "
"I had a marvellous Xmas at the home of the Knight family. We arrived at 12:30 laden with our parcels and the size and variety completely astounded our hosts. Mrs Knight, a widow, was a wonderful cook. Decima, the youngest daughter, was the musical one. Margaret Knight Lait was next; her husband was either captured or killed at Singapore and nothing has ever been heard of him. Phyllis, the eldest, had a husband in India, and there was a brother, Bill, with the 8th Army in Egypt.
"We started with a round of drinks. It's took Decima and me about two minutes to get into music, and we never stopped all day after that except to eat. She is most attractive, a beautiful singer of both long-haired and swing music. In the show she did some Russian things with dancing, and some waltz songs.
"Dinner commenced at 2:30 and lasted a good two hours, when it was closely followed by a lavish tea. One never stopped eating and drinking at all. There were two pianos in the rather large living room, and every piece of music you could think of.
"Mrs Knight and her three daughters went all through the Blitz, and from what I have seen of small air raids, that must have been a severe trial for four females by themselves. They seem to have lost nothing by it but a few panes of glass from nearby bombs, and they must have gained much confidence. They typify what people mean by the British being able to 'take it' for in spite of the war having come so close to them they are as cheerful and merry a bunch as you'd ever find.
"Decima is full of fun and not at all 'touched' by stage work. She is a girl of much character, absolutely indomitable spirit and a perfectly true ear. She was educated in the church of England convent and was the most properly brought up. She has made her own living since she was 15 (is now 23) and is somewhat better than I am at tennis."
20 January 1943
"Last Sunday I joined our troops for a concert at a British establishment on the outskirts of London. ... the British Army had six Daimlers there to take us. The group consists generally of Leslie Henson: probably the best known British funnyman, Douglas Byng: another headline comedian, Dorothy Dickson: a real old timer and a group of six chorus girls a couple of actors and actresses for parts in sketches; Decima Knight who sings both long-haired and Yankee short-haired music and I, who now both accompany Decima and play a solo or two which goes over beautifully no matter how many keys on the piano don't work ..."
[Later that night]
"At about 4:30 am the sirens started up again and this time it was slightly different. You can't be so objective about it when you're in bed. The distant guns began, and gradually the nearer ones, till bang off went to the local battery and I nearly popped out of bed. Then a short bit of silence in the middle of which a swoosh and a rumble that shook the entire house. At this I thought I'd better have a look around. Mrs Knight was in the kitchen making tea, but nobody else was up. And so I took a post by the window to watch the gun bursta all around the sky. Nothing else landed near us but the anti-aircraft artillery guns banged away for an hour and then everything quieted down. I went back to bed. At breakfast the three Knight sisters took took the position that it was only a baby raid of no importance - You should have seen the Blitz. But I thought it was avery brisk show for my first."
19 December 1943
"Last week I played accompaniments at two concerts with Decima Knight. One was at a ball for the ARP of Hendon, a suburb; and the other was a dance in Holborn. She makes a tremendous hit and is best on the light classics, although we do an occasional jazz number and quite often take olde English folk songs from Shakespeare's times and make them into modern arrangements. This always goes down quite well, she being English and the inference to the audience being that the slightly disrespectful treatment of the piece is due to the yank accompanist."
27 December 1943
"Xmas eve there occurred a party in a rather hard to find place; hence the host had prepared certain maps showing how a reasonably intelligent person might, from a given spot, (Knightsbridge station), find his way through the blackout to the destination. On the map were indicated stops where the thirsty might refresh themselves en route - this type of thing being known as a pub crawl. Decima Knight accompanied me on this quaint junket; we set forth at 6:30 pm and immediately found our first stop, the Bedford Arms. Two stiff drinks please. Thence we follow the map to the next stop, the Duke’s Head; two more, to help to dispel the darkness. Next the Goat and Compasses (which comes originally from ‘God Encompasseth Us’) by which time it didn’t seem dark at all."
"Apparently not having worn out my welcome at the Knights I was invited there again for Xmas day. It hardly seemed that a whole year had passed, and that at the same hour, 11:30 am, I was on the same bus, number 73, going to the same place in 1943 as I was in 1942. The Knight females were in the same state of undress when I arrived and there was the same dash to cover. I was planted before the fire, given a bottle of soda and one of scotch and left to my own thoughts while everyone else got dressed. Mrs Knight was working on a turkey of about fifteen or eighteen pounds, and taking small sips of orange squash as she worked. Finally people foregathered for the opening the presents or as Decima calls them, ‘presidents'. They all gave each other clothing items and things they had made themselves; it is marvellous to behold what resourceful people can do with practically nothing to start from. I gave Mrs Knight two packs of American playing cards with gilt edges, a thing the English haven’t been able to buy for years. These and the other ‘presidents’ I got from our P.X. Also I gave Mrs K a Turkish towel, a washcloth and a face towel. Washcloths are very rare and on coupons, if you do get them, and poor quality at that. But ours are U.S. manufacture and very good. To Margaret, sister #1, I gave a washcloth and face towel;. To Phyllis sister #2, a bottle of Hinds Honey and Almond cream. To Decima, #3, the one box of candy we have been allowed to buy, a Whitman’s Sampler, completely prewar. Poor Decima could only squeak – the sight of such a box left her completely speechless.
"They wanted to take pictures of it rather than eat it. I was glad that it pleased them so much, because the turkey dinner was every bit as welcome to me. Mrs Knight is adept at making food attractive. We ate steadily for an hour or so; turkey, string beans, peas, stuffing, bacon, sausage, potato, pudding, brandy sauce, canned peaches, chocolate sponge, mince pie, coffee and nuts. And port. This is not by way of saying that the Knights are wealthy and deal on the black market. Far from it. They just save all year for the Christmas feast and when the day arrives, they withhold absolutely nothing. "
"As the war on all fronts drew to a close, Bletchley Park became redundant in so far as Ultra intelligence was concerned. But the Enigma machine was a significantly helpful factor in the remodelling of my domestic life. As we moved through Germany, in mid-1945, we we often came upon camps and installations that the retreating Germans had hastily evacuated. In one of these I found a working Enigma machine that the Germans had forgotten to take with them. General Bradley authorised me to take the machine back to Bletchley Park forthwith, using his own aeroplane and taking two weeks leave in Britain as a kind of reward. I took the latter seriously.
"Through the Red Cross channel I got word to my erstwhile musical partner in London of my mission and suggested that in this peaceful interlude we might consider marriage since it was highly uncertain if, when, or where we would ever meet again. To her British mind this seemed a reasonable enough proposition. After four years of war one had to make the best of the conditions one faced, and this is what she did. There were no cautious enquiries about my family, what life was like in Maplewood, New Jersey, or whether we lived in tree houses there. She and her family quickly organised a vicar, several neighbours and friends, and some carefully hoarded rations into a church wedding, a reception and a feast. We were properly married and after a brief honeymoon, partly at the Savoy Hotel and partly in the idyllic surroundings of Ashdown Forest, back I flew to Germany
"It would be three months after I returned to the U.S. and demobilised before Decima could follow me. When she finally arrived, Maplewood welcomed her as its first war bride, and we immediately began to accept bookings as an Anglo-American musical entertainment duo of great charm and significance. It was interesting to note that she refused to adopt an American accent, American attitudes, or American ways of making tea. On July 4 the British flag was displayed at our home, along with the Stars and Stripes. The Queen’s birthday was, and is, observed at our home, along with Guy Fawkes Day and Boxing Day. But the first thing she did do on arriving here was to apply for U.S. citizenship. "
On 16th July, 1949, Decima and her 1 year old daughter, Phyllis, are recorded as passengers on the United States lines ship, Washington, leaving Southampton for New York. She had probably come back to England to visit her family and show them her new daughter.
Their 'Last Place of Residence in England' is given as 75, Elmgrove Road, Barnes.
Excerpt from 'Enigma in Many Keys' by Robert Button Page 193.
America’s Singing Ambassador’ as reported in an article of that title in Greenwich Time.
"Call her Mrs. chips. Or Madam Teacher. Or the singing envoy. But whatever you call her Decima Knight Button is one heck of a representative for the United States. Decima, as many readers know, is the charming wife of Bob Button, the talented pianist, musical director of the Melody Men, and cable TV whiz. She is also a very gifted singer having learned her trade performing in musicals on the London stage during WW II. That’s where she met Bob, a young U.S. Army officer stationed in London. He came to her family’s home one Sunday for dinner. When some of the guests asked Decima to sing, Bob volunteered to accompany her on the piano. And he’s been doing it ever since.
"Decima, for her part, has accompanied Bob on all sorts of adventures around the world, including his stint as director of the Voice of America right after WW II. A couple of months ago, she accompanied her peripatetic spouse on his latest adventure – two months in Nepal serving as a consultant for the International Executive Service Corps. When the IESC asked Decima to teach conversational English to the good burghers of Kathmandu, she said 'Fine'.
".. After a while people began stopping Decima on the street calling her Madam Teacher and asking to join her conversational sessions. Students were not confused at all by the fact that Decima’s proper British accent was vastly different from her husband’s Americanese.
"Decima Button, survivor of the London Blitz. And America’s newest ambassador-at-large. "