In looking around in the materials digitized by the Australian National Archives I came across a file called “Landing Permits Dayang Muda of Sarawak.”
Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, was a kingdom ruled over by a British family, the Brooke family. The king was referred to as the “Rajah,” and the heir apparent was referred to as the “Tuan Muda.” The “Dayang Muda,” meanwhile, was the official title of the wife of the Tuan Muda.
In the first half of the twentieth century, the Tuan Muda of Sarawak was Bertram Willes Dayrell Brooke, and the Dayang Muda was his wife, Gladys Milton Palmer.
The Dayang Muda was a colorful character. She interacted with high society in Europe and got involved in the movie industry, all the while capitalizing on her connection to the “exotic” world of Sarawak.
The file that I just came across in the Australian National Archives, however, revealed to me something that I didn’t know about the Dayang Muda – that she lived through World War II in Bombay, India. . . in the Ritz Hotel!!
In October of 1945 the Dayang Muda contacted Australian authorities to indicate that she wished to travel to Australia together with her personal secretary of 15 years, a Russian gentleman by the name of Captain Paltov.
The Dayang Muda had apparently sought to travel to Australia in 1941, but when she was passing through India on the way from her villa in Greece she learned that Malaya and Sarawak had fallen to the Japanese, and she feared that travel to Australia would be impossible. What is more, Paris, where she also had a home, had fallen to the Germans.
With no place to go, there was no choice left for the Dayang Muda but to remain in India, and she apparently did so, by taking up residence at the Ritz Hotel in Bombay.
One would think that spending four years in a high-class hotel would be quite comfortable, but the Dayang Muda stated in 1945 that “My prolonged stay in India has affected my health and I am most anxious to find a home.”
Indeed, I’m sure that years of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” must have taken its toll.