Hylda Henrietta Brooke was born on 22 February 1879, the daughter of Sir Victor Alexander Brooke, 3rd Bt. and Alice Sophia Bellingham. Although she married Sir Frederick Henry Arthur Des Voeux, 7th Bt in 1899, she was always close to her cousin Evelyn Wrench, corresponding with him almost daily when they were separated.
Hylda Des Voeux was a champion of Wrench’s fledgling organisation from the outset. In 1914 she began working for the Over-Seas Club, becoming Chairman of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Fund. Under her careful administration, the fund grew from humble beginnings, and at its peak raised over £1,000 a week for supplies for troops and prisoners of war. She also acted as Chairman of a special sub-committee for this fund which was responsible for supervising the distribution of ‘gifts’ to various Over-Seas war funds.
In 1916 she became Honorary Director of Correspondence, and on the incorporation of the League by Royal Charter was appointed Honorary Controller by the Central Council. In May, Lady Des Voeux and Evelyn Wrench visited the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough to see the first plane donated by the club. After the naming ceremony, Lady Des Voeux was taken on a short flight in the newly christened ‘Overseas No 1’, becoming one of the first women in England to fly in a military aircraft.
From 1918 she assumed entire control of the Correspondence Department of the Over-Seas Club and Patriotic League ‘and under her direction a most efficient organisation was built up.’
In his book Struggle, published in 1935, Sir Evelyn Wrench described her commitment to the Over-Seas League:
‘For 21 years in an honorary capacity, apart from holidays and periods of ill-health, she has never missed a day at headquarters…No paid worker had rendered greater service to the organisation in these twenty-one years. As Honorary Controller of our society she has won the friendship and respect of every member of the staff and of all who have met her. The secret of her great influence is that she never thinks of herself. For 24 years she has advised me at every stage of the Overseas League’s development. The debt I owe her I can never repay.’
In May 1937, Lady Des Voeux and Sir Evelyn Wrench caused quite a stir when they married, just four months after the death of her first husband. Shortly after their wedding, the pair embarked on a longtour of Canada, Alaska and the United States: ‘Everywhere they went her gracious presence made new friendships and strengthened associations with the League. Her particular genius lay in her direct personal appeal to the individual, but when required to do so she could hold vast audiences enthralled.’
She remained an active part of the club for many years, accompanying Wrench on further tours of the Commonwealth and supporting fundraising campaigns during the Second World War. She died in 1955.