The RNLI saves lives at sea.

Ruby Violet Oakley-Hill

Picture of Ruby Violet Oakley-Hill.

Ruby Violet Oakley-Hill was a caring, interesting, humorous person. Everyone loved receiving her thoughtful, witty letters, in beautiful clear, rounded handwriting.

Born in Plumstead in the first World War, she had a fascinating life, and loved learning. Her father worked in Woolwich Arsenal as a draftsman. He was quite a character, a handyman with a great sense of humour, who used to stand on his head. He loved languages, herbal plants and music.

Crossing Plumstead Common with her family on the way to her uncle’s, Ruby heard wonderful singing at the Slade Mission. Her parents were C of E, and it took weeks of pestering to let her go there, where she learnt many uplifting tunes. Her family sang hymns at home - Ruby played piano, her mother violin and father mandolin. The family piano was made by her uncle who ran a music shop and repaired instruments.

Ruby loved language, and learnt French at the Institut Francais in South Kensington. In 1943 she joined the Special Operations Executive in Baker Street, in the Balkans section. Dayrell (pronounced Darrell) Oakley-Hill, was brought in as her boss. He spoke fluent Albanian, thanks to 10 pre-war years as a British officer running the gendarmerie for King Zog. Ruby helped him over the psychological problems of being a prisoner of war for 18 months.

Dayrell was chosen to lead the UN mission to bring supplies to Albania. Dayrell had taught Ruby something of Albania and its language, and she became Displaced Persons Officer, based in Italy and Tirana. Albanian communist leader Enver Hoxha was expelling all Italians: Ruby helped mothers and children get into little boats and climb on to a big ship.

Ruby also helped Greeks go over the mountains to the Greek border in trucks with snow chains. No Greek delegation showed up, and they had to sleep overnight in friendly local houses with bedbugs.

She worked there with a Jewish colleague who knew about concentration camps and who nearly committed suicide. She began to take an interest in Jewish culture, and later studied the Hebrew language and visited Israel. She was always a peacemaker, and believed that different faiths should make more effort to work together.

During the Albanian mission Ruby became deaf in one ear - a disadvantage for the rest of her life. It is hard to include someone in social situations when they can’t properly hear what’s said. She bore this with fortitude, later managing to use TV subtitles, but was frustrated by weather forecasters with up and down voices and regional accents.

Ruby was only in Albania 3 days when they received news that Dayrell’s first wife, Rosamond, Robin’s mother, had died. She was ill when he took on the job, but had insisted he should go. Two years later, in 1946, Ruby and Dayrell got married.

Ruby’s mother had another child, Daphne, when Ruby was 12, who died days after birth – Ruby never saw her, and was very upset, as she remained an only child. A kind vicar was there for her. Ruby later wanted to marry him, which would have taken her life on a different course, but it wasn’t to be – her parents disapproved.

She didn’t want her son David to be an only child. Despite a difficult birth, and advice not to have another baby, she bravely had Angela 7 years later in Greece, while Dayrell was working there for 4 years. He was away a lot, but it was a happy time for Ruby and David who lived by the sea with a family of cats, and joined a pottery class run by an old Greek woman with a kiln in the garden. They did much walking on beaches and hills, exploring wonderful Mediterranean scenery with its twisted, windswept pines, fragrances and warm climate, once riding a donkey up to the monastery perched on a rock at Meteora.

At the US-run ‘Lighthouse for the Blind’, which trained people for skilled work instead of them begging in the streets, Ruby began a longstanding friendship with a paralysed Greek girl who wanted to practice English.

The Queen lived a bit higher up the mountain. The King loved fast cars, and Ruby often glimpsed them flashing past, to and from Athens. Ruby learnt Greek dancing, done in a circle or line. She learnt fast not to ‘put a foot wrong’, so as not to spoil it for the troupe. The end of term extravaganza was attended by the Queen, who spoke to everyone personally to complement them.

Back in England, Ruby’s parents at Plumstead still had gas lighting and an air-raid shelter. Ruby, David and Angela stayed there in 1955 before they found the house at Eltham in 1956 where her children grew up and she lived the rest of her life. The family had many Albanian visitors – Dayrell helped refugees with housing and legal problems. He was constantly on the phone speaking Albanian. In 1988, after Dayrell died, Angela and David took Ruby on a tour of Albania.

Ruby inherited music from both parents. Her mother played violin in an orchestra; her father sang in a glee club choir and taught and played mandolin. Mum played the piano accordion, heavy to carry, and played piano most of her life. In her seventies, she still played for children’s dancing classes and Sunday School, being much involved with a local church. At Angela’s house at Christmas 2004, Ruby played carols at the piano when she was 88.

Ruby died in January 2007, and her daughter Angela 4 months later in May. Ruby is survived by her son David, and by Robin, Dayrell’s son from his first marriage.

Ruby had a greenhouse full of cacti - if anyone in the Greater London area wants a few, the family would love to pass them on to someone:

We are so pleased we recorded several tapes of Ruby talking about her life, which spanned most of last century. She had a wealth of wonderful experiences. Despite arthritis, and failing hearing and eyesight in the last few years, Ruby could talk about any subject with a smile and a twinkle in her eye. And there was always a Lifeboat calendar in her kitchen.

Ruby was a very special person, who touched, moved, and influenced a great many people. We’ll miss her very much. She had a sense of humour, a thirst for knowledge, and a kind, warm temperament, which we’ll keep trying to live up to.

David Oakley-Hill Aug 2007

Added by: David Oakley-Hill on 10 August 2007.

Send to a Friend

Additional images

Click the thumbnails below to view as the main image.

Picture of Ruby Violet Oakley-Hill.
Picture of Ruby Violet Oakley-Hill.

Charity information


The RNLI is a charity that provides a 24-hour lifesaving service around the UK and Republic of Ireland.

As a charity, the RNLI relies on your support to carry on saving lives at sea.

Appreciations and tributes

Add your tributes

If you would like to add a tribute to Ruby Violet Oakley-Hill, please use the link below and follow the instructions provided.

Additional links

Make a donation

Make a donation in memory of your loved one or friend.