Siblings in court over funeral music

13 November 2015

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"If you were the only girl": a soldier plays the guitar, 30 November, 1942

"If you were the only girl": a soldier plays the guitar, 30 November, 1942

A LEGAL dispute between warring siblings over the burial arrangements for their late mother has been settled by negotiation; but a High Court judge still had to decide whether hymns should be played at the funeral.

During the Second World War, Gideon Freud, a Jew from Czechoslovakia, fled his homeland and made his way to Britain via Paris, where he joined the Free Czech Army. He met his wife, Iris, a working-class Christian from Tottenham. After the war, the couple eloped to Paris. Their life together was “a wonderful love story”, the barrister Cheryl Jones said this week.

“Although [Mrs Freud] never converted, she ran a traditional Jewish household for her husband for the whole of their married life, which I think is a quite a remarkable thing to have done because she didn’t adhere to the faith, but she loved her husband so much that she did that for him,” she said. “And he loved her so much that he didn’t require her to convert, knowing that this left his children slightly in a limbo.”

Mr Freud was buried in the Holy Land after he died in 1974; his wife died in West Middlesex University Hospital on 12 October. The couple’s two children, David Freud and Susanna Levrant, disagreed over the details of the Church of England funeral, and the row ended up in the High Court, where Mr Justice Arnold said that he would need to exercise “the wisdom of Solomon” if the siblings could not agree.

Urging the parties to come to a compromise, the Judge warned that he might be forced to come up with a third option if no agreement could be reached.

Mr David Freud and Mrs Levrant both agreed that their mother should have a C of E funeral. Their disagreement centred around the location for the burial, and the use of music during the service.

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Mr Freud wanted a funeral service without music so that he could observe Shloshim — a period of mourning during which Jews observe certain restrictions, including not listening to music; and he wanted the burial in Kensal Green Cemetery, where the body would remain undisturbed for hundreds of years.

Mrs Levrant wanted the service to include the wartime song “If you were the only girl in the world”. This was a favourite of the late Mrs Freud, and her husband used to sing it to her. Mrs Levrant described Kensal Green Cemetery as “actively unpleasant”, and wanted her mother buried in East Sheen Cemetery.

After negotiations over the weekend and early this week, the brother and sister, whose relationship was described in court as being “pretty bad already”, agreed a compromise.

The funeral service would not include any secular music, and the burial — at consecrated ground in North Sheen Cemetery, in Mortlake — would feature no music at all. After the service, mourners could choose to return to the chapel for additional memorials, which would include the secular song.

But there was still no agreement on whether the funeral service would include sacred music, leaving the Judge to rule that there would be “religious hymns together with entrance and exit organ music of a character suitable for a Church of England funeral”.

The service will be taken by the Master of the Temple Church, the Revd Robin Griffith-Jones, who was selected as a neutral party. “The court has taken great trouble, over even quite small details of the service, to ensure that both children feel that their mother is being properly honoured and that their own traditions are being respected,” he said on Tuesday.

“What we do will have been sorted out by the court and by agreement with both siblings. My job is just to make sure that the service goes fittingly.”

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