Service number 13084221
Born: August 16th 1906
Died: August 31st 1945
William Acton born in Florence in 1906 was the younger son of Arthur Acton and Hortense Mitchell. His father was the art collector and dealer and his mother was the heiress to a prominent Chicago banking family. William’s elder brother was Sir Harold Acton.
The parentage of Arthur Acton was not as he claimed, but he was a clever man and used his wife's fortune to amass a second one. He formed a great collection, and housed it in La Pietra, a splendid villa on the hills outside Florence, where he restored one of the great gardens of Tuscany. The only modern furniture in the villa was in the nurseries, and that was disposed of when the children got older.
William and his brother were educated at Chateau de Lancy, Geneva and Eton and were both up at Christ Church. William Matriculated in 1925, but was up for only one year.
Alan Pryce-Jones in his obituary of Harold published in the Independent on February 28th 1994 said,
“What is certain is that Arthur Acton who had sent his sons, Harold and William through Eton and Oxford may well have convinced himself that he was British to the core. But, to the dispassionate eye, few families were more exotic than his.
To begin with, in appearance and manner, they were totally Mediterranean. Dark-complexioned, sallow, with a sharp glance and a sharper tongue, they looked more like condottieri than scions, legitimate or no, of a uniquely cosmopolitan family, reaching into half Europe, but rooted in Shropshire. Italian came to them more naturally than English - during the Second World War William Acton was rejected from intelligence work on the grounds that his Italian was too colloquial, which merely meant that it was perfect. They alarmed their contemporaries, and still more the parents of their friends, by a stern dismissal of accepted schoolboy heroes in favour of Berenson, Diaghilev and the Sitwells. And they were tough, Harold especially. Far from aping the greenery-yallery aestheticism of the Nineties, they went on the attack.
The early 1920s were the scene of parlour battles between the Aesthetes and the Hearties. Harold became a leader of the Aesthetes, brave, embattled and, moreover, liked. He chanted poems from his balcony in Christ Church; he flaunted the ever-wider trousers which became known as 'Oxford bags'. He invited Gertrude Stein to the university, where she gave a sensational lecture-recital. Between bouts of party-giving, he joined a group of by now legendary fellow- condottieri; Evelyn Waugh, Robert Byron, Brian Howard, Peter Quennell, Cyril Connolly. And, slightly in his shadow, his younger brother William was making an independent name for himself as an artist, a horseman, a swashbuckler, and, less amenably, a tippler with a weakness for ether - a stimulant which prompted him to feats like walking out of a high college window because he found the party dull.
It is pleasant to be a rich young man with a generous father, but it is also a handicap for one essentially serious. Harold and William were often dismissed as playboys. After their Oxford years, their father gave them an immense London house in Lancaster Gate, filled with elaborate Florentine furniture superfluous to his collection which it was the function of his sons to show off at lavish parties and then to sell. Needless to say, the sons shone at their own parties but closed their ears to any mention of a sale. The wits and the beauties of the day flocked to Lancaster Gate, but in the end patience ran out and the house was abruptly dismantled
When peace returned the old Actons were in their seventies. Not long after being demobilised from the Pioneer Corps, their favourite, William died in Italy and Harold felt that he could not abandon them to a sorrowful old age.”
William served as a Private in the Pioneer Corps and died on August 31st 1945 at a Military Hospital in Italy, after a short illness.
He was buried in the family vault in the Roman Catholic section of the Cimitero Evangelico degli Allore in Florence where both his parents and his brother were buried, later.
[Arthur died in 1953 and Hortense in 1962. Harold died in 1994.]