Wilfrid de Glehn was thoroughly cosmopolitan in his upbringing and outlook. Described as “a true European, in the Churchillian sense”, he was fluent in several European languages. As Laura Wortley has noted, “in England Wilfrid was regarded as French, in France as American, and only later, in America, as British”. He was born Wilfrid Gabriel von Glehn in Sydenham, South London, and was educated at Brighton College.
Oswald von Glehn, fl. 1858-1903
Robert von Glehn, Wilfrid von Glehn's grandfather,
Alexander von Glehn
His father, Alexander von Glehn, was involved in the building of narrow-gauge railways in France, as well as being a coffee-merchant. He was also the treasurer of the French Protestant Evangelical Society of Relief in Paris, an organisation set up to provide relief for those caught up in the Franco-Prussian War. Alexander was one of the twelve children of Robert von Glehn, a Baltic Baron with estates near Talinn in Estonia, who became a naturalised British subject on his marriage to a Scotswoman. A painting of Wilfrid’s grandmother by Henry Raeburn was still in the family by 1930, and perhaps inspired Wilfrid in his choice of future careers. One of Wilfrid’s uncles, Nikolai, was a sculptor, of whom little is known, while another uncle, Oswald von Glehn, had some degree of success in London as a history painter.