Monday, 16 January 2017

BH Memoirs: II

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL JOHN MATTHEW BLAKISTON-HOUSTON DL (1898-1984), OF BELTRIM CASTLE, COUNTY TYRONE, AND RODDENS, COUNTY DOWN, WAS BORN AT ORANGEFIELD HOUSE, KNOCKBREDA, NEAR BELFAST.


HE SERVED IN THE FIRST AND SECOND WORLD WARS; AIDE-DE-CAMP TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE GOVORNOR-GENERAL OF AUSTRALIA, 1929-30; HIGH SHERIFF OF COUNTY DOWN, 1944; DEPUTY LIEUTENANT OF COUNTY DOWN, 1946; HIGH SHERIFF OF COUNTY TYRONE, 1954.


IN 1908, at the age of ten, I went to school for one term at Mourne Grange, near Kilkeel, County Down.

I remember the journey well because we travelled in an Argyll motor car, and a great deal of stopping was necessary to allow the car to cool off on the hills.

Next term I went to Arnold House, Llandullas, North Wales, and stayed there until I went to Eton in September, 1911.

My career at Eton was not a very distinguished one: I got my Lower Boats, and passed most of my trials and made many friends, but I can’t claim that my school-days were the happiest days of my life.

In any case I was only there four years and left in December, 1915, after passing into Sandhurst, rather unexpectedly.

I had been in Army Class from the time I became an “Upper”, and I now realised how very narrow the specialized this Army Class modern school was.

It is only within the last few years that I have read any English Literature.

Of Shakespeare, of Milton, Thackeray, and of other English Classics I knew nothing.

My brother, George, was eighteen months younger than me.

We shared a room together at Bookers’ House.

The winter holidays were spent at Roddens where we used to hunt two days a week with the Ards Harriers.

Captain Dick Ker was Master, and his son David hunted them.

As the Kers lived outside the hunting country my father turned his laundry into a kennels and much of our time was occupied in exercising hounds.

My father took some 42,000 acres of Grouse Shooting at Pettigo, County Donegal, for five years from 1912.

We lived in The Agency, a house in the village of Pettigo.

We were allowed to ask some of our friends from Eton over, so the house was packed from the 12th of August till the end of the summer holidays.

Two parties, each of two grown-ups and a boy shot each day over dogs, and two boats with the remainder of the party fished Lough Derg for brown trout.

It was four miles of mountain road from Pettigo to the Lough.

The Lough is one of the most beautiful in Ireland, about four miles by five, with over a hundred islands.

It is set like a blue gem in the midst of the soft brown or purple of the hills of County Donegal.

With hardly another human habitation to be seen the natural beauty of the landscape is broken by the great mass of churches and hotels clustered together on Station Island.

Here, each year up to 10,000 Roman Catholic pilgrims congregate between 1st July and 15th August to do penance at the St Patrick’s pilgrimage.

 *****

ABOUT 1909 I was invited by the Lady Londonderry of the day who, I think, was Lady-in-Waiting to The Queen, to stand on the balcony at Windsor Castle to witness the landing of the first aeroplane ever to fly across the English Channel, and it landed on Runnymede, driven by Blériot.

I was accompanied by young Bonar Law, another Eton Boy, whose father was then Prime Minister.

After passing into Sandhurst I spent about a month staying in County Meath with my aunt, Mabel Fowler, and hunting with the Meath Hounds.

Bryan Fowler, my cousin, who was just my age, had passed into Woolwich at the same time and so we hunted in couples.

General Powell was then Master of the Meaths.

On the days we were not hunting we were shooting snipe with my uncle, George Fowler.

In January, 1916, I went to Sandhurst.

I was only to spend seven months there as I was commissioned into 11th Hussars in August 16th, 1916, a fortnight before my eighteenth birthday.

I enjoyed my seven months at Sandhurst. It was a hard school.

As cavalry cadets we were posted to “K” Company.

Major Lomer commanded the company and John Hinde, 15th Hussars, and Jack Nettlefold was very strict and severe.

My father had given me a polo pony and, instead of keeping him in Pitchell’s livery stable, I took stabling at a “Pub” in Camberley, and looked after ponies for Lump Altamont (6th Marquess of Sligo), Blandford (9th Duke of Marlborough) and Scabbard Sword, who later on succeeded me as Adjutant of the Cheshire Yeomanry, as well as my own.

It certainly taught me something of the mysteries of Horse-mastership.

We passed out in August, 1916, and I was posted to the 12th Reserve Cavalry Regiment at Warburg Barracks in Aldershot.

Looking back my method of joining up is amusing.

 *****

AT THAT TIME I was very interested in cockfighting and had several cocks at walk in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

I brought two cocks with me to Aldershot.

Most of the time they were kept in large cages in the officers’ quarters in the passage outside my room.

Later, I suppose for sanitary reasons, they were transferred to the miniature range Nissen hut.

On Sunday mornings it was the habit of our commanding officer, Colonel Ronnie Brooke DSO (elder brother of Lord Alanbrooke and uncle of Sir Basil Brooke, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland) to carry out a tour of inspection of the Barracks after Church parade.

For the inspection my game cocks had been hidden in front of the target, but just as the Commanding Officer and his staff were leaving, the range of cocks gave a loud “Cock-a-doodle-do”.

The CO had gone out but wondered why his staff were tittering behind him.

I was in Eric Crossley’s Squadron “C” and soon Charles Mulholland (later 3rd Lord Dunleath) returned to the Reserve Regiment after being very badly wounded in the early days of the War.

He became 2nd i/c "C" Squadron.

His younger brother, Harry, was also there as a lieutenant and Hotchkiss Gun instructor.

Towards the end of 1916 I conducted a draft out to Rouen.

I remember how cold the weather was.

The ice was so thick on the Seine that we had to have a thick skinned tug to proceed us.

The only person I knew in Rouen was my uncle, Charlie Blakiston-Houston, who was Major in Command of the Ulster Division, RASC.

Uncle Charlie was a well known character wherever he went.

I did not know his address but asked the first Frenchman I met on the Docks.

He immediately replied “Oui, Oui,” and personally conducted me to the suburbs of Rouen where my uncle had his camp.

He was such a character that he had made himself very well know in Rouen.

He was most unorthodox in his methods of dealing with his men and addressed them all either by their Christian names or as “My Dear”.

About the middle of 1917, I was sent on draft leave preparatory to joining the 11th Hussars in France, but as I was still under 19 years old, unknown to me my mother wired Charles Mulholland, and I was waylaid and brought back to Aldershot.

About this time an appeal appeared in Regimental Orders for volunteers for the Heavy Branch, Machine Gun Corps, which later became the Tank Corps – I sent my name forward.

Horsed cavalry at this period of the war was not a very satisfactory arm of the service to belong to.

Trench lines and barbed wire entanglements made their employment in their true role virtually impossible and more often than not they were employed dismounted.

In August, 1917, I was seconded and posted to the 13th Battalion of the Tank Corps, and was stationed at Wareham and Bovington Camps in Dorset.

For the next five months we worked very hard forming the Battalion and attending innumerable courses.

At the end of January, 1918, we sailed as a half-trained unit to continue our training near St Pol in the Pas de Calais.

First published in January, 2015.  Extracts by kind permission of RP Blakiston-Houston OBE JP DL

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Can just remember meeting (or, more likely, my parents talking to him) at Dublin Show in, probably the late 40s. I do remember his wife better.