Tuesday, 17 January 2017

BH Memoirs: III

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; WAS AIDE-DE-CAMP TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF AUSTRALIA, 1929-30; HIGH SHERIFF OF COUNTY DOWN, 1944; DEPUTY LIEUTENANT OF COUNTY DOWN, 1946; HIGH SHERIFF OF COUNTY TYRONE, 1954.

In March, 1924, I went home on a year’s leave on full pay.

Dermot Kavanagh also got a year’s leave.

I’m sure we were the last two officers in the British Army ever to be granted a year’s leave, except for special reasons.

Colonel Geoffrey Lockett had once praised me and said, “If ever you want anything, let me know”, so when the leave-book came round I put down March 1924 to March 1925.

The Colonel, of course, sent for me and asked me for my reasons and I reminded him of his promise.

He signed it, saying, “Of course the Brigadier will turn it down”.

However, it so happened the Mouse Tomkinson had just been appointed to the Brigade a few days before.

He came with one reputation – that he was in the habit of getting more leave than anyone else in the Army.

I suppose he thought he would not like to feel that his first act as Brigadier-General was to turn down two poor fellows leave – so it went through.

My parents were living at Finlaystone, near Glasgow in the winter and at Roddens in the summer.

My brother, George, was working in the Clyde Shipping Company in Glasgow.

I went with my father grouse-shooting and spent part of the winter hunting in County Meath.

Tommy Ainsworth and Holmpatrick were joint masters that year.

Ireland was still in an unsettled state.

The Government of Ireland Act had been passed in 1922 but the Free State Government were having trouble with the Republican element and there were frequent clashes between the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and the Free State Army.

I stayed with my uncle, George Fowler, at Kells.

The Republicans had painted up on his wall, “FOWLER PREPARE FOR DEATH”, but that did not appear to worry my uncle.

My aunt used to tell an amusing story,

One day a taxi drove up to the National Bank in the small town of Carrickmacross, and three men got out. 
The leader produced a dirty bit of paper and presented it to the Manager. 
Written on it was “These men have been ordered to protect you, IRA”
Rumour flew round the town that the IRA had sent some men to protect first. 
The IRA leader replied that his orders were to protect the National Bank but he’d see what he could do to oblige, if the Manager stayed in the Bank and waited after closing hours. 
He left his two assistants in the National Bank and went on up to the Bank of Ireland. 
When he got to the strong room he took over the keys and gave the Manager a gentle push and locked him inside. 
The taxi drove up and collected the swag from both banks and proceeded on its way to Drogheda.

My aunt had another story about an unfortunate gentleman who had his house burned down by the IRA.

The house was a complete ruin but in the fire one wall had taken on a dangerous lean.

He received a letter from the IRA instructing him to take down this dangerous wall forthwith as it was endangering the lives of the people searching for “souvenirs” in the ruins.

In August, 1925, my brother George was accidentally drowned while shooting duck at Finlaystone.

His death was a great blow to me.

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

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