Thursday, 19 January 2017

BH Memoirs: IV

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL JOHN MATTHEW BLAKISTON-HOUSTON DL (1898-1984), OF BELTRIM CASTLE, COUNTY TYRONE, AND RODDENS, COUNTY DOWN, WAS BORN AT ORANGEFIELD HOUSE, 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 1929, I was offered the post of the ADC [Aide-de-Camp] to Lord Stonehaven, the Governor-General of Australia.

After a certain amount of misgivings at first, I accepted and thus commenced one of the happiest and most interesting periods of my service.

The trip out took us six weeks but time went quickly.

Geoffrey Millar, 11th Hussars, who is an Australian, came out with me on the P&O “Multan.”

When we got to Port Said I thought I would like to go down to see my old friends in Cairo and the Royals who were then stationed there.

The Captain kindly arranged that I should join the ship again on a pilot boat in the middle of Lake Timash in the Suez Canal.

Geoffrey came with me to Cairo and after a night there we went off to Ismaïlia to wait for our ship.

While waiting I found the officers of a naval sloop which was lying there was holding a regatta and the Commander offered to allow me to sail the Captain’s longboat (or whatever it is called) in the race.

I had a sailor with me but he knew even less about sailing than I did.

After becoming becalmed I think we finished a good last but got back just in time to join our ship again.

HRH Prince Henry [Duke of Gloucester] was on board another P&O on his way to bestow the Order of the Garter or some such decoration on the Emperor of Japan.

When we arrived at Colombo, HRH and his party were there and we watched him play in a game of polo.

We also found time to motor up to Kandi, the hill station above Colombo and saw something of that lovely island.

We touched at Perth, Adelaide, and Melbourne, and I reported for duty at Admiralty House, Sydney, in March, 1929.

I found the atmosphere at Government House most strained and unhappy.

Ken Nicholl was Military Secretary and there were two ADCs, David Nicholl, a gunner subaltern, and Ronald Leggett, RN, whom I was to succeed.

Ken Nicholl was exceptionally rude to Lady Stonehaven and to my mind very disloyal to His Excellency as well.

Ken Nicholl had made up his mind that Lady Stonehaven should have no private friends as it might cause jealousy, and seemed to have persuaded His Excellency to back him up in this policy.

I made friends at once with Lady Stonehaven, played tennis with her, and took her for walks.

Lord Stonehaven was a very active and conscientious Governor-General.

He was, perhaps, rather guarded and appeared to be on his dignity in his dealings with the Australians.

I think this was largely the fault of his staff.

He was intensely fond of travelling and we travelled thousands of miles by car, train, air and ship during my 18 months with him.

My first assignment was to accompany him to New England.

Here we stayed for the Inverell Carnival Week.

There were agricultural shows or Polo Tournaments every day and dances every night.

I’ve never before seen so many really lovely girls together.

Thanks to the generosity of an old Mr Ronald McKie, and Gordon and Douglas Munro I was mounted to play with them in one of the Polo Tournaments.

I was not long off the boat and was not in hard condition.

The Australians play polo in a saddle with a “roller” which I found rubbed my knees.

At that time everyone played in snaffles.

A few months later a team from India came out and defeated all their best teams.

After this the Australians schooled their ponies to play in double bridles and the saddler in Sydney
told me he did an enormous trade in bits.

David Nicholl was also keen on polo and we decided that as one of us had always got to be in attendance on HE we would get no polo unless we made him play too.

David was commissioned to buy him a couple of ponies and from then on we ran a Government House team.

From time to time we had different people to make the fourth player but while we were in Melbourne we often had that good sportsman “Bran” Davidson, who I had known well in Egypt.

HE told me afterwards that this polo changed his whole outlook on life.

We stayed up on one occasion with Alan Currie for a polo week in the Eastern District of Victoria.

I still have a Cup we won there at the Caramut Tournament.

The Governor-General had three homes in those days and he divided his time between them.

They were Admiralty House, Sydney; Government House, Canberra; and Government House, Melbourne.

David and I liked Canberra best. The new capital of Canberra.

HE, David, and I used to go up to the Brindabella River in the snowy mountains to fish.

We stayed in a hut up there belonging to John Joceland. HE was very keen fisherman.

The river was as clear as crystal and ran through one of the loveliest bit of mountain scenery in Australia.

It was all up-stream fishing and we used to catch very good baskets of rainbow trout.

Later on I started a small “bobbery” pack of hounds at Canberra.

I was given hounds by both the Findon Harriers, and the Melbourne Hunt.

We usually hunted hare. The country was not ideal; it was mostly fenced with barbed wire and we had to gallop for the gates.

One day I remember running a hare down into Canberra, and checking opposite the Parliament House, just as all the government clerks and officials were going home from their offices.

There was an Irish policeman on duty at the crossroads when we checked.

He left his point and with his hat held high cheered us unto the line of our hare.

HE’s two daughters, Ariel and Ava, aged 13 and 11, used to come out to their ponies.

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

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