A Family Account by Louis Mitchell-Henry
Here is a short account of my family, written in 1973, which one day might be of interest to my descendants.
I think the best place to start is with my father, who had a full and very interesting life.
He was born in Stratheden House, Knightsbridge, his father’s London residence, in 1866, the youngest son of Mitchell Henry (Mitchell being his Christian name) and his wife Margaret, who was a Vaughan. More about my grand parents later. My father was christened Lorenzo Cecil Vaughan. The reason for Lorenzo being that his parents had just completed a tour of Italy and at the time his mother was rather taken with all things Italian. Lorenzo had eight brothers and sisters of whom I will say as much as I know when the time comes. All his life he was of a very inventive and practical turn of mind, an early example of which being a secret hiding place, when he was very small child in the nursery at Kylemore, for sweets and special treasures. He removed the tail of the almost life-size communal rocking-horse and used the space disclosed!
He was sent to Eton in the middle of a half (term) at the age of ten - (there was no Common Entrance or any exam in those days) and quite naturally was miserable for some time, being the absolute bottom of the school. His elder brother, Howard, was already there, but being four years older and soon to leave was not of much use to him. After a time he quite enjoyed himself and made many friends, of whom one, perhaps his greatest, he was to keep in quite close touch with for a very many years - Victor Spencer-Churchill (who later was created Viscount Churchill) a relative of the Duke of Marlborough and also Winston. He was a god-son of Queen Victoria and eventually held many Court appointments and became among other things Chairman of the Great Western Railway. In his Eton days he was a Page of Honour to the Queen and often, having asked my father to go for a walk, would disappear into Windsor Castle to carry out his duties, leaving his unfortunate friend to cool his heels outside!
Actually in the late 1920's and early 1930's I represented my parents at his second marriage and also his funeral as they were abroad on both occasions.
When my father left Eton at the age of seventeen, he decided on a military or semi-military career and went to a famous military crammer to prepare for the Army Exam. This was in two parts - the Final and the Preliminary, which had to be passed first. As it happened, he was for some reason prevented from taking the Preliminary and presenting himself at Burlington House, where the Final was being held, he was allowed to do both parts and duly passed. He was commissioned into the Royal Monmouthshire Regiment (Militia) Royal Engineers, his commission being signed by Queen Victoria with her own hand as was then the custom. The Militia was rather closer to the Regular Army than the Territorials by which it was replaced, training etc. being for longer periods.
Later he went to Heidelberg in Germany to complete his education. Heidelberg is the 'Oxford' of Germany. He did not actually attend the University but had a tutor and learned to speak very good German. From an early age he had become a remarkable shot (shooting from the left shoulder, as his left eye was the stronger) both with shot-gun and rifle (rather unusual to be good at both) and combined his studies with various sporting expeditions.
He divided his time, on his eventual return to Germany, between Stratheden House (a huge mansion standing on about a acre of land) in London, where he used to drive a four-in-hand and where he lived a life of the greatest fun and luxury in Society and Clubland, and Kylemore Castle, County Galway, where he had his own steam yacht, the 'Ida' (which he designed and had built at Plymouth) with a crew of four, and the run of a vast sporting estate.
Lorenzo Mitchell-Henry's steam yacht - 'Ida'
He was always ready to try anything new that was a challenge and among many other things, he used to drive a tandem with three horses in line instead of the usual two. He also brought engineers over from Manchester to install a turbine plant and harness water running down the mountain behind the Castle to provide electricity. This was in the 1880's and as far as I know the same system is still in use at Kylemore.
Kylemore Castle in the 1880's
In the 1890's he took to motoring and was one of the first to make the run from London to Brighton and back (100 miles) in one day - then almost like flying the Atlantic solo, with at least six or seven punctures occurring! One of his first cars, I think, was a Benz, with the enormous pistons and cylinders mounted horizontally. One day at Hyde Park Corner he broke down and discovered afterwards that several nuts had been sucked off their bolts into the cylinders! He was also one of the first members of the Royal Automobile Club and one of the first to take a car to Ireland where not only animals but also people took to their heels!
My father was always inventing things, usually concerning matters of interest to himself, to do with sport and so on, but many of his inventions were copied and commercialised without benefit to him and some are still in use today. Two that I can think of, off-hand, are the little pieces of metal on spectacles on either side of the nose and a particular type of trawling net which he developed for fishing on the 'Ida'. He used to cruise, captaining and navigating the yacht himself, all along the West coast of Ireland - then almost virgin fishing ground - and catch tons of the finest quality fish of all kinds. Any not required for the Castle were given free to the numerous tenants of the estate and others.
One invention he did make money with was the 'Henrite' shot-gun cartridge. By that time, he was internationally known as a champion 'pigeon shot' (this was like clay-pigeon shooting today, but live birds were used - made illegal some 45 years ago in England) taking part in competitions all over Europe and various centres in England. The cartridge was one of the first 'smokeless' and the main principle was that the charge was constant and the same for each cartridge. Unlike other cartridges, the powder was made into little cylinders with the consistency of cork which exactly fitted the case, instead of being poured in by weight. A company was formed and the 'Henrite' cartridge became very popular among sportsmen. The cartridge cases were rather striking, being yellow with the word 'HENRITE' in black running lengthways and round the circumference, with the letter 'R' being the centre.
My grandfather had given my father a property near Kylemore known as 'Bunnaboghee' (which some think was originally Spanish 'Buena Bocha' meaning 'Good Wood' - possibly so named by survivors of the Spanish Armada) where he lived and carried out his experiments in a nearby small building known as the Powder House, specially built for the purpose. After some years, my father fell out with his fellow directors and withdrew from the company taking his secret process with him, so Henrite cartridges were no more.
Round about 1900, for reasons that will be explained later, my grandfather's vast wealth was very much reduced and spent less and less time at Kylemore, leaving it in the charge of my father who lived there almost alone trying to keep things together.
Stratheden House and contents (Van Dycks, Raphaels, Rubens, Rembrandts etc.) had previously been sold and Kylemore was heavily mortgaged. My father, from time to time, continued his sporting travels and, indeed, in 1901, was in South Africa during the war, nominally representing John Jameson Whiskey!
A few years later he was in the United States, where on one occasion he met a young mechanic who was looking for five thousand dollars (in those days £1,000) to help continue his operations in exchange for an interest in the project. My father had not that sort of money, and in any case did not think much of the young mechanic's plans. The mechanic's name was Henry Ford!
Marion Mitchell-Henry (nee Reagner)
Some time later, he met the beautiful younger daughter, Marion, of wealthy New York lawyer, Louis Christian Reagner, in due course married her at the famous 'Little Church Around the Corner', 29th Street and Fifth Avenue, New York (where many years later her funeral service was held) which is regarded as the Reagner family church, being across the street (29th) from a big block of property, including the Seville Hotel - 10 storey, 400 bedrooms and baths - in those days quite a big hotel even for New York - owned by L.C. Reagner of whom more later.
Lorenzo and Marion Henry, as they then still were, went to Monte Carlo for their honeymoon and duly settled in London. During the honeymoon, which was spent among my father's many friends and acquaintances from London - in those days people in London Society usually moved to the Continent for the winter and spring - at one dinner party, somebody, knowing my mother was American, trying to get a rise out of her, said something to the effect that Americans were all so rich. She became quite annoyed - she was only about 22 - and said it was not so at all and in any case 'all Englishmen have piles'! All his life my father had the knack of making the most of such situations!
In due course I was born in London in 1907 and was christened Louis Mitchell Henry (no hyphen) at St. George's, Hanover Square, one of my god-fathers being the Duke of Manchester, the other, I think my grandfather Reagner. We all eventually settled into a large flat in Cleveland House, St. James's Square.
I think we can now leave Lorenzo and Marion for a time and turn to my grandfather and grandmother - Mitchell and Margaret Henry.
Mitchell Henry was born in 1826, the second son of Alexander Henry of Woodlands, Nr. Manchester, a very affluent merchant and Member of Parliament for South Lancashire, who was married to Elizabeth, daughter of George Brush of Willowbrook, Co. Down. Alexander was the son of William Henry of Loughbrickland, Co. Down. Mitchell was trained to be a doctor and surgeon at Manchester University and the Manchester Royal School of Medicine and Surgery (Manchester Royal Infirmary) and proved to be a brilliant surgeon, becoming senior consultant at the Middlesex Hospital in London by the time he was 30. In his day, anaesthetics had not come in and many of his biggest operations took place without them - including the taking off of a man’s leg at the thigh. In another case he removed an enormous gall stone, half of which is in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London and the other half in the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin. One does not know in either of these cases if the patient survived!
When his father died, in 1858, he inherited vast wealth, virtually owning and receiving all income from A & S Henry & Co. (which was not a public company in those days) founded by Alexander in1804. He gave up being a surgeon and went into politics as a Liberal and was an M.P. for an English constituency for some years. In those days, of course, M.P.'s were not paid, being either men of independent means or earning their living as doctors, lawyers, business men etc. which is why so many of the debates take place in the evenings and at night to this day. He was a Justice of the Peace (magistrate) for Middlesex, Westminster, and later for County Galway which represented in the House of Commons for about 25 years.
Margaret, his wife, also born in 1826, was the daughter of George Vaughan of Quilly House, Co. Down. She was what is known as an heiress, which does not mean that she had a lot of money, but that she was entitled to the use of the Vaughan crest and coat of arms, a thing not usually allowed to females. Her family was distantly connected with the Earls of Lisburne, whose crest and coat of arms are the same. As a child she had been brought up with the future Cardinal Vaughan, her cousin. I think he was a Protestant clergyman who became a Catholic priest and finally a cardinal. Anyhow, he was considered a great man and it always caused a stir when he visited Kylemore in after years.
When Margaret and Mitchell married, some time in the 1840's they went to the West of Ireland for their honeymoon and fell in love with the countryside. Finally in 1862, after his father died, my grandfather bought from the Blakes the house and estate of Kylemore and proceeded to build what is now known as Kylemore Abbey round the existing house, the architects being Mr S. Ussher Roberts (brother of famous Field Marshal) and Mr J.F. Fuller. The building took a number of years and cost about a quarter of a million pounds, which in those days was an even vaster sum than it would be today. During the construction, every able-bodied man for forty miles around was employed in one
Margaret Henry (nee Vaughan)
capacity or another. The white granite used was brought over in a special ship from Scotland. No expense was spared either inside or out. Green Connemara marble was used extensively inside the building. Italians were brought over to plan the pleasure gardens and the fruit and vegetable gardens took up eight acres. There was an acre of heated greenhouses in which were grown bananas, pineapples, oranges and other tropical fruits as well as the usual grapes, peaches etc.
When all was finished, Mitchell and Margaret and their family of nine (my Aunt Florence was actually born in the Castle) lived happy, carefree life in their 70 roomed home, standing in it's 13,000 acres, with much entertaining and gaiety.
I believe there were some thirty or more in-door servants and it cost £250 per week to pay the outdoor staff of keepers, ghillies, grooms, woodmen, gardeners etc. and this when a good wage for a man was ten shillings a week!
Stratheden House was going full swing in London and my grandfather had to spend much of his time there because of his parliamentary duties.
When living in London, he lived like Royalty. Liveried footmen, gold plate for special occasions. Carriages with two men on the box. It must be realised that in his day he was probably one of the richest men in England - certainly one of the biggest spenders! He is thought to have had an income of over £60,000 a year which over a hundred years ago would have worth at least ten times what it is today - with income tax, if any, a few pence in the pound!
For a long time we used to have a rather faded photograph of King Edward VII in his Daimler outside the front door of Kylemore when, during a tour of Ireland, he called. There was, however, no member of the family in residence at the time.
Kylemore Castle's Gothic Memorial Church
In 1875 his beloved wife Margaret died, aged fifty, of a fever contracted in Egypt. My father was 9 years old at the time. After this Mitchell did not spend so much time at Kylemore, although it was all kept going. However, he built a beautiful memorial church about a mile from the Castle on the shore of the lake, in which Margaret was finally laid to rest and where in due course he joined her. The church is a miniature replica of Norwich Cathedral, the inside being composed mainly of green Connemara marble.
During his long 40 years or more of ownership of Kylemore, my grandfather became a much loved and almost god-like figure. Everyone for miles around was employed on his estate and those who were not were helped in any way possible. A cart used to go round the district every week delivering free meat
and nobody requiring help was ever turned away. It must be understood that in those days, not so long after the Great Famine, the poverty in Ireland, particularly in the West, was indescribable. Mitchell Henry, as far and away the biggest land owner, felt a great responsibility for the people, especially so as he was their elected member at Westminster. The people very much appreciated all he did and tried to do and I remember as a small child in about 1910 or 1911, when on a visit to the district, old women kneeling on the road beside my pram and praying over me. As a schoolboy and young man, when I used to visit my Aunt Florence, who then lived at Bunnaboghee, and changed trains at Galway, word was passed to the various railway officials by one of their number and I used to complete the remaining 50 miles to Clifden, very much a V.I.P. safely locked into a first-class carriage on a third-class ticket! Even in recent years, in the West of Ireland, people hearing my name show great friendliness and respect. All because of their traditional feeling of gratitude to Mitchell Henry.
His sense of responsibility for the West of Ireland was in the end largely the cause of his undoing. He approached Mr Gladstone, the Prime Minister, and asked if something could be done to drain the bogs and generally improve the land in County Galway. Gladstone asked him to go into the matter in detail and let him know what it would cost. He did so and reported £1,000,000 - a huge sum of money in those days - for such a project, nothing today. He was told it was to much and nothing could be done. Thereupon he and a neighbouring large landowner, Mr Stoney, decided to do what they could from their own resources. Unfortunately their pockets were drained before the land!
In due course Stratheden House and contents were sold and Kylemore became almost derelict, with my father, as I have said elsewhere, living there almost alone. This was, of course, before his marriage.
My grandfather, from being so rich and so enormously generous, became poorer and poorer and finally died, well on in his eighties, at the Regent Hotel, Leamington Spa. He left £425!
I remember being taken to see him not long before he died, the only time I met him, and that I was frightened and cried and had to be quickly taken away!
In his prime he was enormously strong, although he never took any exercise or played any games, and had a chest measurement of fifty inches. Once, during his parliamentary career, being on some inspection board, he had to visit a lunatic asylum and was being shown round by a 'trusty'. The “trusty” suddenly had a come-over and attacked him violently. He did not know anything about boxing but instinctively, to protect himself, he punched the unfortunate lunatic in the body and broke three of his ribs!
It is believed that he was offered but refused a peerage, which perhaps was just as well!
I think he had several brothers and sisters but know nothing of them except that his elder brother, John Snowden Henry, born in 1824, lived at East Dene, Bonchurch, Isle of Wight, was a magistrate for the County of Southampton, a Deputy Lieutenant for the Isle of Wight and one time a Member of Parliament for S.E. Lancashire. He married Annie, daughter of Thomas Wood of Neesham and Bishop's Wearmouth, Co. Durham. A sister became Mrs Wyles. He had another brother who eventually became a Roman Catholic priest and for whom he built a church in Tully, Co. Galway. This brother must have been much older as he was a great traveller and gifted painter in water colour. Some of his paintings of the Pyrenees and elsewhere are dated in the 1830's. I am beginning to wonder if the painter and the priest were one and the same. The painter was always
While in Canada my father caught the first of his many Tunny (Tuna) fish on rod and line weighing 520lb. in Nova Scotia, which is counted as the first ever caught on rod. Although another one had been caught by Laurie Mitchell, a guide to Zane Grey, he had not done it completely alone, being helped in the later stages. Subsequently my father caught the first in Europe off Norway, the first in the British Isles off Scarborough and the world's record (nearly 1,000lb.) also off Scarborough.
My mother was American born, the second child of Louis Christian Reagner, the son of an impecunious Lutheran clergyman who emigrated to the United States from Denmark. Louis C. Reagner worked his way through Columbia College, New York and finally was called to the New York Bar, winning fame and much wealth as one of the most brilliant patent lawyers in the U.S. One of his most famous cases was on behalf of the Gillette Razor Co. whose safety razor patent had been infringed.
Lorenzo Mitchell-Henry tunny fishing
referred to as 'Great-Uncle' but may, of course, have been my father's great-uncle and my grandfather's uncle. My grandfather was born in 1826 and would hardly have had a brother so much older.
To return for a short time to my parents, Lorenzo and Marion Henry. They were having a very busy social life in London and went everywhere, also paying occasional visits to America. My mother was 'presented at Court' (a custom that for some years has been discontinued) and went every year or so, frequently 'presenting' daughters of friends and acquaintances. There were usually three or four Courts a year and they took place at night. Only the women went into Royal Presence and made their curtsies, the men congregating in an ante-room and while awaiting their spouses being regaled with refreshments. When all presentations had been made, there was usually a ball, when the King and Queen and members of their family mixed with their guests. Women wore elaborate white gowns and on their heads the ostrich plumes of the Prince of Wales' Feathers. Men wore Court Dress (often hired for occasion) consisting of velvet tunic, satin knee breeches, silk stockings, lace jabot and sword - or, of course, military or naval full-dress uniform. On one occasion, for some reason there was Court Morning and crepe arm-bands had to be worn by the men. My father noticed his was missing and suddenly caught sight of it on somebody's foot!
Round about 1910 or 1911 Kylemore was let to the Duke of Manchester (my god-father). 'Kim' (Kimolton - one of his titles) was the most charming and generous of men with absolutely no understanding of money. He had been literally born a duke, as his father had died a few months before his arrival. He married the daughter of a rich but rather common American businessman called Zimmerman. They carried out many alterations at Kylemore during their tenancy, such as turning the magnificent ballroom (now the Nuns' Chapel) into the Kitchen! They lived there in a very grand way until the money gave out. 'Kim' was continually all his life either living like a duke for whom only the best was good enough or in a state of bankruptcy.
In due course, after the Manchesters had left, Kylemore was taken over for a fraction of its cost by Nuns of Ypres - an Irish order who had settled in Belgium after being expelled from Ireland and had now returned. The first thing they did was to remove the coffins of my grandparents from the Memorial Church and the second to have the building purified by their own priests to get rid of any Protestant germs!
By this time, about 1912, my father was a well known big-game shot and as such was invited by a Mr Roberts to come as his guest and companion on a shooting expedition to British East Africa - as Kenya was then called. The trip duly took place and my father shot several lions and other animals.
On his return he was attending a dinner and all at once was taken ill. He was very bad for some time with typhoid fever, possibly contracted on the boat. His neighbour at the dinner was W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan) about whom I have read recently an amusing anecdote. He was asked if he had been to see the great actor Beerbohm Tree as Hamlet and he is reputed to have said: 'He was excruciatingly funny without being in the least bit vulgar - I enjoyed it'!
In 1913, or thereabouts, through a friend, Lord Shaughnessey, President of the Canadian Pacific Railway, my father had the handling of most of the insurance of that company which was actually done by a firm called Marsh and MacLennan, big New York insurance people, my father acting as agent. He set up his headquarters in Montreal, from where he travelled all over the system on a special pass, inspecting all the many hotels, warehouses, offices etc. belonging to the company.
Just prior to going to Canada, my father had almost been forced to take the name Mitchell as an additional surname, as he was always referred to as 'young Mitchell Henry'. (A similar thing happened with the Lloyd-George family whose surname was originally George). He therefore legally took the name 'Mitchell-Henry' and was followed by one or two of his brothers and sisters, but not all.
When war was declared, August 4th, 1914, my mother and I were I England and my father in Canada. We were actually staying with friends at Bembridge, Isle of Wight. We quickly returned to London where we remained for a year or two and then joined my father in Montreal, establishing ourselves in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel (where my father was living) via New York. It was my third crossing of the Atlantic and was made in an American ship, the 'Philadelphia' thought to be less likely to be attacked by U-boats as U.S.A. was still neutral.
After a time, my father fell out with Marsh (the insurance man) and the long and the short of it was that my father left the firm and Lord Shaughnessey took the C.P.R. insurance away from them!
Many years before, in the Kylemore days, my father had a slight acquaintance with H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught, the youngest son of Queen Victoria, and when, in about 1916, the Duke was appointed Governor-General of Canada, my father called on him. H.R.H. became very friendly with my parents and when he decided to make a Royal Tour as Governor-General right across Canada, he invited them to accompany him, which they did on his special train. During this trip they lived in the closest contact with Duke, his wife, the Duchess - Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia - and their daughter, Princess Patricia of Connaught, who was about the same age as my mother. Later Princess Patricia renounced her Royal title and married Captain (afterwards Admiral Sir) Alexander Ramsey.
For the next few years my mother became as important in the Society circles of New York and Montreal as she had been in London and devoted her time to fund raising activities on behalf of the Red Cross and other war charities. She was in touch with Queen Mary in England who let her know what articles were in particular demand. I remember she sent, among other things, 1,000 feather pillows, 1,000 hot water bottles and 1,000 feet of rubber tubing (for draining wounds).
Reagner married Meta von Ramdor, the emigrant daughter of a noble Prussian family. She was either the daughter or niece of a baron who was present at the Battle of Waterloo with General Blucher's army. I remember her well. She was a very sweet person and loved England. She and my grandfather used to visit England nearly every summer and rent a house. One, I remember, was called Eaglehurst, on the Isle of Wight, which I saw quite recently advertised for sale, having been for many years a boys' preparatory school. My grandmother died in the Roosevelt Hospital in New York of cancer of the throat in 1913 aged 50.
My mother had an elder sister, Dorethy, who married Leo Matty, lawyer son of a senator from Colorado and had one son. She died comparatively young. She had also a younger brother, Louis C. Reagner, Jr. who in his day was a noted athlete, playing American football for Columbia University. In the first world war he was an officer in the U.S. Navy commanding a coastal patrol boat and afterwards he was in practice as a lawyer in New York for many years.
We all returned to England in 1919 to our house in Upper George Street, Bryanston Square and I remember being delighted by the return of my canary, 'Dicky' who had been looked after all the time we were away by Lancelot Lowther, brother of the famous Earl of Lonsdale whom he closely resembled.
On the Duke of Connaught's return to England after his term of office as Governor-General, he resumed his friendship with my parents. They frequently stayed at his country house, Bagshot Park in Surrey and often lunched and dined at his London residence, Clarence House (now the home of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother). Many times he came to lunch, tea or dinner at our house in Upper George Street, as did his sister Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll. They were always unaccompanied. For those who like that sort of thing, my parents hob-knobbed with Royalty of every kind, lunching with George VI when he was Duke of York and meeting all, or nearly all, the other members of the family - not forgetting Mrs Simpson!
My mother and father spent a lot of time travelling abroad and had many interesting experiences. They were in Egypt at the time of the discoveries in the tomb of Tutankamun and through Lord Lloyd, the High Commissioner in Egypt, they met Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter and were shown everything then discovered long before it was open to the public. On another occasion they had a private audience with the then Pope. My mother and her brother were in Paris at the time of Lindbergh's historic flight and attended a reception in his honour at the U.S. Embassy.
My mother died in 1935 of pneumonia in New York aged fifty - the same ages as her own mother and mother-in-law (whom of course she had never met).
During this time and for some years after my father kept his various inventions, one a portable clay-pigeon thrower, which was not much of a success, although a number were sold, but the most important being equipment concerned with Tunny fishing in which he was the recognised pioneer and expert and about which he had had a book published. Rods, lines, hooks, swivels, links and particularly the reel. A number were sold, but any profits were spent in keeping up patent renewal payments. Even when he was in his seventies he was working at inventions to help the war effort and through a previous acquaintanceship with Winston Churchill, two items were actually used and paid for by the Government - a machine-gun mounting for coastal patrol boats and a rocket-like missile attached to thin steel cable for becoming entangled in propellers of enemy bombers.
I give below a letter written to the 'Field';
I enclose a certified card of three sighting shots at the N.S.R.A. target at this club by Mr L. Mitchell-Henry, the well known big-game angler and shot. Many think that this performance, in any case a remarkable one, should be recorded as having been accomplished by a gentleman in his 88th year without glasses. The card shows that after two adjustments the third shot was an absolutely perfect Bull's-eye.
The target shows two shots cutting the inner ring and the final shot dead centre of the bull.
My father was asked to zero a new rifle for a friend and thought nothing of it. I often saw him in his younger days throw up a small coin into the air, put the rifle to his shoulder and five times out six hit it. The difficult part was finding the coins afterwards as they would fall on your head!
He remained a member of the New York Racquet Club, about the most exclusive club in the world, all his life although I am sure he found it difficult to keep up the subscriptions!
Lorenzo Cecil Vaughan Mitchell-Henry died in 1965 one month short of 99 years old.
Now I think we should have a look at the other members of my father's family - namely his eight brothers and sisters. Unfortunately I know very little about them, having known only two. My grandmother seems to have had what almost amounted to two families. In the 1840’s she had two sons - Lewis and Ernest - and two daughters - Marie and Margaret - and then no more until the 1860's when she had Howard, Lorenzo, Voilet, Geraldine and Florence (born 1870).
Lewis was the eldest son and became a captain in the Royal Scots Greys in which he served for twenty years without hearing a shot fired in anger. On one occasion at the wedding reception of one of his other brothers, my father, who as a young man always prided himself on his immaculate appearance, was frequently mistaken by guests for the bridegroom. Lewis, with some of his hearty army friends, being twenty years older than my father, called him over: 'Lorenzo, do you know why everyone thinks you are the bridegroom - because your fly is undone'!
Lewis had a son - I don't know if his only one - Patrick, who on the outbreak of war in 1914 joined the Dublin Fusiliers as a private, in those days a rather unusual thing to do for one in his position. He soon, by his efforts, became a sergeant and later was given a commission. His fellow sergeants threw a celebration party in the Mess at which they all became a bit intoxicated and he drank from the bottle what he thought was Guinness but was I reality creosote and he died almost at once.
Ernest I know nothing about beyond the fact that at Kylemore he raised and trained a Fire Brigade from among the staff, having been trained himself by the London Fire Brigade. They had all the most elaborate equipment - engine (horse-drawn of course) uniform etc. and used to have practice runs all round the district. As far as is known, the only real fire they ever had was in their station house when all their gear was destroyed as they could not get at it to put the fire out!
Howard lived much the same sort of life as my father but perhaps was more of a stick-in-the-mud. He was, I believe a rather exceptional horseman. In later years, when times had become harder, he became the man of affairs and general factotum for a very rich man called Sir George Cooper. He saw to his estates, collected rents and generally managed things for him. He married twice. His first family was a son with whom he quarrelled at an early age, who went to Canada, never to return and whose descendants now live in Vancouver, and twin daughters - Margaret and Murial. Margaret was a V.A.D. in the 1914 war and died of cholera nursing in the Middle East. Her name is on the War Memorial of the Church of St. Mary's, Bryanston Square, London. Murial started in the very early days with Elizabeth Arden and became a very high up official with the firm. When she retired she was Director in charge of the British Isles and a large part of Europe. She speaks three or four foreign languages fluently. She now lives in Tangier. Howard’s second family were twins again - a boy and a girl - Geoffery and Eveline. Geoffery I have never met and Eveline has been married for many years and lives in England.
Margaret, my eldest aunt, was married to a Mr Henn and further than that I know nothing. Marie I will mention later. Violet married a young Swiss named Waetjen (pronounced Vaitchen) and had a son called Rex who is still going strong and with whom I am in occasional touch. Rex's father was the son of a widower and what should happen but that the elder Mr Waetjen married Marie, Violets elder sister! This caused the most complicated relationships. Rex's Aunt Marie was also his grandmother and Marie's son by Waetjen, Harold, was his uncle and also his cousin!
The story of Geraldine is rather tragic. She made a very happy marriage to an American called Gilbert and had a baby daughter - Elizabeth. One day when the Gilberts were visiting Kylemore, Geraldine, Elizabeth and the Nanny were driving in a pony and trap at Derryinver at the mouth of the River Dawros - a very good little salmon river running through the Kylemore lands, when, crossing a humped back bridge, the pony took fright, the trap overturned, Geraldine was pitched over the wall into the torrent below and was killed. The baby and nanny were thrown out on the road but not seriously hurt. the broken-hearted Mr Gilbert returned to America with his baby daughter Elizabeth who eventually grew up and married a West Point graduate named Timmins and had two daughters. Many years ago I met the whole family when they were on a visit to London. Elizabeth, the baby in the accident, is now well into her seventies and a grandmother. I have been in touch with her occasionally.
Finally my youngest aunt - Florence - born at Kylemore in 1870. She was a most remarkable woman and a very great character. She was an exceptional salmon angler and once in her prime caught forty in a fortnight, all on the fly - I should think almost a record for a woman. She was also an exceptional bridge player. She was very much a 'loner' and never married although I believe she had an admirer for many years whom she was unable to marry. He remembered her generously in his will and she became reasonably well-off. For many years, when the family
left Kylemore, she lived at Bunnaboghee which was her home for her entire life thereafter. She died there in about 1956. She turned the Powder House, previously mentioned as where my father carried out his experiments, into a lodge which she used to let with the shooting and salmon fishing of Bunnaboghee which had about 300 acres and one and a half miles of the Dawros River. In Connemara, due partly to her own personality and partly because she was looked upon as the last of the Henry's, she had an important position and indeed almost in Ireland as a whole. During the 1914 war she founded, organised and ran with voluntary helpers a canteen in Dawson Street, Dublin, known as the Garrison Buffet, which was a God-send to the troops.
After the war she was given the O.B.E. She was always referred to it as the 'Old Bird's Effort'! she was also given by her staff a silver presentation coffee set and tray suitably inscribed.
She returned to Bunnaboghee and managed her small estate. She employed about half a dozen men in their 60's who had worked at Kylemore and who otherwise would have been destitute. One of these men named King had been employed to look after a bear my father had brought back from one of his trips. This bear roamed loose for some time until he became unfriendly and finally dangerous and had to be presented to the Dublin Zoo. The men were all illiterate and most of them had to walk four or five miles over the mountains to
Officer of the British Empire
Auntie Flo' also had a piebald pony called Duchess which she had been given as a teenager at Kylemore. When I first met Duchess, my aunt must have been nearly sixty and the pony over forty. I knew Duchess for a number of years afterwards and she must have reached an age of between forty-five and fifty.
Auntie Flo' lived at Bunnaboghee - she did not believe in the Spanish version and said it meant the 'Place of the Pig' - with a constant stream of girls from the village as resident maids - it was considered to be a good start in service to be Bunnaboghee trained - and her dear companion Lena Murray. Lena had been my Aunt's maid at Kylemore, when they were both in their teens, and stayed with her for ever after. They must have had an association lasting over seventy years. Lena was the most remarkable woman. When I first met her she must have been seventy. She lived entirely in her bedroom, which she kept spotless and very warm, doing endless sewing, and having her meals brought up to her. She left it only to wait on my aunt whom she never called anything but 'Miss Henry'. Once a year, however, she would dress herself up in a short black cape and jet bonnet and drive off in tray drawn by Duchess to call on friends. As Lena was stone deaf and the pony in her forties my aunt
Florence Henry as a child
work and the same to return home.
During the 'Troubles' she had one or two experiences. One night she was in her sitting room when there came a knock on the window and there was old Michael Joyce, a very old stone mason, about five feet tall, who always wore an old felt hat that had been discarded by Mrs Walter de Morgan a great friend of my aunt. 'Miss Henry, you must not go out tonight. There is to be an ambush at the bottom of your avenue.' Auntie Flo' immediately got her hat, scarf and stick and marched off down her avenue - nearly half a mile. Sure enough, at her gate she found a lorry-load of men armed with rifles, machine-guns, bombs and everything else. She spoke to them most sternly and said she would not consider allowing them to have an ambush on her property. Most of them were local boys and there was a lot of taking off of caps and 'Yes, Miss Henry - No, Miss Henry' and finally they packed up and left!
On another occasion her horse was taken. She had bought this horse for £5 to save it from ill-treatment. It was nothing but skin and bone and looked as if it would not live a week. In a month or so, with good food and a comfortable stable, it had been found to be quite a young horse and she had it for many years. Incidentally, I used to ride it. When it was taken she was furious and sent one of her men on a bicycle to the I.R.A. demanding its return. In a few days it was brought back having been well fed and looked after.
was naturally always most concerned about these outings. The local inhabitants, most of whom did not know of her existence, thought she must be some sort of ghost! Lena lived into her nineties and for the last few years she was completely bed-ridden. She was nursed devotedly Auntie Flo', who herself for the last fifteen years of her life was crippled with the most severe arthritis, and although much of the time she suffered severe pain she never let it interfere with her way of life. One of her regular habits was to walk round hr farm buildings after tea and inspect her stock. Included in the inspection was an old sow that my aunt had had for many years. She was always given a good scratching with a walking stick which she loved. On one occasion my aunt had forgotten her stick and when she reached the old sow she picked up a bit of a branch to do the scratching. Having finished, she threw down the branch and walked away. Turning round at the gate, she was amazed to see the sow hurrying after her with the branch in her mouth! Pigs are always said to be most intelligent, so I suppose the sow either wanted more scratching or thought my aunt had dropped her stick by mistake!
A distinguished relative I might mention next was the celebrated Dr Weir Mitchell of Philadelphia. His name is known and respected in Philadelphia, and indeed in the U.S.A. as a whole, to this day, both as a very eminent doctor and surgeon and an extremely well-known novelist. Some of his books are about the American Civil War in which he took part in the Army Medical Service of the North. His father had emigrated to America in the middle 1700's from Scotland and married Maud Henry, daughter of Alexander Henry (born N. Ireland 1766 - brother of William Henry of Loughbrickland, Co. Down my great-great-grandfather) who emigrated to America in 1783 becoming in time a prosperous merchant and sent his nephew, also Alexander - my great-grandfather - to Manchester in 1804 to start the importing and exporting business of A & S Henry with his brother Samuel. A & S Henry, having become a public company many years ago, quite recently was taken over by one of the big combines - I think United Drapery - having been in existence for 170 years. Samuel Henry used to travel backwards and forwards to Alabama buying cotton etc. and finally lost his life in 1840 when the S.S. 'Lexington' burnt in the Atlantic. Great-grandfather Alexander died in 1858. Weir Mitchell was therefore my great-grandfather's first cousin. I think my grandfather must have been given the name Mitchell in honour of his family.
I give here a letter from my grandfather Mitchell Henry to Dr Weir Mitchell who had written as to the feeling of people in England about the Civil War. This letter so upset him that he could not bring himself;
At this point there is a page missing (page 17).
"on the other hand, the thinking few see I this war the battle of slavery, God or the Devil and therefore they do sympathise with the North. But your best friends here have to make an apology on your behalf. They know that for years you have yielded inch by inch to the slave holders for the sake of peace - now giving up a bit of free soil, now altering a law and conniving at elections of which you must in your hearts have disapproved, all from a shrinking at fighting out this great question. And then when at length the last concession has been made and if Free America would not become a continent of slavery she must fight, people fear that you are only half sincere and would gladly sacrifice the slave again for peace and dollars. Only raise the intelligible war-cry - freedom of the soil to all - and there will be vast change in European opinion respecting you. But until that is done, depend upon it there will be no zealous partisans for either North or South. Then again you have been very unfortunate in your statesmen: Mr Seward did say something to the Duke of Newcastle about fighting England, which greatly astonished and disgusted those who heard him. It has been denied, but I have it from the Duke's secretary who was there at the time and this has been widely repeated and resented in England.
Then again, Mr Buchanan gave great offence about the Ostend Conference and your supposed sympathy with Russia during our war did not make Englishmen love you. I know very well that all these things happened because your government was in the hands of the Southerners but the great body of Englishmen do not know it and thus you are not popular with them. I must just add too that the Trent affair has not tended to raise the estimation in which the North is held here. You have no idea how anxious the people were, when first news of the capture of Slidell & Co. took place, to discover that America had the law of nations on her side and had consequently only done what she was justified in doing. You will see this feeling faithfully reflected in the Times article, which appeared the day after the news reached England and you may see as faithfully reflected the subsequent feeling when it turned out that you had not right on your side. Nothing could have averted war if you had kept the prisoners. But what an opportunity Mr Seward lost! If, on discovering that the seizure was illegal, he had spontaneously released the prisoners, he would thereby have raised a strong opinion here in favour of the North, on the broad ground that America intended to take her stand in law and order, but the fact that although he admits in his dispatch that the capture was wrong, the American Government consigned the prisoners to a felons' prison, has given the impression that America will take advantage of any tricks when she can safely do so. And so I hope you will go on and fight it out with the South, for the truth to tell, I do think that your constant compromise with evil in the shape of the slave question and the South for so many years, has demoralised you as a nation, and that it requires a violent gale of wind to ventilate your moral sense. So now my scolding is at an end. God knows you may find blots enough in our old England, if you like, but mind, I am not comparing England and America - but am only telling in answer to your request, what people think on this side.
Your attached cousin
Now a few notes on the least important member of the family - the present writer - Louis Mitchell-Henry, who though never having accomplished anything worth while, had a few experiences and met a number of people an account of which might be of interest.
As I was born in 1907, I have some memories of the end of the Edwardian era. Living in London, as we did, I can remember the vast amount of horse-drawn traffic. Motor cars were few and far between. All delivery vans, cabs and private vehicles were horse-drawn, as were fire engines, 'Black Marias' and ambulances. Fire engines retained horses for a considerable period as they were thought to be more reliable than the new-fangled petrol engines and it was always an inspiring sight to see an engine with horses three abreast galloping to a fire. Omnibuses were mainly motorised by the time I was old enough to travel on them, although I can distinctly recall travelling on a horse-drawn one - probably one of the few remaining. As a child I frequently travelled in hansoms and four-wheelers or 'growlers' as they were called, being taken to parties and so on. Most London houses kept a whistle near the front door and I think it was one blast for a four-wheeler and two for a hansom - it may have been the other way round! The traffic noise consisted entirely of an almost deafening clip-clop of horses' hooves on the wooden bricks or setts used as surface for the streets. These wooden bricks made excellent fuel and were much sort after. From time to time they had to be replaced and could be purchased. As they were soaked in creosote and tar they burned splendidly. In the residential area of the West End, if anyone was ill, straw or sawdust was laid thickly in the street in an attempt to lessen the noise. It can be imagined, with so many horses, the amount
A young Louis with his mother, Marion
of droppings that had to be collected by an army of street cleaners employed by the Council who wore a rather smart uniform of dark blue including a hat turned up at the side in the style of an Australian soldier. There were also numerous 'free enterprise' crossing sweepers at strategic corners to sweep a clean passage for a likely looking client in the hope of a few coppers.
I remember seeing King George V's coronation procession and that I was wearing a purple linen suit in mourning for his father! At about this time I made my first crossing of the Atlantic in the White Star liner R.M.S. 'Celtic'. I used to wear an outfit made of seal skin and when the ship's orchestra used to play in the afternoons, I was prevailed upon to go up and ask them to play various tunes. Through this I became quite friendly with them and the following year I was most distressed when I heard they had all been drowned on the 'Titanic'. they, to the last, had played hymns to calm the passengers as the ship was going down.
The various ships on which I crossed the Atlantic were: 'Celtic', 'Lusitania', her sister ship 'Mauritania' (twice) a French ship 'Savoie', American 'Philadelphia', 'Berengaria', 'Aquitania', 'Empress of Britain', 'Empress of Canada' and I have so far crossed four times by air.
When we lived at Cleveland House, St. James' Square, we were quite near the London home of the Duke of Norfolk, Hereditary Earl Marshal of England. He was almost exactly my age and used to be dressed the same, in a sailor suit - as most little boys were in those days. Whenever my nurse and I used to pass the sentries at St. James' Palace they used to present arms, no doubt thinking I was the Duke. Needless to say we seemed to go that way quite often!
During the 1914 war we were, part of the time, in Montreal and I
went to school there. First to a day school called Selwyn House and then, as a boarder, to Lower Canada College. My parents by that time were resident in New York, so I was rather on my own, We were allowed home at weekends but of course I was dependant on being invited by friends. The parents of a boy called Riley were very kind and often used to take me to their lovely home, calling for us in the winter in a beautiful sleigh or 'runner' pulled by a magnificent horse. In the summer he used to come in a two wheeled vehicle which I think was probably a curricle although that was usually drawn by a pair of horses. I remember when the war finished in 1918 there was a false alarm about the Armistice. We were given a special party with ice-cream etc. by the headmaster two or three days to early. However, we had another one on November 11th!
We returned to England in 1919 and I was two years at a prep. School, Fernden, Haslemere, Surrey, which I found very different from the Canadian schools, Latin not having been taught at all there whereas it played such an important part in the Common Entrance Exam. However, I managed to pass into Eton in September, 1921 and left in the spring of 1927. While at Eton, I was a particular friend of Ian Fleming of 'James Bond' fame and his elder brother Peter, well known as an author and explorer, both of whom were in my house. I kept in touch with Ian for a short time after he left. I think some of the 'James Bond' stuff was drawn from his own experiences. For a few years he lived a rather exciting life as a Reuter representative in the Balkins and when war was declared he was immediately roped into Navel Intelligence. He could speak several foreign languages perfectly and actually learned Russian in German! For one 'half' I sat next to Anthony Mildmay, afterwards to become the famous amateur steeplechase jockey. His greatest ambition was to win the Grand National. On one occasion, riding Davy Jones, a rein broke when he was leading at the last fence and the horse ran out. On another occasion he was placed on Cromwell, but he never won it.
When I left Eton, through the auspices of Lord Churchill, the Chairman, I entered the service of the Great Western Railway. I worked in various departments to get experience and quite enjoyed it, but things were always a little complicated because I was looked upon by most people as the Chairman's nephew! Sometimes this was quite useful and I was able to arrange to travel on the footplate of an engine. I stayed with the G.W.R. for seven or eight years and seeing no chance of a decent job forthcoming, in spite of many promises, finally left. The few public school trainees in the organisation all did the same thing, with the exception of one, Kenneth Grand from Rugby, who eventually, many years later became General Manager!
During the late 1920's and early 1930's unattached young men in London were in great demand as partners for dinner parties and afterwards dances or visits to the theatre and one sometimes used to attend three or four a week. I remember I was taken to a new play - 'the Ghost Train' - four times in ten days! As I had also joined the Territorials - The London Irish Rifles - whose training took place in the evenings, I did not get a great deal of sleep and finally had a mild go of T.B. and had to spend six months in a sanatorium in Norfolk.
In those days the whole of Park Lane, Grosvenor Square and Berkely Square was made up of private houses - no hotels, shops or offices as there are today and it was in many of these houses that the dances took place. One dance I remember was given for his daughters by Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Jellicoe (Battle of Jutland) and during the evening I had a long conversation with him. On several occasions I stayed in a house party as a fellow guest of Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Beatty, also one of the Battle of Jutland. They were, of course, great rivals. Jellicoe was Beatty's superior officer and planned the whole thing while Beatty got a lot of the credit. A similar situation occurred in North Africa in the Second World War with Alexander and Montgomery - the junior who got all the credit!
White Star Line - R.M.S. Celtic
Talking of house parties, I frequently stayed with some great friends in Essex in an enormous house called Shortgrove Hall. They were trying to economise and had sold an even bigger house in Norfolk. Looking back, it seems extraordinary that such life could be possible in the 1920's, almost like Kylemore fifty years before! They had a staff consisting of butler, under-butler, three footmen (always called Charles, William and George no matter what their real names were) and two chauffeurs, not to mention goodness knows how many maids and members of the kitchen staff - also, of course, an army outside of keepers, grooms, gardeners etc.
The butler who had been with them for about twenty years was finally caught doing some sort of fiddle with the wine and was sacked instantly. The last that was heard of him was that he was in Hollywood advising film producers on the proper deportment of butlers!
I enjoyed my time in the London Irish and became in the end a Captain and Company Commander. We were lucky enough, thanks to a very efficient subaltern (who got a D.S.O., M.C. and Bar in the Second World War commanding a battalion of the Reconnaissance Corps) to win the Champion Company Cup three years running.
At one time we were very friendly with the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and I had some rather interesting experiences as a result.
I once followed the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race in a police launch and twice went to the F.A. Cup Final at Wembley in a police car and sat in the box behind the King. I went several times to the annual opening performance of the Bertram Mills Circus (and met Mills) to which the general public were not admitted, it being more in the nature of a dress rehearsal. I was shown over the so-called Black Museumat Scotland Yard, which is not really a museum at all and is not open to the public. It is part of the Criminal Records Office where is kept everything connected with crimes committed. For example, Jack the Ripper's letters written in blood and many weapons used in murders. When I went there the Thompson-Bywaters case had just been concluded and both Mrs Thompson and her
Louis Mitchell-Henry during his time in the London Irish Regiment
lover Bywaters sentenced to death for murdering Thompson. They were both hanged. I handled the knife that Bywaters had used. On another occasion I was taken all around the East End Docks area and Chinatown at night, which in those days was still rather mysterious with a few opium dens and gambling houses and so on which the police allowed so they could always get hold of anyone they wanted. we visited Charley Brown's famous pub and met Charley himself. He was a retired sailor and had kept the pub for many years. To it came sailors from all over the world bringing strange objects which they sold or gave to him. He had the most extraordinary, and I should think valuable, collection of carved ivory from the East.
Through my parents and various friends in those days I met many famous people whose names may not be so well remembered by present readers (if any!) Lily Elsie, the actress who created the part the original merry Widow. Binnie Hale who was the original star in No, No, Nannnette. Cyril Maude, the famous actor-manager. George Grossmith, the famous musical comedy actor and producer Sir Edward Hulton. (senior) the newspaper tycoon. Sandow, at one time considered the strongest man in the world. George Robey, the great comedian. Baroness Orczy, authoress of the Scarlet Pimpernel books. Sophie Tucker, the famous night club singer, who in spite of her rather rude songs and naughty manner on the stage was actually most prim and proper! Dame Clara Butt, the world famous contralto. She was a huge woman with a very powerful deep voice. Sometimes she used to give open-air concerts in aid of charity in Hyde Park and similar places. She could be heard clearly at a distance of a quarter of a mile, and that was before the days of microphones and loudspeakers! I remember once when I was lunching at her house, she laughed heartily at something and all the glasses on the table rattled!
As a child and youth in America, I also met some interesting people. The Alfred Vanderbilts were great friends of my parents and we often stayed and travelled with them. Nearly all millionaires in America have a 'private car' or used to have in those days, a coach which could be attached to any scheduled train by arrangement. The Vanderbilts had a private train! Alfred was a very nice man and a great sportsman who loved England and came over every year for the coaching season when rich enthusiasts used to drive their coaches from London to Brighton with relays of fresh horses all along the way. He was lost on the Lusitania which was sunk by a submarine's torpedo 10 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale, Co. Cork. For weeks bodies were being washed ashore and a reward of £25 or so was given for any recovered. £1,000 was offered for Alfred Vanderbilt's but it was never found.
Louis B. Kauffman was a man of an entirely different type. An American German Jew, he was a financial wizard and with the help of his wife's money, he became a multi-millionaire. He 'floated' General Motors and also the Empire State Building. When the latter was finished it was found for some reason extremely difficult to let the offices and to make it look occupied all the lights in the empty ones were turned on. Thousands of dollars a week were obtained by taking people to the top at one dollar a head!
When the first trans-Atlantic flight took place in 1919, Alcock and Whitten-Brown landed not far from Clifden, near Kylemore, and naturally very soon people were swarming all round the machine - a converted Vickers-Vimy Rolls-Royce bomber - trying to get souvenirs. One of the first on the scene was a friend of mine, Kinmont Tulloch, who took the joy-stick! The machine was slightly damaged on landing and was finally re-assembled in a museum in London where some time I saw it - with a joy-stick!
Alcock & Brown's modified Vickers-Vimy Rolls-Royce Bomber after it 'landed' not far from Clifden
Another friend of mine was in the Royal Flying Corps in the first war and was a member of 70 (Fighter) Squadron which was continually engaged in 'dog-fights' with the famous Baron von Richthofen's 'Circus'. Finally the Baron was shot down and my friend had a piece of metal shaped like a shell from his machine as a mascot on his car!
When the 1939 war started, I tried to get into the army but was turned down on health grounds. Early in 1940, after Dunkirk, Sir Anthony Eden, the then Minister of War, formed the Home Guard or Local defence Volunteers, as it was at first called. With thousands of others, I enrolled immediately and within a few days found myself as a platoon commander. I had in my unit about 100 men, instead of an army platoon of 25. A company was about four or five hundred. At first we had no equipment, arms or uniforms - only arm-bands and privately owned shot-guns. After Dunkirk, an invasion was expected daily. Gradually we were given rifles and bombs and later machine-guns and mortars. By the end of its existence the Home Guard was better equipped than the army had been at the outbreak of war. After a year or so I was made Company Commander in place of Brigadier-General Roland Haig who had to retire because of age. I had under my command about 600 men, 27sq. miles of country, including a subsidiary R.A.F. landing field with a contingent of the R.A.F. Regiment. We became a very efficient force and trained assiduously. It must be realised that all the men worked during the day in factories, shops farms etc. and their appearance for training was voluntary. After a time it became compulsory to join but I always kept my unit on a voluntary basis. If any conscript did not turn up for training I just ignored him! Every other weekend I used to take a hundred or so Bisley for rifle practice and the standard became quite high.
Although we were only 25 miles from London and in the area where fighters attacked the German bombers we had no direct contact with the enemy at all except one unfortunate German parachutist who was caught in a tree and arrested by a postman!
Brigadier-General Roland Haig was one of the most remarkable and finest men I have ever known. When I knew him he was in his sixties. He was a nephew of Field-Marshal Earl Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British forces for the greater part of the Great War. Roly Haig earned three D.S.O.'s in that war, was an international fencing, rifle and pistol shooting champion and was, in his day, one of the finest ever amateur golfers. Before the days of 'par', when each course had its own 'bogey' and handicaps were based on that, Roly was +6 at Sunningdale and +4 at St. Andrews!
During the war we lived just across the road from Sunningham Park which housed the Headquarters of the 8th U.S. Air Force. Every day 'Flying Fortress' bombers in formations of up to a hundred used to fly over our house on their way to bomb Germany by daylight - night bombing being left to the R.A.F. A few hours later they would return in the same formation, flying at a height of only a few hundred feet in sections and flights of three. Whether they did this to be seen by their Headquarters or by the British public I do not know, but on their return trip it was possible to see the damage they had suffered and how many were missing. One sometimes used to see enemy bombers flying over but usually they were too high and could only be heard. We had a bit of a scare on one occasion. The Germans had obviously pin-pointed Sunninghill Park and a force of pathfinders marked it clearly with parachute flares in a straight line down the road less than a hundred yards from our house. Fortunately the expected bombers were driven off by fighters before reaching us. Later we used to hear frequently and see occasionally 'flying bombs' on their way to London. They often cut out and came down within a few miles of us.
One night a formation of British bombers came over very low and flying at great speed with what appeared to be bright headlights blazing. I realised after the war what they must have been - the Dam-Busters on a training flight.
While watching planes flying over during the 1939 war I remembered that more than once I had seen the Zeppelins over London during the 1914 war.
Our area of Berkshire, although very rural, had the most bombs dropped on it of any area, other than industrial towns, as we were just underneath when British fighters attacked and the Germans jettisoned their bombs. Fortunately most of them fell in open country and very few people were killed. A friend of mine and his wife had a terrible experience. One night five bombs landed one by one in a ring round their house. In all directions they were within ten yards of the house but as the ground was very soft they went deep into the earth and 'mushroomed'. Tony Crawshaw and his wife were a bundle of nerves for a long time afterwards.
During the war an event occurred which has always remained in my mind and although it caused a mild sensation at the time I have never heard it mentioned since. A Lady MacRobert, widow of a biscuit-making baronet, had four sons, all in the R.A.F. - the eldest, of course, being the second baronet. He was killed in action, as were his three brothers, each in turn having succeeded to the baronetcy. With the death of her fourth son Lady MacRobert gave the money to the Government to build a big four-engined bomber - probably a Lancaster - to be named 'MACROBERT'S REPLY'!
Before the war, in 1935, I married Kathleen Arch, second daughter of Dr A.J. Arch of Coventry. Dr Arch was a very much respected figure both in the sphere of Medicine and Sport. He was, or had been, President of several Rugby Football Clubs. In his young days he had played for Warwichshire and had been picked to tour with the British Lions, but had been unable to do so because of his medical commitments. He was also a noted athlete having won cups and medals for middle distance running at the University. He was an exceedingly kind and understanding man and I consider myself fortunate to have known him in what was becoming a very friendly and even affectionate relationship, if only for so short a time as will be disclosed.
When we were first married we took a furnished house at Wargrave, near Henley, on the River Thames, but after a time were forced to leave as it became flooded. We then moved to a very nice little furnished house called 'Apple Tree Cottage' at Sunningdale and while there discovered, rather to our surprise, that Kay was going to have a baby! For various reasons it was impossible to calculate its estimated time of arrival. Dr Arch was, of course, delighted and used to come and see us nearly every week. After a time things began to go wrong and our local doctor thought it might be necessary for a Caesarean operation to be performed and Kay spent some time in a nursing home. However, with much rest and quiet, everything settled down again. One Sunday in February, Dr Arch, his wife and youngest daughter came to spend the day with us when we were back at the cottage and left about tea time to drive the 100 miles home to Coventry. Early the next morning, we were told on the telephone that Dr Arch was unconscious and not expected to live, having suffered a cerebral haemorrhage. If Kay wanted to see her father alive she must come at once. As she had not been out of the house and hardly out of bed for nearly a month and being very pregnant, a hundred mile drive as fast as possible was not a very engaging prospect - particularly as the only car we had was a semi racing one capable of very high speed but difficult to drive slowly. We got there about twelve o'clock having travelled most of the way in third gear, only to find that the Doctor had died about an hour before. The shock to Kay was naturally tremendous and coming on top of the long hurried drive it was feared she might have a miscarriage. We returned home in a couple of days and on March 13th, 1936, about a month later, complications appeared to be setting in once more. Kay was immediately removed by ambulance to the private ward of the local hospital and the best available gynaecologist called in. He said he had no idea of when the baby might arrive - it might not be for a week, a month or even six weeks! As I have said, the move into hospital took place on March 13th (which I think was a Friday!) and the room number was 12a - there was no 13, for some people people are superstitious! I stayed with Kay as long as I was allowed that evening and as she heard my footsteps dying away down the corridor, the pains started! The nurses, having been told that the birth would probably not occur for a few days, paid little attention to Kay's entreaties to fetch the doctor. In the end, however, the next morning a beautiful baby girl arrived, weighing 7lb. 12oz. - our beloved daughter Jennifer! - the birth being quite normal.
After a time we moved to and eventually bought our house at Ascot - Hazelbury - where we lived for twelve to thirteen years.
During the time we were there, being very close to the famous race course, we naturally took some interest in racing. Opposite our gate there was a farm occupied by tow rather eccentric old ladies named the Misses Barks - appropriately enough they bred Pekinese dogs! They also had a number of fine loose boxes in their yard which were always rented by the famous French owner M. Boussac for Ascot meetings, so we used to get a private view of some of the most famous horses of those days.
Just after the war, racing was dominated by the French and many of the big races were won by French owners, The feeling in England - probably justified - was that many of the French owners had collaborated to some extent with the occupying Germans during the war and had consequently received favourable treatment with regard to feeding and breeding facilities.
Our beloved son, Anthony James Louis, was born March 3rd, 1944, after more alarms and excursions. This time there had to be a Caesarean, which was performed at the same local hospital at Windsor, only as there was no private room available, poor Kay had to be in the public ward. However, she came out within a few days and returned to Hazelbury. Anthony (or 'Sam' as he almost immediately became) was very premature and weighed under five pounds, but thanks to the devoted care of dear old Mrs Wilkie, the monthly nurse and his mother, as soon as she was able, he never looked back and became a normal healthy baby.
Finally in 1948 we sold our house and moved to Ireland.