The Irish Bomfords

Chapter XXXVI 



36.1  Reflections on the Family

36.1.1  The Troubles

36.1.2  The Bomfords and The Troubles

36.2  Reminiscences of George Warren Bomford

36.2.1  At Clifton

36.2.2  Gentlemen Cadets

36.2.3  An Unusual Odyssey

36.2.4  The Pad Elephant

36.2.5  His Highness of Bikanir

36.2.6  With the Desert Rats of North Africa

36.3  More childhood memories


36.1   Reflections on the Family

As a family the Bomfords were typical of their time in Ireland; they did not become leaders of the Church or the Army, and they took no part in politics, but stayed at home and improved their standard of living by farming to the best of their ability. They worked alongside their tenants and so were popular with them and were able to build up a sense of respect. The few letters, which are left all indicate this respect, and indeed humour, between the family and the local people. It is interesting that it is only from the Westmeath properties that we hear of agrarian unrest, and this only occurred after Edward of Hightown had died and left the Bomfords all living in Meath, too far away for them to get to know their people; it could be argued that here they were absentee landlords, but the disturbances in Westmeath were very mild compared to those disturbances where the landlords were real absentees living in England and taking their rents across the water.

With the possible exception of Robert George of Rahinstown, the Bomfords stayed at home, farming their land themselves and probably working alongside the labour. Even when they had ‘agents’ they selected those who had about the same standing in the county as themselves. Myles O’Reilly owned land in his own right, and Samuel Reynell owned considerably more land than the Bomfords. There is no record of a ‘middle-man’, that breed so hated by the peasants because they were only interested in grabbing as much rent as possible. Their rents appear normal for the age, and it is surprising how little change there was per acre from the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s and then, when the rents were judicially set, we find Reilly of Oakley Park complaining that his rent went up and not down as was the trend elsewhere; in other words Reilly had been paying too little rent and now, by law, had to pay more; something with which few landlords in Ireland had to contend. The tenants therefore felt secure with the family, and the three or four evictions of 1828 and 1899 are the only ones reported. Furthermore tenant names appear much the same from one decade to the next, indicating that there was stability of tenure. Fixed reasonable rents and stability of tenure were the two main complaints of tenants against landlords, and so the Bomfords gave their tenants little cause for complaint.

On the other hand they were set apart from the local populace as they were Protestants and so had to be among the ruling party or as they were called ‘The Ascendancy’; they had to uphold and enforce the law. Various Bomfords were members of the County Grand Jury and some Bomford was a Justice of the Peace from about 1745 without a break right through to 1961, over 200 years. Robert George of Rahinstown was High Sheriff of Meath in 1832, and George of Oakley Park in 1860. Certainly they upheld their local church but there is no indication of this to excess, they were not in any way intolerant. At a time when the eldest son inherited the land, the second son went into the Church and all the others joined the Army, there is only one Bomford who became a clergyman in Ireland; they preferred to join the Army, and their attendance at Church was probably more of a social occasion than a necessity. The Church records of Agher and Kells from about 1800 only show two Bomfords as a churchwarden up to 1900, George for the year 1840 and his son John Francis in 1862, rather more years were covered in the next century.

However they were present through all Ireland’s considerable troubles. There is little information about the family during the Jacobite War, but a hundred years later large numbers from Meath joined the Rising of 1798 when there was much local upheaval. The curate of Agher “was chased out of his house and fled for his life in his night clothes”. Mr Philips who had a house on the Bomford property of Knockstown had to abandon everything and fled to Dublin, never to return. But there were no reports of any attack on a Bomford house. The only story of this period concerns Isaac Bomford of Gallow (see 16.5); the insurgents were chasing the Wellesley brothers from Dangan Castle, and Isaac gave them fresh horses but held up the insurgents by giving them drinks so that the brothers could make their escape. This story gives credence to the possibility that the Bomfords, like so many other landlords, were so horrified by the atrocities and callousness of the military and the attitude of suppression by the politicians that they virtually formed a third party which was neutral; knowing this the insurgents did not roughly treat Isaac as they might have done. To use an Irishism, Isaac may have been neutral on the side of the 1798 insurgents.

When the Bomfords moved to Kells the local people there also favoured them and they became known as ‘a fine family’. This no doubt stems from the time of the famine when George and Arbella gave the starving people what help they could and had a soup kitchen in the Oakley Park yard, and moreover, George as a Guardian of the Kells Workhouse gained the respect of the people. The Irish memory is long and aid during the famine and later acts of kindness to their tenants and labour stood them in good stead during the much more serious ‘Troubles’ of the early 1900s.

36.1.1   The Troubles

“The troubles”, a typically Irish understatement, covers the rebellion against Britain and the later Civil War. They started in Dublin during World War I in 1916 and this phase of the troubles became known as the Easter Rising. It occurred when a group of extremist rebels seized the General Post Office on Easter Monday catching most of those in authority unawares; many of them were enjoying the traditional Bank Holiday at Fairyhouse races.

After the Easter Rising but mostly between 1920 and 1922 a spasmodic guerrilla war was carried out between Catholic revolutionaries and British soldiers, including the ‘Black and Tans’ named after their half-black and half-khaki uniforms, who had been recruited from the British Army and were greatly feared for they had a reputation for brutality.

Land-owners in general kept themselves apart from these ‘troubles’ and although in their hearts their sympathies were with the British, they knew that Irish Independence was bound to come about since Home Rule for Ireland had become law in 1912. However they were seen as symbols of oppression and there had to be the ritual burning of the big houses; but often it was a half-hearted business, the country people being reluctant to help in this destruction, and there was little loss of life. Between 1920 and 1923 some 200 out of 2,000 of the ‘big’ houses were burnt.

 On December 6, 1921, a treaty was signed giving the “Free State” Dominium status and dividing the country in two, between the predominantly Catholic twenty-six counties, known as the “Irish Free State”, and the largely Protestant six counties of Ulster, known as Northern Ireland, with its own parliament at Belfast under British sovereignty but remaining an integral part of Great Britain. In the south, William Cosgrave, a fair and moderate pro-treaty politician, headed the Free State government of 1922 and tried to keep a sense of balance and calm. But that year would mark the beginning of Ireland’s Civil War between the Free Staters who supported the treaty and the Republicans led by de Valera who opposed it and wanted complete independence from Britain.

The Troubles now began in earnest, an unhappy tale of hatred and heroism, of civil strife with brother often against brother. Landowner sympathies were with the Free State, but before we discuss the Bomford experiences let us jump ahead. The Civil War ended in 1923. Three years later de Valera founded Fianna Fail, his strongly anti-Treaty and anti-Protestant and anti-British republican party. Its members had all bitterly opposed the 192l treaty, seeing it as a betrayal of the 1916 Easter Rising, and despised those who had agreed to it, particularly the clause which stipulated that members of the Irish Parliament would take an oath of loyalty to the English Monarch. De Valera won the general election of 1932 and brought out a constitution in 1937. In 1949 Ireland broke away fully from the Commonwealth and was declared a Republic.

36.1.2    The Bomfords and The Troubles

Neither my grandmother nor my mother spoke very much about the Troubles, but it was very obviously a time of worry, particularly so when grandfather was away, either in France or later on Land Commission work, thus leaving a houseful of women and children. Although no houses were burnt around Kells, the newspapers carried daily tales of horror, which must have impressed on the family the dangers surrounding them. They took what action they could. The silver was a buried, house door and shutters were bolted at night, and beds were moved to give shelter from indiscriminate shooting through the windows; these were a few of the deterrents.

One of the scary things my mother mentioned were the unexplained noises from the woods at the dead of night; many were no doubt quite natural, for even the bark of a fox could take on a frightening meaning to anyone expecting an intrusion or with a vivid imagination. The only regular disturbance they suffered at Oakley Park was really only an annoying inconvenience. At night the cattle were driven out of the fields and along the roads, possibly by the same men who were employed to find them and drive them back the next day. This was tiresome but not particularly worrying, indeed my mother used to enjoy riding the roads, looking for beasts and meeting neighbours doing the same thing. Everyone was thankful that it never led to the maiming of animals, which occurred elsewhere to unpopular landlords, and might have been done to the Bomfords if they had not been considered ‘a fine family’.

On the other hand the North-Bomfords of Ferrans did have their house burnt down, but the local people excused this act as they disliked Hilda North-Bomford (see paragraph 28.6.1).

There were only two incidents in 1922 but they both add to our knowledge of local relations with the family. The first incident happened when George Lyndon was shot at near the front lodge, a near miss as the bullet passed through his hat. The farm workers caught the man who was not local; George decided to let him go rather than hand him over to the hated Back-and-Tans, but the men decided to teach him a lesson and roughly handled him before sending him packing. It has been said that the man was not a Republican but someone who thought that George, as a JP, had unjustly ruled in Court against him or his family; if this is true then it is not an incident of the Troubles at all, nevertheless, the farm workers manhandled the man and so demonstrated their feelings against him.

The other incident occurred when a party of raiders arrived one evening to burn down the house. The story goes that they were shown into the library where George treated them as welcome guests and served drinks; this unsettled them and at first they were restive in those unfamiliar surroundings but George put them at ease and would not hear of any business being discussed until they had a few drinks; quite naturally a party developed and went on all night. The raiders must have enjoyed themselves, as they never broached the reason for their visit; of course the reason was obvious to the household, and all the women in the house spent the night removing valuables. The raiders left at dawn with many thanks to 'such a fine gentleman', and virtually guaranteed the future safety of the household. The interesting side issue was that the men of the farm arrived with out prompting, and quite naturally, with other locals to defend ‘their house’. They took no part in the proceedings but stood by in the yard in case of trouble. To my mind that is the greatest indication of the feeling of the local people towards the family. It was ‘their’ house and the Bomfords were ‘their’ family.

36.2    Reminiscences of George Warren Bomford

As mentioned earlier (35.5.2) George Warren wrote on his experiences when he was living in Rome. There is not room to include them all, but some fall into the category of family history, so are included; and others are included because they illustrate life during the Raj of India, a life experienced by many other Bomfords.

36.2.1    At Clifton

My days at school were in no sense a preparation for Army life. Time was spent there studying the Classics. George Lyndon made the great decision about my career. No one knew of the letter to the Headmaster that he wrote when serving as a Remount Officer in France in 1916. He said that he wished his son to enter the Indian Army, specifying the Indian Cavalry. The Headmaster had a nomination in his gift; this meant facing an interview board in London and not taking the Army Exam.

My days at Clifton were of no great note. John Constable and Dick Longfield, two first cousins who were there with me, were much more distinguished. The school, being on the outskirts of Bristol, was patronised by many rich city merchants, Wills of tobacco fame, and Fry who made chocolate were there; once or twice when on leave from India, I enjoyed a glass of ‘Bristol Cream’ and later a very good lunch with an old school friend who ran that wine business. In 1910, the year I went to Clifton, a new enlarged chapel was opened. Wills presented a fine new organ, housed high above the entrance. In those days small boys were bribed to join the choir with a box of chocolates. Sometimes one or two of us would sit up in that high loft with A. H. Peppin the organist, and ask for “The War March of the Priests”, played with all the stops out. Another joy was to watch Peppin’s feet on the pedals and his hands on the three manuals, mounting up the notes of that great organ while the school so far below sang “They Climbed the Steep Ascent to Heaven”. Peeping through the curtains of the organ loft, the sound waves seemed to take quite a time to reach us. On weekdays there were alternate services in Chapel and Big School where there was another organ. During the Christmas concert Big School came into its own. Old Cliftonians, senior boys and others wearing their rugger caps with long tassels, occupied the gallery. As each master arrived he was greeted enthusiastically by his nick name, some not very complimentary, the organ would break into these proceedings with the school song, quite a good tune, all about ‘great days and jolly days’ and ‘men that tanned the hide off us’. Some six hundred young voices would strive to raise the roof of that great building.

Bishop Percival when Headmaster well over a century ago, never hesitated to support moral exhortation with what he would refer to as “a tooch of the barch”; he had a pronounced Cumberland accent. The choirmaster’s young brother, T. S. Peppin, taught me Greek and Latin. Our classroom had the small right hand window under Big School. During my last two or three years, when war was raging across the Channel, much time was spent in the School Officer’s Training Corps. With our packs and rifles we would march over the Avon Suspension Bridge, to carry out schemes in the Leigh woods; after the rather more exciting night operations, on our return a free hot drink and a bun awaited us at the ‘Grubber’. Those were the days of great patriotism, ‘Empire’ days, Clara Butt, her ample figure swathed in a Union Jack sang Elgar’s “Land of Hope and Glory” at the Bristol Colston Hall; we would sing too as we marched along. Every summer there would be a large camp at Aldershot; some seven schools producing nearly a thousand boys under canvass. One year the King and Queen Mary appeared quite unexpectedly in the middle of our contingent of bell tents; they were looking for their schoolboy son Prince Henry. It took quite sometime to find him.

At the end of all these activities was my new career. How lucky I was to get that nomination, to go before the London interview board. The Head master had only one for the Indian Army.

36.2.2     Gentlemen Cadets

At Christmas time in 1917, some eighty boys from English schools and the same number of young soldiers from the battlefields of France were selected by a board of elderly gentlemen in London, to attend a course at a Cadet College for the Indian Army. Our destination was a lovely site in the Nilgiri Hills of Southern India.

At the end of December preparations for the long Indian journey began, this included a visit to a military hospital for enteric and other unpleasant inoculations. I remember as the needle was pushed into my arm, I collapsed on the floor in a faint, a most un-military performance. The Junior Army and Navy Stores in D’Olier Street in Dublin provided uniform and a list of the necessary tropical kit, also a long tin uniform case to contain it all. Later when I was walking in the town in my new outfit, and a fine black forage cap, a ‘trench’ coat concealed the fact that I wore no badges of rank; my youthful Mother was with me, and when I collected quite a few salutes from passing soldiers, she bowed and smiled at them in return. She and I were photographed together. Our local Rector, Dick Clifford, warned me of the pitfalls of the great world; he had recently returned from active service with the Forces, and was an excellent man, famous for his brief sermons and his skill on the tennis court. His predecessor, Archdeacon Healy, was also a man of character and very popular; he invariably wore a top hat and had many daughters; in full clerical rig the Venerable the Archdeacon was frequently seen ascending the Kells Workhouse hill, driving his 1910 De Dion Buton car backwards, as he said the forward gears would not tackle the incline. A publican at the top would watch my Mother in her smart ‘Raleigh’ trap driving a mare, that was later sold to the King of Italy; when going at a good spanking pace, he remarked the mare and the trap “fair split the road”. Luckily there were no accidents on the hill. But all this is a distraction.

On a bleak January morning at Victoria Station, London, all the cadets were assembled, and we bade farewell to our proud but sorrowing parents. George Lyndon, my father, had got leave from his remount depot in Dieppe for the occasion. I was aged 17. Our soldier companions who hailed from Canada and Australia were quite a few years our seniors. Authority had decreed we each should have £42 for pocket money, in addition to the uniform case of clothes, and with this rather meagre munificence we were launched on the world. At that time Germany was making a real effort to win the war. The Channel crossing from Southampton was rough, and most of the night we spent avoiding submarines. The engine of the French train that awaited us burned wood, and it took us a week to arrive at a camp in Faenza in Northern Italy. With wooden seats and eight to a carriage, life became a sort of gipsy existence; it was so leisurely one could frequently exercise by jogging alongside the train. Bully beef, plum and apple jam and ‘dog’ biscuits were our rations, great ingenuity was shown in supplementing them during long waits at railway sidings. A week in Faenza was a pleasant change. There, every morning we had to read and censor bags of soldiers’ mail that were emptied on long trestle tables, rather a strange job to give to young men who had so recently left school. The Italians gave us a great welcome; at that time they were fighting the Austrians, who tried to break through the Alps on their Northeast frontier. The Adriatic coast can be very chilly in February, and it was a long cold journey down to Taranto at the heel of Italy; where was a large camp set among cactus, that unpleasant growth we were to get so used to later on in India.

After ten days a transport, the ‘Leasow Castle’ arrived for us in the inner harbour; on board as we watched the ship being loaded, several uniform cases burst open like match boxes and spilled their contents from a high hoist on to the stone quay, a sobering thought for their unfortunate owners. The journey to Egypt was pleasant, we slept in hammocks and ate on the same deck, just above the water line; once at midday a large wave swept in and caused havoc. Like the English Channel, the submarine menace in the Mediterranean was at its height in the spring of 1918. After we had disembarked at Alexandria, our ship was sunk the next day at sea.

The camp at Sidi Bish, five miles along the sea front from town, was ideal. The weather was warm enough for bathing; the three weeks we spent there passed all too quickly, by now our trip rather resembled a ‘Cooks Tour’, discipline was not very strict. After a 24-hour train journey across the desert to Suez, the penultimate leg of our long trek began. All down the Red Sea and across the Indian Ocean to Bombay, we were free of submarines and once again the weather was fine.

Some of the Cadet College staff came to meet us when we finally disembarked. They had their hands full, for it was in Bombay that trouble began; our soldier comrades were insubordinate, and became increasingly so during the three days train journey down to Wellington in the South. The authorities had a problem, as cadets were not subject to the Army Act, and could not be court-martialled. Our companions said they wanted to be sent home. The sheep were divided from the goats, and eventually the latter were locked up in the cells of the local British regiment, and that was the last we saw of them.

Unlike the hill stations of Northern India, where there is always a back-drop of snow clad Himalayas, we lived on the top of the Nilgiris, at one point we had a clear view of the Madras plains, six thousand feet below; next door to Wellington, at the end of our mountain railway were the famous rolling downs of Ootacamund, where arum lilies grew in potato fields.

Our first months in India were unfortunate; apart from the disturbances on our arrival, many cadets went down with amoebic dysentery, the result of a badly run mess. This was also the time of a virulent epidemic of “Spanish Flu”; as we lay in hospital the notes of the “Dead March” were frequently heard as the military band passed by. Two of us were granted sick leave to Ceylon; on our return things were more cheerful, we had a new Commandant, one ‘Lorry’ Maxwell of the 2nd Lancers.

After four months, as officers were urgently needed, half of our small band were commissioned. In the Indian Army all officers were mounted; we had plenty of riding, and could take horses out with the ‘Ooty’ hunt, where the going was good, and the jackal we chased were plentiful. On December 16th, 1918, we were commissioned and ceased to be “Gentlemen Cadets”. This was almost exactly a year after we had appeared before that selection committee in London, that consisted of a bishop, several generals, and other distinguished gentlemen of high rank. Each of us received a parchment signed by the King in fine poetic language of a former age.

36.2.3    An Unusual Odyssey

Here in Rome in this modern age, one sees motor coach after motor coach loaded with tourists, presumably they were doing a ‘package’ tour; and this would seem for the majority of people to be the cheapest, in fact he most practical, way of seeing the world. This story took place when there were no travel agencies, no passenger planes and very few cars; it tells of another way of making such a trip.

In 1918 when the First World War was coming to an end, the greater part of the Indian Army was overseas; liaison between such units and their depots in India was not easy. Reinforcements to replace casualties took several months to arrive; India was then about the size of Europe. At that time the Government found themselves with many surplus young officers; to reduce numbers to normal an axe was to fall, as a result none of the recent arrivals from the two Indian Cadet Colleges were allowed to leave the country. All this led to much speculation not only about life in our almost nebulous parent unit so far away in Syria, but there was also anxiety as to who were to be the lucky ones chosen to serve in it. In those days there was no temporary service, we had all been given permanent commissions.

The world was then suffering from a virulent epidemic of “Spanish” flu. This disease had caused more casualties among Allenby’s cavalry divisions than all the losses suffered in battle during the rapid advance north from Jerusalem, across the Jordan to Damascus and Aleppo in Syria. We were able to send drafts of Indian ranks from the Depot in Allahabad, but no officers could accompany them further than Bombay. In the summer of 1919 I was in charge of such a party, I had about 150 men. The Staff Captain of our Brigade gave me a note that I could accompany them for the whole of their long journey; this was quite unofficial, but I had the blessing of our Depot Commander to go overseas. When I showed my letter to a young transport officer at Bombay, he was duly impressed. I hurried on board with my Indian servant, and lay low till I was called to stop my draft lighting fires on the deck to cook their evening meal. It was the first time they had ever seen the sea or ships. Thus began quite a long and unusual journey.

We disembarked at Suez and spent a week at a rest camp on the Canal; then followed a long slow train journey on a single line track through Jerusalem to Damascus where we stayed in another rest camp set among orchards with the hills not far away. Damascus must have changed little since Biblical times. The two rivers Abana and Pharpar, the Street called Straight, all were there to explore. The Regiment was at a place called Homs, just short of Aleppo, in bleak open country that seemed the middle of nowhere. How different was life here from the routine of our depot in Allahabad; India had not been affected to any great extent by the war; there we had a fine Mess and there was no scarcity of officers or recruits, other training was carried out in almost pre-war style, even down to two troopers mounted on camels who brought our post every day. I remember I arrived at Homs with shoulder chains fitted to my drill tunic, these caused raised eyebrows and I hastily removed them, they were a relic of ancient days, and were in theory to ward off sabre cuts. In those far off days a recruit came with his own curved sword, in fact he owned his horse and all his equipment. This old fashioned system of supply completely broke down when regiments were serving out of India for any length of time and it was abolished after the war in 1922. Troop horses then carried a heavy load of arms and accoutrements, the rider’s first weapon was the lance, this was made of stout bamboo, but should it break, a sword could then be drawn, and finally there was the rifle and ammunition for dismounted action, on occasions bandoliers of extra ammunition were slung round the horse’s neck

So it was here in Syria our long journey had ended. The regiment had born the brunt and burden of the advance that had begun at Gaza, not far north of the Suez Canal a year or so previously. Now as a result of the ‘Spanish’ flu it was very short of men and officers. With the onset of winter began another long trek back to garrison Palestine. We followed a new route side stepping Damascus and turning west towards the sea into Lebanon, over the mountains, via the ruins of Baalbek through its famed cedar trees. At our last camp in the hills overlooking Beirut there were large beech trees, and among them was a monastery that produced excellent cherry brandy; this was very pleasant of an evening, after our daily march of fifteen to twenty miles. The horses were fit and the weather was mild, to a young man all seemed well in the world. And so by the sea through Tyre and Sidon we marched; in Haifa we camped in an old Crusader Castle. Then there was three months in the rolling green downs, just north of Jaffa; here was a pack of hounds to hunt jackal. When the Regiment went on to the Jordan Valley, I left to be A.D.C. to our Brigade Commander. My faithful Indian servant was still with me. The General decided he should act as cook for our small Brigade Mess. I used to wonder if that was the reason I came to work with the Headquarters Staff. Unfortunately when General Congreve, the Commander-in-Chief from Cairo, visited us, he was served with an omelette flavoured with paraffin, and our cook was looked upon with disfavour.

Our kingdom included the whole of North Palestine. There was good bathing at Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee; once local Arabs made off with our boots and trousers when we were having a dip, as a result two officers had to make an undignified entry into Beisan at the head of the Jordan River. On Christmas Day 1921 we arrived back in India. The Regiment had been overseas in France and the Middle East for six years. Twenty years later we were back again, over almost the same ground.

1941. After a battle in the Egyptian Western Desert casualties had been very heavy. Our full muster of 600 all ranks was reduced to a mere seventy-five men. A new regiment had to be raised and hastily trained in India as reinforcements, and once again we trekked up from Cairo through Palestine to Damascus, then northeast across desert to the Euphrates, not far from the Turkish border. We still did our daily marches, but now motor vehicles had replaced our horses. It was a long and very dusty journey, our drivers were all young and inexperienced and sometimes they forgot to put on the brake. The Colonel, a wise man, improved this situation, as a punishment the guilty one next day would be turned off his vehicle so many miles from camp. At that time I was No 2 and brought up the rear, and in my position at the end of the column, I passed all the unfortunates hurrying along home.

One link still remained to remind us of the old days: When the men went on maintenance parade after we arrived in camp, trumpeters still sounded that old familiar call’ Stables’.

36.2.4    The Pad Elephant

Between the wars the duties of a regimental officer were not particularly onerous, and many of George’s duties were carried out on horse-back and mostly only in the mornings; afternoons were spent largely playing polo or, in season, hunting and shooting; many of his trophies hung in the hall of Oakley Park. His reminiscences include a number of tales of hunting. The one which follows must have taken place in the early 1930s.

There were five of us on the top of the elephant, and it was from this high view point that quite an exciting action took place in the Terai; that is to say along the boundary between India and Nepal. My host, who was a brother officer (Hearsey), was a member of what we used to call the old Indian County Families. His ancestor in 1829 had commanded his Regiment of Bengal Cavalry; on his marriage to an Indian Princess, the old King of Delhi had given him as a dowry, a large estate about the size of a small English county. Here were acres of swampy ground, with the odd patch of cultivation and stretches of forest; a wonderful place for a young man to spend his leave, all among the wild beast and wild fowl that made it their home.

Our elephant had seen military service with the Indian sappers, but it was now a pensioner, some eighty years old, still young. Fifty years ago, at this time, Nepal was a closed book to all but a very favoured few; tiger, panther and bear were plentiful there, they roamed at will across the unguarded frontier tracks, only about 20 miles from our bungalow. Consequently there was an unending supply of game of all sorts on my friend’s property. Roads were few and far between, the country was open but the going was rough; horses or better still the elephant were the best, in fact the only means of transport. One could walk for miles and miles along well kept paths in the forest, there among the trees swarms of wild bees were a constant menace, and when horses became hot and restive, they were a special target for their attack; I remember the small earthen pots full of honey that tasted so good, and what better fare than a plump wild duck or some venison for dinner? Indeed there was no scarcity of food. Along the Sarda River the sand grouse came to drink at the same time every day, they were so punctual you could set your watch by their arrival; our boat was the hollow trunk of a tree, and from it on a moonlight night, we used to watch for the wild geese, but they were few and far between.

To return to the tale of our elephant, for some days the villagers were in fear of a marauding tiger that had attacked a woman and her daughter. Generally we rode in the early morning over open country, where we could watch the sun come up between a break in the foothills of Nepal. On that day in May we were talking of the chance of coming to terms with the tiger, and passing a small path there was a single pug mark in the sand, just one. We quietly dismounted and sent the orderly back for the elephant and rifles. A tiger like other animals is a creature of habit; he kills at night, has his meal, and then drags the kill to some cover close by, during the day he sleeps, and in the evening returns for more food. There are two accepted ways of tackling him, either to climb into a tree and sit on a platform or ‘machan’, or to chase him from the back of an elephant, in either case a line of beaters is necessary to rouse him from his lair. That morning we were in no position to follow the usual procedure. While we waited dismounted, vultures collected over thick swampy grass a short distance away, a sure sign of some dead animal. As the saddle is to the horse, so is the howdah to the elephant, but unlike a saddle it has seating for two, and in moments of excitement when in the jungle one can take a standing shot. The elephant is never steady, and being perched on his back is something like treading the deck of a ship in a rough sea; another way to ride an elephant is on a pad or thick mattress tied on his back with ropes, rather like dispensing with your saddle and riding a horse on a blanket. Our elephant arrived with a pad on his back, and on the pad was the lady of the house and her young daughter, when we scrambled up, as I said at the beginning of this story, there were five of us, all clinging on for dear life to what ropes were handy; hardly an auspicious start for a tiger hunt.

We set off through the high grass and thorny bushes in the direction of the vultures, on our way there were a series of false alarms and excitement, chiefly on account of hog deer, a small animal that dashed about in the cover round the feet of the elephant and made him squeal. Suddenly we saw not one, but two tiger; one made off, but the other came on us from behind. The ensuing moments of action really baffle description, it was almost impossible to use a rifle, and it was astonishing that some man, woman or child did not fall to the ground. I think three shots were fired at very close range when we were charged from the rear, and then more by good luck than good management the tiger lay dead. At the closing moments my orderly, who came from farming stock in North India where there are no wild beasts, arrived on a most valuable horse of mine, just to see the fun.

Some six years later Kermit Roosevelt, a nephew of President Theodore Roosevelt, was shooting with my friend on his estate. His uncle was a fine old sportsman, and at the turn of the century when he was President, had been largely responsible for founding the Museum of Natural History in New York. In 1966 I first visited this museum, and there I found tall trees, swamp grass, ant-hills, many birds and deer, all seemingly in their natural state; a complete replica of that Terai estate so far away, it was a truly astonishing and faithful reproduction. The only thing I did not see was our faithful pad elephant.

36.2.5     His Highness of Bikanir

In the great deserts of North India there are two famous states, Jodhpur and Bikanir. Jodhpur was the larger and the wealthier; it was renowned for its horsemen, and for many years had a great polo team. Lord Cardigan of Crimean fame invented the cardigan waistcoat, so are the Jodhpur riding breeches in universal use today. But it is of the lesser of these two states that concern us here. From Delhi there is a metre gauge railway, and it is a 24-hour journey along it through the desert to Bikanir. H.H. the Maharajah was our Honorary Colonel, a kind and generous Rajput Prince. For over 50 years he had always shown much interest in his regiment. Like Jodhpur he also had cavalry and infantry units, but his most famous regiment was the Bikanir Camel Corps; it has served in China in 1901, had guarded the Suez Canal in 1914, when the second war broke out, H.H wrote to Churchill offering once again the services of his State Army.

So it was in August 1940 I found myself on that long train journey to Bikanir; H.H had asked for some one from his regiment as a ‘special services officer’ to be attached to his Camel Corps. The state officers and men spoke a dialect that was different from Hindustani or Urdu language, and unlike our men did not use the Arabic script; so a liaison officer was necessary when they left the state and had to deal with British or Indian army staff officers. In the days of peace we always had an invitation to the Bikanir Christmas party, this included an ‘imperial’ sand grouse shoot, the ordinary sand grouse is about the size of a partridge, its ‘imperial’ brother was only found on the lakes of the two states and was as big as a large duck, and made a succulent dish. It happened this was my first visit to the State, and I knew nothing about camels. On arrival I was installed as a state guest in a new hotel, the only other occupant was a Hungarian lady on a world tour. As transport I had a carriage and pair, with two camels for my chargers, when I wanted a ride I got horses from the cavalry regiment. The Camel Corp was about the size of a regiment, but increased in size on mobilization. My military duties were not heavy. The Colonel of the Corps was a young energetic officer, and we got on very well together. He and the other officers had worked with the Indian Army, so language was not a problem; indeed most of the palace staff spoke English. This was the time of the ‘phoney’ war in France, the Maharajah was busy with marriage ceremonies of his daughter, and many were the trains loaded with guests that came on the metre gauge railway; the festivities went on for a month or more.

My regiment had been mechanised some time previously and now was fighting in Egypt. In the New Year I asked permission to join them; in a war of tanks and armoured cars, there seemed little possibility that camels would be employed. Twice my request was refused and I was told to have patience. Then in March came a telegram that we were to mobilise for overseas service.

A journey to Karachi was necessary to arrange for two ships to be made ready for one thousand men and camels. H.H was overjoyed and many were the hours that we sat and talked the matter over. He was asked to provide a mule transport corps of about the same strength. The Maharajah was a tall good-looking man about 65 years of age; he had a great sense of dignity and could be stern. His people knew him as a just ruler and were devoted to him. His “Gunga Risala” or Camel Corps was the apple of his eye. When mobilization was complete we left Bikanir in nine special trains, and half way to the port of Karachi we changed into four trains on the broad gauge railway.

No one knew our destination. I had sealed orders to be opened when we were at sea; our two ships joined a convoy when we reached Bombay. At this time the port of Berbera was the capital of British Somaliland, and was under attack by the Italians who had deposed the Emperor of Ethiopia some time before. We were ordered to reinforce a Camel Corps from Kenya that was operating around Berbera. As we approached the Gulf of Aden, Berbera was captured, and a general ‘Dunkirk’ type of retreat began across the water to Aden. We learnt later that the Kenya Camels had not only been routed but also eaten, as their enemies were short of rations. Orders came to disembark at Aden. Unlike the horse, the camel is very ungainly, and had to be slung by crane off the ships. This was done on two successive nights; we suffered casualties from Italian bombers on the second night. Luckily a good camp was found in a small oasis at Sheik Othman, ten miles from Aden; we stayed there two months. Between us and the Yemen to the north stretched a vast desert. By chance the Maharajah knew the Governor of the Aden Protectorate, we were an uncommon force, almost an object of curiosity, we had much assistance from our many visitors. I remember one of my camels learnt to smoke a cigarette, which was quite a parlour trick.

Every week at his special request the Colonel, and I sent two personal letters to H.H telling him of all our doings. We bathed and cleaned the camels in the sea at ‘Little Aden’ and some one was always detailed to bring a pail and hammer to knock oysters off the rocks there. One of our camels was attacked by a sting ray while bathing, and had to be destroyed. We spent many nights out under the stars and would watch the planes coming over to bomb Aden. The Italian advance in Somaliland gradually died down. The navy brought a reconnaissance party from Aden back to Berbera, to prepare for a possible landing there. The Governor of Somaliland was with us on board, and just before we landed he persuaded the naval gunners to put a shot through the drawing-room window of his residence, as he said he wanted a new Government House when he eventually returned. At this time Aden Headquarters had news that the Italians were infiltrating into Yemen, further north across the Red Sea. We did not go to Berbera, but moved up to the Yemen frontier. It was rocky inhospitable country. I had brought a shotgun from India, and when going round our outposts had some good woodcock shooting. We had no enemy to practice on. In Egypt there was an urgent need of reinforcements; the Regiment had suffered casualties after Rommel’s tanks made their first advance on Tobruk. I left the Camel Corps and returned to India.

There is a postscript to this story. About a year later, when with the regiment I found myself on a tank course at Abbasseiyeh outside Cairo. At that time it was the policy of the Government of India to send rulers of states, who had troops overseas, on a tour of the various battlefields. One hot afternoon when surrounded by nuts and bolts on my course, the Commandant told me to take three days off, and to go to Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo. There I found H.H installed on the first floor. It was wonderful to see him. He told me he was about to go up the line to Tobruk and wanted my advice, the question of footwear was worrying him; there he was creaking round his sitting room in a pair of odd looking yellow boots, they pleased him, and I told him they were splendid. I remember his grandson gave me a big wink. Shepheard’s had a fine dining room with three steps leading down to it; the last recollection I have of this grand old man is standing on the top of the steps as we went in to dinner. Almost everyone in the room turned round to look at him.

It is perhaps fitting if I include here a letter written by that “grand old man” to George’s mother. The crested notepaper is headed Lallgarh, Bikanir, Rajputana and dated 30th September 1940. He wrote the letter in his own hand.

Dear Mrs Bomford,

I promised your son, Colonel Bomford, before he left with my Regiment of Camel Corps, the Ganga Risala, that I would write and give you news about him after his safe arrival at his destination. As you may have guessed by now, the Ganga Risala has proceeded on Active Service out of India. Their destination is supposed to be kept a secret; so I am not at liberty to tell you the name, though it is generally widely known here. Anyhow it is neither Egypt nor, of course, Somaliland, but nearer India and you will be able to guess.

They are not likely to have much fighting there and I am happy to tell you that all is well with your son and the Regiment, and I hope and pray it will continue so. I, therefore, hope you will not worry unnecessarily.

It was a great pleasure to me that Colonel Bomford was here for nearly a year before he went off with the Regiment on Active Service overseas. We all liked him very much and he did excellent work.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely

Ganga Singh [Maharajah of Bikanir].

36.2.6   With the Desert Rats of North Africa

Two letters written by George to his parents at Oakley Park about the Battle of Bir Hakeim, just west of Tobruk, during the advance of General Rommel which was only stopped at El Alemain on the Egyptian border.

The 2nd Lancers had seen little fighting when they were pitched into the front line; 36 hours later, without proper support and under strength, they were expected to hold back massed German tanks. Naturally George’s letters record a sad tale of retreat, but from the German point of view Bir Hakeim proved so tough that Rommel had to go and take personal command of the assault forces. In his own words in his book Rommel says, “Nowhere in Africa was I given a stiffer fight”, and George’s 2nd Lancers contributed towards that stiff fight.

Dated: 29th May 1942        

I have written you two letters which I suppose some German may now be reading, I hope you got my cable saying all was well and that we are now back once more by the sea. We were pushed up at great speed just before the battle began on Wednesday last. No one of us really knew that an attack was really in the wind. We had 12 hours to dig trenches etc and a lot of our kit and men had not arrived. On Tuesday evening when I was giving out orders we suddenly had word the enemy were advancing on us. Our lines were supposed to be about 50 miles apart. You can imagine there was a certain amount of confusion; I went round in my armoured car to encourage our men round the edge of our position. There they were quite cheerful and ready for anything. The Brigadier then came along and said we might not expect to be attacked till the next morning. Unfortunately our own mines had not arrived nor had all our guns or some tanks that had been promised. However everyone was very cheerful and spent the night digging hard. At 6 a.m. next morning there were about 200 German tanks sitting massed outside our front door, also some Italian big guns and a large Italian flag was unfurled before the battle began, from 7 to 9 o’clock we held them off. There was a real hail of fire all around my HQ. I was crouching in a trench at the end of a telephone to the Brigadier. In the middle of things I began a letter to you. Then the German tanks broke through our men, they appeared to be about ten abreast and they were everywhere. I hopped out of my trench and tried to get a nearby battery on to them but it was hopeless. I got on to a truck going back to Brigade and just avoided capture, it was 9.15; until 6 o’clock that evening we were not out of the wood as we were cut off by two enemy columns. We, about 100 vehicles, had to dash through one, about half got through. One quite large shell scorched my back hairs but I never got touched. I have about half the Regiment here but we are hoping more will turn up. It is wonderful how cheerful the men are. I have lost all my kit except the shorts and shirt I stand up in. For four days and nights I did not wash or change and now have spots all over my face, however sea bathing is doing wonders. It will take a long time to reform I fear.

Dated: 3rd June 1942           (Five days later)

I am writing you a second letter to make up for gaps during our advance up to the front from somewhere not far from this very pleasant strip of coast, where we are now re-organizing. I do hope you got my cable all right. Now we have been here four days and I am feeling clean once more, what with heat and dust, little water and no change of clothes for four days, you can imagine our state. I had a trench about 3 feet deep and four yards long in which I stayed on the end of a telephone wire to Brigade during most of the battle. The shells whined and some shrieked, all on different notes, and in the middle of it all a yellow hammer was picking about the white chalky soil. It was wonderful how little damage was done and, I am sure, of our 150 men still absent a large number will return. No news of McNamara or Bill Vincent, I don’t know the former’s address or I would write to his wife. I expect you listened to the break through at Bir Hakeim on the wireless. Anyway now I think the Boche is getting his deserts. When we were retiring on the 27th a large khaki staff car suddenly appeared jinking about all amongst our vehicles, this was a German going at a great pace, everyone loosed off at him but he escaped. Afterwards we had a very unpleasant 10 minutes dashing up to and through their lines of tanks and machine guns, luckily we created a tremendous dust and put them off their aim, as I told you one shell passed just over the back of my neck, I was busy bending down tearing up secret papers and maps and flinging them out, likewise all the other officers and the old cab was bumping along about 50 mph, we all had our heads down and it was like a mad paper chase. I am really very lucky to get through. Here the sea and sand is wonderful, I have a long bathe every evening. My kit is all lost except my bedding roll, however I have been able to buy a few necessities such as vests, working kit, socks etc. We are all very fit.

36.3   More childhood memories

These memories of mine of the 1930s continue from those of 34.9, but these dwell mainly on the actual house of Oakley Park.

Friends visiting the house would pause at the front door to admire the trees and the view. The lawn sloped down from the sweep and the huge trees had been carefully planned to give three long distance views between them, one was towards Kells where the Church spire could be clearly seen, and another towards the Tower of Lloyd. It was customary for a friend to go straight into the house and shout, the front door was never locked; others would draw down the brass bell-pull which was connected with wires to one of the row of bells in the basement. Most rooms in the house had its own bell in the row, each bell being mounted on a coiled spring so that one pull caused it to jump up and down. Needless to say the room bells were never used, so whenever we heard the bell in the basement it had to be the front door, and someone would have to stop whatever they were doing to answer it; this was an unpopular chore, so friends would come in and shout.

The walls of the front hall were decorated with trophies, which Uncle George (G. W. B.) had shot in India. The fireplace on the left was of black marble, which matched the black and white square pattern of the stone flags on the floor. It was furnished with half-a-dozen heavy wooden upright chairs with the Bomford arms on the backrest, and lit by a row of windows above the front door and above the porch.

The second hall containing the front stairs was a feature of the house. The stairs with deep shallow treads split into two half way up and the two sets of banisters were ideal for little boys to have races sliding down them. Both the hall floor and the stairs were highly polished and the only furnishing was two large circular tables on which sat large vases of flowers and foliage. Although all the downstairs rooms were interconnected, two rooms opened into this hall, the drawing room and the boudoir.

I never saw the drawing room furnished as such; indeed there was only a circular dosi-do and a chaise lounge so the room was used for games, dances and Uncle John’s Christmas pantomimes. It was a bright and well-proportioned room with two windows overlooking the flower knot and a third looking on to the sweep. The fireplace was of the style of Adam and of white marble, deeply carved with entwined flowers and cherubs; this was sold to George Kinahan in 1955 and installed in his sitting room at Milltown House on the Athboy road. The boudoir was originally used for formal entertainment, grandmother’s tea parties which grandfather shunned, and grandfather’s bridge parties which grandmother in turn avoided; little boys were kept away on all these occasions. Incidentally I called my grand-father (George Lyndon), “Pa” and my grandmother Maude, “Gaga”; these names caught on and they were so called by many children. The boudoir was furnished with delicate Chinese chairs, a lovely Chinese lacquer bureau and an intriguing roll top desk with secret compartments. During the war the boudoir became the family room in place of the library; the library chimneystack was damaged by fire so could not be used and an unpopular stove had been installed. With the shutters shut, the heavy brocade curtains drawn and a good log fire blazing, these large rooms could be very snug in winter; but it was impossible to heat the house as a whole and it was normal in the depth of winter to break the ice in the bedroom water jug in the morning.

Two rooms opened from the third hall, known as the Lamp Hall since here was the lamp table on which the paraffin lamps sat waiting for bedtime when we each took a lamp, though when the house was full we children only had a candle; it was a dirty chore looking after the lamps, not only had they to be filled with oil but the wicks trimmed and the soot cleared from the glass chimney. On the left was the library, the favourite room of the house with two windows looking out onto the flower knot. The armchairs here were worn with use but comfortable, what the auction catalogues call ‘distressed’; grandfather’s, worn to his own shape, was on the left of the fireplace. Grandmother’s on the right; in one window sat grandfather’s massive walnut desk littered with letters and Land Commission maps, in the other window was a circular swivel table , a “rent table” with lots of drawers and excellent for cards and other table games; a few smaller tables with vases of flowers, a sofa and piano completed the furniture. Most people played the piano; when grandmother was persuaded to play she would only play one tune, a polka, and whenever I hear “The Keel Row” it takes me back to her and those happy evenings in the library. The walls were faced with shelves filled with Victorian leather bound books and the two doors were similarly faced but the books were imitation ones. The camouflage of the doors was so cleverly done that they were difficult to spot, and unless one knew where the hidden catches were they were impossible to open. Once an unfortunate visitor was shown into the library and promptly forgotten, it was some time later that his indignant shouts were heard and he was released.

Opposite the library was the dining room. One Christmas I remember 23 people sitting in comfort around the table; on this occasion it was necessary to use all the extra leaves from the rack in the lamp hall. Ancestors stared down on us from the walls. There were two side tables, one for carving and the other for dishes of vegetables, and two sideboards holding crested silver dishes. One of the sideboards fitted an alcove at the north end of the room and each was supported by the outstretched wings of two carved griffins, the Bomford crest. The larger sideboard was bought by Colonel Morris (30.3.2) in 1955 and is at Dowdstown, together with the wine cooler, which sat on the floor between the two griffins. I don’t remember the wine cooler ever being used and the only drink kept in the house in the 30s was grandfather’s whiskey; I put his whiskey to unusual use by soaking raisons in it and then feeding them to a hen; an inebriated and tottering hen with a helplessly besotted expression on its face has to be seen to be believed; it was decreed from above that this practice must stop since a hen with a hang-over lays no eggs. However grandmother used to make wine, which she considered non-alcoholic, this was kept for Christmas by which time it had become particularly potent and in spite of her protests to the contrary we all became distinctly squiffy.

The back hall, the fourth one, was filled with the wide semi-circular back stairs, and there was only room for a long bin which held flour and meal, and the grandfather clock. It was the only clock in the house until Uncle John organised the family to contribute towards a French mantel clock as a golden wedding present for his parents in 1947. This Japy clock was bought in Weirs of Grafton street for the princely sum of £27.10.0 and is now at Crodara and keeping perfect time; one wonders what it is worth now. The room on the left was the Billiard Room holding a full-size slate billiard table. This table was famous for the high scores which grandfather made against all comers; we used to say that he was the only one who understood the age-hardened cushions, but that was unfair since really he was a fine player. Two presses held sporting equipment and the guns, though the latter only held ancient pieces as all the working guns and rifles had been handed over to the police during the troubles. A third press overflowed with old farming documents but unfortunately they have now all disappeared, the deeds from which this family history originated were kept in the library.

The focal point of the house was the kitchen to the right of the back hall. The old iron range was never let out and so the kitchen was the warmest room of the house. This range always seemed to hold the “pig’s pot” or the “hen’s pot”, but it also held huge kettles of water. These kettles were the only source of hot water. A can of hot water was delivered to each bedroom before breakfast and before dinner. Considerable planning had to be done if a bath was required. During the war when coal became scarce a smaller stove was bought which burnt wood and heated the water, so a cistern was installed in the kitchen; this simplified bathing but even then hot water had to be carried upstairs in tall white enamelled or copper cans. Most of the kitchen wall space was covered with storage cupboards, though the crockery was stored in the press in the scullery; here according to the house sale brochure were a “93 piece Ironstone dinner service, a Spode dessert service, Nankin ware and a 40 piece painted Chinese dessert service”. Food was prepared on a large scrubbed deal central table. Baking was done daily, “baker’s bread” was almost unknown, and there were scones and cake for tea. Nowadays one buys food in the supermarket and preparation needs the minimum time, but before the war if one wanted, let us say, parsnips and carrots for lunch, one had to take a spade to the Big Garden and dig them, then bring them to the yard to wash them and finally back to the kitchen with them; a job taking at least half-an-hour. If a chicken was to go with those vegetables, then one of the men was instructed to catch it, wring its neck (no easy job) and bring it to the house. I well remember the English visitor accustomed to the supermarket way of life offering to prepare the chicken; it was easy, said she, as all that had to be done was to remove the plastic bag of giblets from inside the carcase and pop it in the oven; it was a disconcerted woman who was shown the dead body in the basement waiting to be plucked and gutted. However the visitor’s offer to help was typical of all those who stayed. Even though there were three maids, a parlour maid, usually the pretty one, a housemaid who primarily looked after the bedrooms, and a kitchen maid who also did the ordinary cooking; they were many chores to be done ranging from flower arranging to fruit picking, from work in the dairy to the farm, and visitors generally took part in them all. A drone was frowned upon and probably not invited again; one had to be sick to put your feet up when there was work to be done.

When the basement kitchen was moved upstairs, probably during or just after World War I, the basement became disused. By the 1930s it was only used for the storage of apples, potatoes, logs, coal and so on; some activities were carried out there, shoes were polished in the ‘Boot Hall’, chickens were plucked in one of the rooms which in time became full of feathers. However it was a great place to play - huge, dry, dark, mysterious and ghostly. It was a brave child who ventured there after dark, and I still remember the scary feeling as one dashed down the back stairs to collect logs or something, and the relief when one returned to the light upstairs. A regular feature of the 20s and 30s were the Christmas dances for the staff and locals, on these occasions the basement was well lit and filled with merry lively friends.

Because of Arbella’s ‘Bedroom Will’ (32.6.2) most of the bedrooms on the first floor were not furnished with the grandeur of the ground floor rooms. Neither John Francis and Elinor, nor George and Maude, had the money to refurnish the bedrooms to their previous magnificence. Only two rooms were fitted with the original furniture. The guest room had matching walnut furniture and a huge four-poster bed with brocade curtains. It was a typically Victorian room as was the front room where my parents usually stayed; this had a half-canopied bed and much heavier furniture of a darker wood, possibly mahogany. The other seven bedrooms were comfortably furnished but of a miscellaneous style. The family all had their own rooms, which they occupied when at home; these are shown on the drawing following 34.9.6.

The ‘Lumber Room’ at the top of the back stairs and next to Joan’s room was where cases, disused furniture and other lumber were stored; this room also held a row of heavy-duty batteries. During October 1941 a wind charger was erected on a mast on the roof, which charged these batteries. This early attempt to electrify the house was never a great success; technically the batteries were sufficient to light about ten bulbs but the wind often failed, the bulbs then became progressively dimmer and so had to be switched off; only a few rooms were wired. It was not until after the war that Uncle George had the place wired for mains electricity.

All the bedrooms had fireplaces but they were only lit during sickness and the winter cold used to penetrate these rooms; sometimes one was given a hot water bottle in bed, a large stone affair to warm the feet, but there were not enough of these nor enough hot water to go round so only the sick or elderly got one regularly. There was usually a fire in the schoolroom over the front hall. Since my parents were often in Nigeria there was a nurse or governess in charge of the schoolroom. These stayed a number of years and became part of the family. However the cold only lasted a few months and in one’s childhood the summers always seemed to be hot, dry and sunny. Certainly my happiest memories were when lying in bed half awake, with the early morning sun streaming through the open windows, and listening to the rooks talking to each other.

Sometimes the house was empty but even then there would be not less than six people sleeping there, the three maids and three of the family. On the other hand there was often a shortage of beds and then the youngsters had to sleep on the drawing room floor. Uncle John brought guests from Dublin, Desmond Eustace and Jimmy Keates were regulars; Aunt Joan brought school friends, often with foreign names. They were ‘paying guests, like the Amblers, Uncle George’s friends from India, whose children Neville and Quentin came for their school holidays; and ‘Madame’, a harmless dotty woman from Desmond’s hospital in Dublin; in slack times Desmond used to send a number of his patients for a break, often with a nurse in charge. These paying guests, known as “PG’s”, helped to swell the scanty bank balance. Finally there was a constant stream of relatives from England and further afield.

Oakley Park was normally a full, bustling, and happy home for a great number, all of who developed roots and returned. The stabilizing factor of the whole place was my grandmother who struggled happily, wisely and efficiently with a house full of perhaps fifteen people with little money or help. “I just don’t know how she coped,” was my mother’s comment about her.

Next Chapter: Appendix A

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