Sunday, 8 February 2009

Colonel of the month - February

Moving forward in time from the heroic and much-wounded Campbell, we come to an equally delightful character of WWII vintage - Col Eric 'Crazy' Hayes-Newington, "the oldest surviving officer of the 4th Bombay Grenadiers".

My source for this is the Daily Telegraph (of course) obituary, posted here.

As usual for a Torygraph 'moustache' obituary, it dedicates much of its first part to an account of the action in Burma in which he won the DSO:

Hayes-Newington sustained a wound in his shoulder, but this gave no pause to his vigorous leadership, and he himself slew three Japanese soldiers at point-blank range as they bore down on the tanks, shrieking.

So far so good. It then details his career up to that point, which involved the quintessentially colonial colonel activity of fighting in Waziristan - "a very active service which involved climbing peaks and
avoiding accurate sniping by tribesmen who regarded fighting as a normal
way of life".

After retiring from the Indian army he moved to Kenya, Lest anyone think that 'retirement' is a time for taking it easy, the Telegraph puts us straight:

When the Mau Mau insurrection broke out in the 1950s, Hayes-Newington joined the police, and was soon running the operations room at Nyeri.
During his 12 years' service he became Acting Superintendent of the Kenya Police, and on retirement was awarded the Colonial Police Medal.
In his late 70s he became Chief Game Warden ("Number One White Hunter") at Treetops Hotel, where he escorted Royalty, and appeared on a BBC Blue Peter television programme.

I remember that programme, which of course gave barely a hint of the man's daredevil courage and homicidal magnificence.

But what, I hear you ask, of personal eccentricity and field-sports, without which no portrait of a true colonel is complete?
Although very modest and reticent, he had a low threshold of boredom and if he felt that a dinner party was too dull, would begin eating his table napkin or do something equally unusual.
As a young man, "Crazy" had been a good hockey and soccer player, and he was always a first-class shot. He enjoyed riding a powerful Norton motor-bicycle, in spite of the practice being deplored by his seniors.
Invariably cheerful, with a dry sense of humour, he was an excellent organiser, and extremely good at putting people at their ease. Part of his younger days had been spent in Ireland, where he had become a skilled trout fisherman and a good horseman, and partly in Bruges, where he became fluent in the language. He skied, skated, won medals at cross-country running, played polo, and planned and built his own home in Kenya - where he developed a great fondness and affinity for elephants.

Present and correct on all counts, sah!


No Good Boyo said...

"partly in Bruges, where he became fluent in the language"

He spoke Belgian?! An officer, perhaps, but a gentleman? One wonders.

Gadjo Dilo said...

I can't help imagining he also kept a collection of ladies' dresswear in his wardrobe. I realise this is my warped mind rather than his, but since Monty Python this also seems a ncessary part of a colonel's life. Sorry!

(Anybody remember that excellent Major Tristan Black - was that his name? - on the TV programme about the British army?)

inkspot said...

"Fluent in the language": this is a Torygraph obit., so you must remember to decrypt. The decryption here is "adept at terrifying foreigners into doing what he wanted", I think.

Gyppo Byard said...

Boyo - fluent Belgian, yes. But not French or Flemish.

Gadjo - Just wait until Boyo starts his "Dutch Prime Minister of the Month" series. You will not be disappointed. You've lost me with 'Tristan Black', I'm afraid. Which programme are we talking about?

Mr Inkspot - There is an account in the book 'Voices from Normandy' of a British officer in 1944 yelling at some French peasants in Urdu, figuring that Foreigners all spoke fluent Foreign, and on receiving only blank stares, observed to his adjutant "Bloody fool doesn't know his own language!" It's a state of mind...

scarlet-blue said...

Sounds like a character from Micheal Palin's Ripping Yarns. Did he also like to hop?

Gadjo Dilo said...

Crispin Black was apparantly the chap's name and the programnme was called "In the Company of Men" (BBC 1995), where he was a major in charge of a regiment of Welsh Guards in N. Ireland. He was very loyal to his men but also enjoyed classical music and had a nice line in comments like "Oh it would be so lovely to slip into something more comfortable of an evening".

Gyppo Byard said...

Gadjo - are you saying classical music is a pouf?

M C Ward said...

This is fast becoming one of my favourite monthly features on the net. My father's superior in Northern Rhodesia was a certain Commissioner "Fifi" Fforde (the nickname being unofficial). You couldn't invent this stuff.

Gyppo Byard said...

Scarls - it doesn't mention it, but it seems reasonable to assume so. At least none of them were involved in a "Roger of the Raj"-style mass suicide:

Wardy - Thank you. Rest assured there are plenty more lined up. I cannot be alone in wanting to know more about 'Fifi' Fforde.

Claire Abraham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jane Church said...

I was lucky enough to be a guest at Treetops when my family visited Kenya in 1970. I have never forgotten Colonel Hayes Newington though I was only 15. What a character! He took us out for the day and seemed the epitome of the big white hunter.
Jane Church