OBITUARIES ISSUE FOUR JANUARY 2013
Cornwall’s Light Infantry in July 1939 and set sail for India just as war was declared. He had two wonderful years in Lahore. The 1st Battalion had been in India for nearly 20 years and had set themselves up well with a pack of hounds. Toots sent a Christmas card to a friend in Lanarth, Cornwall, in 1939 in which he wrote: “War not worrying us out here much, but marvellous shooting – duck, snipe and partridges - all free so you can go where you like”. In November 1941, the battalion embarked for Basra to help put down the Iraqi rebellion. The fighting was over by the time they arrived and they were to spend six months guarding key points, still champing at the bit to get into the war. Toots shot throughout that winter in Iraq, including with a Sheikh on an island where they shot black partridge, with the Sheikh’s 9 year old grandson helping as a beater. Toots grand-daughter, who was working in Iraq five years ago, by chance had dealings with the current Sheikh who remembered well the days shooting that they had when he had been a boy 66 years earlier. On a two-day notice, the battalion was ordered ‘to move by desert route to Egypt’. They were given extra 50 trucks and had to find drivers for these. There were few drivers in the battalion, which had relied on mules and camels until 1938, but with Cornish ingenuity, and much clashing of gears, they drove through Jordan, Palestine and Egypt, taking just 20 days to reach Tobruk. On arrival, on 6th June 1942, they were pitched headlong into battle at Bir el Harmat, despite lacking any anti-armour weapons other than eight 2-pounders that had been sent to them from the training centre. On taking up their sector, they reported enemy tanks, but were disbelieved by higher authority and were given neither armour nor artillery support. After a frantic battle, with heavy casualties on both sides, they were overrun by Rommel’s surprise attack. There were just 120 survivors from a battalion of 750 – the remainder being killed, wounded or captured. Toots was to be a PoW for fifteen months in three different camps in northern Italy. He wrote later “At this stage, I heard that my grandfather had died in 1942, largely as a result of the news that, first my uncle Stephen - a brigadier - was a PoW and, then, that I was “missing, believed killed.” The next blow was a postcard through the Red Cross telling me that my father had been killed on active service in a car accident near Plymouth.” After 15 months ‘in the Bag’, in September 1943 the Italians sued for peace. Taking advantage of the chaos, he and many others managed to escape 30 minutes before the Germans arrived to take over the prisoners. Most were recaptured and taken off to Germany. He, accompanied by two other DCLI officers, set off to march to the Allied lines. Heading south along the line of the Apennine Mountains, they covered 364 miles as the crow flies (but more like 600 miles in reality) in 35 days. Finally, after a hairraising night sharing a wood with a German artillery regiment, they managed to pass through the enemy lines to safety. During their escape, they were helped by mountain villagers at considerable risk to themselves. After hitching lifts in lorries, a Dakota flight to Algeria and a ship sailing from Algiers to Glasgow, they were home. On his first night at home, his sister Liz took him to a party where he met Yvonne Ogilvy – and they were married 14 months later. After the war, Toots and other escapees set up the Monte San Martino Trust that has so far helped with the education of over 300 children, whose forebears had helped the escaping Allied prisoners of war.
In 1945, he was a company commander with 1st DCLI in Palestine at a difficult time. The Army was being demobilised and any soldier who had been called up was entitled to be posted home, and yet there was still a demanding job to be done. His Commanding Officer got the company commanders together and asked them to try to persuade their men to sign on, although he expected that most would leave, and he knew that they were not going to get any reinforcements. Toots got his company together and after explaining the situation, 100% signed on. This fired up the other company commanders to do likewise and in the end just four soldiers requested to leave. After Palestine, he went on to command a company of the King’s African Rifles in Kenya, Somaliland and Abyssinia, a company of Gurkhas in Hong Kong and Malaya, and companies of the DCLI in Minden, Bermuda, Osnabrück and Bodmin, where he was to command first the Depot and then 4/5th DCLI, a TA battalion. His final command was in Hong Kong, where he was in charge of 1,200 Chinese soldiers, whom he came to admire and respect. He commanded the island brigade during a spate of riots in 1966, when the Brigade Commander was away on leave. He commanded soldiers at company level for 18 years; he had just six months on the Staff, having refused to take the staff college exams. Toots kept wonderful gamebooks, which were far more than a tally of what had been shot or caught – the four books are filled with maps, descriptions and newspaper cuttings. He was a wonderful shot knowing where to stand, where to look and how the quarry would fly or where fish would lie. His gamekeeper once noticed, when cleaning Toot’s gun at the end of a day, when they had shot 40 woodcock, that the left barrel had not been fired. Curious about this, he asked him how many woodcock he had shot – Toots told him that he had shot 19, all with his first barrel. Not bad at 71 years. In all, he spent nine complete years of his life out shooting and shot a record 3,364 woodcock to his own gun. However, his greatest joy was in introducing young people or officers to shooting, fishing and the history of Cornwall. He had the gift of being able to get on with people of all ages and all backgrounds – his interest in people and his memory for names, was astounding, as was his sense of fun. On leaving the Army and settling down in St Mabyn, he went to work for the Conservative Party, collecting money from individuals and small businesses across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. His other job for many years was that of Clerk to the Lieutenancy, assisting the then Lord-Lieutenants Sir John Carew-Pole and Viscount Falmouth, to ensure that Royal Visits to the County were delivered flawlessly. He was not one to let standards slip where Royal Visits were concerned. On one occasion, he was doing the initial planning at County Hall a year or so before an event. He was told that a local dignitary would be accompanied by his ‘partner’, so Toots asked if the lady in question was married to the dignitary. On being told that she was not, he replied that she had a year in which to get married... or else she would not be shaking the Queen’s hand! He had two favourite books, ‘Jock of the Bushveld’, the story of a loyal and brave dog – a copy lived by his bedside– and Dana’s Mineralogy, the bible where minerals are concerned. He had a unique knowledge of Cornish mining history and of the
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The obituary supplement for Floreat.