Barbara Holbrooke sat in her morning room, drew a deep breath and wondered what she should attempt next, apart from the Herculean task of marrying off her three remaining spinster daughters. Gertrude and Constance were both happily married, thank goodness, but Winifred was now 46, Helena 44 and Margaret had just turned 30. They were not unattractive girls -women- but the problem had been finding young men brave enough to propose to the daughters of the vicar. And Kimpton, with a population of only 300, where they had lived from 1882 until her husband’s death in November 1911, was the very epitome of being a large goldfish in a very small bowl – where on earth was she supposed to have found eligible bachelors for them?
Despite the small size of the parish and congregation, the rectory was positively palatial – 16 rooms in the way counted by the 1911 census. As the living remained in the gift of the local landowner, she presumed that the lord of the manor had financed both church and rectory without input from the diocese, with the idea of putting a succession of second or third sons in this sinecure.
It was not, of course, a surprise that her husband had predeceased her – after all, he was 22 years her senior. But it had been a bitter blow when their youngest son, Lt Dr. Cecil Dacre More Holbrooke, had died while serving in the army in India in 1909. She had hoped that, by steering him into medicine, he would escape the apparently irresistible pull of the scarlet (none of their children seemed to be drawn to the black of the ecclesiastical world). But it was not to be. In 1905, at the age of 25, he had joined the RAMC and been sent to Poona
where he had met his end, four years later, in a chukka of polo hit on the head by the ball.*
Her three remaining sons had also gone into the army. She had had hopes that Gerald Howard, born in 1877, who emigrated to Saskatchewan in 1909, would also escape a military fate. He was indeed just getting himself established when war was declared in Britain so, of course, he duly signed up in Canada on 24 September 2014.*
Gerald had already served 5 years with the 12th Middlesex, eight years with the Natal Police, and two years with the (Canadian) Royal North West Mounted Police.
In 1870, the vast area known as Rupert’s Land was transferred from the Hudson’s Bay Company to the new Dominion of Canada. The sudden shift of authority and resultant uncertainty and unrest among the inhabitants of the region erupted into the Red River Rebellion of 1869-70. Alarming reports of whisky trading and of restlessness and inter-tribal warfare among the Indians of the plains reached the newly formed federal government in Ottawa. It was essential that order be restored and maintained if the Canadian Northwest was to attract settlers. In 1872, Colonel P. Robertson-Ross, Adjutant-General of the Canadian Militia, was dispatched into the Northwest on a fact-finding journey for the Canadian government. He recommended that a regiment of 550 mounted riflemen be organized to preserve order in the territory and to protect the surveyors and railway builders who were working their way to the Pacific coast.
Their eldest son, Bernard Frederick Roper, had joined the Indian army in 1893 at the age of 21 – she remembered that there had been no holding him. It was a good life for a young man, just so long as they weren’t engaged in any war. She dreaded what the future might be for him now.
But the very first to arrive at the front had been, as she might have known, her knight in shining armour, Philip Lancelot. Although he was 41 years old by now, he arrived in France with the Royal Garrison Artillery as part of the British Expeditionary Force on 19 September. He had left behind a wife, Eleanor, whom she would have to keep an eye on, although she was perfectly looked after by the army, living in married quarters in Shoeburyness with a cook and a maid, and plenty of other wives for company.
Her life felt as if all the colour had gone out of it. She knew she must make an effort to keep up the spirits of her daughters, but today her heart was not in it. She already hated this phrase people kept using, ‘for the duration’. How long, oh how long might that be?
I have seen – but cannot at the moment lay my hands on 😦 the evidence for the polo accident. Apologies, but I did not want to delay this post any further.
I have concluded that my memory may have been playing tricks – Captain Egerton Orme Bellairs Black Hawkins (see elsewhere on this website) is memorialised at the military cemetery in Bloemfontein and St Mary Bourne (Section G Row 10 #406) ‘killed 21 January 1909 in a polo accident’. Grateful thanks to the commenters below.
**The evidence for the Holbrookes having moved to Stoke House is Gerald’s attestation papers in September 1914, when he gives his mother as his next of kin.