Paul Ashford Harris

Aardvark

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Chapter 1

First Sea Lord Jacky Fisher was short and pugilistic. A round face was topped by short spiky hair, which looked as if it had been cut by a midshipman in a hurry, as it probably had. His yellowish colouring, legacies of early dysentery and malaria from his time in the Far East, only enhanced his justified reputation for a choleric temperament. He glanced out the window at the low clouds. Rain belted against the window and ran in rivulets down to the sill. It was a glum, grey November day in London, winter coming and little flakes of sleet landing with the rain. In the street below people scurried along, their raincoats pulled tight around them. Water ran along the gutters and a puddle had formed opposite the bus stop. A young woman struggled to put up an umbrella and finally disappeared from view still trying to fix the canopy in its extended position. The foul weather matched his mood, which was more than usually belligerent. The silence in the room was interrupted by the chiming of his antique clock on the mantelpiece. It was 10.00 am and he was already behind in the demanding program he had set himself since taking over as First Sea Lord from Prince Louis of Battenberg less than a week ago.
The phone on Admiral Fisher’s desk rang insistently. Fisher looked at the ceiling for a few seconds and then took a deep breath before lifting the handset from the receiver. As he had expected, it was his boss, Navy Minister and First Lord, Winston Spencer Churchill. Churchill wasted no time on niceties; if anything he was in a worse mood than Fisher. “You’ve seen the headlines, ‘Disaster in the Pacific’. I’ll come straight to the point, Jacky. The Times is right. Coronel is an absolute disaster for us; the most humiliating defeat for the Royal Navy ever. Ever. What is the latest situation?” Fisher wasted no time reflecting on the hyperbole because this brutal analysis was essentially correct.
“We were out-gunned, out-thought and unprepared. The loss of life has been considerable. As you are aware, Admiral Cradock went down with the Good Hope along with the entire crew, and then the Monmouth was also sunk with all hands. We have lost 1700 men. With the war only days old we must react with all forces available otherwise we will be a laughing stock.”
Churchill interrupted “I want every ship within range deployed in the South Atlantic. The Kaiser’s cruisers must be destroyed, every one of them. Tell Sturdee, every one of them.” There was a pause. “Where on earth were Canopus and Defence? They were supposed to be with Cradock.”
“I have already given the orders to Sturdee” replied Fisher, ignoring this embarrassing question. He knew perfectly well that there had been a major communication failure during the period between Battenberg’s departure, Churchill’s instructions and his own arrival at the Admiralty. Defence had been sent to reinforce Cradock but was then diverted, with Canopus ordered to replace her but not arriving on time. And why had Cradock attacked without Canopus’ 12-inch guns? This was most definitely not the moment to debate the issues with Churchill, and potentially severely embarrassing both of them. “We’re still piecing the facts together. There have been some very poor decisions but I will await more detailed information before commenting further. In the meantime, Sturdee has very clear instructions.”
Churchill was well aware of the antipathy between Fisher and Sturdee going back some years to Sturdee’s participation in plans to get rid of Fisher in his previous stint as First Sea Lord. This antagonism was unhelpful in a situation where co-operation was essential, especially as Fisher had been back in the job for such a brief period. Churchill had needed to appoint Fisher at very short notice, Prince Louis of Battenberg having been forced to step down following the furore over the British Navy, at the outbreak of war with Germany, being commanded by a German Prince, however anglicised he had become. The Coronel fiasco could not have come at a worse time for Fisher and Churchill.
“When can Invincible and Indefatigable sail?” asked Churchill. The two battle cruisers, equipped with 12-inch guns and capable of 25 knots, had ample capacity to exact revenge on Vice Admiral von Spee’s German cruiser squadron, but they were refitting in Plymouth.
“My latest information just an hour ago is one week”.
“They must be able to improve on that; time is critical, critical.” pressed Churchill.
“I think they will be sufficiently resourced to sail in two days if the shipyard works around the clock” replied Fisher. “I’ll give the order immediately that they will sail by midnight Tuesday. Like you I want every German cruiser hounded down and sunk.”
“I would be astounded if you held any other opinion, Jacky. Go after them.”
Both men had ample reason to be concerned. The British Navy was still without doubt the most powerful navy afloat. Its reputation was sufficient to make any adversary hesitate before taking on Britain. But if the first significant naval event of the Great War was to result in the annihilation of a British fleet, however ragtag it might have been, it would raise the possibility for many a would-be adversary that perhaps the British Navy was not as formidable as they might have feared.

It had been only a few weeks after the outbreak of the war in August 1914 that Vice-Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock was cruising in the South Pacific on the lookout for German raiders, and in particular von Spee’s cruiser squadron. Prior to the outbreak of war the Kaiser had been determined to build up the strength of the Imperial Navy so that Germany could offer some competition to the giant British fleet. Part of his efforts had resulted in the building of a fleet of modern fast cruisers more than competitive with similar sized ships owned by the British.
These fast German cruisers, accompanied by single armed raiders disguised as merchant ships, had been creating havoc with Allied merchant shipping since the outbreak of war, with losses occurring regularly in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. To cover more ocean, Cradock had approval to split his squadron into two fleets, an Eastern (Atlantic) fleet and a Western fleet to remain in the Pacific. Cradock was left with only the cruisers Good Hope and Monmouth, the light cruiser Glasgow and the armed merchant cruiser, Otranto.
Cradock looked out at the seas breaking over the bow of his flagship, Good Hope. He inched his way across the heaving deck to the starboard point on the bridge and looked down just in time to see a young sailor rush to the rail and vomit. Yellow flecks blew back all over him. Cradock smiled to himself. First lesson of sea sickness, vomit down wind. He paced back to the other end of the bridge to find a more agreeable sight. Off the port bow he could see Good Hope had the company of a huge wandering albatross. Its grey wings must have been more than 10 feet from tip to tip. It seemed to hover motionless, its wings scarcely moving as it effortlessly kept up. He could see the bird’s pink beak in the sunlight as it rotated its head to inspect the ship and the ocean below. He thought of Charles Darwin, and his book On the Origin of Species that he kept in his cabin. Darwin had traversed these seas in Beagle and here was this bird, a perfect example of evolution he thought, totally at home in one of the most inhospitable corners of the world.
The wind had moderated a little, down to Force 7 but it was still whipping the spume off the tops of the waves. The previous night’s storm had pushed up a lumpy swell so that the Good Hope was barrelling off the peaks and burying its nose into the long deep troughs, throwing white water in a cloud over the bow to smash against the bridge. Every now and then the ship would kick sideways, its propellers out of the water, so that they would cavitate and the ship would shudder before the props bit again and drove the ship forward. Cradock decided to ease off a few knots. Speed was not really the issue. The issue was what to do in the face of the enigmatic order from Admiralty to “be prepared to meet the enemy in company”. With his fleet split, Cradock had only four ships and the quality of his crews was quite poor. They were young and inexperienced, many were hopelessly seasick and their gunnery skills were below requirements. Worse, he had been forced to leave Canopus and her 12-inch guns behind because, although a battleship, she was old, unreliable and could manage only 12 knots. Cradock faced a dilemma. If he met the German cruiser force without Canopus he would be out-gunned, but if he rejoined with Canopus and then engaged them the Germans would simply speed out of range if the 12-inch guns on Canopus posed too much of a threat. The Admiralty favoured attack and the cruel reality of the comparative number of ships in each navy meant that if each side lost tonnage at an equal rate Britain would win. So, should he go after the German cruisers or turn back to Canopus for protection? It depended on what he might be facing – perhaps only one German cruiser on a raiding mission but maybe two or more.
Cradock tried to put himself in von Spee’s position. If he were von Spee he would know very well that there were British ships in the area, given the carnage his ships and the raiders had been inflicting. He would not want to risk meeting them alone. Cradock’s intelligence was contradictory, but then there was the fate of his good friend Rear Admiral Troubridge to consider. Troubridge, who was now before a court martial for “failing to engage the enemy”, had allowed the Goeben and Breslau, a superior German force, to slip by him in the Mediterranean and escape to Constantinople, considerably embarrassing His Majesty’s Government which was engaged in desperate attempts to enlist Turkey in the cause of the Allies. The British Admiralty was not amused. Troubridge’s honour and name were now impugned, regardless of the outcome of the court martial and Cradock had no intention of suffering a similar humiliation. He must press on without Canopus whatever the consequences. He decided to leave Good Hope’s speed where it was and head towards the small port of Coronel, south of Valparaiso, on the Chilean coast.
As he neared Coronel his lookouts spied smoke that could only come from the enemy, but it was smoke from three ships not one. Cradock found himself confronting a German Cruiser Squadron with 8-inch guns against his 6-inch guns. He pulled his cap down a little tighter on his head. He knew he had gambled and lost, but without hesitating he gave the order to turn his ships to attack.
The Germans had gained the favourable inshore position, the battle-grey of their ships hard to distinguish against the grey-green of the Andes rising behind them. The British ships by contrast were starkly outlined, haloed by the golden rays of a setting sun. Firing began at a range of 10 kilometres with salvos every fifteen seconds. Good Hope was soon ablaze and Monmouth severely damaged. Though straddled by shells, somehow Glasgow and Otranto escaped, but within a few hours Good Hope and Monmouth were gone.
Fisher’s reputation could suffer and so could the First Lord’s unless immediate action was taken to redress the situation. And so it was that every ship the Navy had available in the South Atlantic and Pacific was put under the Command of Vice Admiral Sturdee on the battle cruiser HMS Invincible, and sent on the trail of the Kaiser’s cruisers.
Von Spee turned his victorious convoy and headed south towards the Atlantic by way of Cape Horn. As his ship left the battle scene he returned below to the quiet of his cabin. The seas were calm, the night fine and the enemy vanquished. He should have been most satisfied with his day’s work. He paused for a few minutes contemplating the sea through the porthole then summoned his two sons, both sailing with him as junior officers on the Scharnost. After a few minutes there was a knock at the cabin door and the two boys entered. Still dressed in their watch uniform they stood stiffly to attention. “You called for us, Sir?”
“I did boys. You have seen action today and, like all our crew, you have done well. None of us knew how it would turn out, but it turned out well for us, very well. But there will soon be another action, and another, and eventually perhaps it will not turn out quite so well. Whichever way it should turn out, we know what we must do, don’t we?”
The older boy took a pace forward, “our duty, Sir.”
“Yes, exactly, our duty, and who have we learned that from?”
“You, Sir.”
Von Spee stood up and walked around from his desk. “Not entirely boys, we have all learned from the traditions of the British Navy, so when you engage them never forget that. Never think you will have another victory quite so easily.”
“No, Sir.”
He stood in front of them as they remained at attention then, first one and then the other, he cupped their faces in his hands and kissed them lightly on the forehead. “You may go now, and God be with us all.”
It took less than six weeks for the British ships to find their opportunity for revenge. Von Spee, after rounding Cape Horn, stopped for three days at Picton Island at the eastern end of the Beagle Channel. Confident, after having suffered only two casualties and some minor damage, and encouraged by the performance of his officers and men at Coronel, he decided to rub salt in the considerable wounds he had inflicted on the British, by attacking the Falklands Islands.
The Falklands are one of the most strategically located island groups in the world’s oceans. They sit off the Argentine coast perfectly positioned to control the trade route south around Cape Horn into the Pacific or the return trip home. The commanders of the Dresden, Leipzig and Gneisnau tried to dissuade von Spee, believing that his intelligence about the Falklands being undefended might be faulty. But the normally cautious von Spee had convinced himself that he would be able to attack the unprotected islands, put a force ashore and capture Port Stanley. It would be another humiliating blow to the British so early in the war.
HMS Canopus, in reality an old pre-war Dreadnought, built in 1897 and fatally left behind by Cradock as too slow to keep up, had made its way to Port Stanley where it had been beached on the mudflats in good position to cover the harbour mouth. Her topmasts were removed so she could not be seen from the sea, and she was camouflaged. An observation post was established on high ground and connected to the ship by telephone. On 7 December 1914 the British battleships arrived for coaling. Canopus’s function was to act as a guard ship both for the port and for the British ships while they took on coal.
As he approached the Falklands, von Spee would have been shocked to know that not only were Invincible and Inflexible there but so were the armed cruisers Carnarvon, Kent and Cornwall and the light cruisers Glasgow, recovered from its experience at Coronel, and Bristol, and the AMC Macedonia; all in all, a formidable British fleet.
At first light the next morning von Spee’s fleet approached the port, unaware they were being watched from the observation post. At a range of 11 kilometres Canopus opened fire seemingly from nowhere and a shot skidded off the water and hit Gneisnau. Badly surprised and spotting the superstructure of the British battleships, von Spee fired a few broadsides. He hesitated. Should he press on with his attack on the port or, aware of the size of the opposition within the port, take the safer option? Unaware that the British battleships had not yet completed their coaling, he turned to escape. This exchange of fire gave Sturdee time to coolly finish his breakfast while his ships completed their coaling then set off in pursuit.
It was no day for ships to run and hide. The sea was placid, with a gentle breeze from the northwest, a bright, sunny, clear day. No high seas and low cloud casting dull shadows on the water to provide some cover. Invincible and Inflexible were bigger and faster than Gneisnau and Scharnorst and, while the light and the weather held, the result was inevitable. Travelling at full speed, Invincible and Indefatigable opened up with their 12-inch guns beyond the range of the German guns. Gneisnau and Scharnorst turned to face their pursuers but they were both soon ablaze. As the British ships approached the two German cruisers settled low in the water and the British sailors watched in silence as their hulls reared up above the water, like two stricken whales, in a last convulsion before they were gone    
As the battle developed, the Intelligence Officer on the German cruiser Dresden wedged himself into the corner of the bridge, trying to steady his binoculars. He stared intently at the horizon off the starboard bow, and hardly even heard two explosions as shells from the pursuing British cruisers landed in the sea off their stern. Below decks the stokers stripped off their shirts as they strove to keep up the supply of coal to the boilers. Sweat poured from their bodies and their arms ached from the constant shovelling. The Dresden was at full speed, a plume of black smoke pouring out behind her as she tried to use it to provide some cover. The Intelligence Officer screwed up his eyes. He was almost certain he could see a thin, pencil-grey line of low cloud and mist on the horizon. “I think we have fog to starboard Captain. We should run towards it. It is our only chance.” The Dresden started to turn.
“Please God you’re right,” muttered the Captain.
The remaining German cruisers in turn had their own battle but the British ships had 6-inch guns against the German 4.1-inch armaments. Better gunnery skills would not save the Germans and Nurnberg and Leipzig were sunk with almost all hands. Altogether the Germans lost six ships and 2200 men. Only the Dresden escaped.

Sturdee could have been forgiven if he had been suffused with pride over so comprehensive a victory but in fact he was deeply saddened. Prior to the war the German and British navies exercised together and had grown to know each other’s officers and men and to respect each other’s professionalism. The last remnants of a knightly chivalry persisted between them, but it was soon to be extinguished by the brutality of the battles to come on sea and land. After Coronel a German Consul who proposed a toast to von Spee and his men to ‘the damnation of the British Navy’ found himself frozen by the disdain of his naval guests. Von Spee responded icily. “I drink,” he said “to the memory of a gallant and honourable foe.”
Back in London no such doubts were entertained in Whitehall or the Admiralty. Fisher’s phone rang again.
“Did we get them all Jacky? I want no survivors.”
“All but one, Winston. The Gneisnau and Scharnorst were sunk by Invincible and Inflexible. Von Spee and his two young sons all went down on the Scharnhorst. In fact there were almost no survivors. Then our cruisers finished off their smaller ships.”
“All but one?”
“All but one. A light cruiser, the Dresden, has escaped behind smoke and a sea mist. We’re
on her tail. I’ve already told Sturdee his career depends on it. I want the Dresden sunk”
“Jacky, you need to find the Dresden. I want no unfinished business.”
Before Fisher could respond he heard the receiver crash back into place. The First Sea Lord lay back with his hands clasped behind his head. He swivelled his chair around to survey his newly occupied office. His gaze brushed over the cartoon ‘Spy’ had done of him in Vanity Fair in 1902, in which he looked almost light-hearted, and stopped at the portrait of himself painted by von Hekkoner in 1911. It showed him in full Admiral’s uniform, one hand in his jacket pocket, the other holding his cap and telescope. He wore the expression of a man not on any account to be trifled with: indeed he was not. Giving a grunt he rose from his desk. Sturdee would need to be contacted again.
It hardly improved the mood of either Churchill or Fisher when weeks later Sturdee had to report that the Dresden could not be found. The Germans had tied up considerable British naval forces, vitally needed for the North Sea, for months. Every lead turned out to be false, every report the Navy received incorrect and all sightings led nowhere. To Churchill and Fisher’s fury the Dresden had vanished.


Chapter 2

Harry stood firm, legs splayed against the heaving of the ship’s stern, gripping the rail with frozen hands. The ship, the Corinthic, a near-new Shaw Savill Albion steamer, which plied its trade carrying passengers and the new refrigerated cargoes of frozen meat between Wellington, New Zealand and London, lurched sideways in the swell. Harry braced one foot and then the other against the rhythm of the lifting deck. As far as his eye could see, a bridal veil of white spume was streaming from the tops of anthracite-coloured waves. A flock of gulls followed the ship, flapping frantically into the teeth of the gale. One by one they gave up the struggle and peeled off, to be flicked contemptuously out of sight in the ship’s wake. Pulling his sheepskin jacket closer around him Harry peered up at the glimpses of jagged mountains slipping in and out of view through the wisps of grey cloud. How on earth, he wondered, could Magellan ever have navigated this treacherous passage in the 1520s, recovering as he was from a mutiny and the loss of some of his ships. He could have had no idea what was before him, above or below the waters. His ships, tiny caravelles, would have been almost helpless in the face of the great storm that Harry was now experiencing. Still, to be in the Magellan Straits and to see the southern tip of the Andes was a unique experience whatever the weather. Harry reflected that it was a small compensation arising from the shock of the outbreak of war with Germany. The shipping company, on the advice of The Admiralty in London, had rerouted the ship across the remote southern waters of the Pacific rather than the usual route across the Indian Ocean and around the Cape of Good Hope or through the Suez Canal. In any event, in a few hours they would arrive in the little port of Punta Arenas in Chile and he would be able to go ashore and no doubt find a cheerful bar with a wood fire, a warm drink and a floor that stayed still beneath his feet.
Harry wondered again why he was returning to England. After completing his degree in German at Cambridge University, he had returned to New Zealand. But now here he was, just after the war with Germany had begun, on his way back to Europe. He had come to know Germany and the Germans pretty well during his studies. He liked their directness and also their friendliness, which in some ways he felt made them more like New Zealanders than the English. He couldn’t understand how two such civilised countries as England and Germany, which in many ways had so much in common, could have descended into war. As things stood he could choose whether he would participate. He knew his mother and father had very different views on that subject and he was still sifting his choices in his mind. Clearly he was a member of the British Empire with all the obligations and privileges that entailed. He felt British. But if he volunteered or if conscription was introduced, could he really shoot a German in cold or even hot blood? He felt strongly that, at least for the moment, he did not want to be put in the position where he would very likely be confronted with such a choice.
Suddenly, through the mist, a lone peak appeared as if unattached to the earth. It loomed high above the ship and its peak glowed pink in a shaft of late sunlight whilst lower down its slopes it darkened out of the sun into a steel-blue. Harry watched how quickly the mist, blown by the gale, raced up the side of the mountain and again concealed it from view.

Back at “Earnslaw”, the homestead on the family property in South Canterbury, Harry’s parents, Victoria and David, sat at the dining room table with Harry’s younger brother Jack. Jack and his father had been half-heartedly discussing the poor state of some of the sheep in the high paddocks at the back of the farm.
“They’re looking quite mangy, need drenching. I think we’ll move them down a bit tomorrow,” David decided. Victoria sat quietly, hardly listening. Finally she put down her knife and fork and voiced what was really troubling her.
“I’m worried, David, I see there’s been a naval battle in the South Atlantic. As I calculate it that’s where Harry’s ship should be about now. It seems as if quite a few ships have been sunk by the Germans. It’s unnerving not being able to find out anything.”
David looked up. “They’re mainly German ships that have been sunk from what I have read; some of their cruisers. A good result for Britain I would say. Stop worrying. I’m sure he’s okay, Victoria. In any case you can’t do anything.”
Jack intervened. “He’ll be okay Mum, he always is.”
Victoria looked unconvinced by these unsubstantiated expressions of confidence. “The fact is I don’t know why this war is happening and what on earth it has to do with New Zealand. No one seems to be making any attempt to stop it. Aren’t all the Royal families related? Why on earth can’t King George talk to the Kaiser, agree to suspend fighting and sit down and sort out whatever it is about Serbia that seems to be so important?”
David paused, “The Kaiser started it all and whatever the Empire does we must support it. If the Empire is at war, we are at war. It’s unthinkable for us not to support Britain and the King.”
“It’s not unthinkable. Many women are thinking it, I can tell you.”
“Victoria, it’s not women’s business. Since you were given the vote you’ve all become tiresomely voluble. War is not women’s business.”
“It is women’s business. Every boy who dies is women’s business. Every time a boy dies a mother dies too. You think we went through the pain and the joy of childbirth for our boys to be sacrificed for nothing? For men it’s not the same and never will be. If we were allowed to have women in Parliament, as we should be, we would be making more of a fuss, I can tell you.”
“After watching some of your colleague’s behaviour since you were given the vote I must say I hope that never happens. Why can’t you be content with voting? All this fuss about wanting your own Members of Parliament is unseemly.”
“Unseemly? Have you looked at some of our Members of Parliament? They’re stupider than Fergie the bull. That’s what’s unseemly.”
“It won’t be happening while Bill Massey’s in charge I can promise you that.”
“That bull-headed Irishman. He’s a good example but we will not give up David, I can assure you.”
“Victoria, enough of this. He is the Prime Minister and we must support him especially in the time of war. Anything else is disloyal to our Government and our King. Harry will be all right, he can look after himself.”
There was silence before Victoria stood up. “Excuse me,” and she put down her table napkin and made her way to the kitchen.
Silence fell. David looked at Jack. “Her cousin George volunteered with a group of New Zealanders for the Boer War. They all thought it would be a fine adventure, apparently. In 1902 he was killed. It wasn’t even in combat. He was one of sixteen New Zealanders who died in a train crash at a place called Machavic, in the Transvaal. It was only a few months before the war ended. Your mother saw her Aunt Joan grieve. Joan never recovered from losing her only son and Victoria has never forgotten it. Now, we need to move the sheep tomorrow, Jack. We’ll go early and move the sheep from the top paddocks first.”

Victoria and David had married in Dunedin in 1890. Victoria’s father, Malcolm, a local doctor of strict Presbyterian faith, had been rather shocked when David had asked to marry Victoria. After all, although David’s father was a highly successful businessman and was revered in Dunedin for his philanthropy – having been heavily involved in the setting up of Otago University, New Zealand’s first, and of which Victoria’s father strongly approved – he was Jewish. On the other hand, David never mentioned the Jewish religion and he had all the characteristics Malcolm would have expected from someone born and educated in Otago. More to the point, his wife approved of David, whatever religion he might or might not belong to, and Malcolm had learned not to on any account contradict his wife. The final point that Malcolm would never admit to having even considered was that David’s family owned the beautiful Earnslaw Station. Victoria would be living in the homestead, which Malcolm saw as a wonderful place to rear children in surroundings as remote as possible from sinfulness.


Earnslaw Station was a rambling old timber house with an expansive ground floor and large attic rooms with bay windows overlooking the paddocks and the mountains to the west. Downstairs the house was surrounded by wooden verandas that led out to the garden. Here Victoria placed her rocking chair so that she could sit with a cup of tea and her book of the moment to watch the sun go slowly down behind the mountains. The front door had stained-glass insets, particularly admired in the district, and led into a broad entrance hall, which in turn opened to a vaulted living room with a fireplace surrounded by a Chippendale mantelpiece and topped by an Adams mirror. On the wall was an oil painting depicting the Southern Alps, whose peaks rose vertically in the distance in front of the house and whose constantly changing moods informed all the life on the station. The gardens contained many species of roses, as well as beds of azaleas and rhododendrons. Beyond the lawn grew many species of fruit trees – apples, apricots, plums, peaches and figs and behind the house a thriving kitchen garden produced fine crops of vegetables. All in all, David and Victoria could congratulate themselves that, if necessary, they could sit out the frequent winter days when access from town was impossible due to the snow, secure in their copious supplies of summer fruit, vegetable and meat piled up in the larder.

The next morning walking back from moving the sheep Jack asked his father, “Why did we fight in the Boer War anyway, Dad?
David hesitated, “It was the first time we had a chance to stand up for the Empire and show we could play our part. Everyone here was so proud of our contribution. When the first troops left Wellington, bands played and people sang and cheered their heads off and all the women cried. The Commander, Colonel Robin, became quite a hero. He had actually been born in Australia but he’d lived here since he was a child. Of course as soon as the Kiwis reached South Africa they teamed up with the Aussies; they felt at home with each other. From what some of the local boys said they didn’t like the English officers much; too much parade ground and no commonsense. Anyway it was a coming of age in a way and confirmed our view of ourselves as an important part of the Empire and proud to be so.”
Jack digested all that and then replied, “So what do you think Harry will do, Dad?”
David stopped, took his cap off and examined it for a few seconds. “I think your brother will do his duty son, but it may not make your mother happy.”

Harry McLeod had always loved mountains, any mountains. He had been born on 31 March 1892 under the spine of New Zealand’s Southern Alps where the two great tectonic plates in the South Pacific had crushed against each other with dramatic, mountain-building results.
As soon as they could leave the hospital in Christchurch, Harry’s parents had taken their new baby straight home to the family’s South Canterbury station. They had almost five thousand acres of prime grazing country, with the mountains as a towering backdrop. As they arrived home with newborn Harry a sprinkling of snow lay across the drive and the lawns surrounding the house. The mountains were as much a part of the family’s daily life as the swift stream that carried the snow melt down, or the sheep and cattle that grazed there.
Harry grew up used to cold. When the winter southerlies blew up from the Antarctic, they swept across Stewart Island and the coast and finally exploded against the Alps, blasting the range with sleet and snow. South Canterbury could be a bleak environment. The sheep would have to be rounded up and put in the home paddock and, as he grew old enough to help, Harry would go out with his father and the two sheep dogs, Kaiser and Sultan. Sultan, a youngster, was Harry’s dog and his dad would yell, “Sultan, get in behind you stupid bugger. Harry, train that damn dog or he’ll be dog tucker by Christmas.” Sultan would hide under the hay cart until it was safe to come out, then he would run to Harry and leap joyfully all over him causing more expletives from Harry’s father. As the light faded Harry and his brother Jack would set off for the homestead. It could sometimes take a couple of hours to get home and the boys were glad to pull off their farm gear and stand with their backs to the log fire warming their backsides while their mother prepared the evening meal in the vast country kitchen.
Childhood days, although fondly remembered, were now in the past. Harry’s journey from the Canterbury Plains to the Straits of Magellan was taking him, now as a young man, from the close-knit South Island community to places that none of the surrounding families had ever visited. Harry’s parents had travelled and realised that South Canterbury was hardly the centre of the universe. What with letters from the family in England and books and newspapers with details of events in Europe, America or the Far East, Harry and his brother Jack were used to hearing about the wider world. His parents ordered The Illustrated London News from England, and even though it arrived months after publication, the family pored over it looking at the photographs and reading the articles on the major issues of the day from around the world. Most of their contemporaries came from the farming community and had hardly considered the possibility of living anywhere but within sight of the Southern Alps. Harry and Jack grew up with an increasing awareness of the world beyond New Zealand; of the sporting combativeness of their nearest neighbours in Australia, of the looming presence of Russia and the growing power of the United States of America, a little about China and Japan, of France, Germany and the other European states but, most of all, about the glory of the British Empire.
Not that Harry was always at home to listen to his parents’ conversation or to peruse the books and magazines that lay about in every room in the house. Mostly he and Jack were off at boarding school in Christchurch, where Christ’s College stood on the banks of the Avon River. A grand Gothic pile complete with spires and stained-glass windows, it could not have been a more English school had it been built in Kent.
Harry went to board there from the age of ten; Jack was a few years behind. They slept in airy dormitories of thirty iron-framed beds and wooden floors. Discipline was delivered by prefects, masters and, most terrifyingly, by a ferocious matron who bellowed at them for minor breaches of behaviour. Lights went out at 8 pm in the summer and 7.30 pm in the winter. The morning bell rang at 6.30 am and they were out for a quick shower, a walk around the school grounds followed by breakfast in the dining room – porridge winter and summer, baked beans or eggs, and toast with jam. Then they went off to chapel and so to class.
Harry, even at ten, had developed an enthusiasm for reading almost anything he could get his hands on. He awaited eagerly a comic book that used to arrive once a month and he would take it to an out-of-the-way place where he would devour every word. One day he was sitting on a bench at the far end of the rose garden, out of sight of anyone, when two of the older boys came along. “What are you doing McLeod? Here, give me that.” The larger one grabbed it away tearing it in the process. Harry leapt up and tried to grab it back but he only did more damage and got a thump in the ribs for his trouble. He tried to swing a punch but it was easily parried and the return punch, delivered with all the venom his sixteen-year-old assailant could manage, hit him square on his left eye. He stumbled and then fell to the ground, receiving a good kick in the stomach to follow up the punch. The smaller of his two assailants looked down at him. “You’re nothing but a bloody Yid. My mother says Yids shouldn’t be allowed at the school.” They both aimed a few more kicks at Harry and then turned and stalked off, taking what was left of his comic with them. Harry lay there for a minute holding back tears. His eye had already closed and his nose was bleeding. He could feel the rage, the need for revenge, the unfairness of it all, knowing that he wanted to kill them both but knowing also that there was nothing could be done.
Having collected himself, Harry stumbled back to the main school. Trying to avoid everyone he rounded the corner of the music room and ran straight into Sister Grant, the formidable overseer of all things medical at the School. “Goodness me, McLeod, what on earth has happened to you? Come with me immediately and let’s clean you up.” Harry followed meekly hoping to avoid the issue but it was no good. “Well then, McLeod, what happened?”
“Nothing Sister Grant, I fell over.”
“Fell over?”
“Yes Sister.”
“Rubbish McLeod, you have been in a fight and you can explain yourself to the headmaster. ‘Nothing’, really, what do you take me for?” And so it was that Harry found himself in the headmaster’s study following morning chapel the next day.
“So McLeod,” said the headmaster, Mr Arthur Aloysius Thackeray MA, “you have been fighting and have the injuries to show for it. Now whom were you fighting and why?”
“No, I fell over sir, I wasn’t fighting.”
“Nonsense boy, what do you take me for, a numbskull? I have been headmaster of this school for fifteen years and I know fighting when I see it. I will not tolerate fighting and I will not be treated like a numbskull. Do you hear me boy?”
“Yes, Sir.”
“Over there and bend over boy, you shall have a taste of the stick to teach you not to fight and not to treat the headmaster as a numbskull. Is that clear boy?” Harry felt his stomach contract. The ‘Big Stick’; every boy knew how much that hurt. It had never occurred to him that he would receive a caning on top of the injuries he had already endured. He had not even thought to protect himself with two pairs of underpants. The headmaster removed his jacket revealing a pair of scarlet braces holding his trousers up over an ample stomach, the reflection of the Headmaster’s inability to say ‘no’ to hearty school meals and to puddings in particular. The headmaster favoured caning using the two- handed forehand method, aided by a precise step forward off the right foot coinciding with the forward momentum of the cane. Harry rolled on his toes and tensed his buttocks as each of the strokes from the two-metre bamboo cane landed with a thwack. The pain shot up from the cheeks of his bottom to the top of his head. He tried to distract himself by reading the titles of the leather-bound books in the floor-to-ceiling shelves along two walls of the headmaster’s study. Thwack, “The Collected Works of William Shakespeare.” Thwack, “The Diaries of Samuel Pepys”. Thwack, “Macaulay’s History of England.” Thwack, “Great Expectations”. After four strokes there was a pause. “Now be gone, boy, and do not treat your Headmaster as a numbskull. Is that clear?”
Later that day a small group of friends gathered around expectantly, following a time-honoured ritual whereby caned boys displayed the damage for comparison purposes. Harry lowered his trousers and then his underpants to display his bruises. Black and red welts had appeared across his bottom and were spreading rapidly upwards. There were whistles of approval. “Wow, what a cracker, you won’t be sitting in a tub for a while,” exclaimed Marshall minor, his friend and fellow rower. But next morning, as usual, Harry was back in the tub, the stubby wooden rowing scull that was used to introduce youngsters to rowing. The rowing coach chose to ignore the black eye and the way Harry kept shifting painfully on his seat after each stroke, but mercifully he ended the session on the river early.
Harry waited until the holidays before he took the opportunity to ask his mother what a Yid was. She looked at him hard for a few moments before replying. “It’s an offensive term for a Jew. Why?”
“Am I a Yid?”
“Certainly not, and why are you asking?”
“I heard it at school. It’s nothing.”
His Mother tried to question him further but Harry sensed this conversation needed to end so he simply refused to continue. His mother persisted. ‘Who called you a Yid?”
Harry again refused to answer but his mother persisted until finally Harry turned on her. “No one did. Forget it. I wish I hadn’t asked.” He dashed away out to where the dogs were dozing in the kennels and even his father’s enquiries could get no more out of him.
But really Harry had no trouble with school. The study was easily within his capacity and he loved the rugby – the county’s religion – but especially the rowing. He was stroke of the school eight. His brother Jack used to tease him. ‘My God Harry, I swear you sleep with that oar. How do you stand all those 6.00 am starts? The Avon’s covered in chunks of ice.”
The school followed tradition as far as it could: hearty food, badly cooked, chapel every morning and twice on Sunday. They sang hymns like “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and “Jerusalem” belted out with more enthusiasm than comprehension. The subjects they learned were the same as boys at school in England: English, Maths, French, Latin or German, and History. The history curriculum focused on the Kings and Queens of England and the glory that had become the British Empire, which they, as British Citizens and subjects of the King would be taught to revere. They had prefects to run the place, and fags to look after them. Shakespeare and Wordsworth were staples of the English department. Sports were mandatory as was the Cadet Corp, where they learned to drill and how to clean and fire a rifle, something Harry and Jack already knew from the farm. Corporal punishment was dished out for even the smallest misdemeanours.
School life had prepared Harry well for the next step in his education. His father counted himself fortunate to have attend Cambridge University. His headmaster at Christ’s had been a Cambridge man and strongly advised David’s father, Wolf, that if it could possibly be arranged David should also attend Cambridge. Letters were exchanged and David found himself on his way to England, to Cambridge and to the ancient College of Trinity Hall. David had always expected Harry to do likewise. After all he would be second generation Hall, an adept sportsman who might help the College’s rowing aspirations, and his languages were not too bad thanks to a natural facility and the endeavours of his teacher at Christ’s College, an unforgiving German.
None of the boys knew how Herr Franz, their German teacher, had arrived at the school, but in those days the South Island of New Zealand attracted many itinerant travellers seeking to put distance between themselves and some misdemeanour on the other side of the globe. In any event the boys were far too scared of Herr Franz to ask. Herr Franz would stride up and down between the rows of wooden desks, turning suddenly to ask some disconcerting question on such matters as verb declensions. He kept a small leather riding crop on his desk and, for emphasis, would crack it on his desktop or against his long black leather boots. For all that he never hit the boys and after a while they began to discern under the Teutonic severity a wintry sense of humour, which manifested itself in droll running commentary on the boys’ stupidity. In the end, helped by his facility with German, Harry came to like Herr Franz.
So it was that at the end of his final term at Christ’s, and after special coaching from the headmaster, Harry spent three long hours in the headmaster’s study toiling over the entrance papers for Trinity Hall. They were then despatched, together with an effusive covering letter from the headmaster, to the Senior Tutor at the Hall. 

The Senior Tutor and the Vice Master sat in two enormous Victorian armchairs in the Senior Tutor’s sitting room. The Vice Master, sitting back in his armchair, looked anxiously at the sherry decanter on the Senior Tutor’s sideboard. He hoped the decanter contained something more appealing than the College’s own label, which he had to confess was rather inferior. The Senior Tutor, noting the direction of his gaze, poured him a glass, passed it to him and awaited the verdict. The Vice Master sniffed apprehensively, examined the straw-coloured liquid, and then took a small sip. The Senior Tutor raised his eyebrows quizzically. The Vice Master hesitated. “Hm, Manzanilla, excellent” he pronounced “it’s my belief it’s one of the best finos. I visited Sanlucar last year and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.”
The Senior Tutor, trying to mask his annoyance at not being able to catch out the Vice Master, acknowledged that his assessment of the sherry had indeed been correct. Really, the Vice Master could be a colossal bore sometimes. Quickly he moved on to shuffling papers in an absent-minded way until he eventually found what he was looking for. “We have this application from young Harry McLeod from New Zealand; he wants to read Modern Languages. German is his speciality. Rather surprising don’t you think?” The Vice Master pondered the matter, distracted by noticing that the Senior Tutor had a large brown stain on the salmon-and-cucumber Garrick Club tie he was so fond of wearing and which he appeared to feel went well with his maroon velvet waistcoat. Probably Windsor soup he surmised.
“His application indicated a rather agricultural approach I thought,” he eventually replied. There was a long silence, punctuated only by the hiss of the gas fire. “Father was here and did rather well by all reports. By the way he’s obviously a jolly fine rower. We could do with that. We had a rather poor result in Bumps this year.” There was another silence. “Strong recommendation from his Headmaster, who’s an old Cambridge man. Anything else we know about him?”
“Not really, but being a New Zealander he will probably be frightfully good at Rugger.”
The Vice Master considered this. “I’m not sure I entirely follow that last remark.”
“New Zealander’s are very good at Rugger. They thrashed England at Crystal Palace on their tour game. They’re called ‘All Blacks’ you know.”
There was a silence. A gust of rain rattled the windows, and the two looked out to see a group of undergraduates, black gowns flapping in a gust of wind, scuttling to their tutorial. “Did they indeed?” The Vice Master paused: “The game’s a-foot: Follow your spirit; and upon this charge cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’” The Senior Tutor greeted this sally in silence. “Well, why not give him a chance then? We have some room. A couple of our young chaps rather surprisingly appear to have received scholarships from Oxford. Besides, we always need a quota of colonials and I find the New Zealanders rather less, I don’t know, rumbustious, than Australians. I say we take him.” Another silence followed. “Well,” said the Senior Tutor “that’s that then. We’ll send him a note.” He stood and replenished the glasses then drew the curtains as the light faded over the Fellows’ garden, and they moved on to discuss other matters closer to home. Harry of course, had he been asked, could easily have supplied, in the finest detail, the story of England’s ‘thrashing’ by the All Blacks. How 75,000 people had turned out at Crystal Palace to see the unbeaten All Blacks play the home side. How they scrambled up trees and hung off fences to glimpse the game. How they marvelled at the skill of Deans or Carbine Wallace, the leadership of Gallaher, the four tries scored by Dunk. How The Times had reported, ‘they played like eight men with one eye, and that an all-seeing eye.’ They had returned to New Zealand as heroes and every young New Zealander knew their names, their stories and how they had beaten England but then lost to Wales after Deans scored but was dragged back into the field of play before the try was awarded, thus creating a legend that was never to be allowed to die.
And so it was that some months later Harry received a letter addressed to “Dear McLeod,” and pointing out that thanks to some of the College’s ordinary undergraduates accepting scholarships from Oxford there would in fact be a place for him at Trinity Hall. The letter required him to present himself at the beginning of October at The Hall for the commencement of Michaelmas term.

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