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Henry Dundas, Scots Guards, a Memoir
Chapter I. Childhood


Henry Dundas was born in Edinburgh on 5th February 1897. He was our only son.

It is not my object in the following pages to give more than a mere sketch of his childhood, and I only do that because after all the child is father of the man, and any record of him would be incomplete without it. Our family is well known and reputed in Scotland, and historians from Lord Woodhouselee to Lord Rosebery have paid it tribute. Its members have served their country for centuries in various walks of life, and assuming that a boy ever thinks of his ancestors, there was among Henry’s none who had a career more likely to inspire his descendant than that other Henry Dundas, the friend and colleague of William Pitt. Of him it was said by a contemporary chronicler, “Henry Dundas . . . was the Pharos of Scotland. Who steered upon him was safe : who disregarded his light was wrecked.” But though through the generations there may have been transmitted to Henry much of the brain, the courage, and the “cutting edge” of his great-great-great-grandfather, he undoubtedly derived many of his qualities through his more immediate predecessors. His paternal grandfather, Canon Robert James Dundas of Albury, Surrey, died when his grandson was seven years old, and his lifelong friend, the late Bishop of Norwich, summarised his character after his death as follows:    “He combined some of the best qualities of the Scotchman and the Englishman. He was shrewd, cautious, frank, open-hearted, genial, and full of humour. His laugh was a treat to hear. . . . His most striking characteristic appeared to me to be his absolute courage. If he thought that any one, no matter who, needed a rebuke, it never seemed to occur to him to flinch from the difficult and usually thankless duty of administering the proper reproof.” That courage was manifestly a characteristic which descended to his grandson, and there is little difficulty in discerning in him also many traits which distinguished his other grandfather. Mr Henry Lancaster was a prominent and rapidly rising member of the Scottish Bar, and had earned great repute as a most accomplished writer, when he died in 1875 at the age of forty-six. He was then in the plenitude of his powers, and a political life was just opening before him, in which he could not have failed to take a very high place.

Of him his friend Dr Jowett, the Master of Balliol, wrote as follows: "He came up from the University of Glasgow to Balliol College, Oxford, as a Snell Exhibitioner, in the year 1848, and he obtained a First Class in Easter 1853. Both at the University and in after life he had the faculty of drawing others round him by his vivacity and the geniality of his temperament. They were anxious to know what he had to say on any topic of the day. Every one was at ease with him : he could not only talk himself, but he made his companions talk by his great good humour and his quick appreciation of everything that was said to him. He may at times have been a little extravagant in his mirth; but where he was there was certainly no danger of dulness or ennui. Dr Johnson has said that 'every man may be judged of by his laughter,’ and "tried by his standard,’ his biographer adds, 'he was himself by no means contemptible.’ Those who knew our friend will have no difficulty in applying those words to him. Yet there was no time at which he was not a hard worker and in earnest about many things. He had great political knowledge, and took a warm interest in several questions of the day.”

From infancy Henry was a stirring child, and showed an early disposition to take charge in his nursery. Thus at the age of eighteen months he would reprove an indolent nurse in the morning with the exhortation, “Tick-a-tick, Nannie. Up, up.” On the other hand, he showed his loyalty to her when, on the arrival a very few months later of the beloved nurse who was to be the friend of all his life, he greeted her with the somewhat unpromising welcome of, “Beat new Nannie!” Most children, if parents are to be believed, have prodigious memories at an early age, so it is hardly worth recording that—the South African War having now started—he could sing “Rule Britannia” and the “Absent-minded Beggar” at the age of two.

From an early age he had a somewhat ribald vein of humour that found unholy delight in shocking people, and the fame of his retort to the clergyman at a party in Kirkcudbrightshire, to which his mother took him at the age of four, has found its way outside the family circle. “How old are you, little man?” demanded the kindly cleric. To which—in broad Scotch—came the unexpected reply, “I’m sixty-five and drunk every night.”

It was natural that a person of his vigour and joie de vivre should be in considerable request at the children’s parties of the period. He had the reputation from a very early age of being able to make things “go”—and not of course always by legitimate methods. A bride of last year may still remember a party of about sixteen years ago which took place at the house of Mrs Sellar—the doyenne of Edinburgh Society, though in spirit and mental vigour the contemporary of Henry—at which she (the bride) found herself deposited in the coal-box in the drawing-room, while Henry, the aggressor, followed the other children down to tea in the dining-room, and gratuitously “put up” a grace with all the unctuous piety of a Kruger.

Henry had as a small child a most undoubted aptitude for drawing, and I can remember a sort of Arts and Crafts Exhibition in Edinburgh, promoted by Professor Geddes and his friends of the “Outlook Tower,” at which a book of his drawings at the age of seven or eight, lying beside those of a young draughtswoman who has now taken a leading place among Scottish artists, attracted great attention for their remarkably imaginative qualities and vigour.

He used to scribble away as the spirit moved him, reproducing scenes which were passing through his mind or about which he had recently read. But always he returned to his first love— express trains tearing through the country in what seemed in friendly eyes to be perfect perspective, masses of men in action, troops marching in close formation, hollow squares attacked by Afghans, or (perhaps with prophetic insight) “The Guard dies but does not surrender." After he became a schoolboy, however, he found little time or inclination for this work, though he could always give point to criticisms as to personal appearance or of some of the ungainly fashions of the day by ridiculous caricatures which touched the spot at once.

His mimicry, too, of style and tone was remarkable from a very early age. I remember once, when staying with him (aged four or five) at Arniston, stopping short outside the house, being puzzled to hear issuing from one of the upper windows a male voice of considerable power. The voice went on and on in a sing-song manner, and I came to the conclusion—improbable as it seemed—that a prayer-meeting must be taking place in those regions. Immediately afterwards I went up to his nursery, and was startled to find him in his nurse’s nightgown upon a table declaiming to an admiring congregation of the servants a sermon in the manner of the parish minister. This was the first time I had come across this particular accomplishment of his, but in later years many an after-dinner audience at Brigade Headquarters or elsewhere in France was diverted by similar performances.

In these later years Henry wrote from France, “The ‘guid anld Scotland’ feeling is really the dominant note in my life, I think.” The feeling was inherent in him, and showed itself from the very first in his love of his home and of the people of every class. For the first seven years of his life he spent a month or six weeks every autumn in my old home in Surrey, where his grandparents delighted in him. During one of these visits he went with his nurse to spend a few days with her brother at Farnborough. The soldiers at Aldershot were the great attraction there, but specially the Scots Guards; and after marching with them one day he remarked to his hostess, “I shall come clanking up your garden path a General one day, Mrs Woods.” But the happiest days were those when he returned to our house in Edinburgh, to his nursery and his books, and to the companionship of his devoted cousin Rosalind Grant, three years his senior, and his inseparable friend in every kind of childish fun and mischief. He loved the Scotch names after the English ones, the streets and shops of Edinburgh and the people who inhabited them, and he had friends in every class. On certain days he would be sent to have his French lessons at a friend’s house. On one occasion he was late in turning up, and was observed driving the cart of “Willie, the Milkman,” with two urchins sitting by his side and directing the operations. On another occasion he was discovered turning the handle of a barrel-organ in the middle of the street while the old man stood beside with extended hat. A picture of him is also recalled on a day when his nurse left him to have his music lesson in a room in the music-shop of Messrs Methven & Simpson m Princes Street. On returning at the appointed hour, she found a crowd gathered before one of the large front windows of the shop, and upon the platform inside she beheld her charge performing the sword-dance—a newly acquired art—with perfect sangfroid, before an amused audience.

But whether in Edinburgh in winter or at North Berwick in the spring, where we had our other home, or during the happy summers that we spent in Galloway or Roxburghshire with my mother-in-law, it was always the same. Henry imbibed the genius of the place, and was on the best possible terms with all who were kind to him—and who could not be? His love of the people, their interests and their sports, was absolutely genuine. Scottish League football and the prowess of “Bobby Walker,” “Jimmy Quin,” and their successors were matters of even greater moment to him through all his boyhood than the personalia of English County Cricket and Test Matches—though in this department too his attention to detail was quite unrivalled; and in France many an uncomfortable hour was whiled away in discussions with his platoon as to the rival merits of “Hairts” and “Hibs” and “Celtic” and “Hangers.” It was this sympathy and spirit of brotherhood which made him so beloved by soldiers. Many an officer who loves his men, and will spare no pains to acquire their confidence and ensure their wellbeing, may fail to achieve his purpose because there is, despite himself, a certain artificiality in his methods. He will put on the nicest possible manner, but the manner is put on—sometimes with a dash of patronage, sometimes with an obvious effort. Henry had no such difficulty to contend with. He had to put on no manner, because it was all natural to him; and though a martinet in the cause of discipline and efficiency, his men felt instinctively that here was a man who was truly one of themselves, who would spare no pains to see that they got their due so far as it was in his power to help them, and who himself felt a spirit of personal aggravation when want of consideration, thoughtless or otherwise, was shown to them.

In the autumn of 1906, when he was nine and a half, Henry went to Horris Hill, where he remained till the summer of 1910.

The fife of a private schoolboy is uneventful, and no description can make it interesting to any but those of the boy’s immediate home circle. Henry, with his quick and receptive mind, learnt an immense amount during his four years, and ended his career there as Head of the school. He was captain of the football eleven during the last winter, and was probably the best bat in a strong cricket eleven, which generally won its matches against the five or six other schools it played. And little wonder, for Horris Hill must surely have had one of the best cricket grounds among all the private schools in England, and incomparably the best coach in its Headmaster, Mr A. H. Evans.

When the time came for Henry to go to Eton, three young cousins of mine own, Robin Dundas, Harry Moseley, and Jack Haldane, had recently completed or were just completing distinguished school careers in College. For our own part we had decided that Henry was likely to do better for various reasons in a House than in College, though we were anxious if possible that he should win a Scholarship.

It was a great satisfaction to us therefore when, in spite of the lack of Eton Scholarship tradition at Horris Hill, Henry took eleventh place in the 1910 election, and his place would no doubt have been higher if he had made a study of Latin Verse Composition, which plays so large a part in the Eton curriculum, but which is a form of mental gymnastics for which Henry —notwithstanding a strong scholarly bent—never had any affection or special aptitude.

The story of his career at Eton is told in another chapter by his tutor, Mr Marten. His love of his school was among the principal inspirations of his life. His last letter to us as a schoolboy was as follows :—

“Eton Society, Monday, 26th July 1915.

“Well, well. The last letter from the old Boys’ Club—as a present number of that august body. To-morrow I tool up to London, dressed as an Old Etonian—and so closes a long and not uneventful chapter. I have finished up by annexing the First Oppidan Prize in this July thing, which is quite good. The two Scholarships went to Caroe and Rhys-Davids, as was expected.

“Last night I made £8 out of my auction, and several things more to be sold to-night. Not utterly bad. Thanks a thousand times for the pelf. The 'Chronicle’ paid Brown’s all right.

“Eton has never looked more delightful than she does to-night after a week’s continuous downpour. We have had a lovely day to-day, and the sun is shining and the grass is green and everything looks entrancing.

“For the first time I am feeling really frenzied with the War, and one thinks of old Alick."

Alick Crum Ewing, his friend and golfing rival since childhood, and a year older than himself, had joined the 3rd Seaforth Highlanders within a week of the declaration of war. He was at Cromarty till 29th November, when he left for France, where he was attached to a battalion of the Camerons. He was reported wounded and missing on 22nd December 1914, and he must have laid down his life on that day.

I unearthed several letters from him to-day. The one about his going down to Perth to enlist with two ghillies, a footman and chauffeur. ‘Quite feudal, sir,’ as Dr Johnson would have remarked. He had a tremendous and eminently Scottish sense of humour. Dear old Alick.

“Tim Hope has been in great form. We had a lunch in the guard-room. He, Willie, Geoff Wallington — such a nice boy — and myself,— great fun. On Saturday Tim came down to tea with Geoff and me. Must fly to absence. Will continue afterwards. . . . Well, last absence over. The worst part is bidding farewell to all these countless boys. But that’s the great thing about the Guards—being down here, we shall all meet again so very shortly.

“But I hope I shall never show myself forgetful of the debt I owe you, darling Daddy and Mummy, for letting me come here at all. That is one of the lessons this place teaches one—the inestimable value of sympathetic parents. I can’t say more than thank you for everything from the very bottom of my heart.

“The Eleven are playing the West Kent Yeomanry on Wednesday and Thursday, so I shall go over from Fairlawne with Teenie, so it is not altogether good-bye except to Alan,4 and Guido,6 and the wet bobs and the Collegers.

“Farewell. Yours with love,

H.”

When the War came, and it was clear to all schoolboys of a certain age that they would be called on to bear an active part in it, Henry at once signified his intention of applying for a commission in the Scots Guards. None ‘of his nearest relatives were or had ever been in the Army, but for an Eton boy the matter was easy to arrange. Moreover, my late cousin, Sir Robert Dundas of Arniston, had commanded the same Left Flank Company of the First Battalion which was afterwards to be Henry’s own; and his friend, Colonel Henry Fludyer, then Colonel of the Regiment, had special pleasure in procuring a commission in the Regiment for Henry. It was also arranged that Henry should have quarters in Wellington Barracks during the period of his training, and he went into residence there in September 1915, having obtained his commission in the previous month. In the earlier years of the war the preliminary training was much more superficial than it afterwards became, when boys went for a considerable period as Cadets to the Guards Training School at Bushey; and indeed but for two or three weeks “on the square,” when he first joined, he had no infantry training with men until he went down to Corsham for a month’s course in the following spring, immediately before being sent out to France. Fortunately for him and his physical and moral welfare, he showed early proficiency in bombing during a few days’ course at Marden Park at the end of September, and for practically the whole winter he was detailed as an instructor at the Guards Bombing-School at Southfields near Wimbledon, which kept him reasonably and usefully occupied during the greater part of the day.

Those winter months were perhaps the happiest time of his life, for Eton remained his playground, and between his old friends there and a rapidly increasing circle in London, time never lay heavy on his hands; and in periodical intervals between two bombing courses he would invariably come down to Scotland for a week-end.

Not having his own rooms in London, he made a second home of the house of our dear friend Miss Julia Grant, with whom her niece Rosalind (his cousin) was living while occupied with war-work at Carlton House Terrace, and never was a boy more happy in his choice of companions. A great attraction about Henry was his capacity for infecting his elders with enthusiasm, and many were the adventures in which Miss Grant and others found themselves his partners and confederates—upon which it is highly unlikely they would have embarked if left to themselves. Among these were constant pilgrimages to all sorts of suburban districts in search of Gilbert and Sullivan Opera, for which he had an amazing and wholly justifiable cult. The O’Oyly Carte Company were that winter playing a three-months’ season within the metropolitan area, and there must be many people who will look back to the single visit of their lifetime to such theatres as Hammersmith, Kennington, Wimbledon, Holloway, or Stratford as associated with a party of which Henry was the cicerone, and where his face was as well known to all the members of the company as that of any London critic of recognised importance.

He could, of course, have passed the stiffest of examinations with full marks upon the text of all Gilbert’s operas, and there was probably no single tune of Sullivan’s—nor line of recitative —which he could not place. His love for the operas had shown itself from an early age, and as was his wont, he had mastered the subject thoroughly, as was shown by his choice of books.

During his years at Horris Hill and Eton— and almost entirely during the latter period—he had amassed a library of sixty-eight prize books. Among these were of course Cory’s £Ionica,’ and such standard Scotch works as Scott’s 'Life and Poetry,’ Stevenson, Aytoun’s 'Lays,’ and Burns. There were also, as one might expect, Lives of Disraeli, Gladstone, Lord B.. Churchill, Stonewall Jackson (a special hero), Lee, Nelson, Chatham, Napoleon and his Marshals, Bismarck, and Dr Johnson. But there were also such books as £ Pepys’s Diary ’ (his Brinckman Divinity Prize at the age of thirteen!), Hutchinson's4 Golf and Golfers,’ in which an admirable portrait (well thumbed) of his uncle, Tom Boothby, figures—and Gilbert’s ‘ Comic Operas,’ Gilbert and Sullivan, and D’Oyly Carte, and the ‘Bab Ballads.’ Surely some of these books cannot often have appeared in the Eton prize-binding, stamped with the School coat-of-arms!

No sketch of Henry, however slight, could omit some reference to his voracity as a reader. He had an extraordinary memory, which enabled him seemingly to remember all that he read, and a surprising power of concentration, which left him when so employed wholly unaffected by and oblivious to his surroundings. After leaving school he was seldom to be found without a book in his pocket—as often as not, a book of verse or an anthology. To this he would have recourse on all sorts of unexpected occasions—when standing at a street corner waiting for a friend to keep an appointment — in the waiting-room at a restaurant—or even sometimes, it must be admitted, in company when the conversation did not interest him. A chaplain told us how much he had been struck on the first occasion that he met him by seeing how imperturbably he sat reading a French book in the mess-room while conversation buzzed around, and by his admirably terse criticism of the book when eventually he shut it and joined in the general talk. The circulating libraries were constantly under contribution while he was in France. Historical works, biographies, and books of literary criticism were his principal stand-by. In lighter literature Stephen Leacock and Harry Graham were the humourists who probably most tickled his fancy (if we except W. S. Gilbert, whom he knew by heart)', and he was a fervent admirer of the stories of Sir A. Conan Doyle, P. G. Wodehouse, and others.

His days in London were never dull. He was fortunate in having steady daily occupation at the Southfields Bombing-School, and many were the Guardsmen—officers and men—who passed through the hands of their young but capable instructors. Released from there, he came with the greater zest to the amenities of social fife which awaited him wherever he sought them, and in his leisure moments he was as likely to be found in the London Library as in the Guards Club, or among our contemporaries as among his own.

The freshness and originality of his views, and his ease and courage in expressing them, together with the critical interest he took in every conceivable subject of current importance, made him a welcome companion in a diversity of circles, and he enjoyed his successes with simplicity and naivete. Moreover, that natural sense of perspective, which in his nursery had enabled him to draw with realism trains and moving columns, did not desert him : he had a sense of proportion developed in a high degree, and he never lost his balance nor allowed popularity to turn his head. He was of course pleased—as how should a boy in his teens not be ?—when he was conscious of attracting a clever man or a charming woman by his wit and conversational powers. Thus I can remember when he came home for a few days of leave at Christmas, the quizzical look he gave me when he showed me a book sent to him by a famous literary and art critic (since dead), upon the front page of which was written, “To Henry Dundas, the critic and statesman of the future (1925), from his sincere friend and admirer.” But he never dwelt on these things, nor sought out opportunities of getting into the limelight. Until he left Eton he had seldom been in London except during long leaves ; yet after his six months at Wellington Barracks it is probably no exaggeration to say that no boy of his age knew it better or had a wider circle of friends.

But the time passed all too quickly, and after a month’s field-training at Corsham in the spring he went to France in May 1916.


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