Bedtime Stories: G. T. Roller

WE’D never heard of G. T. Roller, either, until a big box arrived from England earlier this month, filled with old hardbound copies of the old “Baily’s Magazine of Sports and Pastimes.” They were mostly from the nineteen-teens and -twenties, and, according to their bookplates, had once lined the smoking room shelves at London’s Junior Carlton Club.

Needless to say, these sumptuous volumes have been keeping the houndbloggers pleasantly occupied ever since. We first found G. T. Roller on page 167 of the April 1920 issue, as the author of “Hounds, please, Gentlemen!” His story was so wonderful (though sad for one hound and a most unfortunate porcupine), and such a peculiar testimony to the lengths to which hound lovers will go to find sport, that we had to bring it into the internet age, lest it be lost forever. Without further ado, we give you Mr. Roller:

” ‘Hounds, please, Gentlemen!’

“That’s the cry on all five continents where the Empire has, or is about to, paint the map red, also in an occupied country. For wherever two or three Britons are gathered together there will be a hunt, provided they can scrape together horses to ride, and dogs of any sort that can follow a line. The native gets clear of the cry at first, but later–well, he

‘Joins the glad throng,

That goes laughing along.’

and sees there is really something in chasing a small animal with a pack of ‘yap dogs.’

“Last year a certain Yeomanry regiment quartered near Damascus (they must be nameless, for I know their modesty), made up their minds to hunt the fox, the hare, the jackal or anything–what cared they which–as long as it was a hunt. A large litter of pups made the nucleus of the pack, and these were presented to them by the Transport lady dog (a mascot) many months before, and brought up by the Transport who love dogs–and mules, sometimes the porcupine (but more of that later). They–these ‘pariah pups’–were of the age to learn to hunt; but alas! no ‘old entry’ to help ‘em along. So these sportsmen tried to teach them, so to speak, by hand. They laid an aniseed drag and loosed the horde of four couple (and the mamma) on the line. The horde assiduously hunted garbage–and on the outskirts of Damascus there is plenty of it–but refused the line entirely. The huntsman hunted the line on his own; it was thick enough, and ‘yoiked ‘em’ on with hunting noises and the aid of about four whips. The attempt was laughed at, and the enthusiasts (for a time) were laughed at also.

“Patiently a few of the officers of the regiment set to work helped by a few troopers, real good types of sporting yeomen who knew the great game and didn’t give a hang for the laughs. They meant to get something out of nearly nothing, that would give the follower a hunt. It was uphill work and work done in the afternoon, generally pouring rain, after morning parade that they went out–ostensibly to exercise the Transport dogs, really they were teaching them. They never got quite what they wanted, but with the help of ‘Bellman,’ a cross between a spaniel and–well, goodness knows what, but a sportsman at any rate, drafted into the pack–they began to hunt. It was bad sort of hunting, but it was hunting. So often you can put up a fox or jackal and hounds will run at sight for a bit, and those mongrels did their best. Then in would come Bellman very late, but he’d hunt the line.

“Oh, you of the gallant shires, don’t smile, think what these keen ones were up against and the stuff they had to work with.

“One afternoon a certain Indian Cavalry Colonel came out with the much-scoffed-at pack ‘for exercise.‘¬†They put up a fox and hunted him in a sort of a way, till he checkmated hounds by descending a precipice. That same colonel was so pleased with the hound work, albeit erratic, that he helped enormously in persuading the enthusiasts to really get hunting going.

“They did, and the opening meet was held at the west end of ‘the street that is called Straight,’ mentioned in the Bible, but never as a hunting fixture in the Field or other sporting paper. It was warm that opening meet day. The hounds were brought up ‘Straight Street’ in the regimental hound cart (half a limber wagon, to speak the truth). When let out at the ‘rendezvous’ they hunted every garbage heap in the vicinity, keeping the whips busy, and finally got out into the country. Not a yard of scent, but about 1.15 they did have a bit of a gallop over an amusing bit of country, little banks and ditches, but enough to fire the hunting spirit in everybody; and they laughed no more. Several hunts came after this with varying success on the east side of Damascus, but giving pleasure to many.

“Then this yeomanry regiment got their commanding officer back from leave, who took over the pack and hunted them himself, showing good sport.

“The pack killed hares and jackals–but let us breathe it in a whisper–never a fox. About this time they obtained one wonderful hound, an Arab greyhound, wonderful and weird with a Newgate fringe round his ears. But he ate up the ground like an Avro eats the air. The pack and the field beat the plain and if they put up a hare that extraordinary Arab ‘welsher’ would spot him and streak. If the hare doubled in a fold of the ground and got out of sight he was done. Then the Master would get up the long left behind pack with the aid of his whips, and hunt; once put up again the dog of the desert was sure to get him. ‘Funny hunting,’ you will say, but it was the best to be had and they all enjoyed it. Forsooth they had a field of eighty-five out with them once, and all to a man went home happy.

“But they had their tragedies, not counting when they were laughed at; Bellman was killed one morning, killed by an overzealous follower of the hunt; that was the worst. Another was the loss of the horn, the only horn the hunt possessed. Wildly did the hunt committee advertise for another. ‘The Egyptian Gazette,’ ‘The Palestine News,’ ‘Brigade Orders,’ even H.Q. cried aloud to borrow, beg, or buy a hunting horn, but alas! no horn forthcame. A cable to England brought one but long after hunting had stopped.

“Also they had humour, lots of it, but the best was when the hunt agreed to bag a fox and take him to the best side of their country, what might be termed ‘the vale.’

“If all facts of the case were known, it was not so unsporting as it sounds, but we have not the space to quote them.

“Albeit a fox was run to earth in ‘the home covert’–a cactus plantation–stopped in and guarded until the shades of night were falling fast, when out came the baggers with spades and a large sack. The sack was spread over the hole and digging started. Suddenly a terrible scrambling and rattling was heard underground and something hurled itself into the sack. They had bagged a porcupine! Unfortunately in the digging operations his near hind leg had been broken, so he was quickly put out of his pain. Everyone had a quill and the Transport ate him, and very nice they said he tasted.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

“So through many vicissitudes the hunt got through a season, making the welkin ring round the Damascus olive groves and the native to clear the way to the cry of ‘Hounds, please, Gentlemen!'”

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2 thoughts on “Bedtime Stories: G. T. Roller

  1. Great read Glenye though the house hounds look distinctly unimpressed, I did not know the ‘Porcupine tale’ but will send you more details on the hunt concerned.

    • The house hounds can sleep through almost ANYTHING, even porcupines. We look forward to more details on this hunt! We’d be happy to follow up. What we really want, of course, are pictures of the late, great Bellman. I expect those would be pretty hard to come by, though!

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