A Hunt for the Veterans

IT IS Veterans’ Day in the United States, or Armistice Day if you are in England–a special day for the houndbloggers, too, who always celebrate the entwined histories of the military and the hunting hound.

A couple of years ago in this space and on this date, we visited with one of our favorite hunting soldiers, one P.W. Nickalls, officer of the Northants Yeomanry during what was long known as the Great War before, sadly, it became World War I. Nickalls’s squadron found sport in some unusual places,and it probably helped that the squadron commander was a former Master of the Pytchley.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

You can find Nickalls, as we did, in the footnotes of Joseph B. Thomas’s book Hounds and Hunting Through the Ages. We’d like to quote him here again, in honor of all veterans, with a special tip of the hat to our sporting brothers and sisters who serve and have served.

“Sometimes we hunted hares instead of foxes, and early in ’16 the owners of the land began to object to their crops being ridden over and their hares being killed. An order came from headquarters that hunting must cease. The Second in Command, who never paid much attention to what he scornfully called ‘red tape,’ was determined to hunt, come what may. One day we set out full of confidence, and had a very good hunt after a hare which we eventually bowled over by the high road. The hare, much too precious to be eaten by the hounds, was being waved over their heads in triumph, when round the corner and full of Red Hats came a big G.H.Q. car. It was too late to take cover or even to hide the hare–it was the Corps General himself. With a salute from all sides the big car disappeared. ‘What a sportsman!’ we exclaimed, for he must have seen exactly what happened. ‘Send him the hare for his supper,’ said the irrepressible Second in Command. No sooner said than done. A cheer A.D.C. told next day that the soup had been excellent, and brought us an invitation to dine at G.H.Q.

“In November, 1917, came the order for Italy … We decided to take 2 1/2 couple and try to pick up some more there. We trained to Ventimiglia and proceeded to trek from there to Savoni, the Colonel and the hounds leading the way. We were the advance guard, and the inhabitants rushed out and pelted us with flowers as the potential saviours of their country. They regarded the hounds with amusement but without surprise–had not they always heard that Englishmen were mad? So it was natural they should want hounds to fight the Austrians. When we got to the Italian front we at once began to make inquireies about hunting. The Treviso foxhounds had been broken up, but the hounds were being trencher-fed in the Venetian Plain. We soon located some and bought them for our pack. These with the ones we brought from France made a fair-sized pack, but the Italian foxes were by no means as good as the French, and we had much the best sport with the hares.”

The obituaries in Baily’s hunting directories for the years covering wartime provide a more somber glimpse into the lives and deaths of hunting servicemen. Fred Doughty, first whip to the South and West Wilts, was killed in action in 1915. So, too, was well-known Midlands hunting figure and Captain F.G.A. Arkwright, who was killed during World War I in “a flying mishap.”

A Master of the Ootacamund Hounds in India, Lieutenant Theodore Bailward, also was lost, and Commander C. F. Ballard of the Royal Navy, and “prominent member of the South Oxon Hunt,” drowned during World War I in the sinking of the Formidable. There is this note, too, in the Baily’s for 1915-1916, on the passing of Major G. W. Barclay of the Rifle Brigade:

“Son of Mr. E. E. Barclay and brother of Major M. E. Barclay, the Joint-Masters of the Puckeridge. Major Barclay was 24 years of age and was Master of the Eton pack and also of the Trinity Beagles at Cambridge. He received ten wounds at Ypres in July, 1915, and went again to the Front in March last.”

Photo by Dave Traxler

Killed also, the Master of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, one Major Morland J. Grieg. On a happier note, the following from 1917: “Captain Philip Godsall, of the Oxon Light Infantry, a follower of the Wynnstay Hounds, escapes from Germany.”

It makes for sobering reading as the list goes on and on. Doubtless there were hunting people lost on both sides of the conflict, and doubtless there still are hunting people stationed the world over in danger zones. If anyone has stories of these, the houndbloggers will be happy to post them.

Baily's Hunting Directories

In England, Baily’s reveals, hunting was much altered in wartime. “There were no lawn meets, no hunt breakfasts, no scarlet worn, and no fields of any size,” the directory reported for the season of 1914-1915. “Elderly men came out, a few–very few–ladies, a sprinkling of boys and girls in the school holidays, a small number of farmers, and last but not least a considerable number of soldiers on leave from the trenches, or in the convalescent state after wounds received.”

Hounds, too, and also game often faced destruction in wartime. In September 1939, after England declared war on Germany, the Royal Artillery pack, with the exception of seven couples, were destroyed. But in 1940 General John Frost helped preserve the then RA harrier pack by saving the lives of another pack, as he wrote in A Drop Too Much:

“It transpired that a small pack of harriers called the Quarme was about to be put down as it was found impossible to feed them owing to wartime shortages, so I decided to save them and keep them back at Bulford. I put them in with a couple and a half of what remained of the RA Harriers pack in their kennels at Bulford and had a lot of fun chasing hares on the (Salisbury) Plain.”

Photo by Dave Traxler

In her history of the RA hounds, Estelle Holloway also writes of World War II: “For the 1942-43 season, hounds were supported by the Airborne Division located at Syrencot House and hunted by the 4th Parachute Battalion. Meeting on the lawn at Syrencot, loyal and trustworthy hounds never spoke a word concerning Operation Overlord, or the formation of the 6th Airborne Division assault, planned to secure the left flank of the Allied Ivasion on Normandy beaches later in the war. During precious Saturday afternoon recreation, a jolly of foxhounds, harriers, and Major Uniacke’s beagles destroyed foxes feeding on the plague of rabbits and smallholders’ chickens, out of control now because shoots could no longer be organized by farmers.”

It should be noted here that the RA hunt–now a foxhound pack–no longer kills anything, plague of rabbits or not, due to the ban on hunting in England. The pack hunts legally, within the new law’s bounds, as a drag-hunting pack.

British officers, retired and current, and soldiers turned out in force at the Royal Artillery hunter trials in England in 2009. The Royal Artillery is one of the world's military regiments with a long and storied connection to both horses, hounds, and hunting.

In September 1917, with World War I raging, the Liddlesdale Foxhounds notified Baily’s they were down to just four couples: “All the staff are at the War.” In February, the Masters of Foxhounds Association had “decided on their own initiative substantially to reduce the number of days’ hunting in every hunting country throughout England and Wales. Having so decided, they were prepared to slaughter a very large proportion of the hounds in order to avoid any suggestion that food which ought to be used for human beings was taken in any large quantity for hounds.” Shortly afterwards, the Ribblesdale Buckhounds also destroyed the population of Lord Ribblesdale’s deer park and suspended its pack. Some packs struggled on much reduced, but many others disbanded or stopped hunting, some never to be revived. “Mr. Eustace Bouth’s Foxhounds,” someone sadly informed Baily’s, “will not hunt so long as the War lasts.”

Having said that, some new hunts also were formed by sporting military sent abroad, including the Royal Exodus Hunt of Baghdad, established between the World Wars.

Finally, returning to the human side, in an interesting document called “A Memorial Roll of the Officers of Alexandra Princess of Wales’s Own Yorkshire Regiment Who Died 1914-1919,” we found a poignant notice regarding Captain Guy Lister Nevile of the 10th and 2nd Battalions, who died on June 14, 1915, at Givenchy. He was 29. “They advanced until every man was killed, wounded, or pinned to the ground by rifle and machine gun fire,” a battlefield report notes. “Captain Nevile was shot while advancing carrying his hunting horn. He cannot be traced but we still cling to the hope that he may have come in wounded.”

He did not come in and has no known grave. But his name is on the Le Touret Memorial north of Bethune, the “Memorial Roll” advises.

Well, Captain Nevile, we remember you, and all of your hound-loving brothers and sisters who have served, here at the hound blog.

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6 thoughts on “A Hunt for the Veterans

  1. Pingback: For Veterans Day: A Wartime Ride | Full Cry: A Hound Blog

    • Thanks so much for stopping by the hound blog! Very glad you enjoyed reading. The photo you mentioned was taken by Dave Traxler, a dear friend of the hound blog.

  2. nice to read a piece of history hunting was tough all over during war times ive heard stories about hunting during war times from old huntsmen that i had the pleasure of hunting with in my native co,fermanagh N. ireland i hunted with a local pack of harriers on foot all trench fed hounds hunting mostly hair but never refused a good run at a fox which we tried to make it his last run we had great terriers for when he decided to go to ground ,there was also a mounted hunt the
    ” fermanagh harriers ” which hunted hare & fox too i enjoyed reading & looking at your website tally ho !

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