Friday, 2 March 2012


Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham are becoming 'no-go areas' because of drugs gangs... just like Mexico and Brazil, says the UNITED NATIONS

Primary school where just 26 out of 700 pupils speak English as their first language

Don't bother getting a good degree: Now PC brigade says bosses shouldn't just hire best students as it 'discriminates against average graduates'

Daily Mail Headlines, Tuesday 28 Feb 2012

Was it those news items or disclosures of the recurring venality of our MPS, frauds by the bankers, the corruption of the Metropolitan police that made me realise that I, who was born in 1929, the year of the Great Depression, have lived to witness the end game, the collapse of the United Kingdom?

Actually it was none of those. It watching a documentary on the dispute between the English Defence League and another ragtag bunch, the Militant Muslims, in Luton. Not a big thing in itself. A battle really between a street corner thug and a fundamentalist accountant. In the more sensible past it would not have been worth an airing. But it was enough to make me realise it was all over. The giants I knew in my youth have been supplanted by petulant pigmies.

It was not always so. Next weekend I will be attending a very special 100th birthday party.

Geoffrey Rowley-Conwy, 9th Baron Langford, has been my best friend for 63 years. He is a man from another age. A good landlord, an amateur jockey, a breeder and driver of trotting horses, but, above all, a brave professional soldier. When Singapore Island fell to the Japanese in 1942, many officers became separated from their units. Not so the young Rowley Conwy He commandeered a Chinese junk and evacuated his entire RA battery. A civilian rubber planter Douglas Fraser joined them. In defiance of army convention, the Colonel (then still a major) recruited him into the army and “commissioned“ him. The two men brought the battery through the Thousand Isles, where Rowkley Conwy was ordered to take command of a log-burning steamer ferrying escaping soldiers down the Irrawaddy to Padang on the West coast and did two trips in it to islands east of Sumatra .

The tourist route, as the river-lift across Sumatra became known, was the inspiration of another chum, Lt Col Alan “Cocky” Ferguson Warren, Royal Marines, Commander, Special Operations Executive Orient. Appalled that no evacuation plan had been made, Warren borrowed, bought or stole a fleet of river boats and set up a mini Dunkirk which saved thousands of lives. When Singapore fell only 800 were left behind.

He gave the young Rowley Conwy command of a diesel-engined, 66 ton launch and a map torn from a school exercise book, his only chart, which had Rangoon and Sydney on the same page. Dodging Japanese bombers, running his craft ashore so often the pumps were in constant use, he later took over a second launch, the Plover, in which he made one trip before the route was closed down.

Reporting to Warren, he was told the plan had been to give him charge of all Allied troops in Padang but at 29 he was too young and too junior and so he was told to await orders.

Warren bought a Malay pirhau to make his own escape and that of his small staff from Padang but, ashamed at the behaviour of senior British and Australian officers, he gave his place instead to Rowley Conwy.. He remained, appointing himself Commander British Troops and bringing the abandoned soldiery back into units, so that a senior and experienced officer would be present to surrender when inevitably the Japanese reached Padang. This led to three years of captivity in the River Kwai death camps. Had his role in the SOE been discovered it would have meant instant death at the hands of the Japanese Secret Police. Warren's action was one of the most cold-blooded and bravest decisions of the war.

Rowley Conwy joined an elite group of Warren’s SOE staff who sailed the leaky Sederhana Djohanis, with paper-thin and patched sails, across the Bay of Bengal from Padang to Bombay. The 1,500-mile voyage, during which they were strafed by an enemy fighter and almost inadvertently sailed through a Japanese fleet, took 37 days. They were finally picked up a mile off the Ceylon coast by the merchant ship Anglo Canadian.

The son of an officer killed at Gallipol, he too joined the army. As a young officer he was forced to live on his pay but typically found ways to run a horse and a Bentley motor car. In India he rode as a jockey for local millionaires.

He is a bon viveur with a boundless gift for friendship. His mottoes are “The Best is Barely Good Enough” and “It only costs a Little More to travel First Class.”

He has always been ready for battle. When he had his shirt collars replaced with material from the tail of his shirts he was incandescent when Customs attempted to charge him duty. The resulting correspondence was worthy of Wodehouse. When the Customs ended a letter, “We have the honour to be your Lordship’s Most Obedient Servant”, he wrote back, “Then act like one.”

As a youth he was confronted in Fortnum & Mason’s by a formidable floor walker in a frock coat.

“And who might you be?” he demanded.

“I am in charge of this floor,” was the reply.

“Then get it swept. It’s filthy.”

He owns the Junction Pool of the Rivers Clwyd and Elwy, a fine holding pool for sea trout. He fought a running battle with Flintshire’s Lord Lieutenant Hugh Mainwaring who refused to allow him costs when he took a poacher to court. In reprisal, he took to fining poachers on the spot and sending the money to service charities. When one refused to pay, he followed him home and sat in his front garden until he got his money. He was only once beaten. A disgruntled poacher introduced a seal to the river.

I was his PR sergeant on the Berlin Airlift. We met when I took up residence in an empty aircraft engine packing case next to his office and we have been firm friends from that day to this. His wife Susan was “best man” at my wedding.


Michael Gove yesterday denied being guilty of 'Cymru-phobia' after using the term 'welshed' in Parliament.

The Education Secretary used the verb, meaning to fail to honour a deal or pay a gambling debt, as he faced MPs at Commons' questions.

Some Welsh people find the term offensive, claiming it implies they cannot be trusted.

Mr Gove, a Scotsman, was rebuked by Speaker John Bercow, who urged him to choose another word.

I suppose it would be asking too much to expect The Speaker to know anything about history.

When Edward I built his castles in Wales the writ of English Law ran only in the towns in which they were built. All the country beyond was governed by Welsh law (the term survives in towns like Welsh Frankton). Any trader who escaped his debts by going into the ‘Welshery’ was said to have ‘welshed’.

MPs do it all the time.

And finally

A Japanese Chicken Sexer in 1935 Hebden Bridge? This was an entry

for the 32nd annual Bookseller Diagram prize for the oddest book

title of the year. Other titles are: Estonian Sock Patterns All

Around The World, A Century Of Sand Dredging In The Bristol Channel

(Volume Two), A Taxonomy of Office Chairs (which is described as "an

exhaustive overview"), and The Mushroom In Christian Art.

1 comment:

Jerry Jasper said...

Dear Mr. Skidmore. My thanks to you for the small portrait of Baron Langford (and happy birthday to him!), but even more so for the comments about 'Cocky' Warren, whom the gods gifted to us at Flint Hill Prep in Virginia. I was one of the "few, we happy few" who spent youthful years absorbing the beauty of English language and literature from this modest and greatly heroic man. Can we correspond? I would like to discuss "the piper" with you...