Tiger Fiction Stories [4]

My late father’s life through his own words, tales and stories
Brian Matier – 03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018

The Road to Hell


I can not believe what is happening.  My throat is dry and my eyes are wide open.  We are in the middle of the road, travelling at about fifty miles an hour, and heading straight for us at much the same speed, and slap bang on a collision course, is a very large bus.  Its horn is blaring, but then, just about every other vehicle on the road has its horn blaring.  I stiffen, and press myself back into the uncomfortable and unyielding seat of the Ambassador.  Sweet Jesus, has our driver not seen this bloody bus?  God knows it is big enough.  Beside me I feel Richie also stiffen, and I sense rather than see, his hand grip the edge of the seat.  It is coming closer.  I want to scream, but I cannot utter a sound.  And then, when a head on seems inevitable, and I am wondering what they will put on my headstone, we slip past the car we are overtaking and nip into the nearside.  The bus arrows past, so close I can almost smell the passengers, and they can probably smell me.  Richie slumps in his seat and indicates with his hand the gap between us and the bus, is about two inches.  He is exaggerating, it was at least three.
Our driver has carried on talking to the guide in the front passenger seat throughout this life threatening experience.  I swear before God that he has not even noticed.  This happens at least six times on the seven hour drive between Delhi and Rishikesh.
Indians for the most part speak English, and as a memorial to British rule, have their steering wheels on the right hand side of the car, and nominally, if not actually, drive on the left hand side of the road.  Having said that, there the resemblance with Britain ends.  In India roads are not just for vehicles, although there are plenty of those, of all shapes and sizes, engine capacity and numbers of wheels, or legs.  There are cars, buses, often with passengers sitting on the roof, and trucks, jangling with lights and garish decorations.  There are smart four wheel drives, jockeying for position with bullock carts, hand carts, hand pulled rickshaws, and carts pulled by aloof, haughty camels with their noses high in the air.  There are three wheeled ‘tuk tuk’s’, yellow taxis with black stripes, their diesel engines all of 50 cc, buzzing like angry, smelly wasps. Sari clad women ride side-saddle on scooters, which, when a family day out is required, can take two adults and three children, although I suspect this may not be a world record.  The wearing of crash helmets is a concept with which few Indians agree.
Then there are animals, some of which are under control, like mules, ponies and horses being ridden.  These are the softies, most animals prefer to do their own thing.  There are pigs, sheep, goats and cattle meandering amid the traffic and diesel smoke, or nonchalantly nibbling grass at the side of the road, dismissive of possible risk to life or limb.  There are also dogs, but no cats, who are much too street wise for this nonsense.  Their wilder brethren, the langur monkeys and baboons also wander at will, sometimes unsuccessfully as attested by flocks of carrion birds rising from and settling again on the carcass of one of their unlucky cousins.
Nidish turns to me and indicates a clump of trees, at one time twenty feet high, now flattened at the side of the road.  “Elephants” he explains casually and turns back to talking with the driver.
I haven’t even mentioned tractors, two and three wheeled bicycles, and motor bikes.  To this heady melange must be added people, thousands of them.  There are traffic policemen, largely ignored, armed soldiers, studiously ignored, and beggars, some with legs, arms and noses, many without.  These unfortunates are also ignored.  Most are untouchables.  No argument from me.  There are vendors, selling water, bottled or poisonous, chai, bananas, melons, apples, oranges, roti, hot food, cold food and for all I know their sisters.  There are men carrying sacks and bricks, ladders and steel pipes, picks and shovels and most everything else.  I do not see a kitchen sink, however.  Women are carrying babies, baskets of firewood or animal fodder, or bundles of clothing.  Children as young as four wander unsupervised in and out of the circus.  I think of my four-year-old granddaughter, and her mother taking her everywhere in a Land Rover.
Dear God, I am a big boy, but this is outside my experience.  India is my 122nd country, and is preferable to all but one of the thirty-nine African ones I have visited, but this flood of humanity is overwhelming.  The population of India grows annually by more than the total population of Australia, and I believe most of them are on this road.  Are tigers more important than these men women and children?   Of course not, but if we can’t save the tiger can we save these?  Or is it all part of one world in balance, in harmony?  If we cannot get everything right, is that an excuse for not attempting anything?
As we pull into Rishikesh Richard winces as a truck flashes past.  “That was close.”  I am dismissive, “No, there was at least six inches.”  Welcome to India.



An Austrian blighted my life, as least as far as toys were concerned.  I never met the man, thank God, as he was around fifty when I was born and he died before my seventh birthday.  Again, thank God.  I didn’t even appreciate what he had done until many years later.
Many of my German friends mumble darkly into their beers as they complain of the Austrian con trick of persuading the gullible world that many of the great German composers were Austrian, while Hitler was German.  He was not, but Austrian or German, he spoiled my life.
Like many people, I was born into a world which has now disappeared.  It is a world that many of us may look back on with nostalgia and affection, especially if we hadn’t actually lived in it.  I’m sure that bits of it were good, and equally convinced that much was bad.
I was born in July 1938, and it must have been a Sunday, as Wisden informs me that there was no first class cricket being played.  On the previous Tuesday, England had just drawn the second Test with Australia at Lords’, with Wally Hammond scoring 240 and the peerless Bradman getting a hundred.  Before the Don returned to this famous cricket ground, the world would have been ripped apart, and a ten-year-old Belfast schoolboy would be fascinated by the great man, and by the prince of games.  Only later would I discover the exquisite hell of girls.
Fourteen months after my birth, the War started, although I don’t think it was my fault. To those of my generation, there was only one war, the War.  I do not remember having many toys, then or later.  Metal was at a premium, and I recall the iron railings in our garden, and everyone else’s garden, being taken away to ‘make Spitfires’.  Well that was all right, then. 
I remember a tatty old cardboard box of Brittan’s metal toy soldiers, in Guards uniform, and glory be, their arms moved, pivoting at the shoulder.    When a limb became detached, through old age, or rough treatment, it was reconnected using a matchstick, as the limbs were hollow, and the proud Guardsman returned to duty, somewhat stiff legged or armed.  If I had other toys, they left no impression, apart from a few Dinky cars and cigarette cards.  Certainly, no Meccano or chemistry sets graced the Matier bedroom.  On reflection, in respect of the latter, this was a very good thing.
The war seemed remote and even when the city was blitzed, as it often was, I was too young or stupid to feel any danger.  My parents would sometimes take me to see the effects of Hitler’s attempts to unite Europe, and on occasion, there were small metal pieces of shrapnel to collect to become substitute toys.  We viewed, open-mouthed, the odd downed Luftwaffe aircraft on display, and in the absence of toys, we replayed the Battle of Britain, Spitfires chasing Messerschmitts all over the trafficless street, our arms outspread, our mouths making noises fondly imagined to be like Merlins, in between the rat a tatting.  The problem with this game was that no one wanted to be German. 
I don’t know what the adults thought, but it never entered my mind that we would lose.  Even the entry of the Americans into Belfast meant only free chewing gum, and wonder of wonders, bubble gum.  Those of the female persuasion became very excited about something called  ‘Nylons’. Again, and it is a childish impression, people did seem to be patriotic.  My Mother used to tell me how angry I became when my sister got ‘German Measles’ as it was then called.  In true Churchillian fashion I demanded, at the age of four,  “Why can’t she have British measles?”  But, I guess, that’s women for you.
My Dad was clever with his hands, and with the contents of his toolbox, and in no time at all, we were equipped with wooden swords and guns.  Bows and arrows enjoyed a period of popularity until some unfortunate nearly lost an eye.  Exit the long bow, stage left.
 My sister had a doll, and a doll’s pram, both pre war and second hand, and these contented her until May 1944 when a real baby arrived in the shape of my second sister.  I truly do not remember any other toys in that period, though there must have been.  I didn’t know it at the time, but my Mother and Father had their time cut out housing, clothing and feeding their brood. 
We played in the streets until it was dark, and then wandered home.  There must then, like now, have been paedophiles, but no one seemed to worry.  I was in the street for D-Day, VE Day, and VJ Day, the last named at seven years and one month.
The street remained the playground after the war, although bicycles had arrived to amuse us.  I am ashamed to say that I hated my first bike, as it wasn’t new, didn’t have drop handlebars, and the other boys had new bikes, with drop handlebars and three speed Sturmey Archer gears.  My first new machine, a Raleigh Robin Hood came when I was fourteen, and cost, from memory, about sixteen pounds, a small fortune..  
Cricket and football were important, and as we became richer, a comparative term, after 1945, there even appeared a new football, which required inflating by mouth, It was immensely tricky to tuck the bladder tube inside the leather and then tie the lace.  A birthday present when I was fourteen was a Denis Compton, three star cricket bat, which was lovingly rubbed down with linseed oil, probably far more often that was necessary.  I think the ball slipped off the bat rather than being struck.
My father always liked a bit of a flutter, and did the football pools.  In fact, he was an agent for one of the companies, one of his many little side jobs.  About 1950, he won £685 on the pools, an immense sum of money in those days when he was probably earning six or seven pounds a week.
Sometime in Coronation year, I met Anne, and then Millie and then Sandra, leaving each of them as virginal as I imagined they had been when we met.  My toys subsequently became ‘big boys toys’, and included hobbies and the requisite accessories.  The ultimate big boy’s toy happened in 1997, when I bought my first Jaguar.  I had had cars for many years, mostly with my job, and starting with an RAF Land Rover, but this was different.  Cars are primarily a means of transport, but that is not all they are.  They are objects of beauty and desire, like the girls and like cricket, frequently aggravating but in my heart, the best toys of all.  Well, maybe second best.



Unreasonably, perhaps, I dislike people starting a piece of writing with “The dictionary definition of ’duck’, or whatever, is……” So, I will not start in that way, even if I must confess to frequently checking my Oxford to clarify my understanding.  A mask, as I had believed, is a covering for the face, and even in its other forms, like masking tape, it always involves a covering
Facial masks are worn for a variety of reasons.  For example, surgeons, and nurses use masks to prevent cross infections.  Fencers wear masks to protect themselves from injury during bouts.  Others use masks to protect injuries already sustained.  I think here particularly about sportsmen and remember the Tottenham captain, Gary Mabbut, who wore a mask for many months after receiving horrific facial injuries from John Fashinu’s malevolent elbow.
My daughter has a continuing interest in Africa, and especially in African tribal masks.  During my work in over forty African countries, I built up a varied and interesting collection for her.  These masks were traditionally worn to deter and frighten enemies.  They certainly frightened Jenny’s children.
Having said that, the main raison d’etre for masks is to hide the face.  We can assemble a variety of literary characters who sought to disguise their identities in this way.  We start with the Man in the Iron Mask, through Zorro, the Lone Ranger, by way of Batman and Robin, to the Phantom of the Opera.  In the real world, criminals frequently used masks to carry out robberies, Ronnie Reagan being a popular villain at one time.  This probably started back in the Wild West with the likes of the Jesse James gang, and in the dear long lost days of BC, before computers, little boys would tie their fathers’ handkerchiefs over their mouth and nose as they wielded their cap shooting six guns.
Masked balls were popular at one period, and speak of Regency England or the France of Louis XVI.  These ranged from a full facial cover to those coy little numbers held on a slim stick and just covering the eyes.  Speaking of which, it has been said that eyes are the windows to the soul, which explains at least some of the reasoning for the donning of sunglasses, sometimes appropriately called shades.  In my misspent life I have found shades indispensable for bird watching.
However, having said all of the above, I would submit that the face itself is often the best mask of all.  Being described as ‘poker faced’ implies being able to sit and look nonchalant while holding a Royal Flush or four aces with nearly £100 in the middle of the table.  As further evidence of this proposition I would like to trot out two of my heroes.
My first hero is the Duke of Wellington who was a member of the aristocracy and a Tory in the old sense of the word.  Sending men into battle on perhaps twenty occasions in his career, Wellington commanded on the battlefield in person, sometimes only yards from the enemy.  He was wounded by musket balls on three occasions.  Rarely did his face reveal his feelings.  The mask only slipped twice; once at Badajoz when he stood among the British dead in the main breach in the town’s walls, with tears streaming down his face.  The second time was at Waterloo, where, after withstanding the Emperor’s forces unmoved for over eight hours, he again broke down in tears as he rode Copenhagen through the 50,000 dead and injured in a mile square area.  As he said, ‘Next to a battle lost, there is nothing more terrible than a battle won.’
And finally to Churchill, a direct descendent of the Duke of Marlborough, the only British military commander to be compared to Wellington.  Churchill was, unlike Wellington, an emotional man.  Again unlike Wellington, he was deeply in love with his wife and devoted to his children.  He suffered a loveless childhood and lost his adored father when Winston was only twenty.  His three year old daughter died in 1921 and his adult daughter, Diana, in his 89th year. 
Winston was normally incapable of hiding his feelings; his face said all there was to say about him.  Yet this remarkable man, truly in my view, the greatest Briton, went from May 1940 to June 1941 as leader of the only European country to oppose Hitler.  What did he think?  Could he really have believed the messages he gave to the nation in his remarkable soaring oratory?  Yet no trace of the fears, the doubts or the uncertainty ever appeared on that normally revealing face.  Look at photos of Churchill in the Blitz, Homburg firmly on his head, cigar clenched in his teeth and his lower jaw jutting with defiance.  John Kennedy said the Churchill ‘conscripted the English language and sent it into battle.’  He might also have said the same thing about that mischievous baby face.  So perhaps a physical mask is not always necessary, but WSC just might have welcomed one at the height of the German Blitz.

A Book Is Not Just For Christmas But For Life


Looking back, I can see now that I was a difficult child and probably a big disappointment to my parents.  I was the first born.  As such, my mother, a devout Catholic, thought it was her duty to offer me to the Church as a priest.  I never did subscribe to that notion, believing that girls were a much more interesting option.  Not only that, but as my education at the hands of the Jesuits progressed, I formed the view that they were a bunch of sadistic Fascist bastards.  Such a belief probably precluded my suitability to turn my collar around.
My parents were both avowed Irish Republicans and were puzzled; shattered might be a better word that their son was turning increasingly into a Loyalist, Unionist and Monarchist, who had a photograph of the Queen in his bedroom.  This probably had much to do with the fact that we lived in an overwhelmingly but moderate Protestant area.  There were four or five Catholic families in a street of 146 homes.  Well, so I believed at the time. Thinking on it now, it could just have been my Huguenot blood asserting itself, though it never did in my Dad.  I can honestly say that I never experienced discrimination until I went to my Catholic Grammar School. 
I also became a passionate street cricketer, scoring hundreds for England against Australia at Lords, a ground situated between two air raid shelters, which, in the 1950’s still stood, as memorials of a war not so long finished.  My folks, without liking it, and to their credit, bowed to the inevitable.  I think it was at Christmas 1954 that I was given a Wisden for Christmas.  Wisden, for those who do not know, is an annual publication which details all cricket throughout the world in any particular year.  In 1954 it cost twelve shillings and sixpence, in the days when we had real money.  The 2005 edition cost £36.
Every year after that, I bought a new Wisden, keeping the old one, of course.  This continued in Australia, Malaysia and back in Britain again until 1977.  At that time, while living in Wales temporarily, I was offered and accepted fifteen Wisdens from 1938 to 1954 for three quid each.  The 1942 copy, about which more later, was absent.  It was the beginning of my new passion, to collect the lot from the first in 1864.
This was not as easy as it may sound.  For example, John Arlott’s complete collection went, in 1985, for about £12,000.  Nevertheless, I scoured the second hand shops, picking up the odd copy here and there.  Some were badly damaged, especially the familiar yellow covers, covers and needed to be rebound at a cost of £5 each. At a jumble sale once in Woking, I bought an 1896 copy for ten pence.  After reflecting for a while, I gave the Scouts an extra pound.  The present value is perhaps £125.
Did I hear someone ask ‘why’?  Well, apart from my being an unreformed collector, the book itself is an absolute treasure trove of fascination.  The 2005 edition runs to 1744 pages and it is possible to lose oneself for endless hours in the myriad paths it presents.
By the early 1990’s there were serious gaps in my collection.  I had nothing prior to 1896 and was missing many issues from the two world war periods.  The solution was, as many solutions are, costly.  I went to specialist booksellers, like John McKenzie of Ewell for the war time editions.  In 1942, for example, there were many other considerations and paper was rationed.  Accordingly, only 3000 Wisdens were printed in that year.  Well, I swallowed hard, and handed over £225.  Later I paid £175 for 1918 and £90 for 1915.  These pearls cost one shilling and sixpence in 1915, or one and ten post-free.  By 1916 there had been a huge hike to half a crown.  +Must have been the War,
There then occurred one of those events which we normally only dream about, Wisden decided to reissue the first fifteen additions at a cost of £450.  All or nothing.  More hard swallowing and no eating for several months followed.  They were mine.  Not as good as the originals but a damm sight cheaper.  Finally another stroke of good fortune.  A company called Willows was set up to reprint all Wisdens from 1879 onwards.  Around the year 2000 I bought my final missing piece of the Wisden jigsaw.  Set complete!
Was it worth the time and cost and effort?  Yes, emphatically yes.
So, Dad, it has taken me fifty years from that treasured first copy.  Thank you for the best Christmas present of all time.



The weather had deteriorated steadily as I drove.  The bright promise of an early summer’s morning had changed to a sullen threat of rain.  Not only the weather disturbed me; it was ages since I had seen an other car, or even a human being.  It was a dammed long twenty kilometres, and I was becoming uneasy.  This was not a country where a man would choose to get lost, and I was afraid that was what I was.
The scenery had changed as well, the tall green spring grass giving way to a rock strewn sullen brown earth.  The tumbling coffee coloured streams were behind me, as were the straggling African trees.  The road degenerated from a fairly good hard top to a pretty bad rock and mud track, which caused the suspension on my undistinguished Japanese car to drum incessantly through my buttocks and up my spine, giving me a headache.
Just as I was contemplating turning around I saw the sign.  Isandlwana.  Thank you, Jesus.  A few hundred yards further was even better news.  Isandlwana National Park Visitor Centre, one kilometre was indicated to the right.  It was too grand a title for the nondescript building which masqueraded as the Visitors’ Centre.  At least there were toilets, in theory if not in fact.  It cost me eight rand to visit the site, about fifty pence at the time.  There was a guard on the gate who solemnly tore my ticket in half and returned it to me.  I wondered if he was a Zulu, but he looked nothing like the splendid men featured in Stanley Baker’s magnificent film of that name, so I decided he was Xhosa.
It was about a mile to the car park up a track of gravel over which the tyres crunched noisily.  I got out of the car and closed the door, locking it with the key.  I was the only person there and mine the only car.  There was total silence apart from a sharp little wind, which whistled around me emphasising the quiet.  It was not a comfortable silence, but a chilly feeling which disturbed me.
The scene was dominated by the hill of Isandlwana; a dark brown rocky outcrop shaped like a crouching lion rising several hundred feet from the otherwise fairly flat plain.   All around, but at a few miles distance the low hills of Natal rimmed the brown plain.  At this place on 22nd January 1879 the British Army suffered their greatest ever defeat at the hands of non white troops.  Here, at this very spot, with their backs to the lion shaped hill, 1329 British and native troops died.  The first battalion of 24th Regiment, the Warwickshires, lost 599 men, slaughtered.  In addition up to 3000 brave Zulus also lost their lives, and as many were wounded.
As I tramped towards the hill I realised that, as also today, the soldier’s gave their lives in a cause less honourable than their courage deserved.  ‘Ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do or die.’  I examined the monuments, cairns and crosses on the battlefield, the wind moaning softly, with no other sound present.   Everywhere lay piles of large white painted stones, each stone representing the body of a British soldier, where they had lain dead in groups after the battle.
Zululand had not been a democracy in 1879, nor was King Cetawayo an elected leader, but among the African tribes at that time, the Zulu nation was an entity which worked.  The two great white tribes of Southern Africa, the British and the Boers, feared the military power of the Zulus to destroy them and their fragile colonies.  During 1878 Zulus made a number of raids into the British colony of Natal, stealing cattle and killing the occasional person.  The British Governor of South Africa, Sir Bartle Frere, issued an ultimatum to Cetawayo.  It was one that he knew the King could not accept, and Frere was banking on his refusal.  On 11th January 1879 British forces under Lord Chelmsford invaded Zululand.
Cetawayo did not want to fight the British, whom he respected rather than liked, but above all he feared them.  Just below the hill there was a larger than normal group of stones, their white paint faded and peeling from years in the fierce African sun.  This was where the British made their last stand, forming square as the 20,000 Zulus in their impis overwhelmed the 1500 redcoats and their mercenary black soldiers.
Sadly, and depressed by this blanketing silence, I headed towards the car, delighted to reach the parking area where my feet ground noisily in the gravel.  I took a Coke from my back pack and as I drank another car drove up from the road.  I spoke to the two couples as they got out.  White South Africans.  Perhaps they would not understand my feelings.  The soldiers buried here were my ancestors, and their voices seemed still to carry in the wind in this silent place.  As today, it is entirely possible to support the warriors and oppose the war.  I did my duty when Australia was in Vietnam*, without ever totally believing.  ‘Ours is not to wonder why’.
The few survivors of Isandlwana fled across the Tugela River, some ten miles away.  The most notable of these were Lieutenants Melville and Coghill, who rode on horseback while carrying the regimental Queen’s Colour.  They were cut down in the swirling waters of the Tugela, at a place now called Fugitives’ Drift, the colours thrown into the flowing river, from where they were recovered several weeks later.  These now hang in Brecon Cathedral, not far from the regimental museum.
I drove away from this place in low spirits, and, as the guard ambled across to open the gate, I looked back at that mesmerising hill.  It reminded me of the film ‘Close Encounters of the third kind’ with people trying to recreate the hypnotic hill they had seen in their visions.
The story is simply finished.  The right wing of the Zulu army, little used at Isandlwana, attacked Rorke’s Drift mission station, garrisoned by 139 men, mostly of the 2nd Battalion of the 24th Regiment.  There were around 5000 Zulus and the fight lasted until early on the morning of 23rd January.  The station was capable of being defended by steady troops, and when the Zulus gave up some fifteen British soldiers were dead.  The British stopped counting the enemy dead at around 600, burying these brave men in a common grave.  Cetawayo’s fears were realised.    He knew he could not sustain losses like those he had suffered in two days of fighting.  His kingdom was seized and incorporated into Natal.  His army was destroyed efficiently and his capital burnt to the ground.  The king himself went into hiding but was soon captured.  He was taken to London, met Queen Victoria and returned to Zululand where he died in 1884, a broken man.
Fourteen Victoria Crosses were awarded, eleven of them for Rorke’s Drift.  Despite the implications of Stanley Baker’s politically biased film, that Rorke’s Drift was a Welsh victory, eight VC’s went to Englishmen, three to Irishmen, two to Welshmen and one to a Swiss.                   



It is often said, though not by me, that an optimist sees a glass as half full, while a pessimist thinks it is half empty.  I see the same glass as in need of replenishment.  It’s all a matter of interpretation.
We all interpret things in different ways, sometimes widely so.  Take, for example, Dolly Parton.  Some people think, and indeed say, that Dolly is a dumb blonde.  Dolly herself, in a radio interview, discussed this as follows.  “Some folks say I’m a dumb blonde.  Well, I know I ain’t dumb, and I know as sure as hell I ain’t blonde.”  Dolly should know.
I don’t think that the diminutive country singer is in the least bit dumb, and if she says she ain’t blonde, I have no way of disagreeing with her.  Dolly has two outstanding assets; she has a bright, bubbly personality, allied to a pleasant, if not outstanding singing voice.  Secondly, she is an astute business woman who has, by her own efforts, risen from a grindingly poor upbringing in the Deep South of the United States to become a multi millionaire.  What did you think I was going to say were her two outstanding assets?
It is perhaps less well known that Dolly has written many of the songs she has performed and recorded.  I give one example; ‘I will always love you.’  Words and music were written by Dolly and recorded by her in 1973.  Her version was a gentle country ballad, sung sweetly, if in a rather treacly way.  In the 1990’s Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston made a film called ‘The bodyguard.’  Over the closing credits Whitney, a much more powerful singer than Dolly, sang ‘I will always love you’ as a pop anthem.  And very moving it was too.
Fast forward now to 2005 and the same song was breathtakingly recorded by the truly beautiful Katherine Jenkins, a lady with the voice of an angel.  The lovely Miss Jenkins recorded the song in Italian.  So Dolly’s little country ballad had become a platform for a classic performance.  As it happens, I much prefer the Katherine Jenkins version.  The point is that Katherine, and Whitney, or their arrangers, interpreted Dolly’s little song in quite different ways.
If we consider another female icon, let’s discuss Diana, the late Princess of Wales.  I was in Croatia on holiday at the time of Diana’s funeral and for once, I was ashamed of being British, looking at the images on the television.
I never met Diana, although I have met Prince Charles.  We were not mates, you understand, and we did not meet in the Dog and Firkin.  It was at an oil industry function at the Albert Hall in 1983.  I liked and still like Charlie.  I did not like Diana, who was never the saint her supporters claimed.  I believe that to claim rights and privileges, a person must be subject to duties and responsibilities.  Diana, in my view, did not keep this agreement.  I understand that my view of the life of Diana is not everyone’s view, and the others can interpret matters in their own way.  Tony Blair called her the ‘people’s Princess’.  I regarded her as a selfish, self centred woman.
I mention only Diana’s life, not her death.  That is interpreted in many ways.
In August 1997, Diana and Dodie Fayed, and their bodyguard, not Kevin Costner, climbed into a Mercedes Benz with Henry Paul, a driver who had not expected to be on driving duties that night.  Paul, who was later shown to have consumed alcohol to about three times over the legal limit, was also using prescription drugs.  The car was driven at speeds up to 100 mph, much of it in a 30 mph zone, to avoid pursuing photographers.  It crashed in a tunnel at high speed, killing Paul, Diana and Dodie.  The only person who survived was Rhys Jones the bodyguard.  Significantly, he was the only one of the four to have worn a seat belt.
My interpretation?  A drunken driver, exceeding the speed limit, tried to outrun some paparazzi and crashed, killing himself and the two passengers who were not using seat belts.  Other people’s interpretation?  Diana was murdered on the orders of the British Intelligence Service at the behest of the ‘Establishment, in particular, the Duke of Edinborough. 
Your Granny’s moustache.

Belated Greetings


In the run up to Christmas, I received three interesting Christmas cards.  The first was sent to my next door neighbours and was addressed to Tyna Morrice, who had actually moved out in 1993.  Tyna had been an interesting girl, an Australian who was employed as a croupier in a London Casino.  All big ears and fluffy tail, I suppose.  Alas, I never saw her in uniform.  My daughter described her as a ‘hungry lady.’ 
The second I received myself.  It was addressed to Mr and Mrs Patmore, or Pat and Peter, as it said on the card.  I bought the flat from Peter Patmore in June 1991 and he was a widower at the time.  I wondered how the senders, apparently so close to Tyna and the Patmores, had not known they had moved, or died, half a lifetime earlier.
The third was from my friends, John and Eve Barron in Melbourne.  That card arrived on Christmas Eve and contained a few photos taken during my visit to Oz in February last year.  All belated, but the one from John and Eve was most welcome.
The Barrons stayed in my home in Epsom and at my place in France in 2005.  2005 was a very good year to entertain Australian guests, unless you were a cricket loving Australian. Having Aussies as house guests was a special pleasure in the circumstances of England’s Ashes win.
During a party in my flat, an old work colleague, Tim Robertson, remarked of my good self, “I have known the sod for 25 years.”  John, on his fifth Carlsberg, and swaying slightly, replied, “That’s nothing, mate, I’ve known the old bastard for nearly forty years.”
Those of a gentle disposition should know that ‘bastard’ is in common use among male Australians, and a goodly number of female ones as well.  The adjective ‘old’ in front of the word makes it a term of affection.  ‘Miserable’ on the other hand is a different matter.
John was right; we met in 1966, newly commissioned in the RAAF.  There were two others in the same intake; Ed Blake and Thomas Keen.  In retrospect, I can see that we four were intended for high rank in the Provost Branch.  The best laid plans of mice and men, however.  Ed went mad, and was arrested by the Police waving a firearm around.  Thomas became a divorced alcoholic.  I simply settled for divorce.  John Barron reached Wing Commander rank and was appointed Provost Marshal.  And we have kept in touch ever since, mostly by e mail, but also in Australia, Britain and the US.  Well, I have kept in touch with Eve.  John sends perhaps one message in ten.  Eve writes in English, John in Strine.
At the fag end of 2006, I received one of John’s rare missives.  “Listen, mate, I think the bloody Australian Government may have a bloody medal for you.”  He gave me a web site, and I logged on.  In due course Royal Mail stuck a postcard through my door.  ‘You have a packet to collect; there is £10.04 to pay.’
This was my Australian Defence Medal.  I queried the £10.04 and was informed blandly that was Customs duty.  I fumed for days before writing to HMCR, they of the missing discs.  I explained that it was iniquitous that a defender of freedom and democracy should be charged duty on a long delayed recognition of his sacrifices.  They agreed and sent me a cheque for £2.04, explaining that the Post Office had charged eight quid for their handling.  Needless to say, I protested to Royal Mail and they, God bless ‘em, sent me another cheque for eight pounds.  Victory for Queen and Country.
Wg Cdr Barron, RAAF, retd., was not finished.  Yet another e mail.  “Jesus Christ, mate, the bloody government must have too much dosh; there’s another medal you can get.” So, I went on the internet again and as the man had said, my Australian Service Medal, with South East Asia clasp arrived in late October.  Two medals, thirty four years after leaving the RAAF.  Bloody amazing, mate, as John might say.  There was no Customs duty this time.  There was case law in the matter.
There is a little footnote to this story.  My oldest friend, Stewart Donnogan, whom I met at school in 1950, had joined the RAF and served for thirty-seven years.  He was a Flt Lt and was awarded Zilch in the medal department.  I served six years, was also a Flt Lt and got two of the little buggers.  Not fair, is it?  As they say in Oz, belated greetings, mate?  Better than a kick in the arse.

A Working Man In My Prime


In 1983 I met Prince Charles.  He asked me to introduce the members of my all female team.  Good thinking, sir.  They were all much prettier than me.
1985 I met the Queen Mother.  She said, “Thank you dear.”
Also in 1985, I was introduced to Jacques Chirac, then the Mayor of Paris and subsequently twice President of France.  I replied, in French, to his address of welcome to my group and he subsequently informed me that I spoke French with an English accent.
In 1989 I met Mrs Thatcher.  She informed me that she had a dreadful toothache.
In 1970 I had been within touching distance of the Crown Prince of Japan, later Emperor.  He didn’t say a word.
None of these occasions devolve any importance or merit upon me.  I was in the process of doing my job.
My job, at most times during my life defined who and what I was and what I have become.  In retrospect I could perhaps have been a better husband.  That would be for others to determine.  Maybe I could also have been a better father although, in my subjective thinking, I probably was not too bad at that job.  I was, or had been ‘A working man in my prime,’ in the words of Van Morrison, who had been and probably still is, an awkward bastard from Belfast.  A bit like yourself I hear people say.
I haven’t even mentioned my brief liaison with Petula Clark, an even shorter relationship with Barry Knight of Essex and England and Nigel Mansell, Formula one champion.
And yet, it was only because of a mistake that I was ever in a position to meet any of the great and good I did meet.  The mistake was made by my father and mother.
At the age of fifteen I was a fairly bright if rebellious student at Grammar School.  I wanted to go on to Queens’ University Belfast to get a degree, any degree, and join the RAF as a pilot.  My mother wanted me to be a priest.  I didn’t.  Neither of my Nationalist, Republican parents wanted me to join the forces of the Crown.
As it happened, the arrival of my baby brother, Patrick, fifteen years after me, and nine years after my sister who was supposedly the last child, put an end to all of these plans.  We couldn’t afford it; I had to get  a job.
My Dad, who carried the plate around at Sunday Mass, spoke to some of his mates in church, and I started work in a beer bottling company.  I hated it.  I hated the smell, the noise and the crudity of my fellow workers and the vast drinking of beer.  None of these led to my being let go.  Having sent a number of full bottles cascading onto the head of a workmate was, I was asked to consider my future.
Dad, once again, spoke to his mates and I worked for over a year with a confectionery company.  Very nice too.  Three quid a week and plenty of sweets to boot.   I departed when I was asked, on Friday evening, to work on Saturday.  I told them I was playing cricket and had given my word.  My employer gave me his word, which was ‘You’re fired.’
After a short time on the dole I found my next job myself.  I became a dispatch clerk in a wholesale hardware company.  I enjoyed it a lot, met some girls, and lasted eighteen months.  I left to join the Met Police, to the chagrin of my girlfriend, Sandra, whose father was an inspector in the RUC.
I served eight and a half years in the Police, had a few adventures, was not corrupt and became a hard nut.  I left with my wife and baby son to migrate to Australia. 
I had been recruited in London, by the Victoria Police and became a copper in Melbourne.  The Victoria Police was what I imagined the Met had been like in the 1930’s, unimaginative and boring.  The boredom was relieved by the penchant of the police to fire their guns at youths nicking cars, a habit which somewhat disconcerted other road users. 
After about nine months, I obtained a commission in the Royal Australian Air Force and would have lived happily after, had it not been for my wife.  She had agreed to migrate to Australia, had agreed to my joining the Air Force, but had turned against both ideas.  Fickleness, thy name is woman.
Despite this I stayed almost six years and enjoyed it more than anything else I have ever done.  I believed, in what both the RAAF and I were about, believed 100%, which was handy.
Along the way, I had picked up a few clues about the security business and spent five years as security manager of a large car manufacturing plant in Melbourne.  It was well paid, not overtaxing and I had a company car.  Again, life was sweet, but my wife decided she wanted to return to the UK.
I agreed and off we toddled, the reverse journey of twelve years previously, but this time with our souvenir of Australia, our eight year old daughter.
God, for reasons best known to himself, continued to smile on me.  Thank you, God.  I started work for Mobil Oil and stayed for twenty three years until Exxon bought us out, gave me a lot of money and told me to bugger off.
In the meantime, my wife and I had parted, and no one has occupied on a permanent basis the space she left behind.
While working for Mobil, I had, so to speak, moved up the ranks and in my final years I was responsible for the company’s security in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.  Exciting times to be in the business.
During my dotage, believing that I still had something to offer, I continued to act as a consultant, mostly in the Middle East and Africa including one marvellous stint of six months on a contract in South Africa.
I believe that, professionally, I wasn’t bad at what i did.  Unfortunately, my private life was much less successful.  Maybe I got things the wrong way round.  Van Morrison, please take note.

Where Would I Be Now??


“Who am I?  What am I?
Where am I and does anyone else give a toss?
Don’t know, don’t know, don’t know, and no, no one gives a bugger.
I am, or have been, someone’s son, brother, husband, lover, cousin, uncle, father and grandfather.  But that is defining me by reference to others.  Can I look inwards more subjectively?
I dunno about that.”

“Am I happy with myself?  Christ no!  Whose fault is that, son?  Your own fault, my old mucker, your own.”

I wonder how it started.  I do not know why, and as I grow older, the answer moves further away, even if the desire to reach that answer becomes more imperative.  How did it all start?  Well, as the late George Harrison sings, ‘if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there’.  I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do when I was going to school.  Oh yes, I had the usual boyish ambitions, I wanted to play football for Manchester United and Northern Ireland, and cricket for England.  I still do, but haven’t heard from Sir Alex or Nasser Hussain lately, so I suppose my chance has gone.
My dear mother, God bless her, wanted me to become a priest, but, as I have said before, the pull of the opposite sex, if you will excuse the pun, was stronger.  I really wanted to be an Air Force pilot, like I really wanted that.  It was a burning, overpowering ambition.  My parents opposed it, they said because it was a precarious occupation.  In later life I suspect it was because they hated the idea of my serving the Crown in the Royal Air Force.
When I left school, with no prospect of going to University, that project was ditched and I decided that I wanted to be a policeman.  Now this was better, but only marginally so, as the folks did not regard the RUC as a suitable career for a good Catholic boy, who might have been a priest.  My then girlfriend, Sandra, a flame haired lovely, was the daughter of an RUC sergeant, and tried to persuade me.  Had we stayed together longer, she would probably have succeeded.  Our breathless, celibate and pure relationship waned and I was packed off to join the Metropolitan Police, God bless their institutionally racist socks.
That took eight years of my life and I enjoyed it while it lasted.  I wasn’t a bad copper, although that is only my view.  A number of East End villains would testify the opposite.  A year in the Melbourne Police followed.  It was one of the worst years of my life.  Nuff said.  The love of my life followed, the RAAF, for six years.  Concern for my wife’s health forced me to resign my commission, though she has a different view on that.  Six years at General Motors was followed by twenty-three at Mobil.  In the course of my time with them, I visited 122 countries, most of them on business.
I am now retired, for three years and so we are back to the start.
I was married for thirty years and have been divorced for fourteen.  It wasn’t all bad, but a bloody great deal of it was, very bad.  I love my kids and my grandchildren.
What would have been different if I had taken another turning at any of the above points?
Well, had I joined the RUC I would have been involved in the Troubles and perhaps maimed or killed like so many of those brave men and women.  Perhaps I would not have the immense respect for that force which I do have, had I actually served. 
And if I had joined the RAF I would probably retired as a flight lieutenant at thirty-eight years of age and spent the rest of my life flying ancient aircraft into warring hellholes in Africa.  I don’t really fancy being buried in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, do you?
And the Met?  Probably ended as a sergeant, retiring at forty-four years of age, and sitting out the next fifteen or twenty in a security job somewhere.  Which is what you did do, old boy, wasn’t it?
And the Royal Australian Air Force?  I think I would have ended up a Wing Commander, the Provost Marshal, and the holder of the BEM.  Well, all the others did.
And my marriage, what of that?  Regrets, yes, I’ve had a few, as Mr Sinatra used to sing.  It wasn’t all her fault, of course.  We were both to blame.  There is no point in allocating percentages, it doesn’t help.  And I did have my wife to thank for our children, and indirectly, our grandchildren.  And even more directly, for Jeanne.  If I had stayed married I would not have met Jeanne, and if I had not met her, I would have turned up my clogs without knowing what love was really all about.  Sorry, put your hankies away.
So, on balance, I suppose I would still have ended up where I am.  Am I happy now?  No, but at least, I was once.

Reflections of Life


It can be argued, and I do so argue, that a building, per se, is just a building.  Its atmosphere comes from what it represents and it represents the life that is, or has been, within it.  It will mean different things to different people, and the emotional state of mind of the observer will be reflected in their perception of the building.
I visited the World Trade Centre in New York in 1988.  I was with Jennifer, a flame haired, green eyed beauty, who was the love of my life at that time.  We drank coffee in the Windows on the World restaurant and looked in each other’s eyes.  Unfortunately, someone loved Jennifer more than I did.  That person was Jennifer herself.  I shivered a bit when the buildings were blown apart on 11th September 2001, so my memories are mixed.
In 1993 I was in Jerusalem with Jeanne, then the love of my life.  When I think about it, and I do a lot, she remains the love of my life after 11 years apart, and as far as I can call it, she always will be.  We visited the Wailing Wall at Temple Mount and were deeply moved.  During the Jordanian occupation this Holy place was turned into a urinal.  There are actually two linked walls, one for men and one for women.
Right above the Wailing Wall, built on the ruins of Solomon’s Temple, is the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aksa Mosque, the second or third most revered place in the world for Muslims.   This was a peaceful and dignified building.  Not far away, on the Via Dolorosa, was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a deeply depressing and over commercialised place.
Many other buildings parade in my memory; St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster, Notre Dame, St Peters in the Vatican; the White House, the Capitol Building.  All said something to me, all impressed, but none left the definitive memory.
The building which spoke to me most loudly was actually one of a collection of buildings in the Polish countryside not far from the Czech border. The Polish name was Oswiecim (Oss win shin).  The Germans called it Auschwitz.
I had known of Auschwitz, of course, as most people have.  In the list of concentration camps, Belsen, Ravensbruck, Dacau, Buchenwald and so on, this dreadful place seems to possess a special horror.  This camp was designed not to hold people, but to kill them; just that, to kill them as speedily and as cheaply as possible.  A heightening of the horror is that this was perpetrated, not by a medieval crowd of savages, but by a civilised, sophisticated, European nation, the Germans.  My granddaughter, in response to my question, told me that the Second World War had been started by the Nazis.  “Where did the Nazis come from?”  I asked her.  She didn’t know.
The war was started by Germany and it was the Germans who perpetrated the atrocities at Auschwitz.  The same Germans who gave the world so many poets, composers, statesmen, writers, scientists and philosophers also gave it Auschwitz.  And it was State policy.
I thought that I knew what to expect.  I didn’t.  The entrance was like going into Chessington or Alton Towers; a ticket office, a bookshop, toilets and a café-restaurant, on the same ground where over a million people, 90% Jewish, were murdered.  This did not feel right.  Inside the camp, the world swung back to on a more anticipated axis.  Here were the much photographed gates with their cynical and hypocritical insignia ‘Arbeit macht frei.’  Indeed, work will kill you, not free you.
Here was the narrow courtyard, walled on three sides, where people were shot, until it was decided that they were not worth the expense of a bullet.  It was also claimed that shooting women and children put too much emotional strain on the German soldiers.  Here too were the gas chambers and the ovens where the bodies were burned.  Before leaving, in January 1945, the SS and Gestapo had tried, unsuccessfully, to blow up the lot.
And here, in the middle of the camp were the gallows, where hangings took place, ‘pour encourager les autres.’  In this place of such suffering and death, lived the Camp Commandant, Rudolf Hoss with his wife and children.  When he was later convicted of crimes against humanity, Hoss was brought back and hanged from these same gallows, watched by a few former inmates.
The infamous railway sidings were still in place and row upon row of huts, arranged with typical Teutonic care into neat lines.  These huts were now used to give the visitor a taste of what life was like from 1941 to 145, without the stench, the fear and despair.  There was a hut with the sleeping accommodation remaining; three tiered wood bunks with three or four people to each bunk.  Here was a latrine hut with rows of toilets, back to back, perhaps forty in all.  It got grimmer.  There were huts with people’s hair, with false teeth, artificial limbs, shoes, clothing, suitcases and much else.  And then there was one more hut.  This was full of children’s toys; tricycles, dolls, tops, little buckets, balls, wood animals, train sets and everything imaginable.  In the same place were photos of children, some just toddlers, in little coats with the Jewish star and boots.  The girls had bonnets and the boys men’s caps, too big for them.
I had to leave and go outside.  I was glad I was alone as tears were streaming down my face.  I have children and I have grandchildren.  I also have an imagination.  I cannot forget and I cannot forgive.  When some people in our own country question the point of our armed forces, or tell me how wrong ALL wars are, I suggest they visit Auschwitz and come back and tell me then.

Enquiring Mind or Difficult Bastard?

Penned 19/01/07

It was a small battle, a battle conducted over about a two-year period.  It was a battle I lost.  The adversaries were mismatched.  I was a boy, wet behind the ears, wading waist deep through the difficult years from eleven to thirteen.  The opposition was the hierarchy of St Malachy’s Catholic Grammar School in Belfast.
Northern Ireland, in the 1950’s was on a different planet from the rest of the world.  The Republic of Ireland was in a different galaxy.  The Catholic Church told the Government what to do in Dublin.  Unable to do that in the North, they had to be content with ensuring the young people in their schools were sent into the world as good Catholics and fervent Irish Republicans.
My parents were both Catholic and Republican and I failed them.  Part of the problem was that in the area where we lived, most other people were non-Catholic, in a fairly mild non-confrontational way.  My mates, and, more importantly, the girls I admired, were Protestant, in that vague way Catholics defined all people who were not of their own tribe.  My passion for girls was only exceeded by my love of cricket.
Also, at the age of thirteen, I fell in love with Elizabeth, who was a good-looking girl.  She had also just become Queen of England, and I have to say that my admiration for and loyalty to the lady have not diminished in the intervening years.  Needless to say, the staff at SMC shared none of these enthusiasms.  They were male, to a man, and about half were priests.  My folk memory is that they were Jesuit, but they might have been Dominican.  Either way, they were Fascists.
Clashes were inevitable.  Their received wisdom was that Catholics were good, Protestants bad; Irish was good, English bad.
Father Larkin was a tall, dark, gaunt man, with black eyes and a hawk like nose.  When he strode into class with his black skirts sweeping, he reminded me of the Angel of Death.  He hated me; the feeling was mutual.  Once after a dose of this propaganda, I had the temerity to question God’s chosen one.
He glared at me over the top of his glasses.  “Well?”
“I read in the paper that there are five million Catholics in England, which is more than the entire population of Ireland.”
“Are they good because they are Catholic, or bad because they are English?”
The result was inevitable, six on each hand.  I bit my lip, cursed the good priest to hell and tried not to cry.
Sometime later, I questioned why we had to learn Henry V’s speeches as they praised the English, who were so clearly evil.  Once more onto the breach, dear friends and another dozen whacks with the cane.
I only failed two exams in my time at school, both in Irish language.  I had to see the Head teacher, another priest, short and fat, but similarly equipped with a cane.
“Don’t you care about the Irish language?”
“No,” I replied truthfully, “it’s a waste of time.
“But it’s your native language.”
“No, it’s not.  English is.  I don’t know anyone who speaks Irish.  In any case, the Queen doesn’t speak it, and you don’t need it to join the RAF.”
Different conversation, same result.
After two years of this, I gave up, and remained silent.  It didn’t always work; I was once caned for ‘dumb insolence’.
These experiences taught me more than my tutors realised.  I grew up despising Catholicism, detesting bullying and hating oppression.  I learned that a man, and a woman too, has to work things out for themselves and to live their lives according to principles in which they believe, not meekly accept what one is told to believe.  I learned that fists do not destroy ideas, merely reinforce them.
They won the battle; I won the war.  

The Huguenots: A People Betrayed


In 1570 Pope Pius V issued a Papal Bull deposing Queen Elizabeth I from the crown of England and absolving her Catholic subjects from any allegiance to her.  The bull spoke of the Queen as ‘being without dominion and privilege; a heretic queen who now stood deprived of her pretended right to the realm.’  It was understood that any person who took her life would be doing God’s work and would not be guilty of sin.  It was the 16th Century equivalent of a ‘fatwa’.  She was routinely referred to by the Catholic rulers of Europe as a bastard and a whore.
Elizabeth reigned from 1558 to 1603.  In those 45 years she had executed some 400 Catholics.  All were put to death for treason, many for attempts on her life, and not for heresy.
On 24th August 1572, the feast of St Bartholomew, in Paris, about 10,000 Huguenots, or French Protestants, were murdered in one night.  For this event, the Pope issued a medal to celebrate the massacre. 
At the beginning of the 16th Century the Catholic Church was a corrupt, intolerant, morally bankrupt and violent organisation, accustomed to settling religious differences by the simple expedient of killing its opponents.  Jews and Moslems had so suffered, especially at the hands of the brutal Jesuits in the Spanish Inquisition.  Many of the priests, theoretically celibate, kept wives and families.  The Pope was active in building St Peters to the greater glory of God.  He had no money, but conjured up what today we might call ‘a nice little earner’.  Anyone who had sinned could pay money to the church for the forgiveness of those sins.  The fees were, of course, on a sliding scale, so rich people could literally ‘get away with murder.’  I do not know if this practice, the selling of ‘indulgences’, included a pre payment system for sins which folks anticipated committing.
Not all the clergy were corrupt.  There were many good and holy men and women in the Church, but overall the organisation had the stench of death about it.  In this atmosphere it was inevitable that many would object.  One of these objectors was Martin Luther, a priest who had visited Rome on a number of occasions and had been appalled by the corruption he witnessed there.  In particular, he objected to the practice of selling ‘indulgences’.  In 1517 Luther pinned his famous 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral.  It was a protest and the followers of Luther became Protestants.  He was excommunicated and outlawed, but his ideas survived.
In France the torch was carried for the most part by Jean Calvin, who was forced to flee to Switzerland.  The French Protestants were called Huguenots, a derogatory term, of uncertain origin, coined by their opponents.  Like the nickname ‘Desert Rats, some 400 years later, it was adopted with pride.  Prime among Calvin’s objectives was the printing of the Scriptures in French, for ordinary, non Latin reading, people to read.  This did not please the church, which caused books to be burned, presses to be destroyed, and just to make their point, the printers to be burnt at the stake.  The Pope discovered, as many other dictators have subsequently discovered, you cannot destroy ideas with fists.
As more and more French followed Calvin and became Huguenots, politics and religion became inevitably intertwined.  Three inconclusive wars were fought between 1562 and 1570.  Following a peace treaty, many Huguenots served at Court and in the Army and Navy.  In Paris on 24th August, 1572, all that ceased.
It is widely believed that, on the orders of King Charles IX, and his mother, Catherine de Medici, an attempt was made to assassinate the Huguenot leader, Admiral Coligny, and after him the Royal soldiers sought out Protestants, men, women and children.  It is impossible to be certain, but about 10,000 people were brutally murdered, often being beheaded or torn to pieces.  Their bodies were burned or thrown into the sewers.  In the following weeks, in the provinces, perhaps another 100,000 met their deaths.
War followed and it was not until 1594 that some sort of general peace came about.  Henry, Prince of Navarre and a Protestant, became king of France, but only after changing to become a Catholic.  As he said, “Paris is worth a mass.”
He introduced the Edict of Nantes, granting freedom of religion to all.  In 1610 Henry IV was murdered and again, the wheel turned against the Huguenots.   Over the next 70 years they were betrayed, more and more oppressed, losing all their freedoms.  By 1685, when Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, Huguenots were forbidden to own business or land; forbidden from burying their dead during daylight; forbidden to hold religious assemblies and they had large numbers of dragoons, or soldiers billeted on them.  The punishments were ferocious; mothers sent to convents; fathers executed or sent to the galleys; children removed from their parents and preachers routinely executed.
At a time when the population of France was around 14 million, about a million Huguenots fled rather than abjure their faith.  They went to the Protestant countries of Europe, Switzerland, Holland, the German States and England.  Perhaps as many as 300,000 came to England.
Huguenot soldiers fought all over Europe against fellow, but Catholic Frenchmen.  Huguenot forces were decisive in the Battle of the Boyne, in Ireland, a battle which ensured that James II could not reclaim the British Crown.  Some of those soldiers were granted land near Lisburn in County Antrim.  A village grew on the spot and was named Hilden, after their previous home in the Rhineland.  I have traced my family as living in Hilden since 1810, all good Presbyterians.  I can go back no further but like to believe we are descended from those Huguenots of so long ago.
In an ironic twist of history, during the French Revolution, hundreds of Catholic priests, loyal to Rome, suffered the same fate that their forebears had delivered to their Huguenot counterparts.

Up ↑