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The Warp

John Carbery

John Carbery

John Carbery did not come on these trips. Photographs from those days show him and his brother Ralfe standing with a certain hauteur holding in their hands the instruments of animal slaughter; though that of itself, and indeed their haughty expressions, are not that unusual for young men of the time.

About John’s upbringing Mary had taken infinite trouble. She told me more than once how she used to leave books around open at interesting pages, hoping that his attention would be captivated and that he would read on. Perhaps, however, she was too intrusive, giving him too little room to discover who he really was. By caring too much and being too ‘saintly’ she perhaps achieved the opposite effect to that which she desired.

There were incidents which gave cause for alarm. One story begins with Mary reminding John that it is a very special Saints day on which all Christians everywhere try to be kind to animals. Later that day John said to my grandmother, ‘I was kind to animals. I was very kind.’

‘Oh, good, John, what did you do?’

‘I gave the canary to the cat.’

At the age of eight John lined up a gardener and shot an apple off his head with an air pistol. He also shot the hat off the head of an alarmed poacher in the castle demesne, slightly grazing his head. The present Lord Carbery tells me that the hat, complete with bullet hole, was displayed to him on a recent visit.

It has often been claimed that John wandered with friends through the chambers of Castle Freke, gun in hand, using the family portraits for target practice. That would not have been popular with his mother; but the many Carbery family portraits that I have seen do not seem to have been harmed, so this story may not be true.

In 1911 John, now nineteen, drove Arthur, Mary, and Connie the chauffeur, on a tour through Germany and Austria. It was not a happy experience, says Mary. She and Kit came back with ‘shattered nerves’. Connie was relieved to be home for ‘he felt sure he would be killed entirely’.

Other stories show John as more benign. An early incident, recorded by Mary, concerns a dog which was given to John by Kit. Mary remarked, ‘He’s rather smelly, this dog.’ To which John replied, with Olympian wisdom, ‘Don’t notice it, he means well.’

At fourteen he went secretly to Cork and arrived back driving his first motor car. Later he bought an aeroplane which he landed on the strand at Castle Freke. John was a charismatic and much talked of young man around whom gossip accumulated. Winifred Gloster, a neighbour, describes how, ‘The young Lord Carbery was a constant source of interest. The day War No.1 started he arrived at Blackrock, near Cork, in the first aeroplane and caused quite a sensation.’ Much alarm was caused when some people assumed this was the start of a German invasion.

Another neighbour, Arthur Helps, tells how once on a visit to the deserted castle he was wandering around ‘thinking of the old times of its glory’, when he ‘saw the picture of some Lord Carbery with his hounds, in which each animal had been shot in the eye with a .22 rifle’. He has, he says, heard other stories of things being shot, ‘including a donkey with children riding it, probably your father among them.’

The rebuilding of Castle Freke was complete by 1913. Mary threw a ‘grand ball’ to celebrate John’s coming of age. There was also an ‘outside party’; long tables, a pipe band, a cartload of drink, mainly ‘Rassler’ beer from Clonakilty.

A glittering marriage was what Mary had in mind for John, the latest scion of an ancient family who claimed to trace back through the male line to the 3rd century , a family who were cousins to the Cecils, the Wroughtons, the Bandons.

John took a different view. Within two weeks of the ball, he had married José Metcalfe, a spectacularly beautiful young woman, the daughter of Major ‘Jumbo’ Metcalfe, from an acceptable military background, but not a brilliant one. Jumbo was a member of the elitist and socially acceptable White’s Club in London, but he was also known for his extravagent gambling.

Debonair, wealthy, titled, brave, John for some years held the record for the Cresta toboggan Run. He had represented Britain in the Schneider Trophy for the fastest plane on earth. He was considered highly eligible and attractive by many young women. He met José while skiing at St Moritz. Two women in particular at the ski resort found him especially desirable. They tossed a coin for him that season at St Moritz. One of them was José, and she won. The Cresta Run was dangerous and José now set about winning John’s heart by taking her place on the toboggan as part of an all male team, an astonishing thing for a woman to do at that time. John admired courage and unconventionality in women and fell in love with her.

Mary had tried to dissuade John from marrying José and meanwhile José’s friends were warning her against John, saying that she would not be happy with him. She replied, ‘I’d rather be unhappy with John than happy with anyone else.’

José was with John when, in July 1914, at the age of twenty two, he gave an aeronautical exhibition over Cork and then landed his plane on the University athletic grounds. The Cork Examiner described how:

He took his seat in the machine. His mechanic turned the propellor and the engine went to work right away, its eight cylinders emitting an artillery-like roar. Immediately on the machine getting clear, Lord Carbery put the monoplane in motion and ran it a short distance when it ascended at a very narrow angle to the ground, so narrow indeed that the uninitiated (and most of those present were uninitiated) believed that it would go straight to the football posts.

However, when about 30 yards from the posts, the aviator cleverly changed the steering of his machine giving it an extraordinary angle to the ground so much so that it was almost perpendicular. In this manner it ascended swiftly and sharply and still rising it headed off in a north westerly direction.

John Carbery gave other displays over Bandon and Clonakilty. ‘The people of the district,’ said one newspaper, would have ‘an opportunity of witnessing the daring and youthful aviator performing in the air feats which it would be impossible to describe, and must be seen to be believed.’ And it later reported that there were ‘shrieks and gasps of terror’ when ‘the noble Lord looped the loop over the crowd.’

Towards the end of the display, José went up in the plane with her husband. She was wearing a ‘tight fitting dark cap’. Although said by some to be looking rather pale, ‘she evidently enjoyed the prospect of looping the loop.’

After the display at Clonakilty, John wrote to Mons O’Leary PP: ‘I would give my share of the gate receipts to the fund for forming a branch of the National Volunteers at Clonakilty. In politics I am personally a supporter of the policy of the Irish Party and absolutely dissociate myself from the Unionists.’

John also took part in a flight from London to Paris and back with six other competitors. He was second in the race back when his plane came down on the sea and he was picked up by a steamer. Meanwhile the alarm had been raised and a ‘wireless message’ was passed between Whitehall and the coast. John was eventually brought back to Britain by the battleship HMS St Vincent.

The businessmen of Clonakilty invited John to ‘have a drink with the town’. There is a photograph of the event. All have a tipsy look about them and John, who as a baby had been ‘mobbed’ in Skibbereen, is clearly now being given an alcoholic version of the freedom of the city.

On July 12 1914, a public meeting was held in the Town Hall to start up a branch of the Irish National Volunteers. Mons O’Leary presided. It was proposed that they call it The Lord Carbery Branch of the Irish National Volunteers. This was passed unanimously.

In the words of the Cork Examiner, ‘From Cork to Clon ... he was Lord of the skies.’ But John was already about to lose much of his reputation. Few, outside his family, could have had an inkling at that time that his coming fall from grace would be quite so spectacular.

In August 1914, Britain was at war with Germany. On the ferry, travelling over from England to Cork, Arthur learned with surprise that a form of punishment in some Scottish regiments was for the men to ‘be deprived of their kilts’.

Mary went to stay with the Bandons and took Doty to visit Kilkerran Cottage and Castle Freke. The castle, she felt, had gone to ‘rack and ruin’ since John and José had moved in there. After having tea with Mrs Jenkins, the head gardener’s wife, they ventured a ‘prowl about the garden’ with ‘poor downhearted’ Jenkins. ‘You never saw such a deteriorated garden,’ wrote Mary, ‘cabbages in the bowling green, hay on the grassy lawns, weeds everywhere. One can see there is no heart in the dear place.’

At the bottom of this letter, to her mother, there is a sad scribbled later note: ‘After this visit the Lodgekeepers were ordered not to allow either Doty or me to go through.’

Mary was no longer welcome at Castle Freke. She returned there before Christmas 1915 for her usual present giving. The estate was closed to her but the local priest lent her a room in the Roman Catholic school.

The war continued and so did the aspirations of many Irish people for an Ireland independent of Britain. In the spring of 1916, Mary was in Cork at the time of the Easter Rising. From St Patrick’s Place she wrote:

All is quiet here, but we are quite cut off from Dublin, the lines having been damaged ... Thank God that poor rebel Cork kept quiet and sane. All the Irish troops have been sent to England, it is said, and cavalry arrived here this morning and people say that the guns were rumbling in during the night ...

Kit eats nothing and is all nerves ... I feel more than ever like Mrs Elizabeth Freke! Perhaps I am her reincarnation!

Mary was convinced that, if the Germans ever succeeded in securing Ireland as an ally, they would quickly become tyrants and subjugate the country, turning the Irish people into virtual slaves. To propagate her point of view she wrote ‘The Germans in Cork’, a series of satirical letters allegedly from ‘The Baron von Kartoffel’ and others, which appeared in the correspondence columns of a Cork newspaper in 1916 and were then published, anonymously, as a book.

The letters suppose that the Baron has been made Military Governor of Cork, and describe the town under German rule. The leaders of Sinn Fein have been told they are to be sent abroad; ‘They would have been no more loyal to us than they were to England ... But I cannot help pitying them - a little. They little know what is before them.’ In a painfully prophetic passage the Baron also arranges for the gassing of the thousand inmates of the Cork lunatic asylum, of which my Grandfather Arthur had been one of the original founders.

Ralfe, aged twenty at the start of the 1914-18 war, fought in France and was later awarded the MBE. John enlisted, complete with his own aeroplane, in the Royal Naval Air Service. During the earlier part of the war he was flying over the German trenches and lobbing bombs out of his cockpit. The war experiences of both young men matured and changed them, and the ending of the war did not bring to an end Mary’s worries about them. The young men had acquired a different set of values to those thought desirable by their mother. John, at the age of twenty seven, already married and a father, and Ralfe at twenty four, appear to have gone for good looks rather than ‘background’ in their choice of female companions. Nor were they the only privileged young men of their time who discovered themselves to be developing an interest in the demi-monde and chorus line.

It is sometimes said that Mary had induced in John a dread that he would die young, as his father and uncles had, and that this is why he grew up so brave, reckless, debonair, and selfish. Others believe that he actually disliked people and also disliked most animals.

Mary had not been on speaking terms with John since his marriage, and in 1919, after much agonising, asked him and José to visit her, so that they could be reconciled. The meeting took place at Woolley Park in England, which she had borrowed from her cousins the Wroughtons. The meeting went as well as could be hoped, and Mary felt she had done the right thing.

Two months later, however, she was horrified to hear that José had begun divorce proceedings against John. It was alleged that while in Kenya, he had been whipping her. It was not easy to get divorced in those days. John and José’s marriage was ended, on July 2 1920, by act of parliament called ‘An Act to Dissolve the Marriage of José Baroness Carbery and John Baron Carbery of Castle Freke in the County of Cork’, having made headlines in the Irish and English press.

In June 1913, soon after their marriage, so the Act says, John had given José a black eye. The alleged whipping in Kenya occurred in April 1918. José experienced bruises round her body from the ‘sjambok or cattle whip’. Lord Carbery ‘threw her on the ground’ and she was caused ‘extreme pain and distress’. Two months later, says the Act, he committed adultery for three nights running in a Paris hotel.

The separation of John and José was not the only feature of 1919 that Mary found distressful. It was also that year that John put Castle Freke, ancestral home of the Carberies, up for sale. It had formed the backdrop for my father’s youth. Great hardship was caused locally when so many workers on the estate and in the castle became unemployed.

Mary suffered in the moments of saying goodbye for ever to Castle Freke. She wrote, in a letter to my father:

My ‘Deare Darling’,

I am at last gone from beloved Castle Freke. The week has been a nightmare of furious work from morn to night, pack, pack, pack, and then hurried drives in the twilight to say goodbye to one and another. The poor people can’t believe we are gone for good - and oh! the crying and wailing, the furtive tears in men’s eyes, the hand kissing, it was all very touching and went to my heart. To love and to be loved is all that matters in life, especially the first.

I left after tea yesterday - the sea silver and the sky primrose; a cold wind sending the spindrift flying. I came by Ounahincha, the motor brimful of boxes, parcels, lampshades, clocks, crockery, coats, sticks, rugs.

It was so cold.

There were yet other events in 1919 which, from Mary’s point of view, gave cause for alarm. For example, ‘Oh give me the joys of the city,’ Ralfe was writing in his leather bound ‘Book of things worth remembering’, which he kept securely locked;

‘The theatre and the dance,

And girls in their low-necked dresses

Who throw one a winning glance.’

Mary felt that Ralfe was getting into dangerous company. He had been seen wining and dining and even was said to be considering getting engaged to a young woman who both his mother and his grandmother Victoria believed to be ‘unsuitable’.

‘Let me have supper at Murrays

With some little girl so sweet,

Mingle among the dancers

With swiftly moving feet.

Give me the passion I long for

That makes one feel so free,

And some little girl to sup with

The London night for me.’

The word ‘sup’ in this poem is interesting textually in that it has been written on top of some previous word which has been erased.

Mary had different views about the ‘London night’ and so did Ralfe’s religious grandmother Victoria. ‘I do trust our prayers are being answered for Ralfe,’ she wrote to Mary. ‘I think I had better write to him to tell him, when he returns, to be sure and put up at my house. I dread his return to where we cannot get at him in London. No boy of his age is safe in London, unless he is a sage.’ At the end of the letter there is a later addition: ‘Sad news came to me by wire. Ralfe married at the Spanish Place Catholic Church today. News confidential.’

Mary and Arthur, once the Castle Freke days were over, wandered through much of Europe. Arthur still spent much time in Ireland to continue his duties but apart from that they lived elsewhere in a series of rented houses and hotels. Mary’s restlessness led them to Cray, Auchnacree, Avening, Woolley in Berkshire, Fontainbleu, Jura, St Arnoult, Doucier, Bovey, Majorca, Mürren; never spending more than a few months in any one place. She was interested in the Gypsy culture and language, and believed that her frequent journeys by means of carriages, boats, trains, cars, and also in her own custom built caravan, reflected the Gypsy side in her nature. The caravan was sometimes sent on ahead by barge or train. Even so, Mary travelled long distances in it, at one point crossing the Simplon Pass in Switzerland, pulled by white oxen. The caravan incorporated inventions of her own, such as a collapsible canvas basin for washing, stackable metal beds and a tin bath made accessible by raising part of the floor. Creeping Jenny hung down from window boxes at the back and Creeping Jenny was the name inscribed on the front of the caravan. It was from the windows of this caravan that my father first saw the Welsh border country of Shropshire and Herefordshire, which he was later to make his home.

Arthur, though he tended to fall in with most of Mary’s plans, would have preferred a quieter life. So many hotels and rented houses exhausted him. He would rather have been in his own house, walking the dogs, and doing odd jobs about the place. ‘Just as I am by nature restless, a mover on, so do I want to grow, and mentally to progress; to have a wider horizon, to ‘cross the ranges’, wrote Mary. It was a fine philosophy but also a philosophy that, once freed of the duties of rearing a family, and the anchor of Castle Freke, made her a demanding companion.

An extensive correspondence grew up between Mary Carbery and, in Limerick, Mary Fogarty who had been born Mary O’Brien and who Grandmother had originally met in 1901. She was ghosting her autobiography, and wrote of her;

by long thinking and dwelling on the past, by talking and by answering questions put to her, the mist cleared, and her awakened memory gave back in startling clarity scenes from the past - places, people and events, even fragments of conversation. She saw with the eyes of her mind her parents in their vigour, her nurse, the dairymaids, farm labourers, horses and dogs; once more she worked and played with her sisters, was dutiful to visiting aunts, answered the greetings of wayfarers who came to the door and received their blessings when they passed on their way.

While Mary Fogarty, in Ireland, was remembering and making notes of what she ‘saw’ and ‘heard’, Mary Carbery, in England, was weaving the reminiscences, as she received them, into a ‘continuous narrative’. Here and there she filled gaps ‘which memory gave in shadowy form, or withheld’ with material of her own which she gleaned from history, folklore and other sources.

The result was ‘The Farm by Lough Gur’; a book still well known in Ireland. Ireland had given many wonderful things to Mary and in ‘The Farm by Lough Gur’ she gave a gift in return. It is a piece of social history, the story of a family of ‘strong farmers’ in the nineteenth century, who formed the backbone of many communities. Far away from the world of ‘stage Irish’ stereotypes and clichés, and far from ‘the ascendancy’, Mary presented ‘all the mists and memories, all the scent and sting’ of life in the Irish countryside. ‘The Farm by Lough Gur’ is still in print 50 years after her death - and what writer can ask for more?

My father showed reticence about his half brother John. Often he would decline to comment at all. He had been unhappy at school and as a boy and young man Castle Freke represented the best of everything he knew. John had sold it out of the family, and he found it hard to forgive this.

He did tell me once how, when touring in Spain, he had received a telegram from John in another part of the country, imploring him to come urgently. He found the rendezvous with difficulty and clandestinely picked up John, who was using a pseudonym, from an obscure pension. John had been gun running and was now himself on the run. My father smuggled him out of Spain in the boot of his motor.

Along with many other Irish people, John had developed a hatred for England, which he called ‘Johnny Bull’. Perhaps this was the reason that in 1921 he stopped using his title and assumed by deed poll the name John Evans Carberry, now spelling the name with two Rs. After some practise he began to speak in a broad American accent which he used for the rest of his life.

John had bought an estate in Kenya, called Seremai, ‘the place of death’, and the scene of an ancient battle, in 1920. His second wife, Maia, was one of a number of early women pilots in Kenya in the mid 20s. They had one child, Juanita. Maia died, when Juanita was still quite young, in a flying accident in 1928. Juanita continued to live at Seremai, though later she was to spend long periods away at various boarding schools.

John married a third time. Some say that his new wife, the pretty and streetwise June Mosley, was the only woman in his life who was able to stand up to his wild behaviour. Soon after they met, John took her up in a plane and asked her if she would like to do some stunts. With cool courage, June undid her safety belt, to show she wasn’t afraid. John admired courage, and that gesture won his deep affection.

Later, June was described as a ‘terrifyingly unnatural blonde. Deep bass voice. Tough as boots. But a wonderful person, warm hearted and totally unjealous. Cut her in half, you’d find mostly gin.’

John and June shouted at each other and they had rows, but he adored her. She had many affairs, aided and abetted by a governess John had engaged for Juanita. John usually didn’t mind. However, once when June went off with a lover on a trip to Meru while John was away in his aeroplane, he came back unexpectedly. When he discovered his wife gone, he took off again and flew until, far below him, he caught sight of the couple driving across a desolate area. He had loaded the plane with medium sized boulders, with which he bombarded their car.

John’s servants called him ‘Msharisha’, the Kikuyu name for the long whip with which oxen are driven, because he was tall, and because he lashed them frequently. At a wedding party at the White Rhino Hotel at Nyeri, soon after the outbreak of the second world war, he proposed the toast; ‘Long live Germany. To hell with England.’ He was reported to the police, but ‘it was thought best to let the matter lie.’

One of John’s less well known projects was the financing of Beryl Markham’s attempt to fly non-stop from England to New York, a flight which had not yet been successfully done solo. In due course he spent a period in prison as the result of his contravening the ‘Defence Regulations’ with ‘currency offences’. He was initially sentenced to three years hard labour. He appealed to the Supreme Court in Nairobi and the sentence was reduced to one year’s simple imprisonment. He later referred to his time in gaol as ‘the happiest period of my life’.

John and June became involved in the furore which followed the murder of Josslyn Hay, Lord Erroll, who was found dead on the floor of his Buick, near Nairobi, with a bullet in his head. Sir Henry ‘Jock’ Delves Broughton, another member of the ‘Happy Valley Set’, is generally believed to have killed him. His wife Diana was beautiful, younger than him, and a close friend of June’s.

Diana had fallen in love with Erroll and was having an affair with him. June had been with them on the night of the murder and appeared as a defence witness.

The day after the murder Jock confessed to Juanita, then in her teens, that he had killed Lord Erroll. In her autograph book that day he wrote that his greatest love was ‘animals’ and his greatest fear ‘loneliness’. It had been very difficult for the young Juanita to live with this secret and when she tried to share it with her stepmother, she was beaten. She was called as a prosecution witness at the trial but discharged as an unreliable witness. Jock Broughton was acquitted. He returned to Britain and killed himself, in the Adelphi Hotel, soon after his boat arrived at Liverpool. Juanita says this was not primarily because of the many tragedies he’d experienced, but because he had been accused of an insurance fraud relating to some pearls.

Juanita now lives in London and I recently asked her whether the amount of beating she received from her father had been exaggerated. ‘Not at all,’ she told me, and showed me, hanging on the wall, the rhino hide whip her father had used to beat her.

Uncle John enjoyed whipping his daughter. Once, she told me, when he had got out the whip, a friend of his tried to intervene, asking him why he was doing this. John replied, ‘because she told a lie’. ‘What was that?’ ‘She says she didn’t make a mark with the lavatory chain on the wall of the toilet.’ ‘Maybe she didn’t.’ ‘Even if she didn’t, she will have done before the week is out.’ After that he whipped his daughter.

John and June, says Juanita, always referred to her as ‘the little sod’. She was brought up like a boy, even in her early teens dressed in shorts and her toys consisted of a Meccano set and a Hornby train set. Juanita’s unusual upbringing was perhaps the reason for her becoming a very rebellious child who passed through eight different boarding schools, in the course of which she had to learn four different languages. ‘I was always bottom of the class,’ says Juanita.

Of her stepmother June, Juanita says, ‘She was a Piccadilly whore off the streets of London. She was a sexpot. I think she tried to be kind, but she had no idea of a child’s needs. If I came in excited about something, she’d say, “Oh don’t bother me now.” ’

Juanita also says that her father hung his baby brother (presumably Ralfe) by his legs out of a window at Castle Freke. ‘He gouged out the eyes of the family portraits and never missed a chance to mock all things religious.’

Maxwell Trench, who was a white Jamaican, was in charge of John’s illegal alcohol stills and Juanita remembers barrels of sugar cane juice bubbling as they fermented by the Dover Stoves. The barrels would then be removed to the attic to continue their maturing out of sight.

The Trench family gave Juanita warmth and affection during her lonely youth; ‘I wasn’t allowed to play with the Trench children or with the servants’ children, but I used to creep away there and the African children acted as lookouts, making bird noises to give the alarm if my governess or June or my father approached.’ There were some compensations. ‘I am glad to have known the old Africa, the old ancestral Africa as it was, which now has gone for ever.’

Juanita also came to love the sea. For most of her working life she’s worked on tankers and cargo ships, including ships which didn’t normally employ women. Now she lives in a flat overlooking the river in London. Among her friends are the captain and crew of one of the tugs that ply the river, and she enjoys riding the expansive waters of the Thames with them.


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