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Conrad Fulke O'Brien-ffrench. Artist and Spy.

A Mountee always gets his man.

The making of a secret agent begins
 with a life in the saddle.

Conrad the Mountie

Conradhad begun his first adventure. He felt ". . . fear of letting go of that to which I was previously attached. Moreover, my life in Europe had been a comfortable one surrounded by goodwill and consideration and Nell, but here in the west it was each man for himself and a question of survival." (DM p. 23)

His travels in the West began with a transcontinental journey on the Canadian Pacific Railway. The vastness of the new land, he said, filled him with loneliness. At Moose Jaw he had to change trains and wait overnight for his connection on the freezing station. The only hotel was full and little more than a doss house. Western Canada was not for those who liked their creature comforts in those days. It was the wild frontier of an ever expanding nation. After a cold, uncomfortable night he continued on to Tuxford and then made his way by road to Buffalo Lake. His host welcomed him into his home. It was a busy ranch and Conrad spent much time alone wrestling with misgivings for the life he had left behind.

He traveled to Regina barracks of the Royal North West Mounted Police and presented himself as a prospective recruit. He sees a troop of mounted police leaving for London as he arrives. They retrace his steps and represent the Mounties at the Coronation of King George V. There was a shortage of recruits and as a consequence they rushed through basic training and were sent on to their far-flung postings in a matter of a month. Conrad soon found himself on detachment near the US border. Here the intensive training continued. He was taught how to use his revolver; then told that under no circumstances was it ever to be drawn! The Mounties’ reputation rested upon their strength of personality and resolve, not their gun craft. To quell a brawl in a rough outpost saloon by force of personality and unflinching adherence to the rule of Law was the substance that made an officer of the RMVP a figure of so much respect. This foundation in self reliance and courage was the making of the man.

Battle Creek 1910

After his basic training was completed, Conrad was posted to Cypress Hills – ‘so named by the French fur traders of the 1800's who mistook the local Lodge pole pine for Jack pine (Cypress in French). It is now a National Park but then was an absolute untamed wilderness. Conrad’s quest for adventure had placed him in the ultimate 'sink or swim' situation the wild Frontier! He learned the value of the spirit – not just the word – of the law. He tells tales of resolving every type of local disagreement – from boundary disputes over potato crops to felonious acts deserving imprisonment – with common sense solutions, all parties accepting the fairness of young Conrad’s judgment.

Watercolour circa66
On smooth watercolour Paper

When Conrad was posted to Willow Creek, the harsh character of the land he had chosen as his home became known to him just a month after his arrival. One day on patrol, he set out from a ranch he had stayed at overnight. He noticed it was a dark day, with a rising wind and falling temperature, but continued on his way regardless. He found himself overtaken by a blizzard and was soon enveloped in a blinding whiteness. Sometimes he could only see as far as his horses ears.

"Fear I had felt for a bunch on trigger happy drunks was nothing compared to this. It was as if one was in a white hell . . . One was being consumed by white tongues of ice . . . I felt too numb to think for the cold seemed to freeze my brain . . . Dropping my reins I left it to my horse." (DM p 31)

After hours floundering about in the drifts, Conrad blundered into a barbwire fence. Eventually he found a gate, and soon a ranch. He notes later how often Mounties owed their lives to the good sense of their mounts.

Fate intervened. Conrad received news from home that his mother was seriously ill. He applied for his release and returned home. But he had fallen in love with the wild woods of Canada, and knew he would return one day. So he would – but much much later than he could have imagined. The press was still full of the loss of the Titanic as Conrad sailed home. In Britain, Conrad’s mother fell into her final decline and died the following summer. Conrad saw her interred next to his beloved Rollo.

The Great War was coming and Conrad joined a special reserve battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment, the Tipperary Militia. Having seen his little sister Yvonne cared for, he reported to barracks. "A wilder month I have never spent!" He enrolled in a military school to prepare him for exams – exams he was never to take. War came instead. Conrad and his regiment were immediately despatched to France, but their first engagement was to be in Belgium at Mons. The Daily Mail correspondent, George Curnock, reported the Tipperary Rangers singing as they marched by at Boulogne in August 1914.

"as a company of the 2nd Battalion Connaught Rangers passed us singing, with a note of strange pathos in their rich Irish voices, a song I had never heard before" The song? – “It's a long way to Tipperary”.

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