|Edward VIII on an indian Walkabout
rumours of drastic cuts in the air, and having seen his friend Lord Acton's
diplomatic career end so abruptly the previous year, Conrad applied for leave.
He arrived back in London in the summer
of 1921. His role as
Military Attaché was over. Conrad had become an established mover in the most
secret of circles. He had the reputation of being a man to be relied upon for
his good sense and discretion. Consequently, soon after his return he was
chosen to be an aide-de-camp for one of the Indian Governors during the Prince of
Wales’s tour in the winter of 1921-22. Unbeknown to its participants this
was to be the very last Royal Tiger hunt. This was the swan song of the British Raj. Gandhi, Nehru and the Indian National
Congress Party were gaining power. All too soon the party would come to an
end. But while Conrad was there during the Prince’s visit, the Party was in
full swing. It was Conrad’s responsibility as ADC to see it stayed that way. It
was a difficult tour as the Indian Congress and Gandhi were staging
demonstrations of passive resistance wherever the Prince went. More than once
they were dispersed with the utmost brutality by the local British forces. It
was an uncomfortable tour. Conrad the ADC was just the man to keep a knowing
eye on things while the party went on.
early one morning after yet another grand party, finding caviar sandwiches and
a champagne bottle on his desk, literally the breakfast of Kings. The Prince
had risen early and was out knocking a polo ball about with Fruity Metcalfe,
the Prince's new friend and personal aide-de-camp. Conrad fulfilled his duties
with aplomb and became a trusted part of the future King’s retinue. He tells
how at dinner he occupied the humble end of the lengthy table and was seated
next to Lord Louis
Mountbatten – another chance meeting with a major player in the drama to
come. The exalted end was occupied by the Prince with the Governor, Sir Harcourt Butler,
Lord Cromer, Sir Lionel Halsey, Godfrey Thomas, Piers Legh and guests with a
smattering of Indian Princes. He complains that his duties often took him away
from such parties early to greet arriving guests. Conrad describes the ADC as
“a fool, a footman and everybody’s friend!“ The duties of the aide-de-camp are
defined in the Oxford dictionary as
“An officer who
assists a General in the field, by conveying his orders, procuring him intelligence,
etc.” Conrad the spy was in his element.
As M’s man he was ideally placed. Though little is said in his book about this
aspect of his remit, Conrad was busy fulfilling his duties in both respects. He
recalls how in February 1922 while shooting big game with the Governor in
Terhai, Lord Reading, the Viceroy, had interrupted their sport to discuss the
possible arrest of Gandhi with the Governor. It was an interruption Conrad had
deplored at the time as they were having such good sport. On March 10th Gandhi
was arrested and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for sedition.
time in India also
introduced him to what was to
be an abiding interest in his life, mountaineering. He felt a kindred spirit
with the Sherpa inhabitants of the high mountains, sharing their common love of
a “something beyond”. He goes on to tell how he enjoyed the friendship of other
mountain lovers too, including Sir Francis
Smythe and, later, Sir John Hunt and
Sir Edmund Hillary.
Conrad became a lifelong member of the Alpine Club. His
mountaineering exploits earned him the nickname of Eagle in his Regiment. Once
the Prince’s tour of India ended, Conrad returned to his
regiment, which was then stationed in India. After the high life of the tour,
his duties as a cavalry officer during the beginning of the preparatory season
were stressful: staging extra drills for those who were in need; the bringing
up of equipment and horses to full muster in readiness for the training season.
Conrad found the arbitrary exactitude and precision of soldiering in the
searing heat of an Indian summer too much; it made him ill. He applied for
leave and was soon en route to Srinagar and the cool air of the mountains.
Conrad spent his leave hunting Ibex and climbing. Much recovered, he returned
to his regiment and was soon transferred back to London where he was demobilized and
returned to civilian life.
|A Royal Tiger Hunt.