The Rowers of Vanity Fair/Eaton HF

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Eaton, Herbert Francis[edit]

“Brown” (Spy), October 31, 1891[edit]

Eaton HF Vanity Fair 1891-10-03.jpg

Henry William Eaton, who made money in the silk trade, helped to manage Insurance Companies and to legislate at the bidding of Coventry, and dabbled in Geography and Horticulture, became the first Lord Cheylesmore in the fiftieth year of his Queen’s reign. He also had three sons, of whom the third, born nearly four-and-forty years ago, and named Herbert Francis, went to Eton to be re-named “Cheeky Eaton.” At twenty he joined the Grenadiers, and, going to Dublin, was by his brother officers called “Brown” -- a name by which he has been known ever since. Being a good soldier, an industrious fellow, and quite enthusiastic in all that he does, he attained his Colonelcy and became a Peer’s son in the same year; and he is now in command of that 2nd Battalion of the Grenadier Guards which he has just brought back from a well-deserved, if enforced, holiday in Bermuda.

He is a good all-round sportsman who drives his father’s team well; but though a fair shot, he is sometimes a little too eager to get birds. He has thrown himself heart and soul into most things connected with the Brigade; and the Boat Club and Racing Club would miss him as much as he would be missed from an Ascot luncheon. He has commanded the N.R.A. camp at Wimbledon and Bisley for seven years; yet withal he has found time to start and successfully edit The Brigade of Guards Magazine. He is a very good and very popular Colonel.

He had a narrow escape from degenerating into a politician four years ago, when he was only saved from becoming a Tory Member of Parliament by sixteen gallant Coventry voters.

“Arms and Sport” (Ray), July 17, 1912[edit]

Eaton HF Vanity Fair 1912-07-17.jpg

Born some sixty years ago, he has spent more than half of his life soldiering. Did most of it in the “Grannies,” and was made major-general in 1899.

Always a rare man in the Army to “organise and organise and organise,” and left his mark on the Tournament when things were none too bright in that quarter.

Since retiring has found “employment on return to civil life” -- fine old official phrase that! -- in helping along all sorts of deserving institutions, among others the L.C.C., of which he is now chairman.

Does it all just as easily as he handles the ribbons when driving his team of bays at a meet of the Four-in-Hand Club.

Collects medals -- well-won war ones -- and has about the finest “aggregate” ever put in cases.

Also boats -- these he does not collect -- but uses to row in.

Shoots anything -- has done so since he had a pop for Eton in the Ashburton in 1866.

Has shot for the House of Lords since 1906, and would have shot for the Commons if he had not scored an “outer” at Coventry election in 1887.

E.B. Gibson's Grand Challenge Cup medal, 1856

Known to his intimates as “Brown,” he is never happier than when the boys have their week at Bisley, and he can devote a portion of his well-earned holidays to “teaching the young idea to shoot.”

Loves rifle shooting as much as marksmen like him -- which is indeed saying a very great deal.

Has done more to advance the “nation of marksmen” ideal than any other nobleman in the country.

Makes a very neat and nippy after-dinner speech -- always keeping his “few words” well on the target.

A man of infinite capacity and charming personality, whose sterling qualities of head and heart have made him many friends and never an enemy.

Herbert Francis Eaton (1848-1925) won the Eton House Fours in 1866 at bow for Mr. Warre’s house, and rowed for the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards in the 1877 Grand.

He first appeared in Vanity Fair as commander of the 2nd Battalion, which he had “just brought back from a well-deserved, if enforced, holiday in Bermuda.” As some curious punishment, the entire battalion had been sent to that terrible place for a year following “an act of insubordination.”

Following his 1912 appearance, Eaton (who had by then inherited the baronetcy from his brother) returned to the military during the 1914-18 war to preside over courts martial in espionage and other cases. He died in 1925 of injuries received in a motor accident, the first Vanity Fair rower to meet his end in that modern fashion.

Oarsmen at War[edit]

Of the fifty-nine rowers of Vanity Fair, seventeen served in the armed forces in wartime: two in the Sudan (Compton and Grenfell (as a journalist)), four in the South African war (Chapman, Compton, McLean, and Fletcher), and fourteen in the 1914-18 war (Lord Ampthill, Bourne, Chapman, Crum, Dudley-Ward, Eaton, Fletcher, Fogg-Elliot, Gold, Guinness, Nickalls, W.F.D. Smith, Stuart, and Swann). In his autobiography, The Sunlit Hours, T.A. Cook recalled W.A.L. Fletcher in South Africa:

When the South African War broke out, at a period when many of us at home were without sufficient information to understand the many surrenders which were taking place, we were all suddenly cheered up by news of Lieutenant Fletcher at Hamelfontein. On December 17 he was in command of twenty men of the 32nd Company Imperial Yeomanry (Lancashire Hussars), two of Nesbitt’s Horse, and nine Grenadier Guardsmen, a miscellaneous force responsible for the safety of a valuable depot of rations about twenty miles from Colesberg. The patrol he sent out very early in the morning never came back. At half-past ten the Boers made a strong attack, when Fletcher was half a mile away from camp. He ran back, rushed the men to their stations, sent off reinforcements to an outlying picket, and galloped off to them himself some hundred yards under fire. Luckily he never got there, for when his horse had been shot under him he reached a small kopje in time to see them smothered by the enemy’s advance and a man captured who had run to their assistance. One of the men he had left was wounded, but Fletcher disposed his twenty-three rifles to repel the attack. Another named Stevenson volunteered to run the gauntlet and get help. He raced pluckily through the zone of fire only to ride straight into the Boer reinforcements, which now began to come up and close in upon every commanding kopje round the little camp.

1927 monument by Luytens, Victoria Embankment Gardens, London WC2

By slow degrees Fletcher and his twenty-two men, reduced gradually to only sixteen, were driven back from their outlying kopjes to the sluits, and from the sluits to the irrigation ditches. The enemy had gradually increased to between 200 and 250, and twice they sent in to demand surrender, mentioning something about cannon the second time. Fletcher refused; and all his men stood by him though the foe had got to within 15 yd., and a rush was momentarily expected. But it never came. For eleven and a half hours the fight went on. At last each man took a room to himself, barricaded every door, and waited at the window with fixed bayonets. A desperate and heavy rowing-man at a window with a bayonet is not a pleasant thing to face, and the enemy preferred the cover of the sluits and bushes. At last the Boers sent in to ask if a couple of their wounded would be admitted. Fletcher took them in, but their hurts were mortal. By the morning the discouraged enemy had disappeared, carrying off the rest of their wounded and leaving two dead upon the field.

“They could not last the course,” he wrote home to Sir John Edwards-Moss in England.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Dictionary of National Biography.
  2. ^ T.A. Cook, The Sunlit Hours, pp. __.