Colonel Ralph Bromfield Willington Fisher-Childe C. B.
Colonel Fisher-Childe commenced his soldiering nominally as a “Bay” having been gazetted to the 2nd Dragoon Guards on the 27th June 1874. As, however his transfer to the Tenth had effect from the same date, all his service was passed in the Regiment.
Passing out at Sandhurst, he was appointed a Sub-Lieutenant, and promoted Lieutenant on the same date, Promoted Captain on the 28th April 1882, Major on the 12th February 1891, Lieut.-Colonel 3rd August 1896, Colonel 3rd August 1900.
Writing the Regimental history of Colonel Fisher-Childe, (or, as he was better known to us, Colonel Fisher,) is almost synonymous with writing a history of the Regiment during his day. All of his service was regimental service, and with the exception of intervals on active service for which he volunteered when the Regiment was not employed, service at the Depot and leave – all his time was spent doing regimental duty.
His service in the field comprises first and second phase of the war in Afghanistan 1878-79 and 1879-80, including in the former the actions at Fattehabad, where, as recently published in the Gazette, he was instrumental in saving the life of Captain (later Colonel) Manners Wood. In the second phase he accompanied Lord Roberts in his famous march from Kabul to Kandahar, and took part in the whole operations in which the force was engaged, including Matun, Shutargardan, and the final battle at Kandahar, when the army of Ayub Khan was crushingly defeated, and that Amir’s powers destroyed.
Medal with clasps, Peiwar Kotal, Kabul and Kandahar, and Kabul-Kandahar Star, mentioned in despatches for Shutargardan, and for Kabul and Kandahar.
He accompanied an expeditionary force into the Waziri country in 1881, and was mentioned in despatches.
Having proceeded home for duty after a continuous tour of nearly seven years service in India, in April 1882, he did not accompany the Regiment to the Eastern Soudan, and his next war services were in the South African War.
He succeeded to the command of the Regiment on 3rd August 1896, and as Commanding Officer, took it to the seat of war in November 1899, leading it in the arduous days of Colesberg in the close of 1899 and the early days of 1900; in the dash on Kimberley, which was described by the Special War Correspondent of The Times as “The Cavalry’s theatrical coup of the war – dramatic and sensational in its results”, and of which the same writer say “it is doubtful if any but the closest student of war realise how nearly that dash might have failed”. Following the Relief of Kimberley the still more dramatic chase in which the Regiment was hurled after Cronjie in his flight from Magaliesberg to the Modder laager; the important battles of Poplar Grove and Driefontein; the advance on, and taking of the Free-State capital; the march to Ladybrand and subsequent disastrous incident in Kroon Spruit. General French, making a public address to the troops at Springs, some time after Colonel Fisher-Childe’s departure, highly eulogized the actions of the Tenth and the Composite Regiment of the Household Cavalry on this occasion. Succeeding these stirring events, the Regiment under the Colonel left Bloemfontein with the army, took part in the Battle of Welkom, the occupation of Weinberg, the engagement at Bloomplats on the Zand River; the occupation of Kronstadt; of Lindley, which had been established as the seat of the Government for just six hours, and from which it was reported that President Stein and his supporters had fled, taking £50,000 immediately before the arrival of our troops.
Continuing the advance towards Heilbron, fighting of some magnitude was a daily occurrence, and on arriving within two miles of that town, a large Boer convoy was sighted which was pursued and captured by the Regiment; amongst other things that taken were ration biscuits and a sword lost by “B” Squadron at Sanna’s Post, and the order books of the Household Regiment.
The Vaal River was crossed and the Transvaal entered, and the second day in that state was marked by an encounter in which the Artillery took the greatest part; fighting took place the following day at Rietfontein, and marching on, the Regiment took part in the occupation of Johannesburg. Still trekking day by day, the battle of Diamond Hill robbed the Army of a gallant Tenth Hussar, and Colonel Fisher of an Old Comrade and very dear friend – The Earl of Airlie – who fell leading his Regiment, the 12th Lancers. Five days later, Pretoria, the capital of Transvaal State, was entered.
The march to, and fight at, the Nigel Mines, Heidelberg, Frankfort, Rietz, Bethlehem, Senekal, Lindley, Vredefort, the long and stern chase after the guerrilla leader De Wet, was continued without cessation under Colonel Fisher-Childe, until the 15th November 1900 when he left us for England, having been retained in the command three months beyond the ordinary period.
For his services in South Africa he was gazetted a Companion of the Order of the Bath, awarded the medal with seven clasps, and was mentioned in despatches. He is also in possession of the more specific decoration, the Jubilee medal. His total service was 26 years 142 days.
It has been said that Colonel Fisher’s history is that of the Regiment, not only because all his soldiering was Regimental soldiering, but also because he was an active and prominent participator in all its doings, whether professional, social or in its sports.
Perhaps his greatest renown was by his racing achievements – to confess ignorance of the triumphs of “Bobbie” Fisher was tantamount to confession of an entire destitution of acquaintance with the deeds of the Best Gentleman Rider of one year, and one who was in every year the peer of the best. Not a meeting in India but knew him and followed him; and in England and Ireland nearly every known racecourse, Sandown, Kempton, Lewes, Liverpool, Croydon, Gatwicke, Folkestone, Wye, and many others have been the scene of his victories. In 1887 he won the Grand Military at Sandown on his horse “Dalesman”; with “Downey” the Irish Grand Military; no less than fourteen steeplechases on one of his favourite horses, “Meerschaum”, and many others, the relation of which would exceed our space. We wonder whether the Colonel does not attach more importance to the performance of his old favourite “Slane”, a winner four times of the most coveted event, “Bakers Cup”, than to those of many other gallant horses he has steered first past the post. Slane accompanied the Regiment to South Africa, and trekked over many miles of veldt with a stout heart. The painting of Slane presented by the Officers on the Colonel leaving is doubtless one of his chiefest treasures.
Another notable win was the Kadir Cup in 1882.
It is almost inevitable that in the “sport of Kings” accidents will happen, and there was certainly no exception to the rule in Colonel Fisher-Childe’s case. Indeed, it is questionable whether he possesses a single bone which has not at some time or other broken or violently changed from the form which nature equipped him with it.
More serious were several cases of concussion of the brain, one of which, if the writer’s memory is reliable, was caused by being thrown from the famous but uncertain Grand National winner Roquefort, in which the Colonel had a proprietary interest. Happily we can congratulate him upon the absence of bad results from his accidents, and express a hope that he will long be spared to breed chasers, which he is doing with much enthusiasm now that he has given up riding them.
We are informed on excellent authority that he has some very well-bred and nice looking young ones, and shall anticipate reading of their early successes when they are turned out.
In the Regimental polo he was very conspicuous, and played for the Regiment during the whole of the last Indian tour, taking part in the first Inter-Regimental polo tournament in India, when the 9th Lancers rested the polo cup from us by one goal after a most exciting game. He played in the second tournament, when the 9th again beat us in the final, and in the third, when the Tenth won, having beaten their last year’s rivals in the first game by six goals to two.
Again, in the next year’s tournament, when the Regiment repeated its victory, we find Colonel Fisher’s name in the winning team, and this was the last opportunity he had of playing the game in this country, as he left for duty at home before the next annual contests for the cup.
Another sport in which he was regimentally famous was cricket. Up to the end of his service he played for the Regiment, and scored eminently both with the bat and the ball: perhaps bowling was his forte; the regimental records for the game from 1884 to 1899 give ample evidence of his skill as a bowler; also that he could always be relied upon to compile a respectable number of runs for his side.
He will long be remembered for his peculiarly felicitous choice of nick-names. It was an odds-on chance that before an officer had been joined a month, he would be known by a name which was euphonious and just described some characteristics possessed, or was a clever play upon his real name. Visitors to the Regiment were often quite bewildered by the names by which Officers were addressed or by which they were referred to, and these names became far more familiar to their brother-officers than their real ones, and many who have left the Regiment years ago are, to this day, spoken of even by those who have come after them, only by Colonel Fisher’s familiar appellations, to the utter suppression of their baptismal ones.
One of the best of hosts, he possessed what may be termed the charm, of making the most delightful small talk. Wherever he happened to be, there was also a group listening with avidity to a stream of persiflage, always good-natured, ever entertaining. He never said the wrong thing: even when dealing out even-handed justice in the Orderly Room, his judicious sentences and forensic addresses were so blended that no man ever went out not feeling that he deserved the treatment meted out to him. The affection with which he is still spoken of by the men left who served under him is an unmistakable tribute to his fairness, and his never- waning popularity.
Always improving the racial feeling, whether interviewing the hostile race, propitiating Boers, or discussing their own affairs with the neural native races in South Africa, all went away delighted with the demeanour of the Rooi-nek Commandant. Who can forget, or refrain from admiring his suavity, his bland courtesy to the irate Mrs Blockenhaager, who descended upon us in her wrath, at her farm, Noodhulp, Bloemfontein? It was there that we off-saddled on the day of the occupation of the capital of the Orange Free State. The worthy man and his vrow had fled on the approach of the British Troops, of whose ribaldry and licentiousness such terrifying stories had been disseminated by our “brother-Boer”. Succeeding our recent experiences we found Noodhulp a perfect haven of rest, with good grazing for horses, good water, succulent mutton walking about very obtrusively; and fat poultry that knew no fear of the Rooi-nek, clucked and crowed contemptuously. The inevitable happened, and when the good lady, who had no doubt, bee watching our movements from some spot nearby, swooped down upon her unwelcome guests, it was to find “C” Squadron dining festively, as they had not dined for many weeks, with the assistance of her prime mutton, her poultry and eggs, and chinaware borrowed from her house, and cooked with wood from her store. Captain (now General) Kavanagh, the leader of the Squadron, was the first upon whom the vials of her wrath were poured, and he found the lady’s conversational powers too much for him: then appears Colonel Fisher, and though he would persist in addressing Mrs Blockenhaager by a name that was admittedly very much like it, but was pregnant with meaning, his way very soon soothed her, and she went of rejoicing with “chits” for all that had been commandeered.
Many anecdotes could be related that prove that he is suaviter in modo, and in short, that he is endowed with those attributes that endear him to his fellows; and as a Commanding Officer, to the men under him
We have no doubt that the same relations exist between him and those whom he is now daily associated, and we close this brief and weak tribute to a former Commanding Officer with the expression of out hope that the day is far distant that those relations may cease, assured that they will only do so when he no longer lives to represent the Old Tenth. Also that Mrs Fisher-Childe, to whom the Regiment has not yet unfortunately been introduced, may likewise share with him every one of those years.