Captain Hollingsworth’s Cottage

Page added 22nd March 2016

Captain Hollingsworth's cottage

What can you say as you look at this sad little ruin? Well actually, the walkers who come across it all rave about it. They all wish it could become their retreat or holiday cottage. The photo doesn’t do it justice and what you can’t see is the fabulous position; it’s next to a beech grove on the banks of the river Cleddau and every year in May a forest of pink rhododendron appears. But what you also can’t see are the ghosts of the remarkable men who lived here.

The cottage is on land belonging to the Richards family who were compulsorily relocated to Fernhill at Clay Lanes (where they still farm) from land at Castlemartin when that became needed for military usage in 1940.

The cottage was for centuries the home of agricultural labourers whose past we sadly don’t know (but can guess at) but soon after the Richards family arrived they were asked by a master in Haverfordwest Grammar School if he could rent it, even though it was in a pretty poor state even then.

This learned gentleman, an Oxbridge graduate by the name of Gordon Davies, had been a captain in the British army during the First World War.

His brief stay was marred by obvious difficulties that he had, probably the result of wartime trauma that we can only imagine. Only after his departure were items found that suggested that he had been an outstanding athlete of note. Two silver cups were found in the property demonstrating his prowess. The first reads, ‘D.C.A.C. Quarter Mile; Time 53 seconds; won by D Gordon Davies; 1912.’ (World records at this time stood at around 50 seconds.) The second has the following inscription; ‘D.C.A.C. 100 YARDS; Time 104/5th Seconds; Won by D Gordon Davies 1912.’ (For many years, the world record set in 1870 stood at 10.5 seconds, which has to be the reason for the extremely precise time being stated.)

But then came Captain Hollingsworth. The cottage is actually known by the family as, ‘Captain Hollingsworth’s Cottage’. This gentleman was larger than life. Married briefly, to the heiress of Madame Tussauds, Captain Hollingsworth was another First World War captain who had served with the Gloucestershire Regiment.

Very obviously and very rightly proud of this remarkable regiment Captain Hollingsworth kept an album (loaned to me by the Richards family) in which details are recorded of the honours of this unit. It had (it was disbanded/merged with several other units in the 1990s) more battle honours than any other British regiment and is famous for its performance in both Waterloo (our very own General Picton found refuge during the battle in the square formed by the Gloucestershire Regiment to repel cavalry) and Korea where one of its battalions fought quite literally almost to the last man. (During the battle of Imjin River, a hill known ever since as Gloster Hill was the scene of the action. Two VCs and a host of other awards were won.) The album also contains dozens of photographs of young officers who fell during WW1. Frustratingly captain Hollingsworth didn’t feel the need to include one of himself.

The captain regaled the young Richards’s children with tales that would make Indiana Jones envious; the rescue of the wounded colonel whilst surrounded by untold thousands of Whirling Dervishes during a desert action; and then in northern China he is swinging down on a rope from a cliff top and snatching a young woman out of a burning building seconds before it crashed to the ground and certain death.

They kept coming; there was nothing that Captain Hollingsworth hadn’t done. The Boer war and all that went with it was just another action taken in his remarkable stride. Who is to say, who has the nerve to suggest that such adventures were not as he described them.

He frequently rowed the two miles to Haverfordwest and left his boat tied up whilst he did his shopping until the local authority advised him that he wasn’t to leave his boat at his preferred position any more. The only surprise is that the local authority offices remained standing after issuing such a restriction.

He kept weapons (illegally) hidden and taught the Richards children to shoot. When the local police found out and requested that he turn them in, Captain Hollingsworth stated that he would never surrender his weapons...but perhaps if a policewoman was sent to retrieve them....well then possibly some solution might be found....

But Captain Hollingsworth had a dark secret that only came out after a large whiskey or three; during the 1920s the British government sought to defeat the Irish nationalists and their bid for independence.

To this end initially, the Black and Tans, a group of rough not necessarily professional soldiers, had been sent to Ireland. But when this didn’t work a force named the Auxiliaries was formed and sent. These were mainly officers who had been made redundant in 1918. Their brief was a bloody one and they committed numerous major atrocities (burning Cork; burning Tralee; preventing fire fighters from doing their job by shooting them and much, much else.)

To what extent captain Hollingsworth was involved isn’t known but he became extremely twitchy when the Richards family took on an Irishman to help with the farm work. He left soon after, relocated a few miles away and died shortly after.

Possibly as a testimony to the glory heaped on his regiment and the reason as to why they were known as ‘The Glorious Gloucesters’, Captain Hollingsworth, quite often in his album, quotes the lines from Henry V;

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

There’s more than this but no room to tell it. I have actually written a play based in part on the lives of those who lived here entitled Heroes and Villains. All that’s needed now is a cast, and a theatre, and some props and an audience and an ice cream seller and a director and a publicist...

I am indebted to the Richards family for their help in formulating this piece.