Playing at soldiers: A military memoir (Dick Dawes)

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The distinguished military officer Lt-Col Richard Arthur Aston Dawes, MC, was born in Tidworth Camp, Wiltshire, on December 28th, 1914 to Captain W. R. A. Dawes and his wife Muriel (nee Scott-Rankin), just four months after his father was killed in action - the first officer of the Wiltshire Regiment to be lost in the first World War.

He received his early education at Chafyn Grove Preparatory School and Marlborough College before entering Sandhurst Military Academy in January, 1933. On completion of his military training he entered the Indian Army when he was accepted into the 6th Duke of Connaught's Own Lancers (Watson's Horse).

His first-year attachment with a British regiment was in the Duke of Wellington's which he joined at Nowshera in 1935. It was, in his own words, the beginning of four wonderful years of hunting, polo, shooting and what he always referred to as "poodle faking". He declined all invitations to go fishing. The sport bored him, because he found it "too slow".

In 1939 he went to Burma in an attempt to recoup his diminished finances, but returned to India when war broke out. His regiment was in the process of reforming, replacing its traditional cavalry horses with armoured vehicles, and, with the help of the late General Sir Mosley Mayne, Dick successfully applied for a transfer to the Maratta Regiment and moved at once into active service in Eritrea, which saw some of the worst and most frightening fighting of the entire war.

In the desert he was moved up the lines to Mersametru, where the troops received orders to stand to the last man. "Thank God the Brass changed their minds," Dick recalled later, "and we got the hell out of it."

Dick Dawes rejoined his regiment in Cyprus and was among those who landed in Italy at Taranto in 1944 before making for a Rome that was then packed with American soldiers. From Rome, he and his men moved up through Italy and Dick gained his Military Cross "on the Po", as he liked to put it dismissively. In fact the award was earned for a bridge operation of exceptional gallantry.

A man of laconic wit, he afterwards said that he would have enjoyed his war much more if he'd known he was going to survive it - but enjoy it he did. As the war drew to a close, he was posted to the India Office in London. The following year, 1946, he spent his leave in Ireland where he met Audrey Wright of Prumplestown House. Never one to hesitate where an attractive woman was concerned, he proposed and was accepted within five days. They were married the following December.

The couple honeymooned on the Strathnaver on their way to Quetta in India, where Dick was scheduled to do his first full year at staff college. Their only child, Gethyn, was born in Ireland in 1948.

In 1950, Dick Dawes left the army to take up a permanent commission in the RAF Regiment, serving in Egypt, Aden, Cyprus and Germany and rising to the rank of Wing Commander. Eight years later, he retired from his services career to return to Ireland where he accepted a directorship in Securicor Ltd and decided to make the country his permanent home.

Dick and Audrey Dawes returned to Prumplestown House in 1980 where Dick became involved in the financial side of the estate. In a reprise of his time at Nowshira he rode, shot and rode to hounds with both the Ormond and the Carlow Hunts, living life to the full in the Ireland he loved.