07 Oct 2006

Lieutenant-Colonel George David Garforth-Bles (1909-2006)

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The Telegraph reports:

George David Garforth-Bles was born on October 5 1909 at Knutsford, Cheshire. He was the grandson of Sir William Garforth, the inventor of the coal-cutter and a safety lamp and breathing apparatus for miners. David was educated at Rugby, where he played for the first XV and the hockey IX and was Master of the Rugby Rat Hounds (ferrets).

After going up to Jesus College, Cambridge, to read Military Studies and German, he served with The Guides Cavalry (10th Queen Victoria’s Own Frontier Force) on the North West Frontier Force from 1931 to 1939; in the latter year, he played in the regimental polo team which won the last Indian Cavalry Polo Tournament.

In the Second World War Garforth-Bles commanded the 4th Battalion, 3rd Madras Regiment, in fierce fighting against the Japanese in Burma. He was mentioned in dispatches.

In 1948 he retired from the Army and emigrated to Canada, where he took up the post of secretary at the Eglinton Hunt Club in Toronto.

On his return to England, he ran a small family business. In retirement, at Farnham, Surrey, he enjoyed fishing and gardening. He was co-author of Now or Never (1946), an account of his regiment’s experiences in the Burma Campaign.

David Garforth-Bles died on September 27. He married first (dissolved), in 1939, Susan Muir-Mackenzie. He married secondly, in 1948, Ann Deshon. She predeceased him, and he is survived by a son and a daughter from his first marriage and by three sons from his second

His sporting career in India provides one of the most remarkable pig-sticking stories:

Lieutenant-Colonel David Garforth-Bles, who has died aged 96, served in the Indian Cavalry on the North West Frontier and was the central figure in an episode which must rank highly even in the bizarre chronicles of oriental field sports.

In 1937 Garforth-Bles, a young officer in The Guides Cavalry, was attending a course at the Army Equitation School, Saugor, Central India, when he went pig-sticking with a colleague, Denis Voelker. As he wrote shortly afterwards to his parents: “A sounder [herd] of pig broke between us and the heat on the right.

There were three rideable boar amongst them and Denis and I were on the largest. Everyone else was chasing the other two and we were quite by ourselves. Denis had a very fast horse and was about ten yards in front of me and just going to spear the pig. Suddenly the pig and Denis and his horse vanished completely.”

Garforth-Bles at first assumed that his friend and his quarry had descended into a deep nullah (gully), but he could find no evidence of one. He turned his pony round, and came across a well, which was overgrown with long grass.

“I had a nasty moment wondering what I should find at the bottom,” he continued in his letter home, “as most of the wells here are very deep indeed, and some are dry at the bottom. Luckily this was a very wide well and the water was very deep and only about twenty-five feet down from the top, and there were large flat stones sticking out to form steps down to the water.”

When he peered down into the gloom Garforth-Bles made out Denis Voelker hanging on to the bottom step; his horse was plunging about in the water, while the pig was swimming round and round, occasionally rushing at the horse and at Voelker and trying to get on to the step.

Garforth-Bles descended into the well to find that his friend had broken his left arm and had a six-inch cut down to the bone of his elbow. He helped the injured man up the steps, then got hold of the horse’s bridle, trying to keep the animal’s head above water.

Garforth-Bles wrote: “It was rather difficult, as he was terrified of the pig, which kept swimming at him and trying to bite him. Then the horse would rear up in the water, beating with his fore legs, and turn over backwards and sink. I thought that he was certain to be drowned.

“By this time several village people had come up and one of them held the horse’s bridle, while I speared the pig several times until it sank. We then got a rope with a stone on the end and lowered it down one side of the horse and brought it up on the other side underneath its belly. I had to dive under the horse to get hold of the rope. We could now keep it from sinking, and there was nothing to do until the others came up. They had killed the two other pigs and arrived at last, seeing the village people round the well.”

While Voelker was taken to hospital, Garforth-Bles asked the nearby veterinary hospital to provide one of the slings used for supporting lame horses; when this arrived he returned to the water, and fitted it to his friend’s distressed horse.

“It was quite tricky work, as I had to dive underneath it several times and it plunged about a bit. However, in the end, the village people, directed by Griffiths, a Sapper officer on the course, got a strong beam across the top of the well, and hauled the horse out. It came out remarkably easily and was not much scratched, though very exhausted and cold, but recovered in the sun and walked home.”

Garforth-Bles added: “General Wardrop, the ultimate authority on pig-sticking, says that it has never been known for pig, horse and rider to fall down a well. Far from spoiling their drinking water, the villagers were delighted. They fished out the pig and ate it!”

One Feedback on "Lieutenant-Colonel George David Garforth-Bles (1909-2006)"

Dr Prashant Singh

Interesting story. As a young boy I have been for the Khadar Cup which was a pig sticking event held near Meerut . India. My uncle was commanding the RVC Centre and School ( a unit which breeds horses , mules and dogs for the Indian Army). It was an yearly event and a wonderful experience. There were injuries which mostly resulted from falls from horses and occasionally from a charge from a full grown male wild boar, but these were considered a part of the “game” and the cavalier would in most cases get back on horse after recovering , for the next hunt. Such is the spirit of the game which we call “pig sticking”. The Khadar Cup ( a silver trophy) went to the horseman who speared the largest boar (in case more than one pig was killed ) or to the one who drew first blood ( in case one boar was killed).


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