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Arthur French
Late Irish Guards
by Sir Anthony Weldon Bt
formerly Irish Guards

It would have been no surprise if Arthur French had opted to do his National Service in The Royal Fusiliers. It was a regiment with which he had many family connections; his brother, Maurice, was already serving and his maternal uncle, Maurice Dease, had won the first Victoria Cross of the Great War in August 1914 while serving with the 4th Battalion.

However, Arthur also had strong Irish roots; his mother’s family came from Westmeath and the French family from Roscommon. So, in 1952, the Irish Guards was an equally natural choice of regiment.

Born in 1933, Arthur was the youngest of three siblings and was brought up in Bletchingley, Surrey, in part of the original gatehouse of what was once the castle gifted to Anne of Cleves by King Henry VIII.

Arthur learnt to ride with the Old Surrey & Burstow Hunt, and horses and hunting always remained a major part of his life. It was at Wellbury Preparatory School in Hertfordshire that he first met Marcus McCausland who was to become a good friend and brother officer in the Micks. (Marcus was serving in the Ulster Defence Regiment when he was murdered by the IRA in 1972)  From there, Arthur went on to Ampleforth where he developed a lifelong love of art, particularly drawing and painting.

After school, Arthur worked his passage on a cargo ship across the Atlantic and then travelled around Canada where his adventures included a spell as a lumberjack, and a period as a car park attendant at the Calgary Stampede. The latter was with mixed success as the Canadians could not always understand the ex-public-schoolboy’s English accent, so his directions were often met with colourful responses.

In January 1952, Arthur arrived at Caterham Barracks to start his Brigade Squad training. His squad was commanded by Captain Michael Gow, Scots Guards (later General Sir Michael Gow GCB), and included another Mick, Henry Blosse-Lynch. Since neither shone at drill, they were regularly dispatched to the guardroom. It wasn’t long before their squad instructor, Sergeant Ron Cardy, Irish Guards, had christened the two of them ‘The Marx Brothers’. All through those early military rigours, Arthur kept his colleagues amused with his humour and, most of all, his ability for mimicry.

He went on to Eaton Hall for full officer training and was then posted to 1st Battalion Irish Guards in September 1952, at Llanelly Barracks, Hubbelrath near Dusseldorf, where that he spent most of his National Service. In 1953 the Battalion temporarily returned to the England to take part in the Coronation. The Regiment found the Guard of Honour outside Buckingham Palace and the, by now smartened up, Marx Brothers were put in charge of half-companies of street liners. In 1954, when the Battalion was posted to Egypt, Arthur’s National Service was nearly at an end, so he stayed behind.

His next port of call was Trinity College, Cambridge where, as ever, Arthur could be the life and soul of the party. Much to the joy of his fellow undergraduates, and perhaps to the amazement of other diners, he was known to stand on his head on restaurant tables and recite poetry. Such antics might come as a surprise to those who only met Arthur in later years when he seemed a much quieter and more avuncular figure.

After coming down from Cambridge, he decided on a career in law. As an aspiring barrister, he needed a pupil master, a mentor, to guide his early career. Arthur went on to hunt regularly with the Berkeley, and it was while trying to negotiate a particularly difficult fence that he, almost literally, bumped into Petre Crowder who, it turned out, had served in the war with the Coldstream Guards and, fortuitously, was also a barrister. A perfect match. Thus, Arthur had found his pupil master and, after the appropriate period of supervision, joined the Inner Temple Chambers of Robert Harman QC.

Arthur concentrated on criminal prosecution for the Metropolitan Police. His strong Catholic faith and a sense for justice drove his practice. He was immensely conscientious and very popular but never sought great advancement up the legal ladder. From time to time he was called upon for legal advice to help the occasional Mick who had found himself in trouble.

It was during the Profumo affair and the trial of Dr Stephen Ward that he witnessed the cross-questioning of Mandy Rice-Davies by the prosecuting council Mervyn Griffith-Jones QC. He would, for many years after, entertainingly mimic some of the more interesting and salacious courtroom exchanges.
Arthur lived in Kensington by week and at weekends was in much demand for country-house parties. This comfortable, and seemingly permanent, bachelor life continued until, at the age of 52, he met the much younger professional violinist and teacher Charlotte Towneley. This was to be another perfect match. They shared so many interests in common including riding as Charlotte was a very experienced horsewoman in her own right. Marriage and two children soon followed. Despite arriving late at fatherhood, Arthur quickly took to its joys and rather relished being mistaken for the kindly grandfather dropping off his grandchildren at school. His son Edmund served in the Intelligence Corps and daughter Alice is a professional harpist and journalist.

Arthur and Charlotte moved to Manchester and then across the Pennines to Yorkshire. He kept up his connections with the Micks and served for many years as the popular Chairman and then President of the Northern Branch of the Irish Guards Association. Arthur had a genuine interest in other people and had the gift of making friends wherever he went. The humorous stories and natural mimicry were never far away.

And so, on 20th April 2020 at home in Hemsley, Yorkshire, after the attendant risks of a new hip at the age of eighty-seven, Arthur French marched peacefully, but no doubt smartly, off the barrack square, leaving his wide circle of friends, and especially his family, with many special memories. Quis Separabit

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