Major William (Bill) Stringer
Late The Blues and Royals
by Lieutenant Colonel H R Pitman OBE
formerly The Blues and Royals
Bill Stringer, who died on 1st November 2016, had a 37 year career as a soldier in the Household Cavalry, having joined the Royal Horse Guards. He was a man of quite extraordinary scope and ability as a soldier, mounted dutyman, Regimental Corporal Major, Quartermaster, Ministry of Defence staff officer and Master of Hounds.
Bill was born in 1928, in Dover, reaching the age of 87. He attended Kent College in Canterbury, except that ‘attended’ may not be the right word, for he was rarely there and spent most of his time when very young helping with the donkeys from the beach and working at the local farm. He bought a horse from his pocket money, in instalments, without telling his mother: she of course, who used to ride herself, soon found out. His life was always full of animals; he had three greyhounds and a whippet, apart from the horses. He was, so his sister Sue reported, always full of naughtiness and adventure, and when reminded of her brother Bill always thinks of laughter and fun.
Bill applied to the local Army Recruiting Office, hoping to join the Buffs; the local regiment. However, seeing his size and shape and knowing his ability with horses, the Recruiting Sergeant said ‘you’re for the Household Cavalry, my lad!’. Bill was delivered by his father to Combermere Barracks, Windsor, where young Trooper Stringer thrived, and became a Mounted Dutyman. By 1949, Bill was a full Corporal, whipping in to The Blues’ pack of hounds at Wesendorf in Germany, where the Huntsman was Major Max Gordon, subsequently Commanding Officer of the Mounted Regiment at Knightsbridge, and on retirement Master of the Badsworth Hounds in Yorkshire. Bill served in Cyprus during the EOKA emergency, and was given the key job of Corporal of Horse of the Governor’s Troop of four Ferret Scout Cars, provided by the Regiment as bodyguard. He got on famously with Sir Hugh Foot, with whom he rode regularly near Government House.
Bill was a most successful operational Non-Commissioned Officer and Warrant Officer and, after only 18 years’ service, became Regimental Corporal Major of The Blues. He held this appointment from May 1964 to April 1966. On taking over, Bill felt the need to further hone his performance at foot drill, and arranged to attend a Drill Course at the All Arms Drill Wing - a daunting prospect. Being a Warrant Officer 1, he was accompanied by his orderly, one Trooper Freeman (Lofty). Bill knew Trooper Freeman well from their days serving in the Mounted Regiment in London. Bill duly attended the course apparently acquitting himself extremely well and it was rumoured that he had been given a course grading of ‘A’ for his turnout and ‘A’ for his drill and presentation. On his return to the Regiment, Bill was asked how he had enjoyed the course and how he had managed to keep his cool when being instructed and shouted at by young Foot Guards Sergeants. His response was typical Bill: taking a deep breath, and in his great booming voice said: ‘I thought Freeman did very well, or it certainly appeared so from where I was observing the proceedings from the side of the drill square!’
During this period, The Blues were converting from armoured cars, which had been their main armament since the start of the war in 1940, to tanks. The Regiment moved from Windsor to Tidworth where conversion took place in 1968 prior to the move to Detmold and amalgamation with The Royal Dragoons (The Royals) in April 1969. It was at Tidworth that Bill Stringer, aided by Major Richard Wilkinson, conceived the brilliant idea of having a pack of hounds at Detmold, made possible by the presence of 20 black horses there, primarily to train soldiers for the Mounted Regiment at Knightsbridge. This was undoubtedly Bill’s idea and the Weser Vale Hunt (WVH), now in the hands of German friends led by Herr Busso Freise as Master and Huntsman, is still going strong 47 years later. The Hunt, hunting the clean boot, the scent of a man or a horse, has given generations of soldiers and the German horsemen and ladies, and their sons and daughters, enormous pleasure, and has done a huge amount for Anglo-German relations. A former Master, Major Christopher Haworth-Booth recounts that in the early days of the WVH (late ‘60s), Bill was finding his way getting to know the farmers over whose land that the pack was to hunt with their permission. He achieved these permissions by the time honoured method of visiting them all and telling them, in his broken German, all about his precious hounds (Barrister, Batchelor, Chary, Charity, et al). He mixed this with his obvious charm and goodwill, not forgetting a generous nip of duty free, and they welcomed him and respected his efforts with their language, itself a rarity in the officers of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) then. They even laughed with him at some of his efforts and the meetings always ended with a genial summing up by Bill of where and when they would meet, where they would run, followed by him announcing that it was ‘Alles in ordnung, Alles ist klar’ plus another shot of whisky. Just how clear it was to the farmers may have been in doubt but that is how it was done and it worked.
Now it so happened at that time that BAOR had a major exercise in the local area in a very wet autumn and a lot of damage had been caused by tanks and heavy vehicles breaking up the roads, drains, fences and fields of these very farmers and they were all up in arms over the situation. They called a meeting and one farmer expressed an opinion which could be roughly translated as: ‘if the British Army was run by Herr Stringer with his hounds there would be no problem’. On hearing this, the General concerned sent for Bill and asked him to bring his hounds, his horses, red coats and all, down for a hunt and he would lay on a tent full of beer and whisky for all the farmers and their families. It was, of course, a huge success and that is why the WVH still flourishes in Germany.
At that time the Regiment had a very gallant Commanding Officer who took a terrible fall. Swiftly the Field Master sent back to look after him both the Doctor and Padre, who were both hunting ‘to cope with every eventuality!’
Culled from Bill’s Hunting Diary is an entry for October 1970;
‘Hounds met at Gerlingen. A very cold wet day. Hounds hunted were: Barrister, Chary, Charity, Dainty, Destiny, Doubtful, Therum and Xenophon. Amongst those out were General Rollo and Mrs Paine, Brigadier Stanier, Col Emsden and Major Hugh Pitman. Quarries were Cpl Murphy and Cpl Ford. A thruster jumped onto poor Barrister, so I sent him home. A short while later Hugh Pitman rode up to ask if I realised who I had sent home. I said no. He said it was the Brigadier. A very successful day’.
It was indeed Brigadier, and later Field Marshal, John Stanier, a great supporter of the WVH. Also noted in his hunting diary for November 1970 was an entry concerning a Parliamentary question from Mr Heffer MP questioning whether this ‘fashionable hunt was financed by Army funds’. Lord Carrington got up and said ‘No’.
Bill was commissioned before the 1969 Amalgamation and subsequently was appointed to Household Cavalry Quartermaster appointments from 1970 to 1976. On being posted back to England in 1971 Bill started another pack of bloodhounds; the Windsor Forest Hunt. This pack was the natural successor to the Royal Buckhounds which hunted the same area from the middle of the fourteenth century until near the end of Queen Victoria’s reign. Their country was given on permanent loan from the Garth and South Berkshire Hunt, whose Masters were two former Blues officers, Major Sir David Black Bt and Captain Robert Campbell. Her Majesty the Queen Mother soon heard of the activities of the Windsor Forest bloodhounds, and generously gave a number of Lawn Meets at Royal Lodge, in Windsor Great Park. Bill’s final military appointment, as Quartermaster of the Royal Yeomanry was a natural follow-on to his previous jobs and led to his retirement in January 1983, after 37 years’ service. He subsequently, as a retired officer, ran the Ministry of Defence’s policy on their ‘white’ vehicle fleet, to the benefit of those with horses. The final legacy of this great man was the inauguration of an Annual Dinner for the Weser Vale Hunt and Windsor Forest Hunt supporters, held at the Turf Club each summer and always well attended.
Fun sometimes comes at a cost to the pride of even the best of us. Busso Freise, a stalwart of the WVH tells the story of Bill parading the hounds at the Rhine Army Summer Show at Sennelager. In the show ring there was a water jump with goldfish in it. When Bill tried to jump over it, his horse refused and poor Bill landed in the middle of the water. The goldfish were thrown out of the water and landed on the grass where the hounds ate them all while the crowds cheered and applauded.
On another occasion when Bill was Quartermaster at Hyde Park Barracks, the then Lieutenant Colonel Commanding Household Cavalry, Colonel (later Major General Sir) Desmond Langley was walking across the parade ground towards his lunch accompanied by Staff Corporal Neville Taylor, the aptly named Master Tailor. He stopped and asked him: ‘Corporal Major, are we at war?’ ‘I don’t think so, Colonel’, was the answer. ‘Well’ said Desmond Langley, ‘I’ve just seen Bill Stringer in uniform’