Major Sir John Thomas Cholmondeley-Minge, DSO
British military art historian, downhill tumbler, social reformer and compulsive liar. 1909 - 2006
"What this country badly needs is another Churchill, another Turner, another war, and a new heir to the throne."
"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." - Winston Churchill
"It's a man's life in the British Army" - so went a recruiting ad campaign in the 1970s. But it would have been most appropriate for "Jim" Cholmondeley-Minge, whose work in many and various careers began to change radically during his army life. This great man was artist and soldier, acrobat and reformer, writer, poet and teller of tales.
Born on the first of April, 1909 in South Mimms, Middlesex to Colonel (retired) Roger Percy (of the Northumberland Percys) and Sarah Minge (a long-lost great-niece of Jane Austen), John Thomas had a difficult upbringing, gathered to his mother's apron strings on the one hand, and in the shadow of military greatness both from his father and paternal family. A sensitive soul, he learned poetry and painting from his mother, and was devastated when she died from complications of scarlet fever and malaria on his ninth birthday.
Immediately, his father took charge, burning his wife's notebooks and paintings, and ordering his distraught son to do the same with his own works. From a life of dreaming and imagination, he was thrust into turmoil, dismay and short trousers.
As soon as his mother was buried, young John Thomas was dispatched to prep school. "My father said it would build character", he said later in life, "but I don't quite think he had this character in mind". Cockfosters Academy was a school of hard knocks, and life was wildly different for the young, delicate and pale child. Life in an all-boys boarding school was tough and challenging. His first, daily letters home were full of pleas to be taken back to the family home, but they fell on deaf ears. Later, John was to discover that his father had taken up with the housemaid, (news that shocked the little boy rigid).
"I'd have preferred Barnet, but Pater thought that it was vulgar, being so close to a place called 'Duck's Island'", he recalled later. "There was less fagging there, the academy was like being in the plot of Tom Brown's Schooldays." Despite his initial reservations, he learned to delight in the school, throwing himself respectively into rugby, cricket and buggery with almost equal enthusiasm. His letters changed in tone, and he began to thank his father for sending him to the school.
His school reports glowed - he seemed to excel in all subjects from Art "...such a delicate hand..." through French "...complete mastery of the tongue, from one so young..." to cricket "What stamina and control! A great hand on the bat, and can swing a ball well, too..." He quickly became a favourite, both with his masters and his peers. "Such a great member, always rises to the occasion. Everyone wants to play with him!"
A Straight Bat
By the age of 13 he was ready for "Big School", and having passed his Common Entrance Exam with flying colours, was accepted at the Tonbridge School, where he continued to grow and learn, excelling in cricket, Art and English Literature. Within a week he was in the cricket team, in his second year he was Captain, as well as editor of the school magazine.
It was only now that he began to rebel - although he had shown some proficiency in fisticuffs, he declined to join the boxing team. His father wrote him a stern letter: "You need to be an upright boy, not lie down and take what they thrust upon you." He ignored his father's requests; "Balderdash, I get all the fighting I need in the scrum, Pater. I see no need to tussle more." The next year the Army Cadets called on him, and again he declined. "Men of peace use words, not bullets, the pen is mightier than the sword.", he wrote, and his father stepped in, driving up from the family home in a rage, having misread the original.
He was taken from Tonbridge School, and sent to the United Services College at Westward Ho!, where he arrived on his 15th birthday. "At last, my father gets his way", he lamented to a close friend, and true to this, he did not fight the imposition of military discipline, learning to box, drill and shoot with the rest of the boys. Here he met Rudyard Kipling, who was visiting the boys and masters. "It was like being in Stalky & Co!" Finally, he graduated with a scholarship to Sandhurst.
Mightier than the Sword
Sandhurst was a delight to the young man. He thrived under discipline, studied hard and left on 4th July 1929 to join the Artists' Rifles. His first posting was to India, and his first sortie was to change his life yet again. "Bloody wogs, who taught them to shoot straight?" he wrote in his diary after losing the tip of his left ear to a bullet. He turned from the standard Home Counties feeling that "wogs begin at Calais" to a fervent, almost religiously intent belief that "darker Johnnies are always a danger to the civil Englishman".
Nonetheless, he began to work with Native Regiments to improve their units, and was renowned among the officers for beating his servants less than was usual. Wrote one of his subalterns "He was more likely to bugger 'em than beat 'em, and he probably buggers 'em all", and he earned the epithet "Bugger All Minge". as a result. He penned the definitive work on the local Southern tribes, "Fuzzy-Wuzzy Fighters" and was appointed to the Ethnographical Society on the strength of this alone. He began to sketch and paint the tribespeople, and in 1939 his "Brown Johnny" was hung in the National Gallery.
He briefly returned to England, where he was approached by a friend in the Foreign Office with a job offer. He joined The Service and was sent to Germany "to keep an eye on things". He certainly kept his eye (and his hand) on things and the resulting minor scandal was enough to see his removal, and his return to Army life.
The Second World War changed everything again, when his father died in the first German bombing raid (John immediately changed his name legally, to remove his paternal family name (Percy)). "I wanted to keep my mother's 'Minge'", he said later.¹ His first European posting saw him doing commando service with the Resistance in France and Northern Italy, interfering with local militia and their supply lines. Armed with only his regimental sword and revolver, he led devastating attacks on the enemy, distracting them with animal calls before sneaking up behind their lines. This led to one of the unsung pieces of heroism from the Rifles, and the young officer was the hero in question.
Following one of their "blow jobs" (the bridge-blowing raids for which they became famous), one of his men was bitten by a snake "in a tender place" - he remained behind to suck out the poison in the blistering 100-degree heat, and was still giving this medical attention forty minutes later when a German engineer convoy happened by. Full details are not available, but a local eye-witness remembered seeing the two partly-clad soldiers pouring everything they had into the Germans in "bizarre hand-to-hand wrestling combat". Both soldiers were rewarded, Minge with the DSO.
He was, however, highly critical of his European allies, claiming that "the Wop's English was poorer and lazier than my wallah in India!" in his best-selling A Gentleman's Guide to European Culture. It was on the publication of this book, on VE Day, that he was also medically retired, suffering a severe groin strain as a result of undercover work throughout the whole war. "Wriggling through hayfields is a man's work" he later wrote.
New Chums for Cholmondeley
The end of warfare meant a return to England, his boyhood chums and his beloved paintbox. So relieved was he, that on disembarking in Portsmouth, he made straight for the Officer's Club and spent a week drinking their entire stock of Marseilles vermouth. He then embarked on an orgy of painting, hiring young models to pose on his rooms, sometimes overnight. "My love of painting is much enhanced"' he wrote. "Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder".
It was here that he met the only woman that he ever came close to. Lucy Cholmondeley², a distant cousin on the distaff side had been working in the nursing home close to the Club, and she took John in hand after he was treated for an unknown disease ("possibly malaria"). Shortly afterward they were married, even though Lucy was possibly compromised in virtue (John was once heard to mutter darkly about a "black male" in her life).
Now he returned home with his new bride ("the mem-sahib"), and began the art works for which he is most famous, those land- and skyscapes, modelled after J.M.W. Turner. "Good, for a nautical cove", was his description of his watercolour hero. He also began to experiment with photography, spending many weekends in rented studios in London, aided by Boy Scouts and students from local art colleges. None of this work was ever published, or even saw the light of day. "Have to be a bloody perfectionist in something!" he was fond of saying as he returned home to collapse into the marital bed. "Poor love comes home exhausted, it's a great hobby, although he's frequently too tired to pay much attention to me for days", was Lucy's frequent remark.
In spite of his frequent trips away, and his wife's long evenings working in the greenhouse with the head gardener, they somehow managed to become parents. Young Luis was born in 1966, to the great delight of his father, who had always wanted a boy (though he admits that the name was his wife's choice). The new mouth to feed only served to highlight the tense budget, but instead of causing him to cut back on expenses, he spent more time on his photographic pastimes.
Despite his few painting sales, his expensive photography hobby, and the seemingly falling revenues from the family estates, the family managed to keep the wolf from the door. Lucy claimed that a cheque would arrive every month from an unknown publishing benefactor. "Jim calls it hobby money", but like so much of his life, the real source remains a mystery down to this day. It was enough to enable him to travel all over the world to satisfy his other hobby, working with the Scouting Movement, especially in Thailand and other impoverished countries.
Accused and Abused
The idyllic life was not to last, however. With the publication in 2003 of his fourth and final book "Changing the World through Empire", his detractors came out of the woodwork on every side, attacking not just his politics ("...ridiculous fascsit..." according to the Guardian newspaper, "...mocking liberal..." (the Daily Mail)), but also his morals. Several of his army chums wrote in memoirs of abuses that he had allegedly carried out upon them.
"It's bally ridiculous. I mean, I've done a couple of things in my youth, I mean, who hasn't? But to claim that I'm a homo-sexual? By Jove, that's bloody absurd. I dallied, but I gave it up after prep school. Got a strapping young son to prove it too, what? Pornography? Fiddlesticks. The media are controlled by Arabs anyway, or Australians. Still better than n— never...being...controlled at all, I say. Uncontrolled media, that's an abhorrence. Crime against nature, what! It's not cricket!
"Problem is, these bloody liberals. Go to art college, learn to paint with pansy pastels, that's just so much poppycock. Now my schooling was tough, they have it so cushy they don't know they're born! We need to bring back National Service, teach those poofters some discipline. Discipline, that's the key to a healthy country. That and religion. I mean, just look at the Church of England. In disarray, what with women priests and blessing men getting married. How can you call that "matrimony", eh? Where's the Mater when you've got two men? Nancy-boys, and Prince Charles is no better. Chap will be head of the Church some day, and he's practically a Buddhist. This is how we lost the Empire..."
It was never enough to convince his peers, even though in April 2006, he was knighted for his "colossal and unswerving service to young people". Delighted, he and Lucy went on world cruises. She to the West Indies, he to Burma. But the rumours persisted, and finally, partly to offset the costs of his legal defence, partly to escape from the British media, he went on a Fred Phelps teaching scholarship to America. On 20th June, 2006, the day after meeting Barbara Bush at one of the lecture halls, he died, peacefully in his sleep, his faithful Indian scout servant at his side. We will never see his like again.
¹ Rather like Watson Fothergill
² A note on pronunciation: Cholmondeley is pronounced "Chumley", don't ask me why.
tkeiser and grundoon
Of course I made him up, but I have met many of his ilk, and I can imitate the outraged gobbling ex-Army type, from the drunken plum-in-mouth accents to the outrageous beliefs and politics. This is the kind of chap who talks about Bongo-Bongo Land like it was a real place.
There really are people who think we should "Flog vandals, castrate rapists, hang murderers, hunt foxes, deport niggers". Hopefully, they really will die out and we will never see their like again.
Cross-posted to Uncyclopedia, let's see how it goes there...
Update It got deleted. "I don't get it. And it's plagiarized. Original content plskthxby." Nitwit. I told the buggers I wrote it.