Obituary: Philip Fielden

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The Independent Culture
IN ONE of those perceptive reports which come from housemasters at Eton, Philip Fielden's abilities were described as not those of a scholar, although he worked hard and had a great gift of concentration: "I have a very high opinion of his character. I have never had the slightest reason not to trust him implicitly. I think he has a very sane judgement: he has great personal charm." As a soldier and horseman, fisherman and picture- framer, Fielden was to prove C.A. Gladstone prophetically accurate.

From 1937 to 1939 Fielden was up at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he rode and danced, joined the OTC and the Gridiron Club, was elected to the Bullingdon, and, in the long vacation of 1938, learnt German with the families of Lehndorff and Stein of Steinort in east Prussia. His experience of the Germans was that they "are law-abiding, but not sheep-like; they have high ideals of honesty and honour".

Here is an early indication of the way in which Fielden could surprise the unmilitary-minded. He had a good mind, which could be sharp and incisive. He learnt to express himself clearly, notably in his 1991 memoirs, Swings and Roundabouts. There he recorded going back to Magdalen to receive his degree in 1976 "in exchange for the modest sum of pounds 7 (pounds 3 for the degree and pounds 4 for the hire of cap and gown)." Meeting someone older than himself he said, "I am here, sir, because my studies were interrupted before I could take a degree, by the Second World War." "Funny you should say that," he replied, "I am here because my studies were interrupted by the First World War." This was Sir Austin Strutt, who lived at Slough Manor:

In his youth, he told me, the manor had been surrounded by wooded parkland. Now, he related wryly, at the end of one foreshortened drive stood the Odeon Cinema, while the back premises lay in the shadow of Marks and Spencer's.

At the age of 20, Fielden enlisted and in 1940 joined the Royal Dragoon Guards in Palestine. After exercises during which he carried on his saddle a rifle and a sword, the Royals were converted to the Marmon-Harrington armoured car, powered with Ford V-8 engines shipped to South Africa. After only four months' preparation in Cairo, they proudly drove out into the Western Desert in June 1941. "The strongest incentive that motivated us all equally," he was to write, "was a wish not to let the side down."

It was on 29 May 1942 that a direct hit in the petrol tanks below his feet led to a concealed injury from which he was later to suffer years of pain, ill-health and depression, and to the award of the MC: "It came as a complete surprise, more so since Knightsbridge had been a defeat followed by a major withdrawal." Herein can be seen two further personal traits, his courage, which was both physical and moral, as he was to prove as a stipendiary steward, and a natural modesty.

He was back with his squadron for the break through after El Alamein and recalled 1 November 1942 when they "leaguered in absolute quiet, a strange contrast to the conditions under which we had spent the last 10 days" and on to the cessation of hostilities in North Africa in May 1943. Thereafter he served in Italy, and, on 8 June 1944, landed in Normandy before going to Staff College in 1945. Here he discovered that he could express himself on paper with "reasonable fluency" as Swings and Roundabouts was to confirm.

After serving with General Miles Dempsey, to whom he was devoted, in the Far East, and then in Cairo, Fielden was posted to Berlin in 1947 and his subsequent service in the British Zone was lightened by race meetings and horseshows.

In 1952 Fielden decided to look for a horse which he could ride in the Grand Military Gold Cup Steeplechase and had the good fortune to run into Major Charles Radclyffe, who purchased Atom Bomb for him. David Gibson, who had won the Grand Military on Klaxton for the previous three years had to pull out. Atom Bomb won but, as Fielden wrote, "in truth the 1953 race was the nadir of the Grand Military; never within memory had there been such a small and undistinguished field."

The next year Fielden was third on Roughen, and in 1955 he won on Skatealong, all three horses bought in Ireland by Major Radclyffe (who hunted them with the Heythrop) and trained by Cyril Mitchell. As Tom Nickalls wrote in Sporting Life, Fielden was "a most capable horseman". A fourth success was in 1958 with Golden Drop which Fielden had in partnership with Captain Simon Bradish-Ellames.

From January 1959 until July 1961 he returned to BAOR in Germany to command his regiment, the Royals. He had never been encouraged to think that his abilities would get him beyond the rank of major but now comparative greatness was thrust upon him. He benefited greatly from the support of his wife, Caroline, whom he had married in 1955, the presence of their two children, and the loyalty of the regiment which he fiercely reciprocated. The Royals were posted from Germany to Aden, and on to Malaya under his command.

When Fielden retired from the Army Harvey Roscoe suggested he might become a stewards' secretary for the Jockey Club, "colloquial: stipe", which he did from 1962 until 1972 and the case histories which he records are still instructive even to those with little knowledge of racing, as in endeavouring to define why

every jockey must be seen to make a reasonable effort to win or be placed. What is or is not a reasonable effort can only be decided at the discretion of the stewards; it will be a matter of fine judgement.

For instance, Fielden listed five factors:

i) the horse should have the experience of at least one race before he is ready to be asked for the supreme effort; ii) that the horse will require one or more races before he would be fit enough to be asked to go and win; iii) that the trainer wants to see your horse perform against horses with known form before he can advise you (the owner) to back your horse, with confidence to win; iv) that he may wish to give the horse a preparatory race or races so that he will be ready to win when you return from your holiday in Bermuda; or, v), that he may consider the handicapper has taken the measure of your horse.

Sadly his account of the race, "Salisbury on 1 July 1970, Weyhill Stakes, five furlongs", was considered too controversial to publish. It was a tour de force "but events had moved far out of the sphere of stipes".

Fishing, pre-eminently for salmon with a fly, meant as much to Fielden as horses. He first went to Norway in 1933, to Flak at the head of the Bangsund fjord, 40 minutes' walk to the river Bongo, where he acquired experience and confidence. He recalled the vast pool at the top of the river Bolstad which was "virtually unfishable". He loved the element of privacy, and deplored the over-fishing due to "greed" of which the Norwegians complain today.

The Slaney in Co Wexford and rivers in Styria, for trout, followed. Forty years later he tried Chile for rainbow trout on the Lago Yelcho, and Argentina on the river Traful. Winter fishing in the Southern Hemisphere appealed, and, after two unsuccessful visits, he and his wife had "a week of unique fishing" for mahseer on the river Cuvery south-west of Mysore. They found good sport in Iceland with visits to the Hofsa, the Kjos, to Haffjardara, "a fine river with big fish", in 1987 and the Grimsa. Last summer, once more, they returned to the Cree in Dumfries and Galloway.

It was Julian Johnston who taught Fielden to frame pictures, to cut the mounts, and choose the mouldings for watercolours and prints. It was an occupation which he could pursue at home, in his beautifully equipped and presented studios, first at Hook Norton Manor (the Fielden family have an eye for a fine house) and, latterly, at Adlestrop. He realised that he had, after a year's apprenticeship, a latent sense of colour and proportion, two essentials without which a framer cannot hope to be successful. Thus it was that, despite adversity, there were more swings than roundabouts: to quote Patrick Chalmers, as he did, "What's lost upon the roundabouts we pulls up on the swings."

Frail he might be, but he never lost his personal charm, a twinkle in his eye, his sense of humour, nor his unfailing courtesy as a host.

Ian Low

Philip Brand Fielden, soldier, horseman and fisherman: born Kineton, Warwickshire 2 April 1919; MC 1942; married 1955 Caroline Burder (one son, one daughter); died Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire 2 December 1998.

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