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The Royal Hibernian Military School (1765-1924)
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Capt. Harry Bloomer MBE (1911-1994)

In the autobiographical note of his life as a soldier (see A soldier's orphan's story), Harry Bloomer showed his bias for the Jewish cause in Palestine when he wrote, " In 1936 we were ordered to go to Palestine as the Arabs were causing trouble with the Jews." That the Zionists were causing equal trouble with the Arabs in what was then a British Protectorate did not enter into Harry's thinking. In 1945, he confirmed his partiality for the Jewish cause when he contributed a tree to the Tree Fund.
He was given a certificate in his name to acknowledge the contribution by 'Bloomers own (507 ATS)', the 507 ATS being his unit. It is therefore a fabrication that has portrayed the British Army as the enemy of the Jews before the United Nations declared Israel a nation state. Many soldiers shared Bloomer's inclinations. The Middle East Command lost a number of its soldiers of all ranks about this time, some deserting to fight for the Jewish cause, others to fight for the Arabs.  

Certificate issued by the Jewish Tree Fund Committee for the gift of a tree; what must be a collectable item of memorabilia from that troubled time

Harry Bloomer was born Robert Henry Bloomer in Ashy, Co. Kildare. He was Irish to the core, not surprisingly either. Both parents were Irish. His father, like thousands of fellow Irishmen volunteered for the Army and served throughout the war in the Middle East, Mesopotamia and India, but died of pneumonia in Poona, India, on his way home to be demobbed in 1919. Harry Bloomer entered the Royal Hibernians in August 1921. It is testimony to the soldierly instincts running through his veins that he was promoted to boy sergeant within a year of entering the Royal Hibernians. This was an unusual achievement in an institution that had a rigid procedure of promoting boys only after two or more years in uniform. He was therefore a boy NCO a year later when the Hibernians left their Phoenix Park quarters for Shorncliffe, Kent. Two years later they amalgamated with the Duke of York's school.
Harry did well scholastically, at sports and at amateur theatricals. He obtained his 'special certificate of army education', a recently introduced level of army education that was equivalent to London higher matriculation that, at a later date would have qualified him for entry to university.

The band marching on the King's birthday (c 1925). From the circular cap badge with crown, this is the Duke of York's band, which would have included RHMS musicians

Hero worship? A view of boys gathered about who is thought to be an old boy county cricketer

His proficiency at Pitman's shorthand and typing (at 80 words a minute) stood him in good stead when he enlisted with his friend Bill Kille, another RHMS boy, in the Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment), 3rd of Foot. in 1930.

In May 1572, Queen Elizabeth I reviewed 3,000 of the Trained Bands of London. After the parade, Captain Thomas Morgan raised a force of 300 volunteers for service in Holland against the Spaniards. The Buffs trace their origins to Captain Morgan


Harry Bloomer (front left) with Bill Kille and fellow young soldiers of the Buffs in Shorncliffe, Kent (c 1932)

Like most units of the Regular Army, The Buffs moved frequently. In 1930, when Harry enlisted, the regiment was at Canterbury. It moved to Shorncliffe, then to Borden and, for a short time, took over from the guards in mounting guard at Buckingham Palace. The two shots following are interesting for the fact they show a change of uniform from the World War I khaki uniform to the new battledress introduced in 1939. In the group photograph, the non-commissioned officers of the regiment as shown dressed in the old uniform with puttees and the cumbersome 3-inch webbing of the period. Only one or two of these NCOs appear to be veterans from WW! as shown by their medal ribbons. In the second photograph taken at La Boule in 1939, Sgt Bloomer is shown dressed in the new battledress uniform with his service gasmask slung over his shoulders. His companion, believed to be Bill Kille, still wears the old uniform without the webbing. The fact this photograph was taken in France indicates war had been declared.

Sgt Harry Bloomer in battledress out walking with a fellow soldier (believed to be Bill Kille) in La Boule, France, 1939

Warrant officers and sergeants of the Royal East Kent Regiment at Borden Camp in 1938

From the outbreak of WWII until the 1945, The Buffs were in the thick of fighting, first in North Africa, Palestine and Italy. One highlight of the regiment's service in North African occurred Christmas Eve, 1941 when the unit repulsed a German armoured attack and saved the brigade from being overrun. The brigade was part of the Fifth Indian Infantry Division; its first major action is worth recounting. This happened before Harry Bloomer arrived.

According to a report published in The Evening News (a military newspaper), the last news of the action when a column of 25 Afrika Corps tanks and troops attacked the position came from a wounded colonel who said, "I'm afraid this is the last time I shall speak to you. They are right on top of my headquarters now." Then came the voice of a Sikh signaller, who said, "This is the last message, sahib. I am breaking the instrument."

Those listening at Brigade headquarters could do nothing to help. They heard only the distant rat-a-tat-tat of machineguns gradually dying away. The stand of the Buffs, however, paved the way for the advance of the division. The battalion was in advance of two other battalions, in an exposed position. The first warning of a major attack came from a captured German of the panzer division. "You are going to be attacked this afternoon by 150 tanks."

It seemed impossible that the Germans still had such a number of tanks available. The unit took all possible precautions by bring forward twenty-five pounders and all available anti-tank guns with some tank supports and four point fives to lay down covering fire. The German was not lying. The enemy had prepared an attack intended to crush not only the battalion but the whole brigade preparatory to a major break-through of the line. They opened with a barrage of heavy artillery, more intense than anything they had previously experienced. Then they came, 25 of them, not the 100 reported, but they were of the heaviest type with infantry on their backs armed with Tommy guns and supported by a German regiment brought forward in lorries. Making a two-pronged attack, the tanks were followed by heavy mobile guns. The Buffs and their supporting artillery knocked out eleven tanks beyond hope of recovery; some estimates put the number at fourteen. The defenders stopped the attack from the west cold, but four tanks from the northern prong penetrated the position and desperate fighting followed before the position was overrun. Not one of those who escaped left until the position was in enemy hands.

The action was hard fought and, contrary to all expectations, won by the Buffs because the attack failed. The German losses were heavy. The German commander ordered his units to retire. His infantry regiment had practically ceased to exist; the supporting artillery also suffered heavily. The stand gave the division time to mount counter attack and advance well beyond the position formerly held by the Buffs.

After sailing the long way round, via Cape Horn, Harry Bloomer landed in Suez in 1942 and, following a posting to Cairo, was sent to an officer cadet training unit (OCTU) in Palestine. He returned to duty in Egypt a full lieutenant. He has written his own full account of his service. It would be merely repetitious to recount in detail here. In June 1953, he was awarded the M.B.E. and travelled to London with his wife and infant daughter to receive it from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. He resigned his commission in October 1953 and retired to Dublin to live with his family. Harry was an active member of the Hibernian old boys and attended all its reunions, including the bicentenary event held in Dublin in 1969 (see the posting The bicentenary Reunion).

Captain Harry Bloomer died 16 May 1994 and is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery, Co. Dublin.

Captain Harry Bloomer seen here with colleagues wearing campaign medals to attend a ceremonial parade some time in the post-war period.

Captain Bloomer with his wife Maureen and daughter Sheelagh in London to receive his M.B.E. at Buckingham Palace from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Editorial note: We acknowledge with sincere thanks the loan by Mrs Sheelagh Gray of Dublin of her father's papers, documents and photographs.

Table of Contents - Royal Hibernian Military School
1769 Petition
1806 Pay and Allowances
1806 Weekly Governor's Report
1806 Time Table
1819 Charter
1819 Diet
1819 Staff Duties
1819 General Regulations
1844 Return of Religions
1849 S.S. Pemberton Orphans
1856 School Inspector Gleig
1857 China
1873 Religion
1900 Review at Phoenix Park
1918 Lost Boys
1919 Roll of Honour
1919 Recollections
1919 Lives of the Hibernians
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
1922 Last cricket match
1924 A soldier's orphan's story
1924 Last roll call
1924 Laying up the colours
1924 The final era
1937 A military misfit NEW
1969 The bicentenary reunion
1994 Capt. Harry Bloomer MBE
2001 IGS No.25 History
2004 Newsletter
2005 The last known Hibernian
2007 Sources of Hibernian documents

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  Duke of York's Royal Military School
Royal Hibernian Military School
Reminiscences of a Queen's Army  Schoolmistress
World War I letters and Reports
Books and Militaria
Wellington on Waterloo
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© A. W. Cockerill 2005

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