Royal Hibernian Military School Badge
The Royal Hibernian Military School (1765-1924)
Navigation links at the bottom of this page

Michael Kelly dwelling on the final era

Born one of twins on 5th October 1910, I was named Michael after my father, a soldier in the Royal Garrison Artillery, my brother, William Ernest after an uncle at the Woolwich Academy. We were born in Sunderland, my mother’s home town. Her maiden name was Morris. At the time, my Father was stationed at Gosforth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

We moved to Sheerness about 1911 and again twins were born on the 8th August 1912, named Ivy & Harry. So we were four children under the age of two years. We had a very nice house at Sheerness; 25 Alexandra Road, very near the sea front.  Been to see it recently and still a good place to live to live.

My father died in 1914, before the war started, from pneumonia after returning home from Sierra Leone. He had a military funeral and we got photographs of the ceremony. The Great War started. My mother took in lodgers and some soldiers were billeted on us. We had a good man called Mr. Bathhust, but he left once my mother met Sgt. McLoud. I remember burning a soldier with a poker and he knocked me for six. My brother Bill went to live with Uncle William and Aunt Jess at Woolwich. There were air raids by Zeppelins and we ran like hell when they started. Harry would be with me on the sea front and we would go into anyone’s house. Some gave good food and some prayed the whole time. But it seemed a good carefree life on the sea front, without shoes. I used to get up early - raid the pantry, mainly for condensed milk, and return when my mother had cooled.

Sergeant McLoud of the King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) came to live with us. He was courting my mother and they eventually married and Violet was born 11 August 1916. There was a continual threat that I would be sent to the Hibernian School in Dublin - especially when I was badly behaved. My father and his elder brother had been there. I never took it seriously, but when my brother returned from Woolwich it seemed certain that we would both be going there.

I went to the Catholic School on the sea front. The nuns were good.  I remember trying to make my first communion, but I was too hungry and had to eat. Had another go and this time the Nuns promised me a good breakfast with them if I did not eat before the communion. Had a good feed and was grateful for the kindness. I was also confirmed - had to take another name – forgot it immediately and never remembered it since. I had a good boy friend ‘Stuart Barnsley’ who lived near. (Amazing how one remembers these names in old age after never thinking about them in the past)

My brother came back to us - he was quiet. Had gone to school at an early age - probably had better care than we had. I can see now how unsettled he must have been with the changing of homes, for he was indeed a serious lad. I did not really get to know my stepfather. I know we were left alone at night many times - I would stand at the window waiting for them to come home.

With the war over, our mother arranged for Bill and I to go to the Hibernian School. My stepfather had been ordered to India and was going to take the family with him. So, January 1919, the nuns prayed with the school children for a safe journey for us as the Irish Sea was mined and so my brother and I started life away from home. I never thought this would happen.

The Kelly family after the father died and before Michael Kelly was admitted to the RHMS.
Michael Kelly is the confident figure in front. Bill is behind Ivy. Harry was killed in WWII. The babe in arms is Violet.

My thoughts now go to my mother. How she managed on her own I do not know. She was a good-looking woman with a sense of humour, but she was bad tempered, especially on washday when she would clout me with a wet dishcloth. She would sing at the sink, “when the sands of the desert grow cold” and “My little grey home in the West”. Our stepfather, dressed in the uniform of the KRRC, took us to Dublin. The journey from Sheerness to Dublin was horrible. We were tired and weary. In the carriage with us was an American soldier who never stopped talking. Every time I woke he was jabbering and soon sent me to sleep again. He put me off Americans; listening to his type must be a good cure for insomnia.

The boat at Holyhead seemed large, we were so used to the brown sailing ships around Sheerness. The sea was rough - I was sick. We arrived at Dublin very early in the morning. No one around in this foreign land although and our stepfather managed to get a junting car (a horse and cart) that took us to the Hibernian School in the Phoenix Park. It was very early and no one around except the porter at the gate.

Eventually Sgt. McLoud left us at which I cried and he called me baby (I vowed never to cry again and very nearly kept this vow). William was a great help, a silent boy, but protective. He had been away from home and was more able than I to cope with change. Dublin seemed a funny place - they spoke different to us. Every boy at school had a number. I was 177 and my brother 188. For years we never called each other by our names, but always ’77 ’88 - this amused people especially lads in the Royals [the 1st Royal Dragoons]. We knew practically every one of the 410 boys in the school by their number.

Many of the older boys were kind to us - but we did not easily make friends. I did make one chum, a boy named Murphy. His mother was dead and he was devoted to his father from Wexford. He was broken-hearted and would sing Danny Boy to me. I had never heard the song before. Murphy never returned after the summer holiday of 1919. There were 15 Murphys and 13 Kellys in the school.

The Hibernian School was run like a regiment. Orders and commands were given by the duty drummer of the day. I remember now that conditions were primitive - especially toilets. We had a large swimming bath and showers. I soon learned to swim - better than being flung in. We were put in the band, Bill on the horn and me on the trombone.

The Trombone had a handle so one could reach the lower positions on the slide. It must have been the movement of the slide in and out that gave me a funny walk. I learned to play on the march before I could march properly. The funny walk was only one of my defects and embarrassments. However, I did learn to play in such a way that I had more success with it than with anything else. Mentioning defects, playing with a group and a small ball I tripped and lost a front tooth. This caused some difficulties in playing the trombone, but I managed well enough to go to Kneller Hall [the Royal Military School of Music, near Twickenham] in 1926.  Then the professor of Trombone – Mr. Taylor - took me to a dentist and paid for false tooth.

I had a very dry skin and I mean dry. The boys called me scurvy Kelly. In the winter I was chapped all over - hands covered in chilblains. The only warm place was my feet - always sweating - sore and raw and a pair of socks made to last a week was soaking wet after one day. The salt would show on my black boots and soon crack and split when dry. No wonder I had a funny walk. My mother, then in England, sent some cold cream - but I do not suppose I used it all. It was a horrible cold winter.

The food was strange and rare. I remember that we had eggs once a year, on Easter Sunday. Breakfast was a kind of porridge ‘stourabout’ – it was a terrible mess. I had never heard of it before. Then, recently, I read if it in a book about [the Battle of] Waterloo in which mention was made of a servant preparing stourabout for his officer. So 'stourabout' was, at least, going strong from 1815 to 1919-24.

Another ritual in the huge dining hall, after grace had been said, was the naming of boys who had on the previous night wet the bed. They would have to stand on the forms as their name were called and the remainder of the boys would chant and hiss “p....s..... s…”.  They would then change into hospital blue uniform, which they wore until their bed wetting ceased. On their beds would notices marked A, B, C according to each boy's designation. These letters indicated the times during the night when the boys were to be awakened. A meant awful, B bad and C careless. One soon learned not to wet the bed – but it was so cold.

Hair was cropped very short, cut by the boys. Some would delight in banging the clippers on the scalp. The cutting was done weekly. The dress was shorts and a blue jersey. We wore a red scarlet jacket for ceremonial parades. Notices were posted in the main building, "Spitting is the common cause of consumption. Do not spit." The sight of spit still gives me a creepy feeling. My [School?] master - a bad tempered man, thin and white - was dying of consumption - he died.

In Dublin, I cannot remember organised games. However I was awkward and not very good at games. We were turned out to roam in Phoenix Park for hours on end, like cattle. We acted like cattle too, eating hawthorn leaves and berries and buttercup corns. We played our own homemade games and often saw the Irish apple sellers out and about. It was always cold.

Education must have been at a fairly high standard compared to the average school in Britain. Many boys did very well and later in life I heard of many successes. There was constant band practice and this was an education. Sullivan and Balfe were the popular composers. Are these Irish names?

On the square or playground there were two large handball alleys where we played games, the favourite being handball, which is a little like squash, played with a small hard rubber ball and the hand. We also played tip-cat and hockey with ashplants.  The park had the most wonderful Elm trees. In the park we were able to watch games, including hurley. Two main days at school were St. Patrick's Day and Hallo'een. On St. Patrick's Day, the band played that tune up and down the square, up and down, up and down. The Irish wore green ribbons and the English red ones. At Hallo’een we were given some nuts and an apple each and many wore fancy dress and tried to win over some nuts by various games and tricks.

During all this time there was much trouble in Dublin. The Black and Tans versus the Sein Fein – and Michael Collins was the hero of the Irish. Coming so soon after the war [the First World War]it seemed to me that war was a natural and permanent thing. Songs like Kevin Barry were sung regularly [at Irish gatherings]. Sein Fein gave an ultimatum that a huge building in Dublin - the Four Courts would be blown up at an appointed hour. We watched from the school and saw it blown sky high.

There was an annual holiday in the summer. Boys could go home if the parents sent the fare and pocket money. Mother had a hard time trying to find the money and reminded us of it. The first one in 1919 was spent with relatives. I went to Aunt Mary in Morpeth and Bill to Woolwich. We were not escorted. I held my ticket in my hot hand all the way; it was pulp when I arrived. Those who could not go [to a guardian] went with the school to Malahide near Dublin and we went once to Ros y Cadar, near Holyhead.

The family were in India, but not happy. Our mother, with the children, came home to Winchester, but our stepfather had to return to India. He eventually retired with bad health after 18 years service. Still, he had several jobs, mainly in his trade as a painter and decorator. He did the house very well whilst at Pontefract. During our time out of school at this time we had our holidays in many places.

In 1922, Ireland became independent and so, being part of the British Army, we had to go. We had a good farewell from the Irish people and were escorted to the ship by armoured cars. On the train from Liverpool to Somerset Barracks, Shorncliffe, Kent, boys behaved badly throwing cups and plates at the workers on the railway line. A lot were caught and punished.  Corporal punishment in the Hibs was quite severe. Somerset Barracks were cavalry barracks - empty because the cavalry were amalgamating 16/5 Dragoons, 17/21 Lancers, etc. (I was to return to the same barracks in 1936 with the Royals, the last of the Cavalry). The stables were turned into washrooms, boot rooms and to other uses. The staff changed and we had a new bandmaster.  

Last parade and roll call of the Hibernians before amalgamation with the Duke of York's School.
The L/Cpl on the right is thought to be Michael Kelly

The army made us welcome and we had a good time. In the band we played at Folkestone and at football games. The Duke of York's were at Dover - I went there a few times to take part in a swimming competition - we did not have a swimming bath [at Somerset Barracks]. We stayed there until 1924 when it was decided to close the school and those who were still young enough were to go to the Dukies at Dover. So, 1769 to 1924 gone in a flash. I have no doubt many good soldiers were produced during that long period of time.

First impression of the Duke of Yorks School was that it was posh, more advanced, but it was not so; they were more barbarian. The Dukies held public floggings with the whole school present, they drummed out boys for trivial crimes such as stealing a sixpenny item from Woolworths. In this respect, the Duke of York's was primitive.

We were kept separate in two companies from the Dukies and wore our own uniform, for our was different from theirs. We were in the Band and I had success playing in the concert band and on the march. The place was freezing, right in top of a hill. There were long route marches during which our instruments froze. We went to France, I recall, and to the opening of the Wembley Exhibition in 1924 when we  stayed at Hounslow Barracks. (I went there again in 1927 when enlisted in the Army.)

Our mother did not want us to go home; there was nothing for us in Castleford, so we joined the Army on the 22nd December 1925 when I signed for the Royals with two other friends, Jim Old and Dickenson. We remained friends until they both died prematurely, but of what I cannot recall. At our attestation, the recruiting sergeant made us put our hand on the bible - about 15 hands in all and say after him "I swear by almighty God - to serve K. George the V - his hairs and successors" (it was the way he said it!). It made me laugh because I couldn't imagine what King George's hairs had to do with it. “You’ll laugh the other side of your face before you finish with me," he said. Yes, you need a sense of humour to survive. On the 23rd Dec 25, we went to the Cavalry Depot at Canterbury (I said the Dukies were primitive - fancy tuning us out on the 23rd December. I suppose the same thing happened to Christ.

Christmas at Canterbury was not bad - at least we felt freer than previously. I had pocket money and could use the canteen. I also had more to eat. Shortly before the New Year of I926 we moved to Aldershot to the Royal Dragoons - in the band. I was fitted up as a cavalryman. In the Band we found that the Bandmaster and Band Serjeant both were ex-Hibernian boys while the Trumpet-Major and Corporal were ex-Duke of York boys. This did not make any difference as seldom was any mention made of the schools. My father and uncle must have left the School only 17-18 yrs before we joined - but no-one knew them - if they did they soon forgot.

I was at Aldershot only a few months because I'd been registered to go to Kneller Hall. Those few months were an agony. Drill every morning in full dress – breeches – puttees - long pants woollen vests and shirt. The jacket was thick and heavy - it must all have been a ton weight. It was just double march. Then a race, I would come last and make no effort. At the double I would cough and cough - as a protest.  Gerald Browne OBE, the Adjutant, would ask - why is that boy coughing? (Later I was his trumpeter and we got on very well - he was good to me)

It was a very cold winter with heavy snow. We went to football on a GS Wagon driven with two horses. I learned to blow the cavalry trumpet. It was the year of the General Strike when, in the April, I went to Kneller Hall, supposedly to learn to play the violin. There was no one there and no one seemed to know why I had come. I think the men were involved in something to do with the Strike.

When the men return I learned that many among them were ex-Hibs and Dukies. The trombone professor was good and generous. He arranged for me to have a false tooth. They was a little shop at a nearby corner where, I recall, a boy called Kiddles treated me to tea and sandwiches. I used to visit him in the evenings and ride pillion on his motor cycle driving around and about.  

I was the youngest student Kneller Hall and, looking back, I didn't take enough interest as there was no one there to guide me, so I just muddled through, careless and dull. The only part of the tuition that stuck with me for all time was how to move from one note to another gracefully and without glissando. 

It was the time of Valencia hats and boots and a song called Valencia was very popular. My mother was in a poor way – very little money and a baby she had called Alan died at Pontefract. She wrote and asked me to send her some money. I only had 5/- a week, so I didn't send any to her. Now I know that even a few shillings would have helped.

After about 18 months at Kneller Hall I was posted to Hounslow Barracks. The band had started their summer concert tour and had all the trombones they needed, so I was left on my own, idle and waiting for them to come back. When they did, in the autumn, we left for Egypt. I was then 17 and been in dozen places at least. My brother Bill with Jim Old and Jack Dickenson (who joined us from the Dukies) all went to Kneller Hall. Some marvellous musicians were made through the schools [The Hibs and Duke of York's] and Kneller Hall, but there was little or no recognition of accomplished musicians in those days.

Looking back,  one could easily make excuses for delinquency, mine and others of my generation. People do so easily today. But of all the boys I met from various schools and in the Army - mostly orphans – all were well behaved, sober and, indeed, honest. I did not know any queers then or of them; it's a subject I feel has been exaggerated in modern times.

© Michael Kelly

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

Delta Tech Systems Inc
  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
Related Links

© A. W. Cockerill 2005

Site Map     Contact me