A Feature about Major General Sir Hugh Henry Tudor KCB, CMG (1871 -1965)
By Michael Boyle
General Hugh Henry Tudor: his friends would have called him Hugh or Hughie, never ever Henry. What happened to him after he left Ireland?
Everyone is familiar with the Black and Tans, but I wager very few today are able to tell the name of the leader of the Black and Tans — General Tudor. No less a person than Michael Collins described him as the greatest British Army General ever. Although there have been many books about the Irish fight for independence in the 1920s, it is strange that there are few on General Tudor.
So how did I get involved in the Tudor story? The Canadian novelist Margaret Lawrence once said, ‘You don’t pick the subject it picks you.’ When I first came to St. John’s Newfoundland, I was astounded to be told that the leader of the ‘Tans’ had lived here for more than forty years and had died on September 25 1965. In the early days when I started inquiring, some conservative Newfoundlanders of Irish descent were not encouraging –‘Why would ye want to be digging up all that old stuff now?’ One official in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment said the Tudor story was an embarrassing one. He told me bluntly that he was not interested in Irish problems or British history. Only last year I had a walking tour in St John’s with a group of North American Irish language speakers: as we walked to the house where Tudor lived, the group leader whispered to me that a couple of people on the tour were not interested on Tudor and wanted me to move on quickly. So you can see that after so many years it is still a challenge to research a potentially divisive individual like Tudor
I checked Tudor’s death certificate and immediately found a major discrepancy: his death was listed as September 1. Conspiracy thoughts jump started my research in earnest. I came across a letter from Hereward Senior (CNC) to a Newfoundland historian Peter Hart noting that Tudor did not keep a diary of his time in Ireland. I found later also that a surviving daughter of Tudor did not want any research done on her father’s life.
For the last forty years of his life, Tudor was quietly removed from events in Ireland. Residents of St John’s Newfoundland would see him on horseback along Military Road on his way to visit the residence of the British Governor. Locals really did not know much about him but some were aware of his past — enough to give him the nickname ‘Blackie Tudor.’
H.H. Tudor was born in Lusteigh, Devon where his father was rector of the local Church of England parish. He was a member of the Royal Horse Artillery in Bangalore in India and there he met his lifelong friend, a Hussar Lt. Winston Churchill. Ironically it appears that Churchill gave Tudor the role of Chief of Police in Ireland. During his service in World War 1, he rose from the rank of Captain to that of Major General in charge of the Ninth Scottish Division, and the Newfoundland Regiment were under his command. He was an excellent tactician, making use of smoke shells to shield movements of troops and Sir Claude Jacobs described him as a first rate commander.
It is generally accepted that Tudor’s distinguished military career took a nosedive after his tenure in Ireland during the intense and violent struggle between ‘Black and Tans’ and the IRA. Few in Ireland can forget the Bloody Sunday massacre by ‘Auxiliaries‘ during a football game at Croke Park Dublin — actions authorised by General Tudor. Others may remember that Tudor acted as the ‘good cop’ while following up on the Listowel RIC mutiny against Colonel Bruce Ferguson Smyth.
After Ireland, he resurrected his tarnished career by becoming Director of the Police and Prison in Palestine. While he was there he trained to be a pilot and flew over 100 hours in an old Bristol F2B. In 1923 he commanded an Air Mosaic of Petra for the RAF Palestine command and it seems clear he did some flying in Ireland. He learned Arabic and he met King Abdullah of Jordan. During this time he had left his wife and children. Now Tudor was in many ways persona non grata in England.
Suddenly and mysteriously in 1925 Tudor arrived in a remote village of Bonavista. Newfoundland as a fish buyer for G M Barr, an English-born fish merchant. The most intriguing question in the Tudor saga is the circumstances that brought him to Newfoundland. One possible theory it is that his old chum Winston Churchill had a hand in making the contacts since he had been Colonial Secretary to Newfoundland and would have known important fish merchants like Mr Hawes.
General Tudor resided at 42 Circular Road, St John’s. He was active in sports like boxing, polo and horse racing. He was an accomplished golfer and cross-country skier. During the winter he played chess, listened to BBC World service broadcasts, and corresponded with his old friend, (now Sir) Winston Churchill.
During a Royal visit, the King George V1 rebuked Tudor at a reception in Government House 1939, ‘Ah you were the fellah with the ‘Black and Tans’.
When he was ill, the various British Governors came to visit him at Churchill Square Apartments. He died on September 25 and had a full military funeral from St John’s Anglican Cathedral. The Evening Telegram of 27 September 1965 records his burial in the Anglican graveyard and beside the local prison at Quidi Vidi Lake.
Tudor kept a low profile in the city, avoiding public events and for many years was looked after by an Irish Catholic housekeeper, Monica McCarthy. He rarely gave interviews but he did write a booklet Fog of War which he sent to Churchill. A local myth grew up around him (and in part was perpetuated by local author Paul O’Neill) suggesting that in the early 1950s members of the IRA came to Newfoundland to assassinate him. It is an interesting story, but according to my research lacks historical accuracy.
After his death, his military uniforms and medals mysteriously disappeared, resurfacing at a military auction house in England. Mr Gerry Burroughs, a collector in Belfast, acquired much of his military paraphernalia. Without so much secrecy and intrigue, a long life of service and exile, his unswerving loyalty to his Prime Minister was not returned.
Was Tudor the fall-guy for the shambles in Ireland? Some historians suggest that in other conflicts the British Army had the intelligence and knew the enemy. This was not the case in Ireland and the relatively new campaign of guerilla war by the IRA proved to be formidable. Nevertheless, it is indeed passing strange that a Hollywood producer has not brought the Tudor story to a larger audience.
In the meantime General Sir Hugh Tudor fades quietly out of British, Irish and Newfoundland history, not merely as the forgotten man but indeed ‘The Unremembered Man.’
Michael Boyle has had poems published in the Antigonish Review, Dalhousie Review, Tintean and New Ulster Writing and in 2014 he won The Arts and Letters prize for poetry. He is an Irish Language speaker and has also written articles for the Irish language magazine An t-Ultach. He is completing his first poetry collection Drummuck. He operates historical walking tours in St John’s Newfoundland.