Magazine article The Spectator

Chipps with Everything

Magazine article The Spectator

Chipps with Everything

Article excerpt

SEAHORSE ! BETWEEN THE SEAAND THE SADDLE by Chipps Selby Bennett Halsgrove, £16.99, pp. 400, ISBN 1841144819

Commander Chipps Selby Bennett was a traditional officer and a gentleman; a Dorset dandy with a monocle, tartan trews and size 12 shoes. He's a man whose life experience encompasses the navy, hunting and the Conservative party. His autobiography, Seahorse! Between the Sea and the Saddle, reflects with characteristic eloquence his surprisingly wide-ranging life, and chronicles the highs and lows of a man who has navigated his way through all levels of society.

The memoirs start with an unusual upbringing and the Spanish Civil War and continue with adventurous travels in the wartime and peacetime navy. One moment Chipps is nearly drowned as a midshipman in Scapa Flow and again in the Clyde; the next, aged 18, he is in love with the daughter of an Egyptian bey. He finds himself in a motorlaunch running arms at midnight to the guerrillas in Crete, only to discover that their precious crates contain whisky and women's frilly underclothes instead of machine-guns.

In the British Pacific fleet, he experiences the dramatic change of role of the Royal Navy from mainly escorting convoys to operating for months at sea as Fast-Carrier Strike Groups. His little sloop is the first ship into a Japanese port, even before the official surrender, and he has to march a party of unarmed sailors through the still-hostile streets of Yokohama before rushing down to retain Hong Kong -- as Roosevelt has secretly promised it to the Chinese.

Romance as a student naval linguist in Madrid results in his being seriously offered, at the age of 24, the post of Commander of the Dominican Republic's navy -- 'out to dominate the Caribbean'.

He travels all over India and stays up country with an Indian rajah, who, he discovers, hires his impressive golden plate and the arms for his guards from the Army and Navy Stores in Calcutta. …

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