Greetings fellow Clubbies. I trust you are hunkering down with whatever takes your fancy as we head into winter’s wet and colder weather.
This edition of the blog pays tribute to Patrick Nolan, who many will know became a Yeoman Warder when he retired from the NZ Army. The article, which was written by Patrick’s wife Dawn, sparked off some memories for me. Dawn mentions that her brother was All Black and Manawatu rugby player, Doug Rollerson (RIP). Doug, who played both first-five and full-back, would have played outside a good mate of mine, Murray Brown. I went through Christchurch Teachers Training College with Murray in 1970, before I returned to the Education Wing, which I had left four years earlier when I graduated from Cadets. Murray Brown, who served in the TF for a while, was an excellent half back. Though he never made the All Blacks (many considered he should have), he captained Manawatu in 1974. He also played cricket for Central Districts and was one of those people who was good at whatever sport he chose. I remember playing him at table tennis once, thinking I wasn’t too bad – he absolutely thrashed me!
If ‘Yeoman Warders’ aren’t familiar to you, you may recognise them as ‘Beefeaters’ (a term that Patrick – he prefers not to be called ‘Paddy’ – doesn’t like). A quick search through Wikipedia reveals that “The Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary, …are ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. In principle they are responsible for looking after any prisoners in the Tower and safeguarding the British crown jewels. They have also conducted guided tours of the Tower since the Victorian era…The Yeomen Warders were formed in 1485 by the new King Henry VII, the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty; the Tudor rose, a heraldic badge of the dynasty, is part of the badge of the Yeomen Warders to this day. Founded after the Battle of Bosworth, it is the oldest existing military corp and the oldest of the royal bodyguards…The Yeomen Warders normally wear an “undress” uniform of dark blue with red trimmings. When the sovereign visits the Tower, or the warders are on duty at a state occasion, they wear red and gold uniforms similar to those of the Yeomen of the Guard. These uniforms are referred to by the Yeoman Warders as the Tudor State Dress…In 2018, there were 37 Yeomen Warders and one Chief Warder.”
One of the Tower of London’s most famous inhabitants was Sir Walter Raleigh. Patrick could probably give you chapter and verse on him, but he was imprisoned three times in the Tower – the last time for life. You couldn’t make up his CV:
- Oxford University drop-out
- Coloniser – founded an English colony in what is now North Carolina
- Reputed to have introduced the potato and tobacco to England
- Apothecary (brewer of herbal medicines)
- Beheaded by King James I for treason in 1618.
Tribute – One of Our Own
Patrick John Nolan, RNZEME, Gentry Class 1962, Yeoman Warder
This whimsical tribute has been provided by Dawn Nolan, Patrick’s wife, doubtless with love.
Patrick was born in Marton on 13 February 1946 and grew up in Bunneythorpe. He started life as one of those kids who would either make a success or go to jail, but it was his good fortune that the local policeman pointed him towards a career in the Army. Patrick became a member of Gentry Class, RF Cadets, and despite a few rocky moments, had found his niche.
From Cadets he went to RNZEME to complete his apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker/joiner, then to 161 Battery with the intention of doing what the Army trains it soldiers for – fighting a war. His training included a jaunt to PTSU at RNZAF Whenuapai and wouldn’t you just know it – he met the girl of his dreams there and after a determined chase, caught and married her.
He went to Vietnam in August 1968 as a Forward Observer signaller. Mainly with 7 Royal Australian Regiment for the duration. His wife Dawn produced his first son on the same day as the TET Offensive of 1968, which was also Valentine’s Day. The birth did not interrupt the war. At that stage, the USA was spraying all and sundry with what was known as Agent Orange, and Patrick got more than his share of the spray. This caused chloracne and a return to NZ slightly earlier than planned. Although Agent Orange has caused long-lasting problems to the Nolan family, there are no regrets about Patrick’s service there.
Upon arriving back in NZ Patrick was posted to Linton with instructions to retrain as his
carpentry skills were no longer required. This led to a career as a storeman and later regimental postings. He and Dawn moved to Linton where their second son was born and at 20 months, died. (Many years later Agent Orange was shown to be the cause). From there they went to Ngaruawahia, Waiouru Papakura, Singapore, Waiouru, Burnham, Waiouru, Trentham and retirement. In Burnham Patrick realised he had an alcohol problem and immediately stopped drinking. This caused his career to rocket upward and he retired as School Sergeant Major EME School.
During his 5 years in Burnham, he had a TOD to the Sinai and was able to have Dawn join him toward the end. They returned home via UK and Europe and whilst in London visited the Tower of London. They both watched fascinated as a Yeoman Warder (obviously retired military) held a sizeable group of tourists enthralled with tales of history, Royalty, blood and gore, and humour. He had a very smart and unique uniform, a great grasp of history and professional presentation.
Speaking to him later, Patrick found that he was required to meet specific qualifications to become a Yeoman Warder:
- Retired Army, Air Force or Royal Marine;
- Married (not necessarily happily);
- Maintain a dwelling within the walls of the Tower;
- Be sound in body and mind (not sure all the Body of Yeoman Warders met both those requirements!);
- Be a retired Warrant Officer or its equivalent);
- Hold the LS&GC medal.
On asking where to sign up for a job the Yeoman Warder looked down his nose and said, “We’ve never had a Colonial before!’ (Think: red rag to a bull!) By the time they reached home, Patrick and Dawn were convinced someone had to be the first Colonial so why not Patrick? An application was posted along with a large pile of references, documents etc that were required. A long drawn-out year resulted in an invitation to an interview ‘next time they were in London’.
Patrick’s final posting was to Trentham, to where he had moved the School from Waiouru. In his last couple of weeks the School was opened by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, Dawn bought them a house as Patrick was too busy, their youngest son finished his Basic training in RNZAF Woodbourne and his parents attended the Parade, Patrick had his retirement dinner, they moved into their house and the week after retirement, flew to Turkey for the start of a 6 month holiday which led to them spending 4 months in London where, in between travels around Europe and UK they went to the Tower for the long-awaited interview.
The Governor of the Tower was Major General Christopher Tyler CB. His first words were ‘How are the All Blacks going to go tomorrow?’. (They had a Test at Twickenham). Patrick replied “Don’t ask me. Dawn’s brother’s the All Black in our family’ (Doug Rollerson, Manawatu). This broke the ice, and at the end of the interview the General told Patrick that anyone with the wit to marry the sister of an All Black could only be an asset to the Tower! (The General was a Rugby Referee of International standard and the Chairman of the Committee which selected Referees for International Games.)
The next expected vacancy for a Yeoman Warder was in two years so it was back to NZ. Dawn had sent in an application for a job for Patrick at Scott Base, as he had always yearned to go there. Patrick headed South for the summer, returning to find Dawn was Managing Director of Brookfield Scout Camp in Wainuiomata and he was now belonged to the Department of Labour.
The time came to present themselves at the Tower of London so with son Ross happy in his job in Auckland and son Bruce settled in the RNZAF off they went. It was a steep learning curve taking on board all the history of the Tower and the various names and places associated with that history. Uniforms were made to measure, not at the Yeoman Warder’s cost thankfully, and although the Nolan’s thought they spoke English, it did not appear to be the same English as the rest of Patrick’s colleagues spoke. Customs were different too so that had to be learnt as well.
Patrick thrived in his new career, thoroughly enjoying the interaction with most tourists – some should have been kept at home in a padded cell, he thought. Travelling around on their days off (Dawn had a job in a local tourist spot) they investigated other sites of importance to the Tower.
Then a life-changing call came from Pat Herbert, CEO at RNZRSA in Wellington. Would Patrick take over the position of RSA Representative in UK and Europe? That also included being on the Executive Committee of the British Commonwealth ex-Services League. (BCEL) Of course he would do that.
His first formal duty was to represent the RSA at the memorial service for the late Charles Upham VC and Bar, at St Martin’s in the Fields, in Trafalgar Square. Off they trotted, Patrick in his new Austin Reed pinstripes and Dawn in suit, hat, and gloves as was proper for the occasion. Also clutching a gilt-edged invitation, which they presented at the door to the church. An usher escorted them down the long aisle, with the couple expecting to be seated in a side chapel or somewhere equally unimportant. This was the moment they realised just exactly how prestigious the ‘RSA Rep in UK’ job was! The front row contained HM the Queen Mother, row 2 was the Upham family, row 3 was the Duke of Wellington and guess who was in row 4? The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the NZ High Commissioner etc were all further back. Life took on a new twist.
Duties as the RSA Rep included 2 meetings a year of the BCEL, one of which was in Marlborough house and the other with the Grand President in Buckingham Palace. The Grand President, aka the Duke of Edinburgh, was a very knowledgeable businessman who could remember everything he was told, ran the meetings professionally and was a delight to work with. Throughout the year Patrick, and frequently Dawn, attended functions involving the BCEL and the RNZRSA. Memorials, Dedications, visiting dignitaries etc. Patrick ran the ANZAC Parade in Whitehall for several years, a task he thoroughly enjoyed, and probably the highlight, he was present for the uplifting of the Unknown Warrior at Caterpillar Valley in France. Most RSA events involved Royalty and they eventually met the entire Royal Family. Princess Anne was highly entertaining, Princes Charles and Edward were both charming and charismatic and Andrew was none of those. The Queen was like talking to one’s granny, and could relax the most nervous person, and Prince Philip was one of a kind – nothing at all like the press he got.
One year when the annual conference of the Commonwealth members was held in London, Patrick suggested to Dawn that she could do a buffet dinner for a few of the delegates e.g., UK, Australia, Canada, and South Africa, and perhaps the Fiji delegate as he never got asked anywhere. A dozen at the most. Dawn thought she could do that with her eyes shut! She was somewhat surprised therefore when Patrick announced the final numbers as 32! Word had got out that NZ was hosting a function in The Tower of London and many others felt they should be invited. NZ was, and still is we hope, a popular country in that organisation.
In between poncing around in posh places, Patrick also had his duties as a Yeoman Warder. He took guided tours, helped tourists find where they wanted to go within the Tower, did minor first aid, posed interminably for photos, and answered some of the silliest questions ever thought of. The most common question is ‘where are the toilets?’ but he also got asked how many times people were executed (once was generally enough for most people). Where were the heads cut off? (between the chin and shoulder) and did Lady Jane Gray carve her name in the stone wall before or after her head was cut off? (What can one say?)
The NZ High Commission was partly staffed by members of the NZ Armed Forces, some of whom the Nolan’s already knew. The High Commissioner, the Rt Hon George Gair, met Patrick early on in their time in London and that gave NZ House somewhere to send important guests who needed security and a bit of peace and quiet during their visit to London. Dame Kath Tizard stirred up the tranquillity of the Yeoman Warder’s Club one evening, and Willie Apiata VC found a spot of peace in the Nolan’s home. Members of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Society found privacy there and often a nip of something to liven their flagging spirits after a hard day in public. And someone who could put their medals in the correct order ready for their next function.
Dawn’s All Black connection came in handy when she was looking for a new job. She became employed as a Civil Servant with the Royal Fusiliers at their HQ in the Tower. Her boss was Vice Chairman of Army Rugby! Dawn never let on that she had only ever seen Doug play on TV and knew next to nothing about the game!
Note. A word of advice to any readers who might go to UK or Europe in the future – stop whinging about the cost of everything! It is supposed to be the Poms who whinge, but Kiwi tourists have them beaten hands down.
Inevitably age caught up with Patrick and Dawn and the arrival of a granddaughter plus the death of her father convinced Dawn it was time to RTNZ. It was decided she would go home first, find a house, buy a car, unpack the house pack, and get a job. Patrick would come home when things were settled, bringing their cats who would not be so disturbed by all the upheaval. (They had bought a pedigreed cat which evolved into a houseful of kittens, and eventually one cat from each generation – Mother Chloe, daughter Rambo and grandson Attila the Hun aka Tilly). However, the cost of flying the cats home gave Patrick nightmares so they were rehomed, then Patrick went on the urgent list for a hip replacement so was delayed and the day of Dawn’s mother’s funeral, phoned to say he was having a triple bypass in 3 days! He had had a massive heart attack some years previously but recovered very well. Dawn went over to London for 4 months while he recovered from the bypass and sometime after she left Patrick also returned to New Zealand.
Back in NZ Patrick thought he was fully retired but mistakenly decided to ‘sort out’ the way Dawn had set up their home. As he reached the kitchen, she decided enough was enough (she was working as a church secretary) and sent him on a job interview. Patrick spent the next few years working for Legacy Funerals in Tauranga, which seems a strange occupation, but he was handyman and driver for the company. His military connections brought in extra jobs for the firm, including a special request for Patrick to look after the late General Bruce Poananga, which he felt honoured to do. The other staff members were delightful, and Patrick had a very happy time. He has a string of job-related jokes but don’t encourage him to repeat them.
An aunt’s funeral in Feilding in 2013 opened the Nolan’s eye to the beauty of the town and they began house-hunting. Dawn found a beautiful old villa, Patrick found a giant money pit and as they were both the same house, they bought it. Move in day turned out be another family funeral! We are happily retired there and as Feilding holds all sorts of interests for the aged, we have a full and contented life.
P.S. The son who joined the RNZAF has now retired after 31 years. Bruce swore his Oath of Allegiance on the same date as Patrick, has the same digits in his Service Number and the first day he wore his Service Dress was the last day Patrick wore his. New Zealand was under the continual protection of a Nolan for 60 years!
This tribute of Dawn’s has a delightfully light touch, is frank and totally reflective of one of our Army’s real characters. As SMA I had the pleasure of saying farewell at Army General Staff when Patrick and Dawn left for London. His tenure as a Yeoman Warder was a great success and the supernumerary roles he took on without doubt enhanced New Zealand’s standing in London society. It is an extraordinarily unique story and one that firmly establishes Patrick as an exemplar of the Regular Force Cadet School. Forte Fortuna Juvat.
Thanks to Dawn for writing this tribute and to Bob Davies for co-ordinating its compilation.
I was going to include Sir Walter Raleigh’s epitaph here (which he wrote while imprisoned in the Tower – he tried to commit suicide there more than once), but thought it was a bit gloomy. Then I remembered a poem I had written about a long journey and which references the Crown Jewels:
We crossed the Old Silk Road
west of Samarkand.
Giant orange flares lit our path
in Turkestan. Across the Caucasus
were strewn necklaces of light.
On and on we pushed
through Russia’s steppes,
following the beacons’ path
to the lowlands on the cusp
of western Europe’s night.
Faster than all the winds we sped,
‘til our captain’s rounded vowels
announced to our delight:
the crown jewels are just below us –
to our right.