Percy and The Kings Troop
It is sometime since Percy’s passing but still, on occasion, I am reminded of this gentleman - usually a reminder of a moment when he and I had shared things. The other day, having cutting the grass at Nethergrove, now named Andersons after the brothers Percy and Lacy, I stood gazing across the lake admiring my handy work and remembering the 18-inch saplings Percy and I planted. We planted 100 of them one cold snowy day in early February, and when we had finished Percy held out his huge, very rough hand and shook mine. Now mature, some of these trees are over 20ft tall and I think he would be pleased with how the lake has turned out and would be even more impressed with the wildlife. We now have buzzards, deer, badgers, and foxes - all sorts. As I stood I pondered on a visit we made to the lake at a time when Percy was nearing the end of his life. He and I inspected the lake and he was pleased to see that the trees had grown so well. He turned to me and said he had never thought he would have seen them grow beyond saplings in his lifetime. I think he knew he did not have much longer. He kept it from others and me very well. Always the attention seeker, Percy would phone me and rant, “you are never in! You never answer the phone (no change there then), you don’t care about me! And would go bo ho bo ho!” He was a right old pain! In the early days the farmer would put far too many horses out to graze in the field next door to Nethergrove so it would be a sea of mud, and the horses would end up eating the bark off the trees, they were so hungry! Before built our bridge we had to go through this field to get to the lake and we would often slip over in the mud and horse muck. I like horses, as long as they stay the other side of a fence, so going through a muddy field with horses that are somewhat tetchy fills me with fear. This particular day there were about six animals in the field, the black and white ones with hairy great big hooves and scruffy manes. They were not exactly well groomed and had thistles and all sorts stuck in their long manes and mankey tales. They looked pretty mean and seemed to have had a hard life and maybe this was their last place of stay before ending up in a tin. We went over the gate and they came towards us, some kicking and biting each other, but Percy had no fear and held out his hand; not in an open way, but straight and clenched fist fashion. He held it out in a gently way towards the horses. They were a bit scatty, but one by one they came up to his fist and sniffed it, their huge hairy nostrils making snuffling sounds. Only this year I saw the Queen do this on a programme about her and the horses she has in training. So maybe Percy taught her? Percy spoke quietly to the horses; proper conversation, but in a monotone fashion, which anyone who new Percy would know was unusual as he would speak to you in different tone pitches to get a point across. He looked them in the eye, got closer to them, even though they would try to bite each other. Where was I?? Well I shot over the fence. But I watched and listened to Percy. What I witnessed was I guess the work of a horse whisperer - I was amazed. After half an hour what appeared to be semi-wild horses were calm and fully engaged with Percy. It was fascinating to watch and to learn. Percy and I got in to my car and I said “where did you learn that Percy?” “Well dear boy,” he said “there is a lot you do not know about me!" Remember Percy came from a large family and living in Chesterton Fen in the war years, this little urchin would look to make some money whenever he could. Whether it be from the US serviceman stationed on the common, he would do the chip shop run for them or take in washing for them for his mum. He had, though, a knack for healing animals, birds, hedgehogs, all sorts and soon found himself helping out at Cambridge University Veterinary School. All these experiences built up a skill base, particularly with large animals such as cattle and horses. After the war, for a time, you had to do National Service. Percy got called up!!! Not good for such a free spirit! “Go on Percy,” I said, “I understand your love of animals and nature and all that but I just witnessed something a bit special!” “Ah dear boy”, he said “ well when I was in the army I was in the Kings Troop - a bit special, that son!” I was not up in regiments and all that and so I said “how come?” Somehow, and to this day I still do not truly understand how, Percy got in to the elite troop, to this day only the very best horseman are in the Kings troop or whatever they are now called. It must have been his exceptional talent with horses. “Yes son bit special that”. How long were you in the troop Percy?” “For a while son”, he replied. Then he told me a story, which I guess only a few, know about. Percy’s horsemanship must have been immense because one day he was entered in to an inter-troop point-to-point race. Percy relayed this story to me as if he wanted me to learn from it. “I was in this race you see son and a lot counted on it”, he went on to tell the story. “I moved the horse up the field gradually picking off the competitors. With about 3 furlongs to go I moved up to the race leader - a Captain and a right so and so. As I drew up parallel, the Captain shouted across “Anderson, drop back, drop back. Percy held his horse true. “Anderson, I intend wining this race!” Percy’s horse was moving well. “Anderson, pull back. Do as I say”. Percy made out he did not hear, gently whisperer to his horse – come on son, we can do it, he kicked on and won the race. The Captain dismounted and strode over to Percy, shouting at Anderson “you will never ride a horse again in the Kings troop, and Percy never did. I have often reflected on this story in certain life situations I have found myself in. It would have been easy for Percy to have held up his horse, done what he was told, but he stayed true to himself. He paid a huge price but he won the race. Some might say he was stupid and should have taken the easy way, but I learnt from this story and try to adhere to such values Percy was trying to get across to me.