This eulogy was given at Brian O’Rorke’s funeral:

Lt Col BR O'Rorke MBE
Lt Col BR O’Rorke MBE

I have been asked to recall Brian’s early career in the Army, in particular memories of his time in the 8th Hussars, subsequently the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars.

Sadly many of his old brother officers who would no doubt have added much to his story are no longer with us now. However, with the help of many still going strong, I will try briefly to recount some of the events in his Army days.

From Ampleforth to RMA Sandhurst Brian was commissioned into the 8th Hussars. There was never a dull or quiet moment in Brian’s military career. Together with another newly commissioned brother officer to the Regiment he first successfully attended a young officer’s armoured course at Bovington.

It was here that he wore for the first time the 8th Hussar’s somewhat unique headdress, a tent hat. Despite being told by his brother officer the correct way to wear the hat Brian insisted his way was right, that was back to front!

On completing the course and joining his Regiment he reported to the Adjutant’s office, on his first morning, hat proudly in place. The Adjutant was not amused.

Not a good start, but Brian, a determined character full of enthusiasm and ambition, put it behind him and he quickly entered into Regimental life.

Apart from his early military activities he was a keen sportsman particularly in skiing, often taking his troop to Winterberg, the German Ski resort, and boxing. He boxed for Sandhurst and the Regiment and then became a qualified referee taking control of the Regimental boxing with the cry “I am in charge”. He undoubtedly made his mark from the very start.

He was a successful Troop leader, and full of confidence in commanding Recce Troop at a young age.

Brian loved organising parties and there are many stories to tell.

To recall just one, a fancy dress dance was to be held in the Luneburg Mess.

Brian then senior subaltern at the time made attendance obligatory. Two un co-operative officers who did not want to attend decided to come as Arabs put up a tent in the ballroom and never came out, drinks being passed into the tent. Brian saw the funny side took it all in good heart and entered into the spirit of the occasion although he might himself have cut the supply lines to the tent.

Brian was by no means modest in those days and before leaving the Regiment for a period on the Staff he decided he needed his photograph taken. A brother officer was commissioned to do this. It had to be done in number one blues, crossbelt, sword and all, to be taken in a Napoleonic pose.

Following various staff appointments and further Regimental duty, he attended the Indian Staff College at Quetta. Whilst still in India he was appointed ADC to a State Governor and on his first day of duty he was required to accompany the Governor and his wife in the official coach on a major State occasion. Passing through cheering crowds they arrived at the Parliament buildings where the guard of honour was drawn up.

Brian in his efficient manner leapt from the coach to open the door. The Governor resplendent in white uniform, plumed hat, medals, spurs and sword stepped from the carriage. Unfortunately, Brian had forgotten to pull out the carriage steps. He realised his mistake when the Governor hit the ground with a thud and remained prostrate, badly hurt with blood streaming from his face.

Realising his master was badly hurt, he bundled him back into the carriage ordering the coachman to make for the hospital with all haste, where he was placed in the tender care of the missionary nurses.

The Governor quickly recovered but to Brian’s dismay, he received a note from him that afternoon saying his services were no longer required. The Governor deemed his behaviour such a blow to the Raj’s prestige that he would in no event agree to him continuing as his ADC. Brian’s new appointment had only lasted 24 hours, he believed a regimental record.

However, he recovered from this setback to become the principal staff Officer to GOC Singapore before taking command of the Regiment in 1973 from his great friend Christopher Troughton.

As Colonel, he entered the job with gusto. He was always wanting to improve the Regiment’s position.

First, with the help of a well-known retired officer, Lord St Oswald he was instrumental in establishing the Regimental pipers and the pipe banners. Over the years the pipes and drums have gone from strength to strength and play at important public events and on Regimental occasions.

Furthermore with the loss of regimental bands today it is a great asset to the Regiment that, in effect, they still have their own band, most important to soldiers.

Then, whilst commanding, he wrote a script for a Son et Lumiere depicting the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. This was produced for the Regiment and German Guests and later turned into a radio programme for BFBS in 1973.

He also succeeded in commissioning a magnificent bronze sculpture of Prince Philip’s head and shoulders in time to mark the 50th anniversary of his Royal Highness’s appointment as Colonel in chief of the Regiment. These were all marvellous legacies.

Brian was a man of extremes, never still for a moment, full of ideas and with many talents, (amongst other things an accomplished artist, and sculptor.) He was a man of formidable drive, not ready to compromise when trying to achieve his aims nor prepared to sacrifice his principles just for popularity.

Once Brian had set his sights on a target his drive and determination could be very difficult to deflect; in spite of obstacles along the way, but this of course was to his credit.

Small in stature he was always on the go and enjoyed cracking the whip to keep his squadron leaders up to the mark and under control. Once he was heard saying to the RSM “Why do my squadron leaders always complain about me when I give them so much time to enjoy themselves”!!

Against this, he was a kind and generous host’ Although a great party man there was also the more serious and considerate side to him. As one brother officer put it “He and Liz, his first wife, were extremely kind to me as a young officer even going so far as to having me for Christmas in 1959”. (Knowing the young officer in question it was indeed a noble act). Throughout his time with the Regiment, he was always much supported by Liz and indeed in later life by Jilly.

However Liz and the family did have their problems in controlling his over-exuberance, and it is understood that at breakfast at home on one occasion “enough was enough” resulting in one of the children tipping a bowl of cornflakes over his head much to their amusement! Did Brian come back for more or was it a family lesson achieved?

Brian never forgot the widows of the Regiment left behind, some very young, and always showed great kindness and care even after he had long left the army.

In his last message in the Crossbelts, the Regiments annual magazine, he refers to a good year with the Regiment moving to further heights of achievements and success and concludes “Let us see if we can prove Confucius wrong when he says:- “When there are great public heroes built up, there is always tragedy OR put into more modern words:- “When you reach the top your next step must be downwards” Brian would never have accepted this and with typical rye humour he adds a photograph of himself on the ski slopes with the caption “The Colonel going downhill”!

After commanding his Regiment he left the Army but no one can say in his own life that he went downhill!

Related topics

  1. A short history of The Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars