Cornet Christopher Hanbury joined the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars at Northampton Barracks, Wolfenbüttel in the then West Germany in May 1965 and was posted to command 2nd Troop ‘C’ Squadron. His arrival caused something of an equestrian stir because not since 1957 (the year before the amalgamation of the 4th and 8th Hussars) had a young officer arrived accompanied by a racehorse.
Christopher had been brought up in Co. Meath and the horse, Star Shoot, had been bought from a nearby trainer. The regiment’s mounted activities at that time did not include racing, being devoted mainly to the dozen or so polo ponies (five of them brought by sea from Malaysia the year before). Star Shoot’s arrival, and the fact that within two years he had won £2,000 (equivalent today to around £40,000) so enthused other Irish Hussars that Hanbury soon found himself with a training stable of five.
A considerable obstacle to progress was that in those early days, neither he nor anybody else in the regiment knew how the German racing scene worked. This came to the attention of a local bus driver Herr Lang who, having done a little training himself knew his way around the sport and its various intricacies. He was soon enlisted as a training partner and advisor and successes on the racecourse duly followed, most of the rides being taken by regimental jockeys.
Some two years had passed when Christopher found himself at a party given by Captain Johnnie Powell and his wife Zandra to welcome a new nanny for their children. Johnnie was born into a racing family and the newcomer’s mother trained jumpers in Lambourn. Bridget Birch and Christopher hit it off immediately – not least because of their mutual interest in racing – and had soon become an item. Marriage at this early stage in their relationship was not on the agenda: Christopher would be regarded by the regiment as too young to marry and he had little money.
When the regiment was posted to Perham Down and then Bovington in 1968 they kept on seeing each other and by this time Hanbury’s equine interest had turned mainly to polo. He was an accomplished horseman, having been brought up to hunt in Ireland, and he had a decent eye for a ball. He didn’t immediately make the regimental team in England but his polo ambitions were furthered by his being sent to Hong Kong on loan to a squadron of the Queen’s Own Hussars where he found a number of like-minded young officers keen to play on a mixture of small Borneo ponies and some imported Australian walers – a breed developed in New South Wales.
There his game improved quickly but his distance from Bridget was not to his liking and then sent back to England on a course, he proposed. There was a snag: his commanding officer still considered him too young and improvident for marriage and withheld his permission. The situation was saved by the formidable wife of a squadron leader who told the colonel not to be so silly.
Accordingly, Christopher and Bridget were married in Lambourn on 2 December 1969 and moved with the regiment to Paderborn. There he went first to ‘A’ Squadron and then ‘C’ where he became second-in-command to Rodney Martin who together with his wife Gale, became close and life-long friends of the Hanburys. Under Martin’s sponsorship, Christopher became a key member of the regimental polo teams in both military and civilian tournaments in Germany and further afield.
In 1973 cavalry regiments were asked to nominate a young captain who might fulfil the Sultan of Brunei’s request for a military equerry of about his own age.
Christopher’s name was put forward and after interviews at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), he was selected. His subsequent briefing at the FCO emphasised the importance of encouraging the Sultan to maintain friendly relations with the United Kingdom. It would also be a good thing, it was suggested if he could interest the Sultan in polo as a means to bringing him closer to the influential polo-playing Sultans in mainland Malaysia.
The Hanbury family left for Brunei in January 1974 and during the subsequent seven years, Christopher far exceeded his instructions, turning Brunei into one of the most important polo hubs in the world. He also became such a trusted advisor and friend of his employer, that when the time came to leave Brunei, he resigned from his commission in the regiment to become the Sultan’s agent in the United Kingdom.
With this new role came a great deal of influence in international business circles as well as the opportunity to further his polo and racing ambitions. He founded a new polo club in Gloucestershire and became the patron of high-goal teams. His steeplechasers ran regularly at the Cheltenham Festival – one of them being called Irish Hussar.
In the years that followed Christopher and Bridget Hanbury never forgot their regimental friends, constantly providing them with generous hospitality at their principal home in Berkshire and their properties in the Argentine, Scotland, Ireland and France as well as finding employment for retired Irish Hussars. Christopher’s untimely death in 2022 left a huge gap in the lives of the many people for whom he provided tremendous fun and friendship.
None though will miss him more than Bridget, his cherished wife and partner, and to her, their six children and twenty grandchildren go the deepest sympathy of those who were lucky enough to have known him.
Maj C. Hanbury died on the 10th of May 2022. He served with QRIH from 1965-81.