The Jeweller’s Son and the IRA

Cibbie
Cibbie/In loving memory/of/our darling son/Cyril Ball Ninnes/born January 21st 1892/died September 9th 1904
In every heart he knew fond love/a sanctuary in every human face/and when God missing him in Heaven said come/it did not seem a solitary place/I think he only flushed in sweet surprise/to see the golden floor beneath his eyes
In loving memory/of/Basil Evelyn St Clair Ninnes/who died at Sandgate/April illegible 1933 aged 39 years
In memory of/Antonia Frances Ninnes/died June 4th 1941
In memory of/Frederick Ninnes/who died 3rd August illegible/aged illegible
R.I.P.
Of such is the kingdom of Heaven

Benjamin Frederick Ninnes  was born in Tunbridge Wells, the son of James Walker Ninnes, a watchmaker, and his wife Frances. Benjamin also became a watchmaker, and at about the time of his marriage, set up shop at 32 (later 64) High Street Hythe.

Ninnes Ad

 

He expanded his business to include silver and gold smithing, providing medals and buttons to, among others, the army and the Metropolitan Police. He also dealt in antiques, counting the author Joseph Conrad, who for a time lived at Pent Farm in nearby Postling,  among his regular customers. He donated a silver challenge bowl to Hythe Golf Club. He died in Hythe in 1927.

He had married Antonia Frances Ball ,  the eldest child of William St James Ball, an army captain and Queen’s Foreign Service Messenger, and his wife Priscilla.  She was baptised in Richmond, Surrey, on 8 April 1869. The fact of her father’s occupation was clearly important to Antonia: she included it on the memorial to her older son in St Leonard’s Church and in the obituary to her younger son in the local newspaper. Antonia kept at least the antiques side of her husband’s business going after his death and took up golf and, in her fifties,  driving a motor car, though she was fined for dangerous driving in 1933

Cyril Ball Ninnes was the elder of the sons of Benjamin and Antonia Ninnes. He was born and died in Hythe, baptised on  27 Feb 1892 at St Leonard’s and buried at the same church on 12 Sept 1904. The gravestone in the churchyard bears the legend ‘Cibbie’. a contraction of his initials, CB.  He is also commemorated on a plaque on the south wall of the nave.

Cibbie2

 

The family lived at 5, Hillside Terrace in the town and Cyril was apparently educated at home by a governess. Perhaps he was a sickly child. He died at home.

The second son, Basil Evelyn St Clair Ninnes was born on 24 January 1895 in Hythe and was baptised in St Leonard’s church on 16 April that year. He was educated at Hazlewood school, where he played football and cricket for the school and was a chorister.
On 5 January 1908, he entered the Royal Naval College Osborne and at Christmas 1909 went on to the Royal Naval College Dartmouth where he excelled at cricket and hockey. He left in 1911 for a posting to the armoured cruiser HMS Cornwall which went on a six-month cruise of the Canary Islands, the West Indies and of North America before returning in July 1912. A month later he was posted to HMS King Edward VII, was appointed as a Midshipman in the Royal Navy on 15 September 1912 and was sent to Malta. His naval records show that while he was average at most things, he was regarded as a steady young man who would make a good officer.

However, back in the UK in he became ill and was admitted to Chatham Hospital in 1914, where he was treated for suspected TB. He was invalided out of the Navy in March 1915, but made a short-lived recovery and was commissioned as a temporary 2nd Lieutenant in the Administrative Branch of the Royal Air Force in June 1918. He was sent to France in October, but was almost immediately injured. Although he had hoped for a permanent commission, the return of ill-health meant that he was transferred to the Unemployed List on 6 September 1919.

He returned to his parent’s home the Blue House in Hillside Street, Hythe. What he did for the next year is unclear. It is possible he helped his father in the business. However, in December 1920 he joined the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary (ADRIC). This was a para-military police unit, which with very few exceptions, accepted only ex-officers from the British Army (or one of the Empire armies). They served as separate units from the Royal Irish Constabulary, which had little control over them. ADRIC should not be confused with the Black and Tans, which was made up of ex-British Other Ranks and served as part of the RIC.

Ninnes - ADRIC

In 1921 Basil was serving in Ireland with ‘L’ Company of the Auxiliaries which was stationed at West Muskerry, County Cork. The Company had to drive twice a week to Banteer to pick up supplies and drove the same route each time. A local unit of the Irish Republican Army had noted their routine and prepared an ambush for them. On 16 June 1921 the IRA men let the first convoy of the day pass by and return unhindered. The second convoy was also allowed to pass, but the ambush was arranged at the village of Rathcoole for their return. The convoy consisted of four vehicles and twenty-five personnel. Basil was travelling in the second vehicle. At 7.30pm the four lorries were passing through the ambush area on their return journey when three landmines, which had been placed on the road, exploded. One mine detonated as the last of the four lorries drove over it, a second mine was then detonated under the second vehicle in the convoy, and the final mine detonated under the leading vehicle which had turned around to go back to assist. A firefight developed. Most of the IRA positions were to the south of the road, but two sections were to the north to prevent the Auxiliaries using the walls on that side as shelter. The engagement lasted until about 9.45pm, when a stalemate was reached and the IRA withdrew without having sustained any casualties. Two Auxiliaries had died during the attack and a number had been badly injured, including Basil.
He was awarded £2000 compensation and went back to Hythe. He was still only twenty-six years old.
He maintained his links with the military, becoming club secretary of the Royal Air Force Club in Piccadilly, despite his very short association and continued to used his military rank of second lieutenant. In 1928 he became Secretary of the Folkestone Greyhound Racing Company, which was hoping to take a lease on fourteen acres of land off Danton Road, Cheriton, near Folkestone to build a track, complete with a ‘motor parking ground’. It was to open in 1929 and provide accommodation for ten thousand visitors. Greyhound racing in the area had previously been held at Westenhanger, but was stopped at the outbreak of war. The plan met with some local resistance on the grounds that it encouraged gambling, but in any event, the company seems to have collapsed within a very short time, and greyhound racing did not return to the area until the nineteen forties.

Ninnes greyhound 3 march 1928
In 1930 he married, in London, Ida Henrietta Blyth Tanare. Ida was the daughter of a local hotel manager and town councillor, James Tanare, who until his death had run with his wife the Royal Kent Hotel in Sandgate, near Hythe. Now Ida and her mother Sarah ran it together. Basil moved in with them at the hotel, which seems not to have been one of the most up-market outfits in the little town, its advertising being mostly based on its proximity to Shorncliffe camp, the nearby military base. By now, ill-health had forced his resignation as the RAF club’s secretary, and it was at the Royal Kent Hotel that he died on 7 April 1933.

Royal-Kent-Hotel-1908-Sandgate

Ida never remarried, but gave up the hotel business and ran an antiques shop in Folkestone. She died in 1952.

 

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