Eric Sherbrooke Walker

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Eric Sherbrooke Walker
Eric George Sherbrooke Walker, portrait.jpg
Portrait, approx 1910
Born 1887
Edgbaston, Birmingham, United Kingdom
Died 13 May 1976
Majorca, Spain
Nationality British
Other names James Barbican
Occupation military officer, Scouting inspector, hotelier
Known for contribution to Scouting, Treetops Hotel

Major Eric George Sherbrooke Walker, MC (1887–1976) was hotelier and founder of the Outspan Hotel and Treetops Hotel in Kenya, as well as a decorated military officer. He is remembered as the host of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip when they visited Treetops in 1952, shortly before receiving news of the death of King George VI and Elizabeth's accession to the throne.

Early life[edit]

The son of Reverend George Sherbrooke Walker and his wife, Jessie Elizabeth Carter, Eric Walker was born in Edgbaston, Birmingham in Warwickshire on 4 July 1887, and brought up in March, Cambridgeshire where his father was Rector.[1] He was educated at Oxford University. Walker was associated with the Scouting movement, and was a personal secretary to Baden-Powell, the founder of the movement. He was one of the first two Scout inspectors, overseeing all of Wales and the South of England. He was present at Baden-Powell's first Scout camp in Humshaugh in 1908, and toured Canada with sixteen Scouts in 1910 to demonstrate Scouting.[2]

Walker joined the Royal Flying Corps during World War I, but was shot down and held as a prisoner of war in Germany. He is said to have made 36 attempts to escape.[3] Apparently, on one occasion, a German girlfriend from before the war helped him by supplying him with wire cutters provided by Baden-Powell hidden inside a piece of ham.

After the War's end he was employed as a temporary Captain on the General List, fighting against the Bolsheviks with the British Military Mission in South Russia alongside the White Army in the Russian Civil War. He was awarded the Military Cross for his gallantry at Ushun in the Crimea on 8 and 10 March 1920, where he attached himself to the Police Regiment and remained with them throughout the two days of counter-attacks, during which they sustained heavy casualties. By his personal example and coolness, under heavy machine-gun fire, he was largely responsible for the decisive success gained.[4] In addition, he received the Order of St. Anne and the Order of St. Stanislaus from the grateful White Russian authorities.[5]

Walker returned to England after the war, and became engaged and ultimately married to Lady Elizabeth Mary "Bettie" Feilding (22 August 1899 – ?), the daughter of Rudolph Feilding, 9th Earl of Denbigh, on 26 July 1926.[2][6]

Needing money to finance his marriage, he ran a bootlegging business, smuggling liquor into America during the Prohibition era, while his fiancée Lady Bettie worked as Social Secretary in the British Embassy in Washington DC. When Walker shot and wounded a corrupt state trooper who had tried to steal his cache of whiskey, the couple fled to Canada. Walker later wrote The Confessions of a Rum-Runner under the pseudonym of James Barbican about his life during this period.[7]

Life in Kenya[edit]

Cover of Eric Walker's book about the famous Treetops Hotel which he founded and ran

The couple finally emigrated to Kenya, where Walker purchased approximately 70 acres (28 ha) of Crown Land in Nyeri and - in 1928 - opened the Outspan Hotel, overlooking the gorge of the Chania River in the Aberdare Range (near the present day Aberdare National Park).[5]

In 1932, he opened the adjunct Treetops Hotel as a night-viewing station for wildlife. These business ventures may well have been based on profits made during his bootlegging days in America.[2]

In 1938, his former employer Lord Baden-Powell retired to the Outspan Hotel (Baden-Powell once remarked "closer to Nyeri, closer to bliss"), bought a share of Walker's hotel business to pay for his cottage (named Paxtu and now home to a Scouting museum) in the hotel grounds, and died there in 1941.

He saw further military service during World War II, first enlisting in the Royal Air Force, and then going on to serve with the South African forces in Abyssinia and in the Western Desert during the North African campaign, narrowly avoiding capture at Sidi Rezegh.[5]

He was host to Princess Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, during their February 1952 visit to Kenya. The couple had accepted an invitation to spend a night at Treetops, and arrived there on the afternoon of 5 February 1952. During the night, unknowingly, the Princess succeeded to the throne of England. Her father, King George VI, died in his sleep at Sandringham in England in the early hours of 6 February, and the Princess received the news later that day, after leaving Treetops, at the Royal Lodge, Sagana.[5]

Walker was again employed on military duties during the Mau Mau Uprising in the early 1950s. Treetops was offered as a lookout point for the King's African Rifles, but it was burned down by Mau Mau fighters on 27 May 1954. Walker built a bigger hotel at the same location in 1957, and business prospered - encouraged by public interest in the accession of Elizabeth II some years earlier. His hotel business was even featured in National Geographic Magazine, and famous celebrities, including Charles Chaplin and Paul McCartney, visited the hotel.[2] Walker also wrote a book about his life in Kenya and Treetops, named Treetops Hotel.[8]

The famous hunter Jim Corbett moved to Kenya after the Independence of India, took up residence at the Outspan, and became a resident hunter at Treetops. A house on the Walkers' farm was used during the shooting of the film version of Born Free.[2]

An avid hunter during his younger days, Walker, like many others, became an advocate of wildlife conservation in his final years in Kenya.

He retired to live in Majorca, Spain, and died there at his home, Cás Fidavé, on 13 May 1976.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Birth registered in the Kings Norton Registration District in the quarter ended September 1887. His parents' marriage was registered in the Cheltenham Registration District in the quarter ended September 1886.
  2. ^ a b c d e Best, Nicholas. "The Man from Treetops". Andrew Lownie Literary Agency. 
  3. ^ a b "obituary". The Times (London): pp. 16 and 34. 22 May 1976. 
  4. ^ "Supplement". The London Gazette: p. 9508. 27 September 1920. 
  5. ^ a b c d Prickett, R.J (1995). Treetops: Story of A World Famous Hotel. Nairn, Scotland: David St John Thomas Publishers. ISBN 0-7153-9020-1. 
  6. ^ "The Peerage". 4 March 2011. p. 7609. Retrieved 29 June 2012. 
  7. ^ Barbican, James (pseudonym of Eric Walker) (2006) [1927]. Confessions of a Rum-Runner. Mystic, CT: Flat Hummock Press. ISBN 978-0-9773725-5-3. 
  8. ^ E. S. Walker, Treetops Hotel, Robert Hale Publishing, London, 1962