Robert Henriques

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Robert David Quixano Henriques (11 December 1905 – 22 January 1967) was a British writer, broadcaster and farmer. He gained modest renown for two award-winning novels and two biographies of Jewish business tycoons, published during the middle part of the 20th century.

Life and career[edit]

Robert Henriques was born in 1905 to one of the oldest Jewish families in Britain. He was educated at Lockers Park School, Rugby, and New College, Oxford. He joined the Royal Artillery in 1926, and served as a gunner officer in Egypt and the Sudan. A riding accident put him in hospital and caused him to take retirement in 1933.

His book No Arms, No Armour (1939) came out to considerable critical praise. Much of the novel was autobiographical.

When World War II broke out, Henriques was an officer in the Territorial Army. He was immediately called up, and he served with distinction through the war, first in the Royal Artillery, then with the newly formed Commandos, and finally at the headquarters of Combined Operations. During the course of the war, Henriques rose to the rank of Colonel.

In 1943 Henriques published "Captain Smith and Company" (William Heinemann, London), an experimental war novel, now almost forgotten. Drawing directly on his war-time experiences, it tells the collective story of "Captain Smith" and other members of his company of Commandos. (A forerunner of the SAS, and American Army Rangers, and Navy Seals, the Commandos were special-forces elite army units created by Winston Churchill's direct order, after Dunkirk, as a means of raiding and harassing German forces on Continental Europe). The novel recounts how different men in Captain Smith's Company were recruited, or felt compelled to enlist, while revealing diverse aspects of their civilian backgrounds. One of them is a poet. Apart from these flashback episodes, the novel describes the training of the men, and their active service, raiding a coastal facility in Norway, setting explosive charges to blow up and bridge, and then, when the bridge is destroyed, the reflections and slow lingering deaths of Smith and other comrades. The writing varies from descriptive prose to reflective memory, and, at times, free verse, rhymed verse, and Biblical or Book of Common Prayer rhapsody, and other literary devices, including near-sonnets. As a whole literary work, the book is comparable to London-Welsh poet David Jones' early 1930s work, "In Parenthesis", an epic prose-and-poetry autobiographical novel of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and their part in the Somme attack in July 1916. It could also be compared to Dylan Thomas's later "Under Milkwood", a prose and verse radio play depicting the characters, voices, and ideas of members of a small Welsh village. Thematically it is comparable to the dying reveries, on events in his past life, recalled by the mortally wounded big-game hunter in Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro". It is also similar in theme to Ambrose Bierce's earlier short story of the American Civil War, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek", in which a Confederate sympathiser is executed by hanging for having attempted to destroy a bridge: during the execution the victim reflects vividly on past and imagined events. It might also be compared with William Golding's later World War II novel "Pincher Martin" in which the dying mind of a British naval officer, lost at sea, recreates the world he is losing as he dies. Towards the end of the short book (139 pages), the image of trout-fishing (in the Cotswolds) is evoked, reminiscent of Hemingway's first fragmentary novel "In Our Time", with its final story of Nick Adams, the veteran of fighting on the Italian Front during World War I, finding his own healing as he fishes for trout in the Big Two-Hearted River. Overall the language used varies from literary-ornate, parade-ground matter-of-fact, elusive stream-of-consciousness, and Biblical phraseology. The verse is occasionally weak. But it coheres, as an experience, despite the often thick, repetitive, flowery language. It ought to be reprinted.

After the war, Henriques began a new life as a farmer in the Cotswolds. Starting from rather modest beginnings, his farm near Cirencester became a large and impressive operation. Henriques had outstanding success as a cattle-breeder and won competitions. He lived the life of a country squire, carrying on hunting, fishing and shooting, and even writing occasional letters to the Times on farming issues.

Writing remained his first love, however, and in 1950 he became a recipient of the annual James Tait Black Award for his novel Through the Valley. He was also a frequent broadcaster, and appeared on Any Questions and on various television shows. He also helped to run the Cheltenham Literary Festival with John Moore, although things always did not go his own way.

Although he had accomplished much in all his various fields of endeavour – soldiering, farming, writing and broadcasting – Henriques was described as a restless character, who remained dissatisfied with himself and who was difficult to please.

The following year, he wrote 100 Hours to Suez, and it was around this time, in his late forties, that Henriques began to take an active interest and pride in his Jewish identity. He was won over by the Zionist cause, and made frequent trips to Israel where he bought a small property.

In the 1960s, Henriques wrote two biographies. The first one charted the life and career of his wife's grandfather Marcus Samuel, the great oil pioneer and leader of the Jewish community, and the second one described the life of Sir Robert Waley-Cohen.

He married Vivien Doris Levy, granddaughter of the 1st Viscount Bearsted in 1928, and the couple had two sons and two daughters.[1] The younger son Michael Henriques (b. 1941)[2] is father of Katrina Henriques, wife since 1991 of the Hon. David Seymour Hicks Beach (b. 1955), heir presumptive to his brother the 3rd Earl Saint Aldwyn.

See also[edit]

The second Son of Robert Henriques (Michael Henriques) is also father to Guy Henriques married to Tamara Louthan since 1989.


  1. ^ Debrett's 1951 gives the names of his two sons and two daughters as:

    Hon. Nellie Samuel, born 1883; married 1st, 1903, Maj. Walter Henry Levy (died 1923) [she remarried a __ Ionides and died 1962), and had (inter alia)

    Vivien Levy; married 1928, Col. Robert David Quixano Henriques, MBE, and had

    1. David Vivian Quixano Henriques, born 1929.

    2. Michael Robert Quixano Henriques, born 1941. 3. Veronica Esme Henriques, born 1931.

    4. Penelope Jane Henriques, born 1945.
    The quote is from the discussion thread "Katrina Hicks Beach" posted on the Usenet group, in messages posted by Michael Rhodes on 20 June 2004, and Barry Noonan on 22 June 2004.
  2. ^ Per a family genealogy website and Debrett's 1951, his year of birth is given as 1941.