BERNARD Dineen, who died on Christmas Eve aged 90, needs no introduction to readers of the Yorkshire Post, who, for nearly 40 years were variously entertained, stimulated and outraged by his trenchant weekly column.
A very different Bernard Dineen, urbane, witty and eloquent, was known to those who attended the Yorkshire Post Literary Luncheons. His chairmanship of these popular events was both masterful and masterly.
As a columnist, while his stance on many topics was predictable, he was capable, from time to time, of wrong-footing readers who had perhaps underestimated the impartiality of his deep contempt for humbug, hubris and political expediency.
He possessed a whiplash mind, the speed with which he assessed a situation serving him well as a journalist, conversationalist and public speaker.
It was also an asset during his years in the Army – not that he readily or very willingly referred to them.
His easy manner belied his strong desire to protect his privacy; few who were acquainted with him knew much about his background, or indeed, the man himself.
His father was from Kerry and his mother from Mayo, and he was born in Leeds where his father had joined the city police, with whom his brother was already serving.
The couple had three sons and a daughter. Bernard, born in 1923, being the youngest. One brother died in Burma, where he is buried, building the notorious Kwai Bridge as a Japanese POW.
Bernard went to the Leeds Catholic Grammar School and at 17 joined the Army, aware that as a volunteer, unlike a conscript, he could go to the outfit of his choice.
His choice was the Royal Armoured Corps with which he trained at Catterick, then joining the Buffs (141 RAC Royal East Kent Regiment).
After preparations for the invasion of France, he took part in the D-Day landings, and afterwards would pay tribute to the devastating role of the British Crocodile flame-throwing tanks. “The sight of enemy soldiers caught in the full blast of a powerful flame-thrower is unlikely to fade from the memory” he wrote in 2006.
The Americans, to their great cost, particularly at Omaha, scorned these and others of Major General Percy Hobart’s unusually modified tanks which came to be known as Hobart’s Funnies.
As an NCO tank commander, Bernard crossed France and Belgium and into Germany, by which time he had been made up to sergeant.
He later wrote that “no member of a tank crew is likely to forget the feeling of impotence and fear as he faced the formidable German Panthers and Tigers”.
When the British Churchill tank took a direct hit, the ensuing fire – there was nearly always a fire – might sweep through it in 10 seconds.
When he was offered a place on an officer training course, he chose to attend one in Bangalore which he believed would be more congenial than 1945 war-scarred Britain with its rationing and post-war austerity.
Triumphantly completing the course – he won the Sword of Honour as best cadet – he was once again free to make his own choice as to which regiment he should join, and he opted for the 9th Gurkhas.
He now exchanged the mists of Bangalore for the crystal clear vistas of the Himalayas from the regimental HQ at Dehra Dun in their foothills. He would remember his time there with particular pleasure, not least because the war in the East had come to an end, removing the unwelcome prospect of having to grapple with the Japanese without the benefit of a tank. He learnt to speak Gurkhali and later Urdu.
In 1947, the great challenge confronting British-commanded forces on the Indian subcontinent was presented by partition and the ethnic cleansing on an unimaginable scale which it triggered.
He was sent with the Ghurkas to the atrociously-undermanned Punjab Boundary Force (PBF), set up under the command of Major General TW Rees to maintain order and prevent the inter-communal slayings which political expediency had made almost inevitable. Just 15,000 officers and troops were supposed to protect an area of 37,000 square miles, with 18,000 villages.
One of the 9th’s most gruesome tasks was to pull 270 bodies from a train of Muslim refugees which had been stopped and boarded by armed Sikhs. None of the survivors had escaped horrifying injuries. Bernard’s anger, however, was directed at the politicians whom he blamed for hasty, ill-thought out decisions.
Ten million people were on the move at that time, and it is estimated that a million of them died.
When Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister, and Lady Mountbatten came to view Sikh refugee camps, Major Bernard Dineen was their guide.
He returned to the UK in 1948, joining the Inniskillin Fusiliers in Ballykinlar, Co Down, noting tensions between Protestants and Roman Catholics.
Leaving the Army, he fulfilled his long-held ambition and became a journalist.
His first job was on a one-man weekly in Wakefield, where he succeeded David Nicholas who went on to a distinguished career in television, being knighted and becoming Chairman of Independent Television News.
Bernard soon joined the Gazette and Herald series of weekly papers in York where he married Constance Child who passed away earlier in December. They had a son Tim and daughter Sarah.
He was a sub-editor in York, and it was as a down-table sub-editor that Sir Linton Andrews took him on at the Yorkshire Post in 1960.
Kenneth Young, Sir Linton’s successor, made him Features Editor, and when the Literary Luncheons were launched he became Deputy Literary Editor.
Under the editorship of John Edwards he became Literary and Business Editor, and it was as Business Editor that he first began to write a Monday column.
Monday tended to be a quiet day for business news, and his acerbic style, so much enjoyed by readers, bloomed as he observed the wrecking antics of ministers in the Wilson Government.
Ministers changed and administrations changed, but he never failed to spot, and highlight, actions, demeanour and pronouncements – in whatever quarter – which, by his standards, were despicable. He earned a devoted readership with his column running until 2010 and will be much missed.
His funeral will be held on Friday, January 10 at 3.40pm at Lawnswood Crematorium in Leeds.