Basil Stanlake Brooke

Pat Armstrong’s friend and fellow officer Basil Stanlake Brooke was deeply affected by his wartime experiences and as a consequence lost his religious faith. He returned to his ancestral home, Colebrooke Park in County Fermanagh in December 1918 with a view to farming and restoring the family estate. However, the political turmoil into which Ireland was about to enter changed the course of his life. In June 1920, he organized a small part-time force, Fermanagh Vigilance, to defend the Union. Three months later, he became the county’s commandant when the Ulster Special Constabulary was established. These actions pushed Brooke to a prominent position among Ulster unionists, and in 1929 he became a Unionist MP for County Fermanagh.

Basil Brooke

Basil Brooke

Brooke’s political rise was rapid. He was appointed Minister of Agriculture in 1933, and Minister of Commerce in 1941. In the latter role he succeeded in transforming the hitherto ineffectual department and reducing the unemployment figures in the region within two years from 72,000 to just 19,000. In 1943, the Unionist Party revolted against the government of the then Prime Minister John Andrews because of its lack of wartime leadership and a marked deterioration in local labour relations. Andrews was forced to step down, and on 2 May 1943 Brooke succeeded him as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. In 1952, he was raised to the peerage as Viscount Brookeborough but retained his seat in the House of Commons at Stormont. Because of Brooke’s determination to defend unionist unity, he failed to become a truly national leader although he served as Prime Minister for twenty years.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Brooke wanted to return to full-time military service but was persuaded from doing so by his party colleagues. Meanwhile his wife, Cynthia Mary née Sergison whom he had married in June 1919, served as senior commandant of the Auxiliary Territorial Service. She was created Dame of the British Empire in 1959 for her contribution to the war effort. The couple’s sons – Basil (b. 1920), John (b. 1922), and Henry (1923) – all fought in the Second World War. The eldest and youngest were killed in action, but the middle son survived and later followed his father into Northern Ireland politics.

Ill health, advanced age, and increasing back-bench criticism compelled Brooke to retire in March 1963. He retained his seat in parliament until 1968. In 1971, a year after the death of his wife, he married Sarah Eileen Bell. Brooke died at home at Colebrook Park on 18 August 1973, aged 85. He was cremated three days later, and his ashes were scattered on the Colebrook demesne.