Keays Byrne Hotel Rawalpindi (169 Gwyn Thomas Road)

Keays Byrne Hotel Rawalpindi

By Lt Col Rashid Zia Cheema, Retd (2nd SSC)

Lt Col Rashid Zia CheemaEditor’s Note:  Lt Col Rashid Zia Cheema (Retired), the Editor of this website (Native Pakistan), is from Air Def/Avn. After the retirement, he has settled in DHA Phase 2, Islamabad.

In 2016, a friend mentioned about Keays Byrne Hotel which was located at 169 Gwyn Thomas Road in Rawalpindi Cantonment. Gwyn Thomas Road was named after Brigadier General Gwyn Gwyn Thomas (1871-1946) of British Indian Army. The present name of Gwyn Thomas Road is Sarwar Road, named after Capt Muhammad Sarwar, who was martyred in Uri Sector on July 27, 1948 during the Kashmir Operations. I had never heard the name of Keays Byrne Hotel. My last posting (1995 to 1997) before retirement was at Station Headquarters, located at Sarwar Road (old Gwyn Thomas Road). So naturally I got curious when I heard the name of this hotel. Also being an Admin of a blog about Rawalpindi which has a section titled ‘Nostalgic Articles about Rawalpindi’, my inquisitiveness and deep interest was fully activated.

Kathleen Keays Byrne, owner of Keays Byrne Hotel RawalpindiI did some extensive research and also asked many old timers and got some useful information about the hotel. It was run by Kathleen and her husband Frederick Keays Byrne, a retired Army officer. Ali Khan, a renowned tennis coach and historian, informed me that Frederick retired as a Colonel and served in 14 Punjab Regiment which was also the unit of Ali Khan’s father, Brig Akbar, who was in the unit while it was in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Frederick’s rank has not been confirmed from any other source whether he retired as a Major or a Colonel.

When Brig Muhammad Saleem (ex Station Commander Rawalpindi), 10th War Course, whose parent unit is 14 Punjab, was asked about Frederick’s unit, he opined, “May be Frederick was an officer of one of the unit of 14 Punjab Regiment and not the current 14 Punjab (DoSolah 2/16) which was part of the 16 Punjab Regiment in those days.

Major Saeed Akhtar Malik, ex 35th PMA Long Course, another 14 Punjab officer, informed,  “Frederick was not a 14 Punjab officer to the best of my knowledge. I think that if he was indeed a 14 Punjab officer, he is most likely to have belonged to the old 14 group. I say this primarily on the grounds that early on these groups were pretty well-knit families. Had he belonged to 2/16 (the present day 14 Punjab) I was most likely have heard about it from my father, or one of the senior officers of the unit who belonged to that era.” Saeed Malik’s father, Lt Gen Akhtar Hussain Malik, was also from 14 Punjab. He was posted to CENTO in Ankara, Turkey, where he died in a road accident in 1969.

Professor Naeem Qureshi (from Islamabad) and Major Muhammad Jamil Akhtar (from Canada) sent me a copy of The London Gazette, 1 July 1927, which mentions that Frederick was promoted as Major on 31st March 1927. It also mentions that he was performing some “Miscellaneous Duties”. He was in reserve pool of officers.

Captain to Major promotion of Frederick Keays Byrne in The London Gazette, 1 July 1927

Frederick and Kathleen spent most of their lives in India. Frederick died of a stroke in 1950 and was buried in Rawalpindi. After the death of her husband, Kathleen managed Keays Byrne Hotel. Ghulam Mohammad, her Kashmiri assistant and helper from her husband’s time, helped her in managing the hotel. She was later involved in a long legal battle over the possession of this hotel. When she lost the case, she opened/bought Lockwood Hotel in Murree. She ran it for some years. When Kathleen also lost/gave up Lockwood Hotel, she took on the Golf Hotel at Bhurban. Kathleen remained in Pakistan until about 1971/72 and then she went to live with one of her daughters, Bridget, in Northern Ireland. Her daughter Bridget Doreen Keays Byrne was married to Thomas Joseph Monaghan in Rawalpindi in 1946. Kathleen died in 1976.

Kathleen and Fredrick had a hotel in Kashmir before the 1947 Indo-Pak Partition. I could not find its name. After the Partition the couple managed Keays Byrne Hotel Rawalpindi. Later, Kathleen opened Lockwood Hotel in Murree and then Golf Hotel at Bhurban. The opening and closing dates of these hotels are not known, may be some reader could help me out in this regard.

Picture of Hal Bevan Petman, British Painter Here is a portrait of Frederick Keays Byrne, done by the famous British painter Hal Bevan Petman, who stayed through during the Partition of India and chose to reside in Pakistan. He had settled in Rawalpindi and lived in a bungalow adjacent to Pindi Club. He died on 9 May 1980 in Rawalpindi. He painted significant civil and military personalities, landscapes and still life. His works included many Pakistan Army officers, two of whom became Pakistan’s Heads of State: Field Marshal Ayub Khan and General Yahya Khan. This portrait of Fredrick was hung in the drawing-room of Kathleen Keays Byrne at Golf Hotel, Bhurban.

Portrait of owner of Keays Byrne Hotel, Frederick Keays Byrne by Hal Bevan Petman
Photo Courtesy: Facebook Page Hal Bevan Petman.

Here is a portrait of the graceful lady Kathleen Keays Byrne, also done by the famous British painter Hal Bevan Petman.

Portrait of owner of Keays Byrne Hotel, Kathleen Keays Byrne by Hal Bevan Petman
Photo Courtesy: Facebook Page Hal Bevan Petman.

Kathleen was a friend of Khalida Adeeb Khanum, wife of Dost Mohammad Khan of Peshawar. In her later years, Kathleen spent the winters with Khalida in Peshawar. She was always accompanied by Ghulam Mohammad, her Kashmiri assistant and helper from her husband’s time. Khalida’s children called her Granny. Khalida’s daughter Sabrina Dost used to watch her mother help Granny wash her hair and give it a blue rinse which fascinated her as a young girl. Khalida and Granny had long conversations about her going to UK as she was getting very frail. She dreaded the change in her life. Ghulam Mohammad kept on running Golf Hotel and maintained the same standard for a few years further. He died in bed one winter night in Dost Mohammad Khan’s house from a sudden and massive heart attack and was found by Khalida’s son who had taken a cup of tea for him.

Golf Hotel Bhurban, Kathleen Keays Byrne, Nilofer, Khalida Adeeb & Beryl Dyer

Sadly, the Keays Byrne Hotel no more exists, it was probably pulled down in 70s. There is a big vacant plot of approximately 2 acres on Sarwar Road which I saw daily while commuting from my home in Lalazar to my office (Station Headquarters). When we go from Punj Sarki (five roads) towards Mureer Chowk, the vacant plot lies on our left and it is the site of this hotel. The vacant land brings woe to the onlookers.

Site of Keays Byrne Hotel Rawalpindi - Map of Gwyn Thomas Road Rawalpindi

Maj Gen Syed Ali HamidMajor General Syed Ali Hamid (Retired) ex 39th PMA Long Course, son of Major General Shahid Hamid, had spent his childhood days in Rawalpindi. When I asked him to give some feedback about the hotel, he told me; “I stayed in the hotel for a year or so when my father retired from the army in 1959 and was constructing ‘Shaigan’, his house behind 502 Central Workshop in New Lalazar. Keays Byrne Hotel comprised of basically three large old houses in a straight line one of which had a large dining room and lounge for guests. The food was awful except the clear soup which was made from extracts of bones of beef or mutton. The hotel mostly catered for families with suites of 2-3 rooms and there was no flush system. The bedrooms seemed huge to me and bloody cold in winters. I remember there were also some Polish families living there (probably PAF related). Mrs. Byrne lived in a house behind the hotel with her sister (maybe) and two sons whom I used to play with. One of them was a victim of Polio and in a wheel chair. Unfortunately no photographs are available with me and that’s about all I can remember.”

A New Zealander, Russell GouldenBack in 1962/63, Russell Goulden, a citizen of New Zealand, lived in Keays Byrne Hotel when he was a young boy of about 9 years. His family lived in the main part of the hotel, while Kathleen lived in a bungalow next to the main hotel with her dog. Russell Goulden’s family lived in Rawalpindi for one year. His father, Captain Michael John Goulden (Later retired as Major), was serving with UNMOGIP (United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan). Russell went to Saint Mary’s School for one year. He has very fond memories of Kathleen. He often visited her after school. Russell visited Pakistan for two weeks on a business tour in November 2016. I could not meet him. Later, I asked him on email to send me some photographs of the hotel. He sent a photo, showing him and his three brothers playing on a pile of bricks at the Keays Byrne Hotel Rawalpindi in 1962.

Photo of Captain Michael John Goulden while serving in UNMOGIP, 1962

 

Russell Goulden & 3 brothers at Keays Byrne Hotel Rawalpindi, 1962

In a book “Diary of a Novice”, written by Lynn M. Peace, about 1960 German-American Karakoram Himalaya K2 Expedition, there is a mention of Keays Byrne Hotel where the expedition group stayed. They traveled from Karachi to Rawalpindi by train and were received by Captain Sharif Ghafur, their Pakistani Liaison Officer, at Rawalpindi railway station on June 19, 1960. It is interesting to read how the author described Keays Byrne Hotel :-

The book 'Diary of a Novice' mentions Keays Byrne Hotel Rawalpindi

Diary of a Novice, written by Lynn M. Peace, about 1960 German-American Karakoram Himalaya K2 Expedition

The cast of K2 Expedition of 1960 at Keays Byrne Hotel Rawalpindi on June 19, 1960
Photo Courtesy: “Diary of a Novice”.

The writer of “Diary of a Novice” mentioned about the office man of Keays Byrne Hotel, Mr. M. William, who wanted his picture taken and wanted copies sent to him. The author also referred to another person, Mr. Monahan, who was kind enough to give them a better room for two more days on May 28, 1960. He was probably the manager of Keays Byrne Hotel Rawalpindi.

Descendants of the Keays Byrne Family are scattered all over the world. Frederick Keays Byrne and Kathleen’s grandson, Hugh Keays Byrne, is an actor, who resides in Australia. He moved to Australia in 1973 and is well-known there as a television and film actor. Hugh Keays Byrne was born on 18 May 1947 in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir. He played a villain in the film ‘Mad Max; Fury Road’ (2015) and also acted in many other movies. Here is a digitized cine footage of the Keays Byrne Family at the Keays Byrne Hotel in Gywn Thomas Road, Rawalpindi, taken in 1946 just after the Second World War.

I will be grateful if readers of this article could please provide photos of Keays Byrne Hotel or any other information about the hotel, Kathleen or Fredrick Keays Byrne.

Related Pages
Nostalgic Articles about Rawalpindi
Rawalpindi Blog

Editor’s Note:
If it is not inconvenient, please do write a brief comment at the end of this page in “Comment Box (Leave a Reply here)”.
Visitors of this website are welcome to contribute their articles for the segment Nostalgic Articles about Rawalpindi by sending to: nativepakistan@gmail.com

Comments

  1. Brig Muhammad Saleem, 14 Punjab (10th War Course) says:

    Cheema Sahib,
    Very interesting article describing native history. I hope the 2 acres plot of old Keay Byrne Hotel at Sarwar Road has not been defrauded by local land mafia like the plot of St. Paul’s Church (on the junction of Murree Road and the Mall) by Malik Riaz in 1998. I recall that most of my time as Station Commander Rawalpindi (1997-99) was spent in retrieving hundreds of Kanals military lands in Rawalpindi and surrounding area from adverse occupation of influential land mafia since decades.

  2. Lt Col Muhammad Shafiq, AD (48th PMA) says:

    Great article worth a read. I was in Gordon College in 1967-69. Being a mediocre student living in hostel (Martin Hall) had lots of time to roam about. Went to every nick and corner of Rawalpindi and must have traversed Sarwar Road umpteen times but never knew that its initial name was Gwyn Thomas Road and a great hotel Keays Byrne Hotel was located aside it. I thank you Col Cheema for your great research with photographs and comments of people remained associated with it. Thanks for all this enlightenment.

  3. Maj Gen Syed Ali Hamid, AC (39 PMA) says:

    Most grateful for a well compiled article and for posting my picture. I found the article most informative. The picture contributed by Russel playing on a pile of bricks brings back strong memories because I vividly remember playing at the same spot where there were some old structures that had collapsed and provided an interesting spot to play. I was about the same age. In fact the door in the background was probably the one that led to the bathroom and gave access to the sweeper to empty the commodes.

  4. Col Asif Rathore, Ord (39 PMA) says:

    Cheema Sahib,
    A very interesting read. I came to Rawalpindi in 1962 and your article is a refreshing recall of the very pleasant, peaceful days that I have spent in this city. Nostalgic. I truly appreciate your endeavor to take us back to the 1960s Amazing times. Thanks.

  5. Salman Hamid says:

    it is a very interesting read, very well researched article. Good Job Sir!

  6. Ali Fahim Khan, USA says:

    A treat to read such a well researched article!

  7. Col Shah Alam, AC/Avn (34 PMA) Canada says:

    Wow! I’m amazed by the extensive research of the author in putting this story together. You went to great lengths to find details of the history and collecting photographs of this hotel and its residents.

    While I have lived in Pindi for a very long time and have traversed the Punj Sarki – Mureer Chowk umpteen number of times, I never noticed the remains of this hotel nor was aware of it. That speaks ample about my observation or even ignorance. On the contrary, you were not only sharp in observing something that wasn’t there but also dug deep into its roots and solved the puzzle to make a sense of its history 🙂 Absolutely commendable.

    Thanks again. And before I leave I must quote George Meredith who said that “Memoirs are the backstairs of history”.

  8. Col Khalid Mateen (Retd), Engrs (65th PMA L/C) says:

    A great research work and painstaking effort to dig the archeological history of Rawalpindi. Well done Sir. Keep it up.

  9. Brig Khalid Rashid Lodhi, 32 AK (49th PMA) says:

    I found it very interesting, informative and worth reading. Thanks.

  10. Major Mujib Aftab, Baluch (2nd SSC) says:

    Thanks Cheema. I have fond memories of Rawalpindi. I must have seen this hotel, I have vividly remember these places. In those days we used to roam about on bicycles.
    You are doing good job particularly with relation to Rawalpindi. It was a beautiful city. Very calm & quiet. People would go to sleep early, visiting somebody after 8 O’clock was not liked. People generally would not open the gate. Thanks again.

  11. RK Yusuf says:

    Interesting read. Do mention the sources of your information, especially the portraits.

  12. Col Zaheer Ahmad Bajwa, FF (41st PMA) says:

    I can only commend your efforts for digging out this story, I did serve in Rawalpindi for two years at the end of my stint with Army but had no idea if any such place ever existed, but a remarkable research by you, only few can do this, how did you get interested in this?

  13. Lt Gen Faiz Jilani Malik, 20 Baluch (4th Graduate Course) says:

    My compliments for a very well researched article indeed. It brings to light one of the landmarks of Rawalpindi Cantonment which has since gone out of sight. Like many of the worthy readers, I also stand benefited.
    Best regards.

  14. Javed Iqbal says:

    Beautiful narrative of a small chapter of our golden years. That was the time when Pakistan was among the best countries of the world. Your painstaking research has kindled fond memories of a glorious period. People of my generation are passionate about those times and we owe you a debt of gratitude for bringing memories back to life!

  15. Lt Col Amir Afzal Khan, Air Def (40th PMA) Canada says:

    A very interesting and thoroughly researched article. Somehow I had never heard of this place or even come across it. Thank you for sharing the article though. I will definitely look up the place once I’m back in Pakistan.

  16. Maj Kausar Iqbal Bajwa, AC (4th War Course) USA says:

    I am immensely impressed by the research work behind this article. Wow. What a painstaking process and results. Commendable

  17. daveshah says:

    I lived in Rawalpindi for many years for my studies and then for my job in Islamabad—-from 1969 till 1982. I never came across Keays Byrne hotel, but there was a rugged building which was once Mrs. Davies’ private hotel. Could that be a possibility that this was originally a Keays Byrne Hotel. Apart from this the article is great!

  18. Lt Col Naeem A Khan, Air Def (2nd SSC) says:

    Wah Cheema Ji Wah. What a great & thorough research. I am highly impressed.

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