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Monday, 30 November 2009

Malta and Greece: Josephine Blackstock

Josephine Blackstock (died 1956) was from Oak Park, Chicago, Illinois, where she made her name before and after the second world war in education, being director of parks and playgrounds 1921-1951. She therefore was interested in how children learn from experience.  American first editions are by Puttnams, Wings for Nikias with a foreword by Cimon Diamantopoulos, Minister of Greece and reissued after the war as a school text by EM Hale & Company of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Both were issued in Britain by Hutchinsons, with Busoni's graphic illustrations in Island on the Beam replaced with tamer and more Anglicised pictures by R. Mills. Illustrations below are by Busoni. Blackstock wrote other educational texts after the war, mainly about famous lives. An extract from Nikias can be found in Youth replies, I can: stories of resistance, edited by May Lamberton Becker, Foreword by Elizabeth Morrow, illustrations by Warren Chappell (

Wings for Nikias: A Story of the Greece of Today, 1942
This is her first war book (written 1940,  drawings by Rafaello Busoni with vivid lines, dedicated to Percy Boynton, = Percy Holmes Boynton, Prof. of English at Chicago University , died 1956). The story tells of a very small Greek boy who worked for the resistance against the Nazi invader and was rewarded by an aeroplane trip, which furthered his dreams of becoming a pilot. The dedication suggests that she told the story before deciding to publish, so that Nikias might be based on a real person. The UK version was by Hutchinson, retaining Busoni’s illustrations.

Nikias is 10. He is friends with a shepherd who tells him stories of ancient Greek tales, interesting as a device because the shepherd, Demetrios is able yet poor, living in a home-made tent, though with plans for marriage and something more permanent. The tale of Perseus results in Nikias dressing up with winged shoes in a carnival, Demetrios making him a toy plane, and then seeing a real plane go over, a rare sight there. In the background, war threatens.
The war erupts. An invading army takes over, and Demetrios joins the resistance army. Even the youngsters have to be alert. Nikias meets the invaders and realises that thie questions might give away Demetrios’s position. So he lies, and rushes to find the resistance forces and warn them. His prompt action results in a stirring victory for the resitance over the invaders. As a reward, he gets his flight in an aeroplane.

Review by The Chicago Tribune, of Wings for Nikias, cover flap of Island on the Beam::
"This charming story can hardly fail to accomplish three services for boy and girl readers: encourage bravery, heighten an already lively interest in aviation, and restore the shining traditions of ancient Greece. Mrs Blackstock's intimate knowledge of children - she is the director of playgrounds in Oak Park, Illinois - does not find its sole vent in practical psychology. She is a versitile writer, a born storyteller and a teacher of great skill..."

Island on the Beam: A Story of Malta. 1944.
Dedicated this time “for Edith”, this story is about Malta, that crucial base which defended Mediterranean shipping and was intensely bombed. It is illustrated again by Rafaello Busoni. My English edition is by Hutchinson, in the Stories for Young People series, and dates to 1948. The illustrations have been replaced with more English but less lively drawings by R. Mills. The originals are graphic, with fighters straffing the streets and one character killed by a bomb. This was probably felt to be too graphic for English children who had experienced it, as American children had not.

The story opens with a harmonious friendship between British and Maltese children and their families. The governor was General Dobbie, really Lieutenant-General Sir William George Shedden Dobbie GCMG, KCB, DSO (12 July 1879 – 3 October 1964), who had served in the Boer War and the First World War, and was the uncle of Orde Wingate who organised the Chindits behind Japanese lines in Burma and was killed in 1944. Both can be found in Charlton Cemetery. Dobbie (Old Dob-Dob in the book) was only 60 in 1939, when he was retired after governing Malaya for six years; but he persuaded Edmund Ironside that he had more to contribute and was sent as Governor-General of Malta till May 1942. He was replaced by the Anglo-Irish Lord Gort (Field Marshal John Standish Surtees Prendergast Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort VC, GCB, CBE, DSO & Two Bars, MVO, MC (10 July 1886 - 31 March 1946), hero (perhaps) of the BEF in France, builder of a new and vital airstrip on Gibraltar, who served in Malta from May 1942 until 26 September 1944. He appears in the book as a zealous reforming figure, suggesting that Dobbie might have needed replacing.

The statue of Queen Victoria (‘Old Ma’) punctuates the story, surviving air attacks. Malta is part of a benevolent British Empire. The book caricatures national types. David is English, an intrepid pilot (officer pilot rather than sergeant pilot) of unbelievable luck, who loves polo. Sandy is Scottish, full of och the noo and porridge. Bob is American, brash and brazen, full of unintelligible slang, and linked throughout the story to convoys that do not get through. They all get on well, and Sandy marries the Maltese Tessa and twins are born. The Maltese children are Pietru (12) and younger Geckos who is obsessed with animals. John is Pietru’s age and friend, and sister Iris is Geckos’ friend. All goes well until a relative, Beppo, of Sicilian (Italian) birth stirred up trouble, caused a breakdown in their friendship for a while, and tried to steal a military secret. John is too full of his Englishness and imperialism (only an American could comment), and further annoyed when Pietru lost him a donkey race (Beppo had pushed him). Nevertheless, Beppo failed and escaped back to Italy. Uncle Umberto, Beppo’s relative, was anti-British at first, especially under Beppo’s influence, but apologised and made good. He is killed in the end saving Iris from a German bomb. Beppo represents the fifth column, the enemy voice from within; Umberto is a reminder that not all aliens are enemies.

The story has a chronology. The first part is 1940, early in the war when only the four Gladiator biplanes defended the island. When three are left, they are nicknamed Faith, Hope and Charity. David flies Faith; and faith is a theme of the book. The detail of this period is sparse, and the Gladiators are not well described. (The picture of page 129 is actually of a Hurricane).  They were described more heroically after the war. Later in the book, Tessa had married Sandy, twins were born and Pietru was 14 – we are now in 1942-3 and Lord Gort was Governor. David is flying hurricanes (Mosquitos arrived 1943-4), but again without detail – only the strategy of flying high and swooping down.

Bob is to me a significant character, an American, with Chicago often mentioned. The guns are Chicago Pianos, as they were made in Chicago (lease lend). The children write to him, he meets their families and provides treats, his slang is mimicked. The author, teaching children in the Chicago area, has introduced into her story probably her major source, a friend who regaled her with stories of his wartime travels. Within the war, it allowed her pupils to get a feel of the human cost, and heroism, of war. The leverage to get them published gave first American then British readers a window into war in distant countries.

Jacket of British edition, 1948.
The book ends problematically. Historically, the biplane Gloster Gladiators, probably six or more, including Faith, Hope and Charity, saved the day against extraordinary odds until the hurricanes were delivered by the convoys. That was a real David and Goliath story. However, in this book, there are Hurricanes and Wellingtons available, yet David chose to fly in an elderly Gladiator, a fighter not a bomber, to bomb the Italian post and airfield that was threatening Malta. That was crazy, when (apparently) a Wellington was already fuelled and bombed up. He gets shot down in the sea, saved only by his inflatable jacket and Pietru miraculously finds him. Tension is created at the expense of realism. The given top-speed is accurate though, 250 mph or so. The danger finally receded as Rommel was defeated in Africa and the allies won back control of the Mediterranean. Actually, Spitfire Vs, Beaufighters and Blenheims were stationed on the island, some from the Carrier HMS Eagle.

As a postscript, HMSO produced a booklet on the Siege of Malta as part of its effort to keep the population informed about the war. I have described this elsewhere since, although anonymous in authorship, it was actually written by the poet John Pudney who was a writer in residence serving in the Mediterranean theatre. This account of the struggle against inhuman political policies is an example for us all to continue the struggle to achieve ethical governance.
See also:
The story of Rafaello Busoni and his wife Hannah, Jewish refugees from Germany to New York in 1939 -
Alan Machin's personal story:  
Thanks to Alan Machin for this and the conversation about "on the beam" which in air force slang means finding and sticking to the beams which assists navigation and landing. A relative, Wilf Slack, was i/c a number of coastal radar stations which used Gee and Oboe to get planes to target and home again. As night and daytime raids increased, night and fog landings became matters of great concern. All were of course top secret, but the slang "on the beam" began to be used. Germany also had a beam, Knickelbein, which Allied boffins succeeded in (metaphorically) "bending" sending German planes off target. My problem with this explanation for our title is the date of writing, 1943. Nevil Shute's Pastorale (1944), written by a flying expert who founded the aeroplane manufacturer Airspeed and built planes for the war government, tells of a Wellington bomber pilot finding his way home with a mutilated plane. We get a detailed description of the flight home and the landing, including the radio conversation. No beams are mentioned, anywhere.  The beams may just have been in use, but without sufficient time for the slang to have developed and crossed to Chicago to be recognised by street kids. The phrase is clearly fully understandable by the author's Chicago audience, without need for explanation that might help us. In my copy of the American edition, the author writes 'To Della -whose friendship I have always found to be "on the beam"'. Full of sunshine and happiness. The beam was black slang for sunshine (Cassell's Dictionary of Slang). 'On the (sun)beam'. In the American version, Pietro sees how beautiful the island is, and says 'The island on the beam!". The happy sunshine isle. The illustrator Raphaello Busoni adds a little vignette - seven children in a Maltese boat, waving, with the island behind them bathed in sunshine. So then, if "on the beam!" is already American slang for sunshine and happiness, how fitting for it to be applied by Flying Fortress crews to getting home safely, especially where they are assisted by a navigation beam.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Jan Maclure, Escape to Chungking

This book was published early in the war. My reprint is 1942.The copyright libraries indicate a 1942 date for the first edition.The contents deal with the fall of Malaya and Singapore to the Japanese, in 1940. Jan Maclure is an unknown, and produced no other book under this name. She dedicates the book to friends who have not yet got out.
This is a powerful book. A 14 year old boy discovers that his mother is party to hidden military secrets in Japan, just entering into the second world war. The boy finds his mother's friend nearly dead after trying to take secrets to the British and is handed a package before the friend dies. He takes this on a long journey from Japan to Chungking in China where the British still ruled, mainly to carry the formula for a new kind of explosive.

The boy, Christopher or Kit, is on the run throughout the book. Every safe house has been exposed and the people arrested. Kit changes identity when his friend is killed in a volcanic explosion and he takes over his papers an identity, and he can cross to China as a Korean which he could not have done as English. The detail is accurate throughout, with Jananese language as well as geography. Within China he moved from Cowloon to Chungking pretty quicky, personally shooting down a Jananese fighter in the process when the gunner was injured.

The author clearly knew the far east, and dedicated the book to friends who had not escaped yet. Children who were fluent in English and Japanese must have existed. The ex-pat community in 1939 must have had some difficulties. This book for children brings not much solace, for the Japanese were victors. Some Japanese are nice, but en masse they are bad. This is a clear message. The army was bullied into compliance. Christopher showed that resistence should be to death, and that death was fine so long as it came out of patriotic ethical effort and not from giving up.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Eight Over Essen - Eileen Marsh, 1943

Eileen Marsh took her adult fiction very seriously. This book starts with a bomber returning from a trip to Essen, follows each of the crew home for a week's leave, and ends with the next bombing run a week later, on which the are hit, without spelling out what happened to the crew. Written in 1943, it was not written to console, nor to acclaim flying crew. The book is unsentimental, except for the fact that the reader has come to know the crew, and the likelihood that they fail to return is no longer a statistic.

The crew are a mix of backgrounds and classes. The toff, Bill ('Dogs'), is only a Sergeant (to some chagrin at home) but he is content to be led. The captain, Skip, a Flight Lieutenant, is a grammar school boy, son of a tobacconist.

The home lives of the crew are the mixture we might expect in real life. The navigator, Swing, was devoted to classical music. Swing is misunderstood for his artistic temperament and love of music. Dogs strings along a pretty land girl, Shirley with half promises, and also enjoyed a no questions asked date with Daphne in town. The wireless operator Peter (Curly) is not happy in his marriage, to Ann, a novelist who is pregnant, but loses her baby during the week. The forward gunner Horace, an ex-burgular, found his wife running a crooked junk shop full of looted goods, picked up by the children aged 7,6 and 5. Daisy, the 5 year old, is crushed almost to death in a roof fall during the week. The flight engineer Shorty found his mother iller than usual and she dies during the week, but leaves a letter which listed her husband's infidelities and indicated that he had poisoned her. He put the letter in an envelope, pretending not to have read it, and his father burnt it after reading it. Unluckily for him, an over-zealous doctor ordered a post-mortem and the cat was out of the bag. Gunner Eric's wife dispises him and is an expensive good-time girl. Her plan this leave was to get pregnant so that she didn't have to work in the factory. They row and Eric threatens divorce if she gets pregnant by someone else, fearful that any child would be neglected. Bomb aimer Edward is a farmer and farmer's son. This is the nicest section, with most people on the farm being pleasant characters, and clearly loving the land. Finally the skipper John from Penge has an awful time at home, getting to know an old flame Lena who had become a nurse. His parents complain constantly, and when he brings Lena home they treat her execrably. He realises that they want him never to marry but to look after them in old age. He returns knowing that Lena will have a career of her own, and that a future together will be fraught - but they exchange addresses anyway.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Air Adventure Series, A&C Black, 1935-8

This post comes from a chance find in a Southwold second-hand bookshop, The Pirate Island by D.E. Heming (1938). The page stating it as part of a series, and naming the other titles, makes this a most interesting story.
First there are three books by Jack Heming, a minor writer of boys' school stories. They are:The Desert Air Raider, The Air-Dope Hunters, The Air Spies. Sixth in the series is Flying Dawn by Dorothy Carter, which I happen to have. This was one of her first books, maybe the first - the first of 120 books or so to follow using 16 different names. She was Jack Hemings' wife and sometimes wrote under her real name D(orothy) E(ileen) Heming. "D E Heming"  used for The Pirate Island (the D was for Dempster) links her to Guy Dempster, also in this series. The title page identifies D E Heming as the author of this Guy Dempster title. The story goes (based on her fictionalised autobiography One Woman's Life) that when penniless, Jack spoke to someone in London who said 'Air adventures are where the new money is' - so he and his wife had a go, and took their manuscripts in to a publisher in London. He not only agreed to publish, but commissioned more.

Then came James Cahill, Flying with the Mounties, clearly set in Canada: this was also by Dorothy Heming, taking the name from distant family menbers. There were several Canadian adventures written by her in the 1930s, though she had never been to Canada. Many were about flying, and at this stage neither had she flown an airoplane, though her descriptions have fooled many. [There is a mysterious books Ted of the Mounties by Eileen Heming, and North for Treasure by Dorothy Carter set in Canada but published long after her (1948) death]. Then there is The Phantom Wing, by Guy Dempster, another Dorothy Heming name - a remarkably different book, as others using this pseudonym, set on active service with the Fleet Air Arm - including blood-curdling and blood-letting accounts of battle.

There are three other names, unrelated as far as I know to the Heming clan - John Grant, writing on India ("A thrilling adventure novel of a quest for gold in India that turns into a desperate attempt by Richard Challenger to free his father, Col. Challenger, retired, from the clutches of the infamous Emir Din and his impenetrable stronghold" (blurb). Then two by M.E.Miles (Airplane Base and Pirates of the Air) ; and Michael Cronin's The Flying Kidnappers - again no connection that I know of, and occasional copyright library ascriptions identify this Michael Cronin with the prolific post-war crime writer of that name, born 1907. His real name was Brendan Leo Cronin and since he also wrote under the name David Miles, I presume that he was M.E. Miles also (see comments below for confirmation).

So, A and C Black got together this small group of prolific young writers to quickly put together a contribution to air adventures that were otherwise dominated at that time by W.E. Johns' Biggles. Indeed the illustrator Alfred Sindall also illustrated Biggles' stories.

Rupert, 1940.

I held over the Christmas story of December 1939-January 1940 as this was reprinted in the 1942 Annual, Rupert and the Wrong Presents (22 December to 20th January). Rupert wrote to Santa asking for a motor boat and received a pair of boots with wings. His father received a flute instead of a pipe. Thus begins a cunning tale. Wearing the boots, he found himself flying. The flute summons a wooden bird. The bird is so alarmed at the wrong presents being in the public domain (flight and secret signals) that Rupert is brought to Santa's castle (representing the prime minister), helped by a toy hurricane. The distribution of top secret ordnance has alarmed the Christmas authorities, and Rupert is clearly doing a service to national security. (The flying shoes would have been much more fun than a boat). A golly (no longer a gollywog in the reproduction edition, just golly+ white space) is the doorboy, the 'secretary' is a bureaucrat with a dolly-bird typist. Rupert is sent with a covering letter to Santa who explains, "You see, Rupert, ...I had heaps of extra work to do last Christmas, because lots of children were spending Christmas in other people's homes, and I had a job to find them at all". The evacuees. He is given the right presents and is taken home by plane.

A story from 1940 centres on a scarecrow, Odmedod (6th April to 22nd May 1940). Who can speak and walk around, as all British children know. He scares birds by day, and is off duty at night, so goes to play with Rupert. Rupert loses Algy when they run from a farmer, who thinks they are damaging his fruit-trees. Rupert meets the local plod, Constable Growler who is on the watch for spies. They are close to the sea. Rupert searches for Algy and comes across Osmedod. They shelter in a hayloft when two suspicious men come in with a lantern speaking a foreign language. A good clue. Rupert follows, and hides behind a water butt. Osmedod gets trapped in the loft when the ladder is taken, so Rupert has to take his place as duty scarecrow. Algy rescues him and takes him back to the barn where the two spies come out of a trapdoor and kidnap Rupert and Algy. They go through the tunnel, prisoners, which comes out in a cliffside and flash towards a waiting boat. The chums are rescued in the nick of time by Osmedod, who scares the spies who take him for a ghost. They report back to Constable Growler, who goes with the farmer to find the trapdoor and the cliffside tunnel. All ends happily, Osmedod back on duty, the farmer allowing Rupert to pick bluebells for mother (it is Eastertime) and Rupert promises not to damage the fruit-trees.

Rupert and the Cartwheels (23 May to 22nd June 1940) is more puzzling in its putative war connections. True they meet a friendly armed guard, and restore a castle to its aristocratic owners by finding lost treasure (Edward Trunk's cartwheel plunged him into a hole with a rotten cover). One picture looks like everyone giving a Nazi salute, as a prelude to cartwheels that did not happen, replace by a cunning diversion through a fence where Rupert and Algy almost failed, Edward Trunk did fail and had to invent a brilliant new strategy. Their journey to that point had been through water first, to a defended citadel in need of treasure, which they duly found to save the day. The evacuation from Dunkirk began on 24th May until 4th June. Given that Bestall may have been submitting his copy gradually, his simple follow my leader story planned when, to be sure, the British army were in dire straights was able to provide solace to readers. As the army were being ferried across the channel, Rupert and his chums were rescued from the water and managed to solve the problem. So would Britain hold out, and find the strength to succeed.

Rupert and the Little Plane (12.4.1941-19.5.1941) is an optimistic tale of a plane that runs without petrol. Fuel was rationed, and the convoys were struggling. The little plane was a mixture of autogyro and hand-cranked geared propeller.When Rupert was tired of cranking, the autogyro brought them plane gradually down. Two spies (the fox brothers) try to steal it, but are foiled as Rupert has kept the winding handle. A simple tale with a simple message: these are serious times. Be prepared for trouble.

Finally, the 1942 annual contained three pre-war stories. The last one, Rupert at Sandy Bay, looked back to the good times of seaside holidays, before beaches were filled with mines and barbed wire.

The next stories in 1940 were carried in the 1943 Annual. Rupert and Tiger Lily, 24 June to 3 August) is our first introduction to this Chinese magician's daughter. She posed problems in showing too much of her magic ability in school. This was clearly inappropriate and she soon manages to show much less character. She is however a very clever girl who learns the important message that schools are about working and not for thinking.

Rupert and the Banjo, 6.8.1940 - 21.9.40 is the August Sandy Bay offering, notwithstanding that no child was allowed near a seaside this year. The war doesn't intrude: it is a story of helping others and overcoming two rough pirates who stole the banjo threatening the fairground folk to lose their livelihood. The pirates were certainly depriving many people of lives and livelihoods by attacking the convoys, but this is only a distant echo.

Rupert's Good Turn, 24.9.1940 - 1.11.1940 is about forgiveness and solidarity. A farmer is annoyed with the chums for trespassing; and Rupert is annoyed with the fox brothers for playing a trick; but they save the farmer's haystack from fire, and negotiate the release of the foxes. Annoyances are shelved in the face of the greater danger, fire. Outside of the strip, the Blitz was under way, and the Battle of Britain was on. Fire must be tacked, and allies must be friends and not foes.

Rupert and the Piper, 2.11.1940 - 16.12.1940. Rupert finds a pipe in the 'lumber-room' and shortly afterwards is given The Pied Piper to read. He falls asleep (the readers don't yet know) and with his chums meets the real Pied Piper who draws them all to become prisoners in his castle. Rupert alone resists to pull of the music, and sets off to rescue them, against the advice of the red squirrel. He meets a friendly giant who devises a form of rescue - the throws Rupert overarm, with a parachute to break his fall. It just fails, but Rupert wakes up in the nick of time. The Battle of Britain was technically over at the time this serial began, but was taking place when the story was conceived. The chums would be rescued from Hamelin Castle (suitably Germanic) but air power, supported by superb allies (animals, birds and a giant). By the end of the strip, he could honestly say that the danger was over (Rupert woke up). Rupert becomes a role model for resistance: never despair, never go with the flow, be agents for change, have a go, or as Churchill said at the time, 'Go To It'.
Rupert's Birthday, 6.1.1941 - 15.2.1941 - Rupert wants to grow up, literally, it proves a painful experience.

Rupert and the Iron Key,17.2.1941 - 10.4.1941 - thieves (an outside and an insider, (a spy and a fifth columnist?) try to rob a castle, but Rupert foils their plan and finds the treasure, a gold suit of armour (the invaders are repulsed, as they were on 17 September 1940, and Britain refinanced, armed and defended).

In Rupert and the Black Moth, 20.5.1941-11.6.1941, Father Bear is digging for victory but a tame black moth eats his cabbages. On advice from the Chinese Conjuror, Rupert takes it back to the Yellow Mountains. This is achieved through a cave system (that is, deep in the imagination) and Rupert is given the reward he asks for, a replacement for the cabbages. There are some negative stereotypes of Chinese and a black man (but it is an Ali Baba reference) but the tale demonstrates that if everyone honours the rules of ownership, then there will be food for all.

Rupert and the Circus Dog, 12.7.1941 - 15.8.1941. The ringmaster is a bully, kidnaps a valuable new performing monkey, and with Rupert's help is sacked. The message is that kindness gets the most out of people.

Rupert's Big Game Hunt, 16.8.1941 - 10.10.1941 - a whirlwind destroys a circus, and Rupert rounds up the animals. The moral is: do not panic in a face of disaster but sort things out.

Rupert's River Adventure, 11.10.1941 - 14.11. 1941 - Willie and Rastus, the mice, are kidnapped on a boat trip, imprisoned in a castle tower on an island, and are released by Rupert and Podgy in a 'great escape'.

Rupert and Golly, 15.11.1941 - 5.1.1942. A golly from Santa's workship tries to punish Rupert and Bill Badger by making them help with the toys (mostly painting fighter planes). They really enjoy this, and the bureaucratic golly is very cross. Santa is amused at the come-uppance of the bureaucrat. Apart from the anti-bureaucracy dig, there is a message that punishment can become enjoyment, and we can deal with punishment by refusing to feel punished.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Rupert at War.

By September 1939, Alfred Bestall had developed his personal style in the Daily Express Rupert strips and maintained the tradition of Christmas annuals, entitled Adventures, New Adventures or More Adventures of Rupert. As war broke out, Rupert and the Sea Serpent was half way through, ending 6th October. The following, Rupert and the Mystery Pond was the first strip to be completed in wartime though we don't know when it was started. Since the Sea Serpent had to be finished and delivered by 14th August, the new story would be started in the last days of peace. In the story, Rupert meets a mysterious stranger, who remains mysterious to the end. All we know is that he was an explorer looking for Nutwood Lake. He is injured, and Rupert completes the mission, meeting in the depths of the earth an ancient and huge toad who tells him what to do. Going through potholes and tunnels is a common theme in Bestell's Rupert stories, standing for the journey into the imagination to find wisdom and insight. The toad stands for tradition and continuity, and the whirlpool Rupert dives into to reach the surface shows that at the end of peril lies comfort and safety.

Probably, Rupert and the Little Woodman was the first story wholly conceived in war, beginning 14th November. This is a story of shirkers. Porky makes every excuse not to cooperate in collective action, and is greedy, consuming rather than sharing. Porky wants to know if we can have things without working for them, and so continue his idle life. He is dressed as the squire, in posh , plus fours and waitcoat. They are directed to the wittle woodman who has a shop in the forest and is responsible for all forest magic (he is mixing colours for flowers as we meet him). He gives Porky ice cream plants which, we know later, are intended to punish him and bring him to his senses by making him ill. The seeds immediately germinate and produce icecreams next day. Porky gobbles his, and is ill. Rupert offered his to his mother, who eats it and is also ill. (Interesting lesson that our greed has consequences on others). Rupert fetches the antidote, mother is cured, and Porky repents.

Rupert and the Forest Fire began in the new year (22 January, 1940) after a Christmas offering. This is dark in two ways. The world (Nutwood) is on fire and all the animals are panicking. But it is all smoke and no fire (a good description of the phony war) and the smoke is located as coming from an underground inventor's workshop. The panic is being caused by new technology. The inventor has made a car which runs on a coiled spring (no oil, which is in short supply) but wishes to keep the secret for himself (a war profiteer) and imprisons Rupert. Rupert escaped and is taken on the test run (the inventor, dressed in army uniform, almost Heil Hitlers with arm raised in one scene). The coiled spring comes loose, Rupert is thrown into a tree, the car sinks into a bog, and the inventor clears out secretly with empty hands. Such selfishness plays only into enemy hands.

Rupert and the Red Egg (from 23rd February 1940) introduces readers to the 'Master's' new aeroplane, a helicopter. A red egg is found and taken to China (by Rupert and Ping Pong, carried by the Messenger Bird) for explanation, where it hatches out to become a baby dragon. It consitutes a real danger in human society and needs to be taken back to the land of dragons, which the bird carries out. The plane arrives to take the chums home. The story shows that a great destructive force has been born, and has to be put back in its place, nipped in the bud before it becomes indestructible. Flight and the aeroplane will be a crucial tool in achieving this.

Sources: The New Rupert Index, by WOG Lofts and DJ Adley, revised by John Beck.
The Rupert Book, 1941.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Kitty Barne.

Notes from my jotter.
Kitty Barne Visitors from London. London J M Dent & Sons Ltd 1940 (1960 reprint). 40 drawings by Ruth Gervis. Winner of the Carnegie Medal that year.

This is the story of a ‘housemother’ responsible for a group of evacuee families billeted in a country farmhouse in 1939. It is set just before the outbreak of “this loathsome war”. It involves the Farrer family from Poleham (as in Family Footlights). Redheads, Gerda is the eldest (15), David next (13 - Prep school+Charterhouse ‘never great at repartee’); then Jimmy, and Sally (10).
They travelled from Victoria station – Jimmy chatted to engine driver and went into the cab.
The venue was Huggett’s (Farm) farmed by Mr + Mrs Huggett, part of larger estate Steadings owned by ‘Roly’ Martingale (bought from Mr Bloss who went to Lewes for his health). We meet Myra Farrer(auntie), Jenkins (chauffeur?), and Jimmy mucks in doing farmwork.
The telegraph boy reports “Have lent Steadings to Women’s Voluntary Services for evacuation purposes and said you would take charge…”. Nita Williams, WVS secretary. Evacuation takes 3 days.
On the farm there is Young Tolhurst the (elderly) shepherd.
The cooks are volunteers. Daphne is an upper class domestic. Rooms are named after fruit.
Lily Tipping (12, ‘mother’), looks after her brother Cyril (5) and sister Irene (4). She is star of the book. Mrs Thompson has a baby, a son Ernest (7) and Sylvia (2). Mrs Jacobson has 3 boys, the oldest going in for a scholarship.
Mrs Fell has six children - ‘Queenie’ (15), Fred (13), Steve 11, 2 girls, + Sydney (3).
They call the countryside ‘the park’ – and wonder where the fish and chips are
Steve steels some chocolate and takes time to settle – but he befriends the shepherd and really enjoys looking after the sheep.
The air-raid warden is seriously poked fun at - he receives a bowl of water on his head for complaining about lights. There is an incident of stolen fruit and eggs at the market.
They all go to the seaside for a prawning picnic.

Husbands came eventually to fetch them since the bombing appears not to have started.

Friday, 25 September 2009

John Pudney, war poet.

John Pudney's writing career began in 1933. He joined the RAF in 1940 as an intelligence officer, and like H.E. Bates he also worked for the Creative Writers' Unit. His particular task was to write war poetry which could inspire the public and service personnel.
War publications:
  • Dispersal Point and other Air Poems (1942)
  • The Grass Grew All Round (1942), poems
  • Beyond This Disregard (1943), poems
  • South of Forty (1943), poems
  • Who Only England Know (1943)
  • Ten Summers: Poems 1933-1943 (1944)
  • Almanack of Hope: Sonnets (1944)
  • Air Force Poetry (1944) anthology editor with Henry Treese.
  • Flight above Cloud (1944), poems
  • The Air Battle of Malta (1944) HMSO information books.
  • Atlantic Bridge (1945) HMSO information books (anonymously)
  • World Still There (1945)
The best known poem is For Johnny which starred in the 1945 film, Way to the Stars, advocating practical help for the families and children of airmen killed in action.
This and three others were included in the 1944 anthology of air force poetry. Others, like Air Gunner, reflect on how war requires boys to be men.
Personal information can be found at, and on the War Poets Association site

I will write later on this factual progress-of-war books for HMSO on the Atlantic Bridge, and Defence of Malta. Who Only England Know is a diary/logbook of RAF war experience over the Mediterranean and in Africa.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Doris Pocock: Lorna on the Land. 1946.

Doris Pocock wrote Lorna to reflect war conditions. Lorna joins the Women's Land Army, as the blurb says and as the cover blurb says, "came to their country's aid... in her hour of need".

The story starts in spring 1939 with ARP gas-mask drill. The girls Lorna and 'Nibbs' do not take this exercise seriously, or are nervous of it, although Lorna tells Nibbs to just do it. They report ordinary activities replaced with First Aid, Home Nursing and Anti-gas lectures. They practice treating shock and using triangular bandages. The anti-gas training involved going into a van with gas masks on - and for reality the lecturer instructs them to let a little in (Chlorine?) to smell what they had been saved from. This made the eyes sting. Lorna was upset:
Her usually bright face had changed, and was looking grim. So that was what war, if it ever really did come, would be like! - poison gas, for instance (and she knew it was one of the milder kinds which had been used for the demonstration) was something one could not get even that tiny sniff of without it hurting; it gave one some idea of what being caught in a real gas-attack, without one's mask, would be like - and gas was only one fiendish war-invention out of endless others.

Notice how much 'one' is used. This is an upper middle class cast. We have a senior monitoress (what is she monitoring, and what does her junior do?) and the Head of the Debating Society. Lorna is nicknamed Dux, ‘leader’. The class read the National Service booklet which gives DP a chance to survey the jobs on offer. Lorna and her friend Nibbs choose the Land Army. The form is filled in, and Lorna is very bossy ('great-grandmotherly') leading Nibbs to acquired dependency. The film The Good Earth (1937 film of the Pearl S. Buck Pulitzer Prize winning novel of 1931 about a Chinese family) led to thoughts that the beauty of nature would remain even when "all the cultured, highly civilized sort of things were to be simply smashed and done for" [22]. Nibbs, we are told, sees the prospects of outdoor work through rose tinted spectacles, and readers are warned of troubles and discomforts to come.

The scene then moves to Sedge Fen farm in Suffolk run by Farmer and Mrs Brode, he a veteran of Flanders and Gallipoli as his wife unnecessarily reminds him. Neither speak Queen’s English, unlike the other characters. Ted, his lad was “a thorough man every inch of his still-growing six-foot-one (land-girls and readers beware) unlike Andrew the quiet younger boy who was “a queer fish” and a mother’s pet [26]. The farmer was preparing for the day when all his young men would be “called up”. Andrew is at school with “prep.”, probably a grammar school and plays out the typical tension between scholar and worker, his father warning him that he will leave school if he needs to work on the farm [27]. A scholarship to go to college is “high-flown nonsense” when “there is a real man’s job waiting for you on the farm”. Thus class tensions tumble over rival masculinities. Andrew is enfeebled in the eyes of father by aspiring beyond his class through educationhe farmer acknowledged that it is the war that makes a difference, but complains that he has to have land-girls “because my own son ain’t man enough to stand by and help”. Men are not scholars, and scholars are not men. “Oi’d a deal rather he’d the makin’s of a man”, Brode retorted.

Andrew is a bit of a snob, the only one in the family with brains, with a clod-hopping brother. He passes some Czech refugees working on a farm, and reflects that they too might be doctors or musicians, and ill-suited to labouring work in a foreign country, “just because Hitler had taken theirs” [29]. Andrew reluctantly fetches some new sheep back home, but through inattention one is run over by a car. We discover that his father was fond of using his belt, but his time he tries persuasion – leave school and help on the farm if war comes. Andrew reacts bitterly. There will be no war, and school work is real work. His ambitions were different, and would be stifled by the farm. The girls would be coming into a fraught family atmosphere.

They are accepted and their names “entered on the Roll” [39]. There is an interview, and invitation for a fortnight’s training in the summer holidays. Lorna asks to be placed with Nibbs. All this is in spring 1939. The Women’s Land Army was headed by Lady Denman who ran the Women’s Institute. She bullied a slow bureaucracy, and just managed to move into the new headquarters five days before war was declared. She had managed to launch a national publicity drive a little earlier, and the opening of this story seems to refer to this. Lorna marches in the National Services parade in London on July 2nd wearing the WLA uniform [74,79] with khaki jackets [79-84] which they have to pick up with other kit from an address in Westminster. Much enthusiasm was devoted to dressing-up and the novelty of dungarees. By coincidence, Ted Brode is representing Suffolk Territorials, and Andrew, up for the day, sees Lorna, is impressed, and decides that if she can do farm-work, he can also.

Historically, the first land-girl to enrol, Valerie Hodge from Bristol was presented to King George VI in a July National Service Rally in Hyde Park. She explained: "Here was the thing for me - the service to serve England - the service to keep this land alive - and also a service in which one could help in the everlasting process of creation, instead of helping in destruction" (Tryer: 37).

On the journey to the training fortnight, the first other recruit met, Polly, was “not over-refined”, a nursery nurse who had not stayed on at school, in service in Kensington. The Pines turned out to be a commandeered country house, basic, and “not like a conventional hotel or boarding house” [95] that the middle-class girls were clearly used to. Betty Hawkins used “too much lipstick”, had red finger-nails on coarse hands, and was assumed by Lorna to be a shopgirl [99]: “she looked the sort Miss Buckley [the overseer] might have trouble with”. With red hair, she claimed the nickname ‘Carrots’.

Doris Pocock might have read Sherwell Cooper's Land Army Manual: "The WLA volunteer should therefore be prepared to 'tone down' her lips, complexion and nails considerably.... long nails are quite unsuited to work on a farm, especially when covered with bright crimson nail varish".

Dora was a pale, shy, roundshouldered young girl who had been in dressmaking, clearly a Londoner deprived of sunshine and fresh air. (The narrator comments how a fortnight’s fresh air would transform her). Marjory Brown was a cook in a cafĂ©, a perky soulmate for Polly. They were a mixed bunch: the author has sorted out their class credentials to a tee. Although they are not ‘ladies’ (this is Lorna thinking) Lorna is “perfectly able and ready to fraternise with them” [101], but thought that ultra-refined Nibbs would find this less easy – she seemed scared and bewildered. Nibbs’ failure has been set out from the beginning. Polly, Nibbs’ room-mate sums it up: there will always be people to make a baby of Nibbs, and she will go through life being looked after [105].Nibbs of course does not last out. Lorna gets her badge and uniform and a permanent place at Sedge End Farm, where she helps to continue Andrew “that queer boy’s" education.
“Come what might in the months ahead, England would still remain. The waves would still break on the sandy shores, and the shadows skims over grassy downs; the woods would still be misty-blue with bluebells, and the fields golden with buttercups; the larks would still sing over the blazing gorse-fields, and the nightingales in the moonlit, honey-suckle-scented glades. Roses would still bloom in old-world gardens, and there would still be the little thatched cottages, the mellow red-tiled farms; the lambs would bleat, and the kine would low, when the roar of the guns was silent. A good land – a land worth working and fighting for – . [253]
She thinks she has a wonderful job, unlike people doing “horrid” jobs indoors in munitions factories. In reality, the job of the landgirl was foul, hard, remorseless. The middle class author has, though her alter ego Lorna, glamorised it and made it suitable for the likes of the Dux, the born leaders of the present and future world. Her working class colleagues just get on with it, unsentimentally, with humour, solidarity and grit.

Interestingly, the action ends in 1939, with little hint of the horrors of war that was to follow, though there is some evidence of early war casualties among airmen and others known to the girls. I think the novel was written then, by Christmas 1939, to encourage recruits and it shares the romantic image of the early advertising posters showing shapely girls clutching lambs. But it was published in 1946, with the cover showing the green uniform rather than khaki jackets, a time when landgirls were still needed, to be true (WLA was not disbanded until November 1950: there were still 54,000 land-girls at work in 1946), but nevertheless at a time when the early work of recruitment was over.

See also Nicola Tyrer, They Fought in the Fields: The Women’s Land Army. The Story of a Forgotton Victory Sinclair-Stevenson 1996/ Tempus Publishing 2007.
I am reminded of the section of the Women's Land Army called the Women's Timber Corps and the autobiography of 1942-45 Lumber Jill by Mavis Williams; and in the same series Anne Hall's Land Girl (Ex Libris Press).

Wednesday, 9 September 2009


Allegories are stories which have underlying parallel meanings. Owen Dudley Edward treats Malcolm Saville's Seven White Gates as allegory and said to me, Suddenly the whole story made sense. Beleaguered Micah represents England, his estranged son Charles is America. The big row was the American revolution. Charles' injury in the caves is Pearl Harbour. The dangerous salvation by cable-car represents the precarious air war. The war is therefore an act of reconciliation of two estranged members of the family, Britain and America. Unless you become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of God... it was the twins, a pair of idiotic but wise nine year olds, who did all this. They diagnosed Micah's problem, prescribed the medicine, and made him drink. Children were the ones who accepted the Yanks, chocolate and all, in spite of the intolerance of their elders.

I like it. Brilliant, whether it is true or not. What about Mystery at Witchend? Can this be decoded. I think so, and this is me and not ODE. Nothing in Mystery is as it seems.
  • David the son becomes David the guardian when his father joins the RAF - "Take care of Mummy for me, old chap". You're now in charge, my boy, and look after "those awful twins".
  • The family run away from London to Shropshire, but instead of escaping the Germans, they run into them. As soon as they hit Onnybrook station, they meet a violent Jacob.
  • They meet Bill Ward, a sailor apparently, who ends the book as a soldier helping the Home Guard.
  • Bill Ward warns of spectral dangers, but there are only real dangers. Witchend is to be a place of adventure, not safety, "right by that old rascal mountain". It is the mountain that is evil, not Hitler. Evil is a matter of myth; Hitler is just a man. England is a country of castles and tradition
  • Macbeth guards the luggage from the guard who needs to move it.
  • Mrs Thurston was expecting a parcel, but didn't get it.
  • Witchend is not the end of witchcraft but where the witch, Mrs Thurston, first is encountered.
  • 'Peter' is a girl. She although barely a teenager, is mother to her father who is really a child.
  • They form a club with an oath, signing on to active service, appointing a captain who they then ignore. Peter, the vice captain, is actually the captain and even beats David in a swimming race.
  • They create a hiding place which is not secret, which serves as a fortress with good views, and from which they have to eject an enemy agent who they think is a hero.
  • Mrs Thurston is not a nice middle-class lady, but a monster who kicks the dog Mackie. She is not a birdwatcher either, not knowing her peewit from her redshank. She photographed the reservoir and not the wildlife.
  • The owl cry was not really from an owl, nor the peewit from a peewit.
  • Mr Sterling, rejecting the spy theory, becomes the enemy and not the ally.
  • In the world of the wild and the tame, the "awful" twins and Macbeth were the wild, and the spies were (mostly) tame.
  • The nice air-force man in uniform is not what he seems either, but a dreadful saboteur. The train he claims to have come on did not exist.
  • The twins found others who were not what they seemed and were offered shelter in what was in fact a prison.
  • The nice boy with the backpack is wined and dined before blowing up the reservoir.
  • Mr Ingles reinvents himself as Home Guard, and sorts out the nonsense before returning to his cows.
  • Peter and David are not quite boyfriend and girlfriend. She is far too mature for him.
  • The reservoir is not really blown up, as it is quickly repaired.
The message for child readers was simple and plain. The world is topsy turvy. No where is safe, so its no use running away. Danger is where you least expect it, so keep vigilant. Adults are no good, being either away or incompetent. Their leadership is dangerous - children must think for themselves. The country will be safe if children keep it safe. Life from now on will be uncomfortable, and dangerous, but an "adventure", keeping "evil" at bay.
I was told by the Chief Constable this morning that our countryside is almost certainly harbouring many such unpleasant and dangerous people and it is everyone's duty to do what you children have done and report anything unusual or suspicious. [235]

David, at the end, has a dream, where an elephant bore remorselessly down like a Juggernaut (both India and Africa were potential problems to the war effort) and on its back Mrs Thurston dressed as a sailor and Home Guard, treachery disguised as friend, or defeated by the sailor/Home Guard Bill Ward. Also, the sea war and invasion, the one protected by sailors, the other by Dad's Army, were both problematic. Her 'white' face showed hatred, European hatred against the colonized. The Nazis were different, they colonised and wiped out white races as well as black and brown. She began singing like a Valkyrie (at which point he woke up, to hear Agnes the 'daily help' singing in the kitchen). The elephant, symbol of the empire, was ridden, even goaded, by its white rider. The empire needs to cure its hatred. The 'commonweal' had to be created. The next generation, the child readers, are tasked to do this.

One last point: in a world of top secrets and counter-espionage, we do not know that any of the adults were telling the truth. Something else for children to get the hang of.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Arts and Crafts

I have been today in Kelmscott Manor, near Faringdon, Oxfordshire, where William Morris and his family lived. A few days ago, we were in Rodmarton Manor, near Cirencester which is full of arts and craft furniture. Two weeks ago we went to the Cheltenham Museum and Art Gallary, where there is an arts and crafts gallery stuffed full of arts and crafts furniture, printing and craft items. Last year was the opening of Court Barn arts and craft museum in Chipping Campden. What has all this got to do with 1930-1960?

Superficially, Rodmarton was the home of 85 evacuees who were taken out of London by train on 2nd September 1939. We have been reminded of the significance of 3rd September as the outbreak of the war. Why ship so many children out the day before? It was carefully planned, one of the many things with a plan waiting to be activated. The authorities clearly believed that the outbreak of war would be similarly planned in Berlin and a blitzkreig similar to the invasion of Poland would take place. Calculations were made of the casualty figures on day one of the war, and it was clear that the hospitals could not cope. So getting the children out would help reduce the casualty rate and coincidentally keep the population strong. Men capable of being in the armed forces were already mobilising and moving out of the danger areas. Rodmarton, and Lacock Abbey, were amongst Wiltshire large houses to receive classes of children. In both the children from Central London were said to have behaved impeccably and benefited greatly from the experience.
William Morris's philosophy was that everything should be useful and beautiful. Arts and Crafts meant hand-made. The war demanded conveyor belt simplicity. The Spitfire was functional yet beautiful - beauty was in form and not in decorations, an arts and craft standard. The 1920s and 30s had seen the rise of brutalism - functionality without beauty. War buildings had to be plain, easily produced, functional. The debate about whether there is any sense of beauty in these has been long and hard. The air ministry buildings at St John's, Worcester that I have discussed before, have a dignity beyond their facial beauty - a deep beauty, in fact. In the arts & crafts movement, beauty was added to function by decoration. This is a superficiality. Deep beauty exists in form and execution, a marriage perhaps of arts & crafts and brutalism. But form, execution and decoration can also be crass and tacky. Examples are up and down the high street.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Blitz Kids by Elinor Mordaunt.

ODE and I share the same enthusiasm for EM's Blitz Kids (1941), narrated by a young cockney girl, Nancy using the form of language a ten year old would use.
What's the good of worrying? That's what I say. People who worry, especially kids like us, who have got to grow up strong, are fighting Hitler's battle for him. That's my idea. No one told me, I thought it out for myself. Look here, this is it. When we grow up, Irene and me - that's Nancy - and Tom and Pat and Clara and Harold and the baby, who's Gladys - that's a good name for her, for she's got Glad Eyes; always laughing and shouting and playing at being a prize fighter, with her funny little fist, though in real fighting one mustn't kick - we have got to go on fighting Britain's battles for her. Even if all the Germans are killed, as I hope they will be. But not the Italians - at least, the ice cream ones, or the men with barrel organs and monkeys dressed in red coats and caps. [p.7]

Notice that 'one' in 'one mustn't kick', is neither working class, nor cockney, nor childlike. By the end of the book it had become 'you' and 'we'.

Dad is a fish porter and in the Home Guard, a former prize fighter and man to be reckoned with, when he was awake. Mum died when Gladys was born. 'They' soon raise their heads, the authorities who dominate the lives of working folk. After many adventures and scrapes, life in London was seen as anxiety free. Dad married a new wife, and they get a better house.
For nothing's ever so bad as you think it's going to be, and often better. We had thought, from what Hitler said, that London would be flat-in-ruins-and-burnt- out, and everyone killed the first week. And here we were as spry as ever, and up and doing as never before. And all the nastiest, dirtiest, pokiest little houses cleared away; ready for a newer and better London to be built. [p.158]
The book finishes with a drawing of St Pauls still standing amid the ruins, and a demon chasing Hitler and jabbing his backside with a trident (with two pronges, so a bident?).

Elinor Mordaunt (1872-1942) was almost at the end of her life, to die in 1942 aged 70. A penniless member of minor aristocracy, she had traveled the world, had two disastrous marriages at the beginning (producing one living son) and latter years. She had to fend for herself, teaching, gardening, copper sculpting, and most importantly writing. Her autobiography in 1937, Sinabada (Lady King) is honest and entertaining, pulling very few punches except that she refuses to dwell on her marriages. Of New Guinea, where a relative was governor general, she says that 'murder is a social obligation' and half wishes she could get rid of a few thorns in her flesh in a similar way. The son lives in Kenya and raises a family of his own. More on EM later, but Blitz Kids is refreshingly different. Real kids, doing real things, and saying brave things. Surely her characters were the real children she was working with.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Malcolm Saville on BBC Radio.

Owen Dudley Edwards writes (p.212) of Saville's Mystery at Witchend as "the BBC 'Children's Hour' serial subsequently given book form". In fact, Mystery at Witchend was published on 1st October 1943, and broadcast on Friday afternoon, 5.20 - 6.00pm for four weeks starting Friday 8th October. The adaptation of the book was by Barbara Sleigh, an author in her own right who worked with her husband for the BBC. Sleigh's script is now published(2008) by David Schutte (ISBN 978 0 9546801 5 1).
ODE talks elsewhere of simultaneous publication and broadcast, which is about right, since the decision to broadcast and the preparations must have been pre-publication. Whether the story had been commissioned for broadcast is beyond the evidence - a new untested writer being asked to write a war story is unlikely, and more likely that Sleigh knew Saville (Geoffrey Trease was a common friend and confirms the friendships in his autobiography) and liked the story which she had read pre-publication (although I am uncertain whether she knew Saville prior to the broadcast decision). A spy story perhaps suited the feel of the time, when threat of invasion had receded and children could feel empowered to contribute to the war effort. In fact, MI6 histories report that by this time spies were not much of a threat and vigilance endangered innocent aliens more than spies.
ODE gives a detailed footnote (352-3 fn45) confirming these timings and commenting on the experienced cast. This had not been an economy production. ODE comments at length (253-7) that Mystery at Witchend was Saville's best book.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Dorothy Eileen Marsh Heming

Owen Dudley Edwards has failed to uncover the story of this strange writer who produced over 120 books in twelve years before dying young at 48 years old. He refers only to Marise Flies South (1944) although he does talk about the 'impressively professional series' [222]. The biography/bibliography is Among Her Own People: Lives and Literature of Eileen Marsh, Jack Heming and Bracebridge Heming by Eric Bates (Bulman Lee Publishing, Ashford [], ISBN 0-9551014-0-9. I have a collection of about 60 titles.

Eileen Marsh wrote under many names often combining her real names Dorothy Eileen Heming (nee Marsh) or using other family names. She published 7 titles in 1936, 4 as Eileen Marsh, and one each of Dorothy Carter, Martin Kent and D.E. Marsh. Of the twelve titles in 1937, 5 were by Eileen Marsh, 2 by D.E. Marsh, and one each by James Cahill, Guy Demster, Martin Kent, Elizabeth Rogers and E M Shard. 1938 added John Annerley, D.E. Heming, Dempster Heming to two Martin Kents, and one D.E Marsh, Eileen Marsh and Elizabeth Rogers. . Altogether there were 26 by Eileen Marsh, 14 by Dorothy Carter, 9 by Elizabeth Rogers, 8 by Guy Dempster (bloodthirsty boys' war stuff) , 6 by Martin Kent, 6 by D.E. Marsh, and smaller numbers for the rest. She also wrote adult novels, and Sunday School prizes for Lutterworth, using Eileen Heming, Dorothy Marsh, James Cahill, Rupert Jardine, Jane Rogers and Mary St. Helier. This was quite a varied output for girls, boys and adults. She specialised in writing about flying and war adventure, and set them in England, Canada, Africa, USA and even up the Himalayas. She herself could not fly (though she had flying contacts and had a few flying lessons after writing several books; and had never visited many of these places: she wrote at home bringing up five children. Her husband also wrote, but was interrupted by the war. He used her pseudonyms from time to time after her death.

Eileen Marsh wrote her life story as fiction, in A Woman's Life where she describes a woman and husband writers who were advised to write aeroplane stories as the modern thing. Her routine was three hours writings while the children were in school, or 5000 words per day. The first books, under the signature D.E. Marsh were for boys, her Eileen Marsh signature starting with her girl flier books, of which Jonquil is the easiest to find. She states her payment per book as £50. In all, she wrote 120 books between 1935 and 1948, under 16 names, for girls, boys and adults.

ODE notes (p.229 fn29) that Dorothy Carter had no books after 1948. In fact The Cruise of the Golden Dawn was published by Latimer House in 1949, just posthumously. North for Treasure came in 1961, published by Lutterworth about the Canadian gold rush. Five genuine Dorothy Carters had been with Lutterworth, the rest with Collins (the first, Flying Dawn, was with A&C Black in 1935. An open question is whether the 1961 title was wholly written by husband Jack, or is a reworking of an unfinished manuscript. A number of pre-war titles were set in Canada, but I have not found any trace in copyright libraries of an earlier version of North of Treasure. Also set in Canada, Ted of the Mounties used the name Eileen Heming (1955) - again was this Jack, or is it a reprint of and earlier genuine title? Eric Bates gives their authorship to Jack; I am open to the possibility that they were written in Canada in the 1930s - Elizabeth Rogers' On Wings and Skis, set  in Canada, was in 1939.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

World War 2 Children's Fiction

It has been a long term aim for me to write a book about children's fiction written in or around the second world war, so to find someone else has done this is actually a relief. Owen Dudley Edwards, of Edinburgh University, has written British Children's Fiction in the Second World War, published by Edinburgh University Press. At 744 pages, it is a thorough job. It strikes me that this task could only be achieved by someone with long term access to a copyright library, since the books and comics are both difficult to find and if available very expensive. I have in excess of 500, or about a quarter of the works referred to. This means that I can make sense of his argument, which is dense with many allusions to a wide range of works: I wonder whether his flow would be so clear to someone without this depth of knowledge. The existence of this book will doubtless save me money. I shall draw on my own knowledge of the works from this period to comment, expand and expound. Despite the size of the tome, sometimes a wealth of interest is hidden behind a sentence and a footnote, such as footnote 31 of the first chapter, about stories of refugees from mainland Europe early in the war, and particularly Jewish refugees. There are gaps, some of which I will fill. For example, David Severn, first book 1942 (Rick Afire!). The index gives no mention, except to say that Sir Stanley Unwin was 'Severn's father' (p.17) which is not stated on page 17. I will watch out for him (an account of the cricket match in Waggon for Five (1944) is discussed on p. 470, indexed under Unwin). Another gap is Peter Dawlish (James Lennox Kerr). They just happen to be two writers I am interested in.

The chapter design is thematic:
1. Issues in children's fiction up to 1940, focussing on a George Orwell/Frank Richards row.
2. Rations and Quislings.
3. Evacuees and Gurus
4. Women and Fathers.
5. Officials and Genteelmen
6. God's Things and Others
7. Identity, Authority and Imagination.
8. Gender.
9. Class.
10. Race

This is an investigative history work, which happens to focus on children's literature. The author has set himself an enormous task, and generally has done a very good job. This blog will return to review details of his argument from time to time.
Postscript. Adding this after reading three quarters of the book. It is brilliant, insightful, very dense. We agree on so many things. There are gaps, but only because an exhaustive account of these years is quite impossible.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

RAF Defford

The National Trust is renovating the surviving buildings at RAF Defford near Pershore, Worcestershire in association with the pleasure gardens at Croom Park. The old Sick Quarters now house the dining area and exhibitions. Work is going on to restore other nearby buildings. A short walk takes you to a redundant but well kept church, and gardens with the ultimate water feature, a scale model of the river Severn.

The Capability Brown parklands was developed into RAF Defford early in the second world war and was known chiefly for its testing of Radar apparatus developed by TRE (Telecommunications Research Establishment) in Malvern. This included Airborne Interception, on-plane devices that plotted the whereabouts of enemy aircraft, early warning radar, ground-plotting radar (H2S)to identify bombing targets for more accuracy, and so on. The Pathfinder squadron was developed here (Air Vice Marshall Bennett) so that high flying planes with H2S could pinpoint factories and mark them with coloured flares. This reduced the numbers of H2S equipment that might be shot down and copied by the enemy. The core of many of these devices, the magnetron oscillator, was after the war developed into microwave cookers. Much of the big radar equipment formed the basis of the Jodrell Bank observatory, and Sir Bernard Lovell, who worked with TRE, has always been a close friend of RAF Defford.

Description by Robin Brooks in Herefordshire and Worcestershire Airfields in the Second World War.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Carol Forrest and the Girl Guides

Guiding was a favorite topic in stories for girls as it promoted independence, a can-do philosophy, and active citizenship.
Was Carol Forrest = Catherine Christian?
Owen Dudley Edwards, 715, index states that Carol Forrest was a pseudonym for Catherine Christian, formerly Mamie Muhlenkamp [I am seeking confirmation of this] editor of The Guide (but no evidence offered). The copyright libraries do not make the connection. Neither does Google connect the two names, nor with "Mamie Muhlenkamp". Nevertheless, my mind is open but far from convinced. See Catherine Christian, The Big Test: The Story of the Girl Guides in the World War, 1947: The Guides Association. CC, born in 1901 was copiously writing guide stories before and during the war under her own name and used the pseudonym Patience Gilmour for a sequence of four books around 1935.
The Marigolds Make Good (Blackie, 1937 - blurb) The Marigolds belong to a school, which has grown slack, and the new Head decrees that, school work coming first, the Marigolds must soon disband. Meantime fired with sudden enthusiasm, they carry on, more or less unofficially. In doing their first good deed they come in contact with a very understanding elderly friend and later with her granddaughter Andrea. Very soon follows a foolish excursion that misses being a tragedy only through Andrea's unexpected command of the gipsy language. Andrea, however, pays for her recklessness by a serious illness. The star turn of the Marigolds, however, comes when with much labour, and Andrea's capable assistance, they secure the happiness of old Ellie. This convincing bit of work earns the verdict, The Marigolds have made good.

Diana Takes a Chance (Blackie, 1940 - blurb) DIANA TREMAINE, living with her widowed mother at their lovely home, Grey Ladies, is a spoiled young person. She has everything she wants, and takes it for granted. Then circumstances change; the old house has to be sold; her mother marries again and goes with her husband to Australia, leaving Diana for the time being in charge of a small half-brother and sister. Diana finds herself in a poor part of London, fortunately with Keziah, devoted to her step-father's family, to help her to bear a heavy load of responsibility. She is a Ranger, but has never taken Guiding seriously; now in London, she meets Sally, another Ranger, a girl uneducated but full of the right spirit, and Sally's example does its share to bring out the best that is in Diana. Other friends play their part, not least, in his rather eccentric way, young David Rhys, doome to be a lawyer against his will. Life in London is not by any means as grim as Diana expected, and when at length the day comes for her to go with the youngsters to Australia, she leaves London and her varied circle there with regret.

ODE features A House for Simon (1942). It is a strange book, but nevertheless rewarding. The hapless children of an artistic but incompetent father escape wartime Europe in the nick of time, arrive in London during the blitz and an actual air raid, find their guardian has gone to America, go to Dorking to find that that person has left and the house commandeered. So they set out to fend for themselves and fit out a derelict house. In the end their father returns to England but neglects to tell them since they seem to be getting on so well. As a story of survival during the war it is breathtaking, a story of endeavour, courage and determination. Many children were having to cope without fathers, and some without parents. Being passed from pillar to post was a common experience. For most child readers, what happened to them was not worse than what happened to these children: their coping could inspire others.

Two Rebels and a Pilgrim, 1941 is also a curious story, about guides fed up with guiding. Protestors, rebels. The story takes them through a range of experiences which re-enervate them and give them backbone, self-belief and ownership.

Caravan School (1946), opens up a radical discussion of the purpose and nature of education, shortly after the 1944 Education Act. Education should be practical, based on craftsmanship rather than knowledge/information/regurgitation. There is a beautiful description of the building of a farm cart, made to last generations, but declared to be a declining art. Also, the craft of furniture making and similar are extolled. The children learn not in school but by roaming in a caravan with a radical relation, and end up in a new type of school which follows the enthusiams and craft skills, enthusing pupils by bringing in the best role models. The details are a bit stilted - they travel in the caravan with their aunt who has not admitted who she is, so the deception has to be sorted out at the end. This is shown as the device to get children thinking outside the box, and not just being dependent on adults.

The Quest of the Curlews (1947, Newnes) features a team within the guides ("The Curlews") getting involved with a disabled girl, Honor, as they try to regain access to a local wood to practise woodcraft after a hostile new owner moves in. Midge, a nervous girl, comes out of herself and prevents a dangerous accident, becoming a hero. Sonia, a little girl coming up from the brownies, was traumatised by being buried alive by a bomb which also killed her sister. She comes to terms with her fears a little. That brings us to the secret of Honor's disability, her back broken when, after rescuing Sonia from the bombed house, returned to fetch her sister only to have the house collapse around her. The book makes the very strong point that even if paralysed, people can do a great deal and should not be written off. The curlew patrol finally feature in a film showing the range of things guides did during the war as examples of community involvement and service.
Other books:
Two Rebels and a Pilgrim, 1941
The House of Simon, 1942
The Patteran Patrol, 1944
Fortune's Coin, 1945 (Lutterworth)
Caravan School 1946.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Family from One End Street - Eve Garnett

A remarkable series of three books showing the lives and aspirations of an urban working class family, children (Lily Rose, Peg, Jo and Kate) of a refuse collector (Mr Ruddles) and his wife. We are introduced to the Black Hand Gang (innocent by today's standards). The first title was published before WW2. The second, Further Adventures... takes the three youngest children into the country where they experience village life and farming, staying at the Dew Drop Inn. This book was written shortly after the first, but the manuscript was damaged, presumed destroyed, in a Blitz fire but was recovered and reconstructed in 1956. The children return to the Dew Drop on holiday in the third book of the series, Holiday at Dew Drop Inn. These books are not in print, which is a shame, since the writing is of good quality. The most common versions are by Puffin, the second and third made expensive by rarity. The writer (middle class) shows this working class family in a good light, hardworking, anxious to be clean and to better themselves whilst clearly being proud of their roles in life. The story is told with humour, to some extent laughing at most of the characters.

In the country, class and power are explored through the hoity-toity Lady of the Manor, Mrs Ayredale-Eskdale and her more amenable and paternalist daughter Alison. The shop keeper, for all her hidden qualities, seems to hate children. By introducing the city children to the countryside and farming, readers are encouraged to encounter, albeit from afar, wild flowers, farm animals and a rudimentary country code. This was a strong feature of children's books in the 1930s and 1940s.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Grey Aggression

A Squirrel Called Rufus by Richard Church (1941) with illustrations by John Skeaping tells the story of a family of red squirrels suffering from grey squirrel aggression. The story deliberately mimics the rise of Hitler's Nazism. The bullying grey squirrel leader, Grey Gleam, uses a minor transgression by Rufus to annex the wood and annihilated the red squirrel opposition. He is helped by opportunists (Russet the fox) and self-serving double crossing quislings, represented by Murry the mouse. War develops, a red squirrel leader is chosen, leading to a final battle, single combat to the death, leading to the defeat of the grey squirrel aggression.
He is Grey Gleam, the killer. He is the cleverst, most treacherous, and most strong of the lot. If the grey squirrels can be said to have a leader, it is he. Only a sqirrel of his powers could keep them together. But once organized, they are an enemy to be reckoned with. And it seems that he is leading them in this attack, which you and your unfortunate friend set in motion by your assault on Grey Gleam's larder. They were waiting for such an excuse, so that the blame could be put on the red squirrels for starting the quarrel. Now they will not rest, day or night, until we are driven out of the woods to south and west. For already the centre and east are theirs. Bit by bit they have penetrated, settling there under the mantle of peace, working secretly and methodically. Ah, my boy, we are much to blame. We have let them drive ahead, and we have rested on the past and its glory...
Speeches won't mend matters, lads. We must be up and doing. Now what next? I'll tell you. We've a job in front of us that needs every ounce of cunning and wood lore you possess. (103-4)

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Underground Europe Calling

A book of this title was written by Oscar Paul (pseudonum for Oscar Pollak, born 1893), former editor of the Vienna Arbeiter-Zeitung (workers newspaper), a socialist paper, published early in 1942 by Victor Gollancz. Clearly he was an editor in exile. This is an optimistic book, certain that the rule of fascism would be ended by a workers revolution. In a sense, the task of defeating Nazism was a massive one, given the Nazi machinery that had been established. The story emerges of how the little people, the working and middle classes, would pull together to put right the ravages of war after the war was over. The author was deliberately vague about whether capitalism would be overturned - that would be the decision of the revolution itself.

It is a tragedy that ordinary decent people in Germany and Austria did not rise up in protest about what they clearly knew - as some did in Poland, Denmark and Norway. To rise up was to commit suicide and endanger one's family. Acts of resistance had to be small and unnoticeable, or at least untraceable. Unfortunately one had to be brave even to consider it, and the result was no opposition to a murderous ruling class. Paul ended his vision by looking after the war to how ordinary people would come together in international rebuilding. The former enemy would be clothed, housed and fed as fellow workers worthy of solidarity. We think of German and Japanese reconstruction, of the Berlin air lift. The sense of healing and reconsiliation during the early decades after the war was remarkable. The grossly guilty, Mengele, Eichmann, Goering and the others, were pursued but many others were re-educated and returned to a productive life. This book suggests that a new labour movement will emerge after the war, that there is no return to the status quo before Fascism. This movement should grow beyond national borders so it will operate in a pan-European and global theatre.

In the post-war period, in Britain, austerity still continued, food and manufactured goods were in short supply, and land-girls were still needed up to 1951. People may have wanted to forget the war as quickly as possible, but the effects of war affected everyone's lives. David Kynaston's A World to Build: Austerity Britain 1945-48 is a good next place to go.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

James Lennox Kerr / Peter Dawlish

For years, my wife and I tracked down the books of Peter Dawlish, written throughout the 1930s to 1960s, mostly about boats and the sea. Chance, and the internet, helps us to identify him with James Lennox Kerr, the son in law of the artist Lamorna Birch. You will find my version of his life (checked by his son) on Wikipedia. Ironically my wife and I discovered that we had unknowingly walked past his former house (he died in 1963) every year for 25 years.

Jimmy had run away to sea as a in Glasgow and had recorded many of his adventures in his later fiction, as well as writing three autobiographies, one of a year tramping around America as a hobo (1930), another of a family journey to Scotland in a home-converted boat (1938), the third an account of his life up to the beginning of his writing career (1942). His fiction in the 1930s is for adults, about his home in Scotland, others about Australia. It has a social agenda, with hard-hitting critique. He also in this decade wrote (as Gavin Douglas, a good Scottish name) a series of crime thrillers at sea, most featuring irascible Captain Sampson (who had an officer called Kerr!).

His early children's books were in his own name. The Eye of the North took a young man across America and Canada (much as he had done as a hobo) to find his father, dodging and evil villain who almost does for him. The Blackspit Smugglers tells of a boy foiling a complex smuggling operation, again at risk of his own life. The illustrations are by Rowland Hilder so the early edition is worth having for those along. The third was a 'first tripper' tale, a do-it-yourself how to go to sea. Told as fact ('my first trip') it is in fact fiction. The ship was called Nantewas, the name of a cottage in his home village that he and I have stayed in, indeed the place where his new little son was born. That son went to sea himself, a hydrographer, and we were able to reminisce eating outside the cottage called Nantewas.

Jimmy Kerr took out a new book contract with Oxford University Press, and perhaps to hide the fact from his original publisher Nelson, he used the psuedonym Peter Dawlish. Why that name I do not know. Dawlish is a seafaring town, perhaps. His new irascible captain was called Peg-Leg, who had several adventures at war (pre-second world war, with a fictional enemy), minesweeping and sealing. By the beginning of the war he was a well known writer under each of his three names. His final PegLeg books, published in 1940, give more than a hint that he knew that war was inevitable, and that he would have a role to play. Still a seafarer, he joined up in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves, to serve on minesweepers, help at Dunkirk, and other such duties. This put an end to publications, if not to writing.

Publications began to flow again after the war in all three names. He is best known for his next series about five boys restoring and sailing a French crabber which they called Dauntless (though other names are used in translations). These are stories of intrepid seafaring by this teenage group, with precise nautical detail and superb illustrations. This in my view is far better work than Arthur Ransome, whose Great Northern (1948) overlapped the series. Other books were used widely in schools - Aztec Gold, Martin Froblisher, Young Drake of Devon, He Sailed with Drake and The Boy Jacko. There were also a number of non fiction books for schools.

His writing for adults included stories (especially as Gavin Douglas), war commemorative books such as Wavy Navy, and biography. He died in 1963.
A complete list of publications is given at

Aims of blog - read first.

This is a place for me to scribble about anything I come across about the period 1930-1960. Pre-war to post-war world war 2. I am interested in social history, literature, children's literature and the war itself. These labels will be used consistently so you can sort posts by using the labels. I have a wide range of original documents and books written in this period, but I will largely keep away from secondary books written about the period. It will be more byways than highways. Happy to publish your comments if you have something to add.