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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.

This is a new blog

Please return from time to time.