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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.