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Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Eileen Nearne SOE

The funeral took place today of Eileen Nearne in Torbay ( Eileen was an SOE agent who chose to keep this fact a secret throughout her life.

In Sarah Helm's A Life In Secrets: the Story of Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE Vera, the home-based controller of agents, toured Europe after the war to trace what happened to lost agents. Some had died in action, others were murdered in extermination camps. Eileen escaped from Ravensbruck, and told of two other English girls who escaped. She was picked up at the end of the war by the Americans so found her story far-fetched and fanciful. Vera knew however that the parachute drop, radio communications and work with the resistance were absolutely true. In camp, she worked in the fields, then as slave labour in a munitions factory, and later on 12 hour days as a road builder. It was then that she and some French friends hid in a forest and were protected by a local priest until the Americans came.

What would we all do if we knew that world freedom depended on what we personally did or did not do? The men and women of SOE and all other services, some paying with their lives, have bequeathed us the free world that we enjoy.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Flying Officer X

During the second world war, the concept of war artist included writers and poets. I have written elsewhere in this blog about the war poet John Pudney, whom "Flying Officer X" credits as his mentor "whose friendly watchfulness and greater experience in practical Air Force matters saved both them and myself from various pitfalls" (Author's Note, 1952 Evensford Edition). The anonymous "Flying Officer X" stories were morale boosters for both air force personnel and the public, dedicated to Hilary St. George Saunders the RAF historian. Flying Officer X was in real life HE Bates (1905-1974), the novelist, with an RAF commission. Stationed with Bomber Command, flying Stirlings, he refined, by talking to crews and groundstaff,   their particular experiences into short stories published weekly in News Chronicle in 1942, bringing out the real story of battle. The first volume of collected stories was called The Greatest People in the World after a story of the same name. The pilot is from a poor agricultural family, who paid his way through Grammar School to become a Pilot Officer. [He would actually have been a Sergeant Pilot, not coming from Public School]. He hears that pilots are the greatest people in the world, but after his parents are bombed and killed, comes to realise that it is the common working people who farm the land who best deserve this description. The second volume had the title How Sleep the Brave: the story of that name follows a Stirling crew after ditching in the North Sea, surviving snow, ice and burns in the attempt to reach England again. The last sentence hints at bravery: "and they will go out again". The Beginning of Things describes bow amputation (of an arm) can mark the beginning of a new life, not the end. The main character flies again with prosthetic arm full of clever gadgets. A edition of both collections was called Something in the Air (Cape, Knopf). Over 100,000 copies in all were sold, though HE Bates did not earn royalties for them.  In other RAF postings he wrote  There's Freedom in the Air for HMSO,  The Night Battle of Britain (never published) and The Battle of the Flying Bomb (published only after rediscovery in the Public Records Office in 1994). The Flying Officer X stories were reissued in paperback by Vintage Classics (Random House) in 2002.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

James Hilton 1900-1956.

A few thoughts on Nothing So Strange 1948. James Hilton is best known for Goodbye Mr Chips, a story drawn from his school experiences, and Far Horizons with his great invention Shangri La. He was a Hollywood screen writer as well as a novelist, who smoked himself to an early death. Nothing So Strange is about the war, set in wartime. Its theme is waste of talent through unreasonable suspicion. A talented physicist for very complex reasons was working for a pro-Nazi boss in Vienna, later in Berlin, just before war was declared. He was therefore ignored both as a scientist and a pilot in the airforce, considered to hot to handle. However his work if recognized in Germany could have produced a nuclear bomb by 1943, and equally could have contributed to the American effort. Instead, he was under psychiatric care, hounded both by psychiatrists and security forces who would have been more fruitfully employed elsewhere. His mentor through this was his student, probably to become his wife/partner. She knows, as we the reader knows, that he had an affair with her mother, but he does not know she knows, but her father does. This all keeps the war reflection steaming hot. He had a guilty secret, that he finally reveals: not murder or adultery, or anything so predictable. But he had falsified his data before leaving Berlin so his discoveries could not be misused. As a scientist,  this compromise whilst necessary was a matter of shame.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

SOE and Vera Atkins

A recent trip to Cornwall brought me to Zennor, home of the Tinners Arms with Tinners Ale, the church with the mermaid, and a small Cornish life museum. DH Lawrence had been here in 1915-16 with his German wife Frieda, cousin of Baron Manfred von Richthofen the air ace. Not a combatant on health grounds, the locals were suspicious and persuaded them to leave. The story, and the bitterness of the experience, is found in Kangaroo. In the church is a memorial to the Burma Star Association, with a book to inscribe memories and appreciation. The Association has been very active in linking and championing those soldiers with traumatic memories from their youth. Percy our former neighbour, was one of these, buried eventually with full Burma Star honours. The book tells a similar story of servicemen remembered but now dead. One piece of graffiti condemned war, preferring I guess to live in a fascist dictatorship.

The stimulus for this post is my fruitless search for the gravestone of Vera Atkins. I remember seeing it some years ago, but could not find it again. Vera was the key administrator at Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Baker Street. Jewish, a refugee from Romania, former family name Rosenberg, she always had to cope with feelings of vulnerability. She ran operations involving both men and women, but it was the SOE women who caught the popular imagination after the war. The film on Odette and book on Madeleine have given this group of women mythic status. Noor Inayat Khan, from a Sufi family, alias Nora Baker, alias Madeleine is a personal favorite, a woman with deformed feet because of foot binding as a child, a pacifist who refused to take weapons on a mission, and who refused to reveal any information under torture.  The reality is that they were doing a dangerous job, for reasons of their own, because of ideals they were prepared to die for. Any some of them did, either on the ground or in Ravensbruck concentration camp, or Buchanwald.  After the war she hunted down their killers and worked with the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal. She chose to be buried with her brother Guy in Zennor. The story is well told by Sarah Helm, A Life in Secrets. The official historian of SOW is MRD Foot.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Heming and Marsh again

Chance finds, bought together today in Cirencester were Jack Heming's Blue Wings (1938) and DE Marsh's The Airmen of the Island (1945). Since the dealer had bought them as a pair, his source must have known the connection, that they were husband and wife. Dorothy Eileen Marsh was the birthname of Mrs (Jack) Heming who used many pen-names. It started as a means of surviving the depression, a visit to London, and perhaps to WE Johns, told them that the future was in aeroplane stories for children. Jack tended to be more action-oriented and Eileen more relationship focused - although Eileen was fully capably or writing blood and thunder action stories, particularly using the Guy Dempster alias, war stories for boys. See my other blogs on this family via the labels.

The Airmen of the Island  focuses on an Orkney teenager Rob Ker (age 17) who is master of a tiny island, Megg, who by saving a ditched Australian pilot early in the war found his way into flying with Coastal Command. The story featured Sunderland Flying Boats, introduced 1938. Germans take over Megg to fortify it and threaten Scapa Flow. Rob escapes to warn the RAF and a counter attack takes the island back, which then is fortified as an RAF base. But, the Germans take it over again... The first Nazis were callous and brutal; the second group were more polite (with "false politeness") - "you fought a good fight". The dead are accepted and not mourned. "Bill and Cleaver are gone" - "That's too bad"... "Let me gather our dead". The other planes at the base are Defiants, which are depicted as newer and deadlier than Spitfires. In fact they were not so. Built by Boulton and Paul, they had gun turrets rather than forward guns, so 109s soon realised that they could attack head-on with relative impunity. In the story, 3 Defiants were enough to knock out a flight of bombers and their attendant fighters. In real life, Defiants were put onto night-patrol duty, at which the excelled. The story also introduces an aircraft carrier and Navy forces, with Swordfish and Skua planes - the Fleet Air Arm, not so named in the book. This is a favorite topic in her Guy Dempster thrillers. One other detail, an occasional character is named Carter, probably Eileen's best known pen-name (Dorothy Carter).

Jack wrote less, and paused as he joined the forces in 1939. His Blue Wings is uncomfortable reading, as four WW1 flying aces and one youth, Ray, fly to Spain to support the "nationalists" (Franco's fascist insurgents) against the elected socialist  ("communist") government who are depicted as Russian inspired, with a People's Committee to punish failure or opposition. Jack  was anti-communist rather than pro-fascist - their side are termed 'nationalist' and the government are seen as Russian invaders. At the end of unlikely and intrepid adventures in that blood-thirsty civil war, they returned home alive and joined the RAF.  De Havilland Dragons (biplane, built 1932) and Mew Gulls (1936) are the planes mentioned. The Percival Mew Gull was a single engined racing plane and only 6 were built, top speed over 250 mph - hot news in air racing when the story was being written. The back blue plane on the cover is a rough approximation, and the illustration on page 85. Why was one of these highly expensive machines owned by a youngster and based in a temporary county council airfield?  And then for a second to arrive there...  The illustration on page 197 is perhaps a biplane Dragon. The twin engined blue monoplane on the dustjacket is a Monospar (ST10 perhaps, picture below).
The red biplanes (make unidentified) belong to the Spanish socialist government and carry the Spanish roundel. In the story most are flown by Russians.

 Jack's story does not in fact glorify war but gets young readers ready for a war that by 1937 was inevitable. WE Johns announced this constantly in Popular Flying, emphasising the need for the government to prepare. Ray entered the civil war for adventure, without any political ideals. He soon sees war as 'conscienceless'. Dogfights may be a game - a Russian ace comes down to give him some more petrol so they can carry on - but it is a deadly game, the objective to down planes and probably kill the pilot. The leaders of both sides drool with anger and solve problems by killing. War's horrors are hinted at, and war itself condemned subliminally but constantly. A boy needs skill and a level head to navitage through with higher ideals. They all end up joining the RAF preparing for the world war to counter aggression that is invariably coming. 

Eileen unfortunately died early, in 1948, having brought up four children as well as writing 120 books. Jack later wrote after Eileen's death under her pen-names for a few volumes between 1948 and 1960.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Major Charles Gilson 1878-1943

On Secret Service, 1935. Humphrey Milford/Oxford University Press. A first world war spy story in which a cell of German spies set up a beacon to guide Zeppelins to bomb Whitehall. Felix Von Arnheim, German masterspy, alias Hubert Hamilton uses his Old Etonian background and contacts to lead the group. Daniel Wansborough, British counter-espionage officer, is tasked to discover and neutralise the plot. Young George Thurlow is kidnapped after apprehending a spy dropped from a Zeppelin, and works out the plot from the inside.This is pre-parachute so the spy has to be lowered in an observation car on a mile-long wire.

Gilson had been writing stories for boys since before the first world war, cutting his authorial teeth in Boys Own Paper (BOP). His writing is jingoistic, blaming the Germans for the war and heroising the allies (this book shows cooperation with the French). A pawnbroker, Israel Levinski is "a Russian Pole. A Jew" (strange labelling!) and his 'hooked nose' makes the stereotype clear (198-9). He is dirty, in a dingy house, but the detail is positive and sensitive. He is not a money-grabber but a poor man trying to survive, a refugee. In contrast, Lord Freyling is a wastrel, a gambler, who betrays his country to pay off his gambling debts. The story follows George first, then cuts to Daniel's investigation, joining up when Daniel taps on the window of the room in which George is imprisoned (137, 204).

Gilson's Germans were Nazis, not 1914 period pieces. The espionage threat was real and modern, and Gilson set the trend for spy hunts which dominated children's fiction until after 1945. He was nearing the end of his writing life and was increasingly affected by the illness which ended his life. But his writing was truely multicultural, and warned vividly of the dangers of totalitarianism, whether Nazi or Japanese. His Out of the Nazi Clutch (1940) was a remarkable book to be penned at the outbreak of war. A schoolboy Walter, studying in Germany rescued a Christian boy, Otto Spohr, a quarter Jewish, being stoned by a mob. Gilson is, as usual part teacher-preacher, blaming the Nazis for their policy of hatred, and condemning thier followers for blind obedience. Walter's hosts actually condemn themselves - " is a terrible disgrace on Germany... but what can we do?": their son is in Hitler Youth. Walter saves the Spohrs from Buchanwald concentration camp, that "place of torture" for people whose only crime was being Jewish. No trial -"beaten, scourged and kicked, many of them not to be seen again alive" (92-3). All this in 1939-40, when even the British government were denying it. My thanks to Owen Dudley Edwards for a lively discussion of Gilson in British Children's Fiction in the Second World War, especially pages 561-7.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Royal Scot 6144

The cover of this Dean's Jolly Youngster Book, The First Class Train Book dates from 1931. The boiler shape of this Royal Scot makes it look more like a Patriot than the rebuilt Royal Scots we remember, but in fact the Patriot Class came later, from 1930. These engines were destined for the Euston-Glasgow expresses. The first 50 locomotives were built by the North British Locomotive Company, Glasgow in 1927 to plans devised down south, from 6100 Royal Scot to 6149, originally Lady of the Lake. Others were added in 1930, built elsewhere (especially Derby). The nameplate of 6144 cannot easily be read but was Ostrich. The first 24 of the class were named mainly after army regiments and by 1935-6, more regiment names were added, replacing the original names. By 1948, 6144 (which became 46144) carried the name The Honourable Artillery Company but there is a mystery: the 1944 Ian Allen loco-spotters British Locomotives ABC records it as having no name, the only unnamed locomotive of the class. Is this a typographical error, or has something strange happened? The engine was based at Liverpool Edge Hill (8A), rebuilt in 1945 with superheated tapered boiler, and scrapped in January 1964.

Monday, 22 February 2010

David Severn - obituary

David Unwin died in 11th February 2010 after a brief illness, aged 91, and was cremated in Golders Green Crematorium. The son of the publisher Stanley Unwin, he was born on 3.12.1918. It was as the writer for children, David Severn, that he earned early fame, his first book, Rick Afire coming out in 1942, the first of his 'Crusoe Books' featuring children's friendship with a young accountant called Robinson (hence 'Crusoe') who was escaping the office for a holiday in the open air. The writer and critic Geoffrey Trease once wrote (1964:141) that David Severn was an outstanding pioneer of the holiday themes after Arthur Ransome. These early books were outstanding, examples of outdoor adventure by resourceful and independent children with positive descriptions of a Romany group. His next series with the Warner family shows a similar free spirit, with more of an interest in gymkhanas and the country set. A journey through Africa produced My Foreign Correspondent through Africa in 1951, 20 illustrated news-sheets which were part of a wider series. He began to experiment with a number of different ideas. Dream Gold (1949) is a psychological thriller. Two boys begin to dream of events 300 years ago, connected to a wrecked ship in Cornwall. They begin to dream together in a way that transports them to a desert island where sailors are coming to blows. Each takes on the personality of their ancestor and fights out the dispute again. This risks the lives of both, and only one survives. In Drumbeats! pupils find a magic drum which they discover had been stolen by an ill-fated expedition to Africa in 1935. When Oliver beats it, the children are transported back to 1935 Africa and witness the lost expedition. The timeslip presents deadly dangers for the present, causing a fire in school. In The Future Took Us (1957) a time slip into 3000AD, a religious dictatorship (actually the headmaster's alter ego) whose holy book was a maths primer and who thought up mathematical executions ruled the land. He and his henchmen were overcome. Then came a story of a boy brought up by foxes and behaved like a fox. His young girl saviour did not seem to mind his nakedness. This sense of psycho-magic never left him, and two of his last books concerned a ghost girl, and a magic toy castle that became real.
David Unwin's early books were a much loved part of children's series fiction. His more challenging works featured in the school curriculum for a while. As tastes and publishers ambitions changed in the 1970s, he found less opportunities to be published and his last work was his autobiography, in 1982, Fifty Years With Father. Earlier, in the 1950s, he had tried his hand at adult fiction. These focused on wives who ruled the roust, influencing politics (The Governor's Wife) as well as domestic life (A View of the Heath).

David Severn was involved in the early days of writing about ghosts, magic and the supernatural in a naturalistic way. Magic is presented as part of life. We can all slip into other times and other worlds, and many writers have done this since. But David Severn concentrated on the psychology of this. Dream walking out of the body experiences, reliving deep obsessions which continue to damage the lives of descendants. Treachery sticking to objects (the drum) and needing to be resolved and avenged. The totalitarian power of teachers and headteachers. The savagery shown to animals (foxes) highlighted only by making the fox cub a human. These titles from his middle period were thought provoking indeed. His last two children's books highlighted magic or the supernatural. A boy's obsession with a dead girl is described as giving strength to her ghost, to the extent that others saw her as a real girl. The Girl in the Grove is deeply psychological, with a brilliant twist at the end - the earlier family history in the effective management of slaves (a euphemism for working the slaves to death). The Grove, which typified the moneyed class, had blood on their family hands so could not rest in peace. His last book, The Wishing Bone, is great fun - what to do with three wishes. The wishes go wrong because of careless speech, but in the end making the wish is seem as itself the first step towards fulfilment. To wish to be friends with enemies is the first step towards repairing bridges. Story-book wishes have horrendous consequences, as the children get embroiled in siege and battle. But real-life wishes are a healing mechanism important in creating a harmonious world.

David Unwin leaves me with happy memories both of reading his work as an academic and corresponding with him. It is time for some of his titles to be resurrected.

See further: for a detailed description of his books.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Golding, Lord of the Flies.

Readers of Lord of the Flies or viewers of the film, will remember the twins. They were real kids in Golding's class in Bishop Wordsworth School in Salisbury in the late 1940 to early 1950s. One twin is my neighbour; the other's funeral took place on Friday. Rest in peace and love to the family.

See also

Friday, 12 February 2010

Escaping Wartorn Europe

This post describes three books written between 1940 and 1945 which describes children fleeing through France in the early years of the war. They are: Olive C Dougan, Schoolgirls in Peril (1944); Agnes M. Miall, The Schoolgirl Fugitives (1942); and Nevil Chute, Pied Piper (1942).
Olive Dougan also wrote The Schoolgirl Refugees in 1940. Very scarce. I am still looking.

Dougan tells the story of a school in a Flemish speaking area just before 1939. The Nazis were pressing into Holland and Belgium. The school moves to Brussels and is soon closed down, and the Head arrested. The main character Sally overhears a traitor's plot to allow the Nazi army to invade. Sally is thereafter a marked girl and sent to her fascist uncles in Brittany with her young sister Betty. Their father is a journalist collecting sensitive evidence, a target for the Nazis. There they are abused and miserable. Escape routes exist in the area and all goes well until an airman is helped to escape and his clothes and parachute are found. The sisters have to flee on foot or with local help to Vichy France and towards the Spanish border. A bete noir is Tilda Weil, a German girl with serious Nazi relatives. She boasts of victory, and spies against her school and against a Jewish fellow pupil with links to the resistance. Tilde is emotionally fond of little Betty, and after her new husband is killed by the SS for protesting, she crosses over to help the girls to escape to Spain. The Headmistress is already there. They make it back to England for a grand reunion, after the Americans hand entered the war but before D day. Oh, and the girls are reunited also with their parents.

The detail of anti-Nazi feeling is outstanding - the little things ordinary people will do to undermine the enemy. The Nazis are painted as a powerful elite who rule by fear and repression. Ordinary Germans are decent, especially when they understand the reality of what is going on. This is propaganda; most ordinary Germans did not cross the road to defend victims since their own lives were endangered by doing so.

Then endgame is disappointing. Prolonged struggle happens until the last few chapters, then, all of a rush they make it to Spain, find a boat, and arrive in England. This part is very much a 'happy ever after' epilogue.
Unfortunately my copy was bound without pages 97-112. I will be grateful if anyone can send me photocopies.

Agnes M Miall. The Schoolgirl Fugitives.
Kay, aged 14, and elder cousin Reba, 19, in school in southern France, is faced, as the German army takes over Belgium, to set out on a 360 mile walk to Bordeaux. "Happy go lucky" parents were away working in Canada, not believing that a war was in the offing. French relatives lived in the thick of the fighting, so Bordeaux gave them a chance to find a boat to England. They would have to go alone, unescorted, and travel light, leaving most of their possessions behind. The first leg was in an ambulance: the roads are crowded with refugees, so main roads had to be avoided and slow progress made on back roads. The refugees included children in tatters, with blisters, looking after babies. It was a vast line of mainly women and children. For Kay it was fun, different. They decide to keep off the main roads because German planes were machine gunning the refugees. They are fed at a farm, who lets them have the address of relatives further on. There is a strong theme of French kindness to the English, probably, the book thinks, because they were ashamed of letting their allies down. Unable to board a train (really cattle wagons) they took possession of two bicycles that had to be abandoned by people getting on the train. The train was machine-gunned so they had a narrow escape. Nazi planes machine gunning the trains and main roads become a significant theme, making the girls keep to the side roads. They were encouraged to avoid Bordeaux by what seemed to them later as a fifth columnist, spreading despair around. They almost ran into a German outpost, managing to pick up a German map which helped them. They find little Francoise, separated from her mother; and Kay gets lost. However, within a particularly surly group, Rebe was accused of being a German spy and locked up. Meanwhile Kay had stumbled over a man dressed as a German soldier, which after a nail-biting time turned out to be Eric, an escaping English soldier. They travel together, find Reba again, now imprisoned, and let her out and they all escape from that hateful town. Bordeaux is now closed, so there destination is a port near the Spanish border. Francoise's mother has left a letter indicating where to find her. The French government has meanwhile capitulated to the Germans, so there is no time to lose. On the coast, out swimming, they rescue a woman drowning after an attach of cramp, who Francoise soon identifies, of course, as her mother. Her mother's friends have a yacht and they manage to leave safely.

Nevil Shute, Pied Piper.
Shute, an aircraft engineer and founder/owner of Airspeed, wrote a novel a year throughout the 1930a to 1950s, and his war efforts reflect the anxieties of those days. Pied Piper tells the story of an elderly unpreposessing and unheroic man, Mr Howard, who decides to return to England from the French alps, but finds the trains disrupted and roads clogged. A simple journey takes on nightmare proportions. Moreover, he is persuaded to take two young children with him, Ronnie and Sheila, to relatives in England. This is a book for adults about children, not a story for children. The children are incumbrances, dependants, not young heroes as they would be in stories for children. At Dijon, 10 year old is added, Rose, trying to reach her father in London. Howard comes across as a man doing what he has to in times of trouble, a hero indeed but not heroic, often anxious, obsessed with the safety of his fishing tackle. On the road, Pierre joins them, a 7 year old being stoned by villagers as a German spy. (The French are described as an unpleasant rabble, for the most part). Then comes Willem a little Dutch boy, whose parents are blown to pieces when a Nazi Stuka bombs refugees on the road, the rear gunner laughing as he machine-gunned the hoards of women and children. Nicole joins the group in Chatres, the fiance of his dead son John, then a kitten. They eventually make it to the coast. A 10 year old Polish Jewish boy joins them, Marjan, to keep him from becoming a slave. There is a sticky moment near Brest when Mr Howard is arrested as a spy after a British success, and taken out to be shot (but we readers know from page 1 that he survived). The theme of the book is that the British take care of children even if they are not related, to the utter astonishment of the French and Germans. He is a Pied Piper in reverse, taking a group of children to safety - oh, and he makes them whistles from hazel twigs to represent the piper's pipes. Finally there is Anna, but for the twist at the end of the story that brought Anna into the group you will have to read the book for yourself.

The representations of Germans are mixed - the typical soldier is tired and grey faced. No one laughed light-heartedly. The rear gunner shooting civilians is cock-a-hoop, laughing and excited. The Gestapo officer is brutal, harsh, cynical, not believing that a man would risk his own life for strangers, or that his daughter in America would willingly look after the waifs and strays. His son the tank commander, now dead, was annoyed that the road was clogged with refugees and happily shot at them to clear the road. There is no humanity, no fellow feeling or empathy. They were convinced of their own invincibility, sure they would be in London in six weeks. The representations of the British were that they are strong-minded and eccentric, moral to the point of self-sacrifice, ensuring that others are not implicated even if it was to their disadvantage. The French are self-seeking and short sighted for the most part, willing to stone a small boy as a spy, and to give away a Jewish labourer to the authorities. Helpful acts such as sailing them home had to be paid for, and to serve other selfish interests.

Postscript: in 1940, households in Britain received a government circular on a flimsy piece of thin A5 paper, What to do if the invasion happens. They are told to stay at home and wait for guidance, do not clog the roads so the army cannot get around to fight the enemy. The French example is given: if you become refugees on the road, you will be shot at by Nazi aircraft and tanks.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Malcolm Saville, 1901-1982. Children's Writer.

A collection of the following papers by Stephen Bigger can be found on Some letter can be found on
These are revisions of orginals published by the Malcolm Saville Society. Copyright: Stephen Bigger, 2010.

Part 1. The Emerging Author
1. D J Desmond: the Anonymous Author. 2005
Malcolm Saville wrote occasionally under this name, and these works are discussed.
2. Malcolm Saville at My Garden Magazine. 2005
3. Apprenticeship: Malcolm Saville and David Severn 2003 The literary relationship between two beginning writers.
4. The Influence of J M Barrie on Malcolm Saville 2004 Malcolm Saville was fond of Dear Brutus by J M Barrie and this influenced his characterisation. 2004.
5. Did Malcolm Saville know W.E. Johns, author of Biggles? 2009.

Part 2. Values
6. Families in Difficulties
7. Romany Secrets: The depiction of Romanies in the writings of Malcolm Saville. 2002
8. Children Coping - Welcome the Jillies. 1998
9. Yellow Peril? The Depiction of the Chinese in the Fiction of Malcolm Saville 2002
Malcolm Saville's depiction of Chinese residents of Docklands.
10. Good People Working Together: The Lesson of Sea Witch Comes Home

Part 3. Locations
11. Why Choose Blakeney? Birds, Artists and Holidays in Digs. 2002 Post-war holidays and Malcolm Saville’s Jillies series.
12. Coping in dangerous waters: defining gender roles in the Ely Floods 2003 Relationships in The Luck of Sallowby (1952), Malcolm Saville’s fifth Jillies book, set in Ely floods.
13. Romanticised Landscape: Malcolm Saville’s Cornwall Real and fictional topography in Malcolm Saville’s Flying Fish Adventure 2003
14. Sea Watch at Southwold. 2004
Comparison of historical detail of the 1953 North Sea ‘great storm’ with Malcolm Saville’s Sea Witch Comes Home. Easter 2004.
15. Dartmoor, Flying Saucers and Military Secrecy 2005.
Links between flying saucers in two Saville stories, and other science fiction literature.
16. Muker, North Yorkshire: The Mysteries of Muker: Or Which Steps, Which Barn and Which Crackpot?

Part 4. Life in the 1940s
17. Spirit of the Place: Writing about England.
18. Small Creatures, and the Truth in a Tale Series. Nature writing.
19. Railways of Adventure. The place of railways in Malcolm Saville’s fiction. 2004 and 2007.
20. Harvest Holiday: A Happy Return to Townsend Farm. 2008
21. A Death in Normandy. The background to Mary and Michael’s father. 2009.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Eileen Marsh, A Walled Garden, 1943.

I have given background information on Eileen Marsh earlier in this blog. A Walled Garden is one of her novels for adults, but is about children. She rated her adult fiction highly as artistic work. Her children's stories were quickly written with simple plots and characterisation. A Walled Garden in many ways resembles the later Goodnight Mr Tom. After an account of village life through the 1920s and 1930s, evacuees arrive in a Kent village, including one poor ragged boy terrified of his mother, who had run off by attaching himself to a school party. He is taken in by the book's central character, Catty, an unmarried woman whose first love had gone to America, while she looked after her grumpy father. She is presented as helpful to every one, taken for granted, and generally thought to be an unfulfilled soul people were sorry for. The two bonded closely, and the boy's health and confidence improved. He was a street urchin with colourful language, but he was her project, protected fiercely. He gradually improved his diction by copying posh members of the village (and that could cause trouble), and he won a scholarship to secondary school. Catty managed to bring him back for holidays when he was billeted away in Ashford. Another family, the Evans, was billeted with Catty, three children who are background characters. One theme of the book is how badly the London parents dressed and fed their offspring, and how much better they were in their billets. The Evans' parents took their family back to London, where they were promptly killed by a bomb. Catty's beau and his son (he was a widower) returns with the GIs, 20 years after he had once proposed.

The story was written shortly after the evacuations had taken place. It hoped that the experience of separation from birth families had had positive benefits to the children. This is part of countryfolk's horror of working class urban life and priorities. It was somewhat blind to the social inequities that caused urban poverty, and the more limited possibilities of self sufficiency through gardens and smallholdings.