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Monday, 23 September 2013

E Malcolm Shard, alias Eileen (Marsh) Heming.

Just one book of Eileen Heming's (née Marsh) output (see elsewhere in this blog via labels) used the pseudonym E Malcolm Shard. This is Flying For Ethiopia,1936. My copy has green boards, 216 pages and four plates drawn by the ace aeroplane illustrator Howard Leigh (1910-1942) who also worked on Biggles books and the magazine Popular Flying. Its publisher imprint was The Popular Library, a book club, an original and not a reprint. Size 71/2 by 5 inches, thickness 13/4 inches owing to its thick card paper. Green boards were certainly a first impression (the book carries no dates but this is indicated by 1936 prize bookplates in one green copy for sale); there is also an impression with orange boards, maybe later or maybe contemporaneous.The title page says 'by the author of The Secret Aeroplane and The Rajah of Gungra, both by D E Marsh and also dating from 1936, published by Harrap, suggesting a Harrap involvement with this book club. "E M Shard" (without the Malcolm) is an anagram of D E Marsh. Eileen Marsh/Heming had no experience of flying herself, apart from a couple of lessons after this book was published. These were more than she could afford as each book paid her a pittance. She undoubtedly scoured publications like Popular Flying to get ideas, such as the planes in this book. Anyone with copies of this magazine please let me know! They are too expensive to buy.

An appraisal is offered by Eric Bates, Among Her Own People, pages 128f. Bates dates the book as 1937, but one for sale was awarded as a school prize in 1936. The (2nd) Italo-Ephiopian war, which saw Haile Selassie exiled to London, was from October 1935 to May 1936. The Claytons, heroes of the book, set off by amphibian to Addis Ababa via Malta around February, father and son Pip, to rescue Pip's uncle Bob.. The gung-ho tone of the book, which offers the Italians a very bloody nose and points out the dignity of the Ethiopian defence, was almost certainly written at that point, before the Italian 'victory'. The Claytons were well off and well connected, knowing Haile Selassie personally, one brother being Consul in Ethiopia, and having an airfield attached to their mansion home. On arrival in Ethiopia, Pip spots a 'Supermarine Fighter', a prototype, which he dubs The Fighting Ethiopian as he joins the Ethiopian air force in his father's absence. He joins a group of four aeroplanes who  massacre squadrons of Italian bombers, even stealing two during a daring rescue. I won't summarise the whole plot, just say that superboy Pip is not only a superb fighter pilot, but speaks both Amharic and two Ethiopian dialects, thanks to his uncles tuition, deaf and dumb sign language, and is a natural born killer.

On matters of detail, the Saro Cloud was a sizable amphibian/ seaplane with two engines on top of the wings, retractable wheels at the side for dry landings, and wing floats for sea landings. Introduced 1930, it was used for training purposes in RAF Calshot near Southampton. It is accurately described. It is an expensive plane to be in private ownership, although four were privately operated!

The 'Supermarine Fighter' is not the Spitfire and is depicted in a plate (left, initialled by Howard Leigh) as having cantilevered "gull" wings.It is the Supermarine Type 224, designed by R J Mitchell of Spitfire fame, with cantilevered wings (picture below), ceiling 38,800 feet, maximum speed 228 mph powered by a single RR Goshawk II liquid-cooled engine, and armed with 4 Vickers machine guns. Only one flew from 1934, and was found to be disappointing losing out in 1936 to the Gloster Gladiator for RAF orders. It  ended life in 1937 as a target on a firing range. However lessons learned from its design and performance led to the development of the Spitfire in the late 1930s. Another connection: Supermarine was established by Noel Pemberton Billing in 1913: one of the pilots in this book is called 'Billings'. 

The representation of Ethiopians is curious. The 'native' is described as feckless, unreliable and without work discipline. 'Native'women (who had actually done an outstanding job and showed great common sense and fortitude, are described as of slow intelligence. However the royal family, including a boy of Pip's age, Makonnen, is depicted with great respect. In one official, Rastofarind, we can see the name Rastafari being drawn on, i.e. a follower of Haile Selassie. For the Italians, no respect is shown whatever.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Dorothy Carter, Comrades of the Air, 1942.

Dorothy Carter is a pen-name of Eileen Heming nee Marsh, died 1948. See my earlier description of her work. Comrades of the Air from 1942 is one of her Marise stories. It is very difficult to obtain since it only had its initial print run, and some of that was bombed in store.  It is a pair with Sword of the Air which is similarly hard to find. Sword was an escapade in Nazi Germany; Comrades takes the story to Russia at the time of the Nazi invasion of Moscow. The dust-jacket illustrator (the same as the frontispiece picture of Katya and Marise) is by Newton Whittaker, an illustrator who worked on a range of books for your people such as by Pamela Brown and Nancy Breary. Any  reader with personal knowledge of this illustrator please leave a comment. Comrades measures 7 1/8 by 5 inches with 204 pages published by Collins (London and Glasgow). The rear of the dj advertises the contemporary  Holiday Books of Jane Shaw, the pre-war Farm School Books of Josephine Elder, and the New Abbey Series of Elsie Oxenham.

I have read many children's books from this period and Comrades is a good one. Some aspects might have seemed to be sheer anti-Nazi propaganda at the time but sadly have turned out to be true - the Nazis shooting POWs and hostages from villages, looting, sinking neutral ships, Gestapo brutality and so on. You only have to read the books of Helen Fry to find real incriminating evidence. Marise is in the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) as a aeroplane ferry pilot. The job she hustles for in this book is to ferry a plane to Russia because her best mates (male pilots) are going there. This is not a romantic plot, but rather 'I can do it if you can' feminism. As always I will try not to spoil the plot for new readers, but inevitably there will be very few new readers unless a reprint is arranged. It opens with a noisy party in Aldington, Kent, which is Eileen Marsh/Heming's home village (and appears almost as a signature in many books).

Apart from the usual Spitfires and Hurricanes, she mentions the (Westland) Whirlwind which served from 1940 but was obsolete by 1944. The author's high praise (p.11) was not warranted. Marise had also flown a 'Fortress' - a few Boeing B17 Flying Fortresses were owned by the RAF in 1941 (before America entered the war). But, as Marise said, we are talking too loud. In Russia Marise meets Katya Vanevska and her brother Ivan, also meeting up with her father who has a mysterious secret role in the war. In Sword of the Air, Marise met him in Germany in most unwise circumstances.  Russian women, the story explains, fly in combat - Katya was a gunner. Although excitable and a staunch Soviet and example of 'epic Russian heroism', the blurb says, Katya looked up to Marise on all occasions: Marise was apparently a natural leader. Unfortunately, a Nazi advance cut off their airfield, and a bombing raid seriously injured Marise's father. They needed to get aeroplanes away, and Marise was asked to fly the fourth bomber. An attack by Nazi fighters gave Marise her first 'kill' (two in fact); however her radio and compass were shot out and she lost touch with the other three planes. Looking for an airfield, which they never found, they ended without fuel at the White Sea, landed on the beach, only to discover that they were a short distance from a U-Boat refueling base. A U-Boat arrived, and torpedoed a neutral Swedish steamer - the captain's wife and child floated ashore on a lifeboat, and they became part of the escape party. Having whet your appetite, I won't give away how they escaped, were helped by a woodman who didn't know the Tzar had been overthrown,  were captured by the Nazis, escaped from there home again. Someone might republish the book - it is the best of the Marise titles. The pro-Russian sentiment is interesting, especially depicting the Russian people as suffering. The Nazis are depicted as violent, murderous and oppressive, as indeed they were.
Other old friends: Jim Grant, one-eyed hero of an earlier war and a Hollywood crash stuntman (see Star of the Air), Tony Arcoll and Jim Custance, fighter pilots who were loaned to Russia. Jim Grant said, "Give me my four-cannon Hurricane, thank you" (p.11). Every schoolboy knew that the Hurricane had 8 Browning machine guns, later increased to 12. That made me look up its service record. The Hurricane Mk IIC (introduced June 1941) replaced the machine-gun armament with four 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano Mk II cannons. DC is thus absolutely up to date, although Marise would have said, Hush, not too loud, walls have ears.