Stories my Father Told Me About the War

A Supermarine Spitfire and a Luftwaffe Messerschmidt

We were raised on stories of the Blitz in London: my father was given a thrashing when he and his cousin sat up on the roof of their house in Greenwich one lunch time to eat their Spam sandwiches and watch a dogfight between Messerschmidts and Spitfires over the London docks. He was sixteen years old during the Blitz-too young to join up-but he was an enthusiastic Royal Air Force cadet. When his school day finished, he and his cousin would catch a bus to their local airfield and polish the noses of Spitfire fighter aircraft so they would fly faster.

My favorite story was that the War Office created dummy airfields with canvas and plywood fighter and bomber planes to fool the Luftwaffe. They were not taken in at all and dropped wooden bombs as they flew on to blast the living daylights out of the real thing.

Biggles flourished from the Great War until the late 1950s

I suspect most of my father’s more lurid, and entertaining yarns came straight out of the Boys’ Own Paper: a sort of illustrated magazine full of tales of derring-do for pre-teens. From 1941 until well into the 1950s Boy’s Own featured the fictional fighter pilot Biggles by W.E. Jones in no less than sixty issues. Long before WWII my father was fan of ripping adventures and Biggles-speak dominated his vocabulary to the frustration of his family: Oh, I say! Jolly good show! and Thanks awfully! were phrases most often adopted and he yearned for the day when he could grow a mustache.

Bletchley Park

Born too late to fly a “real live Spit” was a frustration he endured even when he was recruited at age eighteen and sent to Bletchley Park to work on crypt-analysis as part of Alan Turing’s team. Bletchley was of course really hush-hush so any discussion about what they were doing was out of the question. It wasn’t until after the war when he was recruited by the British Foreign Office and sent on his first posting to Moscow with the allied forces, that he discovered that Bletchley had broken the Enigma Code that turned the tide of Hitler’s invasion. He would still have preferred to fly a Spitfire.

John Cleese and the Ministry of Funny Walks

Most of the men of my father’s generation were embarrassingly patriotic–especially to daughters who wore miniskirts, were frantic about the Beatles (I was in love with George my sister with Paul) and revered Monty Python. To my father being English was something to be frightfully proud of, and, as Biggles would have probably agreed, to this generation there was no doubt that God was still an Englishman. But despite his irritating flag-waving and standing to rigid attention when anyone mentioned our monarch there was an endearing naivete to my father.

the Bridge on the River Kawi

Even if we thought him an old fogey then, we enjoyed nothing more than gathering around the telly on Boxing Day to watch the outrageously pompous Bridge on the River Kwai for the umpteenth time. My father would nudge us during the boring bits, of which there were many, and say under his breath, “Pass the bulls eyes,” a prelude to remembering the rhapsodic delights of his favorite childhood sweets, the deprivations of food rationing, and how we simply didn’t know how good we had it now.

Bulls Eyes. Favorite sweets of Biggles and my father

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Dogs in WW1

The cover of DEATH OF AN UNSUNG HERO features a British officer with his dog a not uncommon sight in France and Belgium during WW1.  As complexes of trenches spread throughout the Western Front the need for well-trained military dogs grew until by 1918 Britain, France, Italy and Belgium had over twenty thousand dogs at the Front. Continue reading

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Chateau Impney and the Salt King

I am delighted to share Chateau Impney as the house on the cover for Lady Montfort and Edith Jackson’s fourth adventure: Death of an Unsung Hero,  and the story of how I came to choose it as a stand in for the fictitious Haversham Hall. Continue reading

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A Blog on Blighty

I have just finished the copyedit for DEATH OF AN UNSUNG HERO – Lady Montfort and Edith Jackson’s fourth adventure together which takes place at home in Blighty in 1916 as the Battle of the Somme raged on for most of that year.

A Little Bit of British ‘Hewmah’ from the Front in 1915

My copy editor (who struggles to Americanize me) queried my use of the word ‘Blighty,’ a term I use quite naturally since I am English, but one that she thought American readers would not understand. I dutifully added context so that readers would understand that when we Brits say Blighty that this is our affectionate term for England.  And when we refer to’ a Blighty one ‘(which we now only do as a historical reference) we are talking about a combat wound bad enough for the sufferer to be sent back to England. Soldiers fighting in the trenches of France in WW1 sometimes shot themselves, usually in the foot, so that they could be sent home. Which gives you some idea of how desperate the poor devils must have been. Continue reading

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The Redoubtable Edwardian raises a glass . . . or two

It is a well-known fact that the Edwardian lady did not drink whiskey –or, for some strange reason, other dark colored alcoholic drinks like port, brandy, beer or stout. It was considered unfeminine and ‘low’. Working class women drank gin –poor desparte things. Sloe gin was a cheap and effective way to deaden the drudgery and desperation of poverty, long before the 1900s. Understandably gin was often referred to as mother’s ruin. Continue reading

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The Redoubtable Edwardian Sense of ‘Hewmah’

The Edwardians were not known for their rapier-like wit but they owned a robust sense of humor that left no one in any doubt as to their meaning whether they were enjoying your company or not.

The laconic observations of the novelists P.G. Wodehouse on writing: “I just sit down at my typewriter and curse a bit,” and E.F. Benson on music: “A little Mozart goes a long way, particularly if it is a long way on a wet night,” are delightful examples of the underplayed humor of the early 20th century. And George Bernard Shaw’s vigorous comedy ‘John Bull’s Other Island’ which premiered at the The Royal Court Theatre in 1904 was so relentlessly funny that King Edward VII, a particularly substantial monarch who enjoyed life to the full, laughed so hard he broke his chair. Continue reading

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Gertrude Jekyll and Old Roses

I have taken the tremendous liberty in A DEATH BY ANY OTHER NAME, which releases on March 14, 2017,  of including among my quirky characters the redoubtable garden designer Gertrude Jekyll.

 

Miss Jekyll designed some of the most beautiful gardens in England,  Europe and America. She bred a number of herbaceous specimens that we grow in our gardens today, and she was also a writer, and talented water colorist. Her own garden at Munstead Wood featured in many of her water colors. Continue reading

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An Edwardian Christmas at Iyntwood

In 1901 when Clementine, Lady Montfort was a young mother with three young children in the nursery it snowed that Christmas Eve as the Talbot family and their servants walked down St. Bartholomew’s church in the village for the evening carol service. Continue reading

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British Tea and the Proper Wielding of Teapots.

tea-china-tea-set
I want to try to clarify some of the rules bout the ritual of tea time as it is probably one of the most misrepresented of British traditions.  

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Winston Churchill in Death Sits Down to Dinner

Churchil 1885 in Hussars uniform

Churchill in 1885 in his Hussar’s uniform

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” ~ Winston S. Churchill

Winston Spencer Churchill was the son of Lord Randolph Churchill, the third son of John Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough and Lady Randolph Churchill  (née Jennie Jerome) daughter of an American millionaire. As a third grandson of a duke, Winston would inherit no title and very little money. Continue reading

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