Firestep to Fokker Fodder

Not many comprehensive schools possess chapels, but Magdalen College School Brackley, where I taught English for over thirty years, inherited one from the grammar school from which it took over in 1973.

During chilly assemblies in the chapel, my attention often wandered to some wooden crosses on the wall. These are ex-students’ crosses from First World War battlefields, sent home when they were replaced by the uniform Portland stone grave markers.

I never did find out the stories behind the crosses, but am delighted to learn that Andrew White (whom I taught over forty years ago) has taken up the challenge. He has investigated the journal of William ‘Jack’ Lidsey, who enlisted in the Ox and Bucks in August 1914, fought on the Salient and the Somme, and joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1916.

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Rose Allatini in Hampstead

This is a supplement to a post from last year, in which I described my wanderings round West London, looking at houses where Rose Allatini lived.

Recently, I happened to be in Hampstead, so took the opportunity to look at 142 Fellows Road, the house where Rose Allatini was living at the time when her novel Despised and Rejected was on trial under the Defence of the Realm Act as prejudicial to recruiting. (In the British Library there is a letter from Rose Allatini to Sidney Schiff, with this as the address.) It was presumably a multiple-occupancy house where she had a room (or rooms).

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Writing about Rose

For the past year I’ve been writing about Rose Allatini, and the book is nearly ready for publication. It should be available to buy by the start of June.

I’ve called it Rose Allatini: A Woman Writer. Why? Because Olive, the novelist heroine of …Happy Ever After, her first book, declared: ‘I want to be a woman writer, not a lady novelist.’ Her novel is called Hilary, and it is definitely not conventional romantic fiction. She explains:

I’ll never go into the sevenpenny editions, because Hilary, bless his heart, wasn’t written with an eye to please the British Public. The young person who enters the library and vaguely demands ‘something to read’ won’t like my book, because the heroine neither dies in the snow on Christmas Eve nor marries the eldest son of a peer [….] and to cap it all, my hero ends badly – no, they don’t marry – so you see that in the eyes of the young person I am wholly and completely damned.

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What Helen Zenna Smith did next

It’s good to read someone enthusiastic for Not So Quiet… by ‘Helen Zenna Smith’ (alias Evadne Price). On the Paris Review website, Lucy Scholes makes a strong case for the book (admiring it with fewer reservations than I did in my 2014 paper on Evadne Price and her rather wonderful life of untruths.)

The cover of the first edition of ‘Not So Quiet…’, presented by its publisher, Albert Marriott (alias Netley Lucas), as a factual account of the War.

Lucy Scholes is worth reading, but I’m going to register a disagreement with what she says about the later books that Price published under the Helen Zenna Smith pen-name:

By popular demand, Price—again as Helen Zenna Smith—went on to pen four consecutive sequels: Women of the Aftermath (1931); Shadow Women (1932); Luxury Ladies (1933); and They Lived with Me (1934). A victim of its own success, Not So Quiet is tarnished by its association with these unworthy, increasingly romp-like successors, none of which were able to match the powerful ingenuity of the original.

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Arnold Bennett at the MOI

I’ve just added a new piece to my online ‘Pieces of Longer Writing’.

It’s the text of a paper I gave at an Arnold Bennett Society conference in Stoke in 2017, giving an account of Bennett’s work when he was at the Ministry of Information in 1918.

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Robert Blake (and Sexton)

Sanjay Sircar, a reader of this blog, has sent me an interesting footnote to my long-ago posts about the Sexton Blake detective magazines. His mother , Rani Sircar, wrote a memoir, Dancing Round the Maypole: Growing Out of British India (New Delhi: Rupa, 2003). In this she records that at school in Madras in the 1930s: ‘the burning interest in my life was the continuing story of Robert Blake as retailed to me in Bengali.’

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Kipling advertises War Bonds

I spent a pleasant day in the British Library at Boston Spa yesterday, looking at copies of the Star evening newspaper for 1918. Among the things that caught my eye was this advertisement for War Bonds, featuring Kipling at his most rhetorically fierce.

I’ve read quite a bit of war propaganda over the years, but rarely anything as fevered as this.

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London Opinion

It’s a long time since I was seriously collecting variations on the ‘white feather’ theme, but today I was delighted to come across a postwar variation on the theme in London Opinion, in early 1919, when everyone was asking when demobilisation was going to happen: >

Sound Mirrors

There’s an interesting article on the BBC News website about the concrete sound mirrors erected on the British coast during the First World War. These were designed to catch and amplify the sound of incoming aircraft, and so give warning of air raids. The technology was apparently still being developed till the thirties, when it was supplanted by radar.

The article is here, at

Commando No 5181

Commando comics have been on sale since 1961.
For those who don’t know them – they have a small, square format, containing 64 pages of black-and-white drawings telling a war story, most often about the Second World War. They are published by D.C. Thompson of Dundee, publishers of the once-mighty Beano. The Beano is not what it was. Is Commando?
I was in W.H. Smith’s the other day, and noticed the above cover. It turns out that recently Commando has been doing a series to mark the centenary of the Great War’s ending. Out of curiosity, I bought the magazine – number 5181 of a run of issues that has kept going for fifty-seven years (with the same personnel at the helm for most of that time). Read More »