The Somme on TV

I’m sure that the Somme vigils last night were very moving experiences, and it is absolutely right and proper to remember and honour the dead. I was very disappointed, though, with what I saw of the television coverage last night.
What follows may not be a complete account of the programme, since I am allergic to Huw Edwards when he is being pious, and switched off after a while. Read More »

‘What should we read on the 100th anniversary of The Battle of the Somme?’

An article has appeared in the Guardian with the above title. It is not actually about what we should read, but about what they should read, since, after a nod to the better-known war poets, it is mostly about books to give children at the time of the centenary of the Somme. Most highly recommended is the work of Michael Morpurgo, since, according to the author,

he makes it possible for contemporary children to understand better what happened and to understand how it was that teenagers like themselves could handle such dreadful situations.

The author’s highest praise is for Private Peaceful, ‘a remarkable and important book that needs to be read now to remember the Battle of the Somme but also at all times as a reminder of the essential need to preserve peace.’ I have written before about this book’s historical inaccuracies and ludicrous simplifications. Read More »

Nurses and memoirs


Stuart Cloete in 1918

I’d been thinking a bit about nurses’ memoirs when I came across these paragraphs in Stuart Cloete’s 1972 autobiography,  A Victorian Son. When he was fighting on the Somme in 1916, a bullet went through his chest and out the other side. He was sent to a base hospital:

But I was in pain now. Dressing my wound consisted of plugging it with medicated tape which the sister pushed through me with a sort of knitting-needle as an orderly fed it to her out of a bottle of disinfectant. It was a very unpleasant procedure.
The nurses here were regulars. They were beribboned with service medals and wore grey uniforms with scarlet-lined capes. Any milk of kindness they may have had as young women had long since evaporated under the heat of tropic suns. Their handling of wounded men was rough; the male orderlies were more gentle.

Read More »

Air war fiction

I’ve been tweeted with a question about ‘#WWI aviation novels published 1918-1940?’

I can’t suggest very much, but here are some random thoughts:

During the war, flyers were presented as heroes, but most home-based writers had little idea of the technicalities of flying. Actual airmen wrote quite a bit of poetry, but little prose that I know of (except for George R. Samways, who provided stories for the Magnet comic, at least one of which is about airmen). Read More »

‘The Statue’ by Eden Philpotts and Arnold Bennett


The Statue (1908) by Eden Philpotts and Arnold Bennett links in a way to the ‘Future War’ fiction of the pre-1914 era, since the plot is overshadowed by the possibility of crisis and conflict between France and Germany. Both countries are vying to provide a huge loan to the Sultan of Morocco, with a rivalry so intense that it could lead to war: Read More »

Celebrating Mrs Dalloway


Elaine Showalter in the Guardian makes an excellent case for celebrating today as Mrs Dalloway Day (or ‘Dallowday’).

Joyceans have their Bloomsday on June 16th, so why not make a thing of Mrs D. on June 13th (the likeliest date for the party, though Woolf is a bit vague about dates – and a few other things)?

So perhaps we should at least each go out and buy the flowers ourselves today, or maybe just meander on a stream of consciousness for a while. But any readers who are in London today might like to be reminded of the account I wrote several years ago of the day when Marion and I followed Mrs D’s steps from Great College Street to Old Bond Street, and then took up Septimus Smith’s trail from there to Regent’s Park.

Elaine Showalter does point out that retracing the steps of Leopold Bloom gives the pilgrim a very good reason to pop into several pubs along the way. Indeed, the  first known set of literary pilgrims to do the walk (including the poet Patrick Kavanagh and that terrific writer Flann O’Brien ) never made it round the whole circuit for reasons not unconnected with alcohol intake.

Mrs Dalloway offers fewer opportunities of this kind, but you can always pop into Fortnum and Mason for a cup of tea, or into Hatchards for a book.

I’m a long way from  London today, so shall celebrate instead by reading part of the novel. And trying to forgive V.W. for the harm she did to the reputation of Arnold Bennett.

Arnold Bennett and Friends – at Stoke


I had a very good day yesterday at the Arnold Bennett Society conference at Stoke-on Trent. I haven’t been to one of these annual shindigs since 2009 (I described that visit on this blog). Since then I’ve often wanted to return, but the conference date has clashed with other events where I have had standing commitments. No problem this year, so along I went.
The theme was Arnold Bennett and his Friends and Acquaintances. A good subject, because the variety of the friends discussed clearly demonstrated how wide were Bennett’s interests and talents. Read More »

Aircraft Repair Depot

(c) IWM (Imperial War Museums); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) IWM (Imperial War Museums); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Above is a painting of an Aircraft Repair Depot towards the end of the war. Not No. 3 Western depot in Gloucestershire where my grandfather was stationed, but No.1 Southern Aircraft Repair Depot, South Farnborough. The painting is by Graham Glen, and shows  ‘Women’s Royal Air Force at Work on Aeroplane Salvage’. Click it to see a larger version. Read More »

My grandfather

Thanks to those who helped clear up the ‘ T.F.’ mystery. I’m more used to reading novels than Army records. Maybe readers could help me a bit more…

I’ll start by telling the story of my grandfather’s Army service, so far as I know it, which isn’t very far, in the hope that someone might elucidate some of the  puzzles.

My grandfather’s name was George Simmers. Yes, I was named after him, but that doesn’t make me all that special. During my father’s time at sea he had variously a dog, a cat, a canary and a chameleon, all named George. My sister was almost called Georgina, but my mother put her foot down.

He was born in Aberdeen in1868, son of Jonathan Simmers, a Police Sergeant, and Ann (née Jamieson), who had been a domestic servant before her marriage. He probably left school at twelve, since the 1881 census lists him as ‘messenger’. Read More »


At the National Archives last weekend, I did a little more research on my grandfather, and will post about it soon.

Meanwhile, I am puzzled by an abbreviation in the London Gazette :


What does T.F. mean? I bet there’s someone out there who knows.


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