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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

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Thursday, 27 October 2016


Thursday, October 27th., Cadogan Square, London.

I read an article on patriotism yesterday which made me reflect on my own views. The article (not well thought through or written) referred to an OED definition of patriotism as "marked by devotion to the well-being or interests of one's country". The word devotion gives me pause for thought. Surely not implying "my country is always right", or "my country right or wrong" - and yet don't these ideas reflect the views of many in the population at large? Just look at the mindless flag-waving and anthem singing which breaks out at every opportunity. The author of the seminal article seemed to be suggesting that patriotism is good because it makes people feel better. So does alcohol!

So what does patriotism mean? It strikes me that one can feel patriotic (as a Briton) without believing that the existing system of parliamentary democracy has much to commend it; and one can feel patriotic at the same time as believing that a monarchy is an anachronism which should be disbanded; and whilst considering that the system of honours and titles is an embarrassment; and whilst being unable to see any justification for Britain to remain a permanent member of the UN Security Council; and whilst wishing that the British people would embrace their European heritage instead of turning their backs.

In fact it strikes me that there are so many different ways in which one can feel patriotic that there is little point in the term at all. How about we all just get on with making the best of our lives in the nation state we happen to be living in without feeling that we are in any way superior to those living elsewhere.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Spoils of war

Tuesday, October 24th., Comarques, Thorpe-le-Soken.

Image result for "National Projectile factory" nottinghamOn Friday I went to Nottingham under charge of Captain Lloyd, R.N., to inspect a National Projectile Factory. I have written an article on this for the Munitions Ministry propaganda. The press-publicity of the Ministry of Munitions is now in the hands of Sir Hedley le Bas, who did all the recruiting advertising. He was the man behind the famous "Your country needs you" poster. I know him pretty well and when he demands the sacred pen of the novelist it is impossible to refuse. This factory produces 6 inch and 9.2 inch shells. It is turning out 6,000 six inch shells and 2000 9.2 inch shells every week. Just imagine that! And most of the workers here are women. I can't get over the surreal quality of the whole business. All this effort, ingenuity and sheer hard work to make things which are designed to destroy themselves on first use (and incidentally fragile humans who are unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity). What has the world come to?

On Sunday, in dreadful east wind we went to Peldon to see what remains of the Zep. It was worth seeing. 

During the afternoon of September 23rd 1916, one of the ‘next generation’ super-Zeppelins, L33, took to the air for its first operational mission: the bombing of downtown London. The L33 was truly a remarkable piece of engineering. She was 649’ long, with a 78 feet diameter and with a total gas capacity of 1,949,000 cubic feet. Six powerful Maybach 240hp Hslu engines gave the lumbering giant a top speed of 59 mph at a maximum operational ceiling of 13,500 feet. Beside its sheer size, what separated the L33 from its predecessor was its bomb load capacity. An impressive five tons of ordinance could be carried. 

Image result for peldon zeppelinTaking part in the London raid was L33, controlled by Alois Bocker. At approximately ten o’clock GMT, L33 flew over Britain’s coast. The huge dirigible was spotted by some local boys near Thames Estuary. From the Estuary, it moved on towards the north east in order to avoid the heavy saturated British defences in the east. At 11:48 pm, Bocker ordered L33’s bombs to be dropped. Six high explosive bombs landed on Hornchurch. Twenty minutes later, the L33 was seen passing West Ham by a couple of street policemen. A little after 12:05 in the morning, London’s powerful searchlights were turned on. The spotters must have seen the sight of the German slow moving dirigible, because an intense ground attack commenced short after. Bocker’s airship was cruising at 12,000 feet following the Ham’s banks when fire erupted. Despite it all, he and his crew kept up L33’s attack all the way up to Bromley-by-Bow, where the gas giant dropped its main ordinance. One 100kg bomb and five small, incendiary bomblets landed on St. Leonard’s and Empress Streets. Four urban houses were damaged and six people were killed on this early stage of the raid. L33 went on to deliver several more bombs in and around Bow. But by this time, the airship was shadowed by British defences. Low trajectory shells began to find its mark. Several fragments of high detonation shells exploded only a few feet away from the ship’s skin puncturing one gas cell. 

Image result for peldon zeppelinNow the big air platform was in trouble. It began losing altitude fast. At 12:20 am, L33 was seen crossing Buckhurts Hill, leaking gas. Besieged by heavy ground fire, and declining altitude, Bocker decided to dump water from the ship’s ballast tanks, which caused the L33 to regain some of the height it had lost but the damage was done. Near Kelvedon Common, a new and more ominous threat arrived: a British pursuit airplane. Second Lieutenant Alfred de Bathe Brandon was ready for the opportunity to engage the German ship. Brandon met L33 head on, emptying his Lewis gun, fifty explosive incendiary bullets, into the airship’s stern section. He swung around and hit the stern again, but his gun jammed forcing him to call off the engagement. L33 escaped, at least for the moment. It was now 12:45 and the dirigible was passing by Chelmsford, still losing precious high. In an attempt to stem the descent, all non-essential materials aboard were jettisoned. Twenty five minutes after, at 1:10, Bocker’s ship passed over the Essex coastal area near Mersea Island. Its destination was the security of the Belgium skies. Unfortunately for Bocker and his crew, L33 was doomed. The Zeppelin was almost out of gas, losing altitude fast and its structure was compromised. It would go down and the only question for Bocker was where. Two and a half miles inland, at 1:20am, L33 went down on a deserted field near Peldon and Little Wigboroug church. The crew managed to escape before the gas giant was engulfed in a fire storm. Soon after the fire died down, and with the metal frame still standing, Bocker ordered his men to climb back into what was left of the super-Zeppelin to destroy any classified material. Despite their best efforts, the British still were able to gather many essential documents and systems out of the wreck. As for the dirigible’s debris, they were studied by engineers for days. After authorities were satisfied that every drop of information was collected, the ship’s frame was burned to the ground.


Sunday, 23 October 2016

On edge

Sunday, October 23rd., Rue de Calais, Paris

I could not work today. I think I find my nerves more sensitive every day really. I wish letters came just before dinner instead of just after breakfast; then they could not interfere with and disarrange the general 'lay' of one's thoughts for the day's work. On the other hand they might disturb the digestion, and also one's sleep.

One of those days in consequence when my thoughts have turned to suicide; not that I am thinking of committing suicide, but have a desire to be prepared should something happen to seriously disable me. I think I would feel more content if I had a powder of some sort on hand to take should I feel that the time has come. The problem is what powder, and how to get hold of it, and will it work when needed? Of course there are lots of potential ways to end one's life, but most seem unnecessarily painful, undignified,and inconvenient to others. I would like to find some method which involves taking a powder, falling quietly to sleep, and never waking up. That doesn't seem so much to ask, but I have learned from experience that many people are horrified by the mere suggestion. Why has suicide acquired this evil reputation? In Roman times it was regarded as a noble act, and still is I think in Japan. But here in our supposedly civilised European society it is beyond the pale to make sensible preparations. Still, I am not without hope that a way will be found.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A Full Day

Friday, October 19th., Cadogan Square, London.

I wrote 1,000 words of a short story before noon. I then walked two miles and then drove to the Garrick Club. where du Maurier lunched with me. He practically wanted me to re-write Acts 2 and 3 of "The Return Journey". I told him I couldn't but gave him leave to fool around with the play.

Image result for du maurier theatre gerald
Sir Gerald Hubert Edward Busson du Maurier (26 March 1873 – 11 April 1934) was an English actor and manager. He was the son of the writer George du Maurier and brother of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. In 1902, he married the actress Muriel Beaumont with whom he had three daughters: writers Angela du Maurier (1904–2002) and Daphne du Maurier (1907–1989), and painter Jeanne du Maurier (1911–1996). His popularity lay in his subtle and naturalistic acting: a "delicately realistic style of acting that sought to suggest rather than to state the deeper emotions". His Times obituary said of his career: "His parentage assured him of engagements in the best of company to begin with; but it was his own talent that took advantage of them."

We reached the Ravel concert at the Aeolian Hall 20 minutes late and Ravel himself came into the vestibule. We talked a bit. I hadn't seen him since he came to visit us at Comarques in December 1913, so, of course, it was his first meeting with Dorothy. I wonder what he thinks about my change of circumstances? The concert was extremely satisfactory. It seemed to me to be all good music.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016


Saturday, October 18th., Cadogan Square, London

Image result for riceyman stepsLast night I had a letter from a solicitor and notary at Ayr telling me that Professor Grierson of Edinburgh University had awarded me the Tait Black Novel Prize for 1923 for "Riceyman Steps". Money: £141, and asking me if I would accept it! I replied that I would. This is the first prize for a book I ever had. I have a rather strange feeling somewhere in the vicinity of my heart - odd, after 40 years of writing, plenty of critical acclaim, and being in possession of a substantial ego. They said my creative peak was past, and they were right, but there is some life left in the old dog.

The James Tait Black Memorial Prizes are literary prizes awarded for literature written in the English language. They, along with the Hawthornden Prize, are Britain's oldest literary awards. Based at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, the prizes were founded in 1919 by Mrs Janet Coats Black in memory of her late husband, James Tait Black, a partner in the publishing house of A & C Black Ltd. Prizes are awarded in three categories: Fiction, Biography and Drama.