Monday, October 4, 2021

Deeds of Pluck and Daring in the Great War - The Sharks' Last Fight (1917)

Introduction 

During the Great War many popular writers of boys’ fiction were including episodes of the war in their fictional tales to feed the voracious appetite of their young readers whose overwhelming desire to know what was happening in the war was paramount.  Sometimes the events were disguised, but more often they were simply fictionalised versions of the real action.  

The notion that all writers of war stories at this time were doing so for propaganda purposes may have been born from the fact that many authors of fiction were doing so at the request of their government.

Only four weeks into the war on 2 September, 1914, there was a meeting held in Wellington House, Buckingham Gate, London.  This is one of those occasions where you wish you had the ability to be a ‘time-traveller’ and have a seat at this meeting, for it was there that Britain’s War PropagandaBureau was launched.  Led by the Liberal MP CharlesMasterman, those present around the table were a veritable ‘who’s who’ of literature. The astonishing ‘present’ list included: William Archer, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arnold Bennett, John Masefield, Ford Madox Ford, G. K. Chesterton, Henry Newbolt, John Galsworthy,Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Gilbert Parker, G. M. Trevelyan, H. G. Wells, Gilbert Murray, A. C. Benson and Arthur Quiller-Couch.

Influencing young readers was important for the British propaganda machine with writers such as Captain F. S. Brereton, Escott Lynn, D.H. Parry and of course the ever popular books of Herbert Strang – masking the identities of the formidable writing duo of George Herbert Ely and James L’Estrange  -  all of whom were not part of the Propaganda Bureau establishment, but were all ‘doing their bit’ for the war. 

When the war started Percy Westerman was moving up the ‘boys writers’ ladder with more than 12 published books and numerous short stories and serials in the popular magazines and papers. 

 As the war progressed there was an awkward public demand for information and truth.  The Press Censor Office was doing their job, but the public were starting to learn the official version of the war tinged with the truth from men who had returned with their own stories.  

For young children growing up in the shadow of the Great War, as it was then known, there had already been the books of Elizabeth O’Neill, passed by the censors, beginning withThe War, 1914 – An Explanation and a History for Boys and Girls and the subsequent editions which followed the progress of the war.

 From Percy Westerman’s first book of the Great War, The Dispatch Riders (1915) he continued to write stories which mixed a little fact with a lot of fiction, many reflecting real battles, incidents and episodes of the conflict The Fight for Constantinople (1915), Rounding up the Raider (1916) and A Watch-dog of the North Sea (1917).  It would appear that here, Westerman exercised a certain amount of caution preferring not to give too much away and playing it safe to comply with the Press Censors office; having already been picked up by the censor in one of his earlier tales from The Secret Channel (1918, first published in The Captain Vol. 34 Oct. 1915 – Mar. 1916), where his accuracy in the chapter The Sub’s Hymn of Hate – In a scene where the a disabled British submarine has captured a German fishing trawler to hide behind - lashing themselves to the side in an attempt to be missed by a patrolling German submarine, one paragraph has been completely removed and replaced with the words ‘Deleted by Press Censor’.

 In 1917, Blackie and Son Limited published a series of books for juvenile readers which fitted the aims of the propagandists.  This included Percy F. Westerman’s Deeds of Pluck and Daring in the Great War (1917), a collection of eight essays retelling in his own words actual episodes of the war, allowing his own opinions to be shared with the reader.  This large format book (225mm x 282mm) is fully illustrated throughout with line drawings and a series of full-colour plates by Frank Gillett, Ernest Prater, Mr S. Stott and E. S. Hodgson.  Below is the chapter 'The Sharks' Last Fight.

 

“As a result of the engagement the Shark was sunk.”

This was all that the newspapers told us at first about one of the most glorious deeds ever performed under the White Ensign.  It was not until eight months after the Jutland Battle that the story of the Shark’s gallant fight - a story that will never die - was known, while at the same time honours were given to the heroes of the lost destroyer.

 H.M.S. Shark was one of the flotilla that took part in “The Destroyers’ Balaclava”, a fine attack in broad daylight upon a much larger force of big German battle-cruisers, supported by light cruisers and torpedo-craft.

 Early in the fight the Shark became the target of a hundred quick-firers, and, in turning, she was disabled by a shell that cut the main steam-pipe.  At the same time another shell smashed the bridge, a fragment of steel breaking the steering-wheel, and wounding the coxswain in the right hand.

The Shark, losing way, came to a standstill under the enemy’s fire.  Up pelted her consort the Acasta, and offered to tow the crippled destroyer out of action.

 “No; look after yourself,” was the brave answer, and the Acasta held on her way.

 “Man the other wheel,” ordered the Shark’s captain when the coxswain reported the destruction of the steam steering-gear.  The man obeyed, the skipper assisting him to connect up the hand-wheel; but while doing so the coxswain was again wounded, this time in the face.  All the while the destroyer was doing her level best to train her torpedo-tubes upon her foes, and keeping up a rapid fire with the guns that yet remained in action.

 Completely disabled, the Shark was rapidly knocked to pieces.  Her boats were shot away while in the act of being lowered; men fell in heaps upon her shell-splintered decks.

The captain, wounded in the leg, was having his injuries attended to when he noticed the coxswain’s wounded face, and told him to get his eye dressed.

“There is no doctor, sir,” replied the petty officer; for the doctor had just been killed, as he was standing by the torpedo-tube and attending to a wounded seaman.

Though badly hurt, the captain made his way to the 'midship three-pounder - the only gun now able to reply to the enemy's fire.

“Go on, Hope; you are doing splendidly!” he shouted to the seaman serving the gun, from which more than a hundred shells had been fired; and to show his appreciation the skipper patted the man on the back.

Up out of the mist tore ten German torpedo-boats and light cruisers, all firing at 600yards range into the crippled Shark.


                     "Go on, Hope; you are doing spendidly!"

The captain then received another wound, a shell cutting off his leg above the knee.  Two of his devoted men applied a rough bandage to stop the bleeding, and the skipper, sitting up on the shell-swept deck, awaited the end which he felt must now be very near.

Suddenly he noticed that the Shark was showing no colours.

“What’s wrong with the ensign?“ he asked.

“Shot away, sir,” was the reply.

“Hoist another.”

Proudly the White Ensign flew out in the air, thick with smoke, and there it remained during the rest of the fight  -  a one-sided fight now, for the last remaining gun had been smashed.

The Shark was sinking fast, but even then the Huns were not content to leave her alone.  A torpedo-boat, dashing up, let loose a torpedo at close range, and, with a terrific explosion, the Shark plunged to the bottom of the North Sea.

 A handful of survivors found themselves swimming for dear life on the icy-cold water.  The coxswain and three of the Shark’s men came across their wounded but fearless commanding officer floating helplessly, supported by his inflated waistcoat.

“Lets have a song lads!” suggested the skipper, and the gallant lads sang again and again until the numbing cold made this impossible.

Hours passed. Several ships, tearing along at full speed, came within sight.

“Are they British or Huns?” asked the captain anxiously.

 “British, sir.”

 The dying skipper knew then that the British had gained the day; that they still held command of the sea.

“That’s good,” he murmured as the ships passed.  So urgent was their mission that they could not stop to save the men in the water.  Shortly afterwards the captain died from loss of blood and exhaustion.

 Hours later, the almost unconscious survivors were rescued by a Danish steamer, and after a time sent back to England.  Six of them, including the coxswain, received the Distinguished Service Medal, while to the dead skipper (Commander Loftus William Jones) was awarded the highest reward of bravery, the Victoria Cross.

Chapter One: 'The Sharks' Last Fight'. From: Deeds of Pluck and Daring in The Great War - Narrated by Percy F. Westerman and published by Blackie and Son Limited (1917).

I have recently received messages on this blogs contact form which I have not replied to, as they are flagged up as suspicious.  To the person from India who was trying to dispose of 200 Westerman books, I'm afraid the carriage costs would make it a non starter.  If I am wrong and these are genuine enquiries, I apologies.  If you are determined to contact me, please send me a letter.

Many thanks
Westerman Yarns

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

A Christmas Gift Idea for a Bookish Person

Book collectors and literature history enthusiasts or anyone who has spent time browsing the shelves of secondhand and antiquarian bookshops may have often picked up a book and wondered about the story behind the book held in their hands, or the author of this once popular publication.  So many names who were once a topic of playground talk from an age when reading was more popular than the latest computer games or celebrity Facebook, but whose names in this age of the internet are now all but forgotten   However, help is now at hand, because earlier this year children’s literature academic Dennis Butts published a series of fascinating essays exploring some of these lost children’s authors and publishers.  Dennis Butts is a former chairman of the Children’s Books History Society and taught children’s literature at Reading University.  He has a life-long interest in the relationship between politics, society and literature and has written on many aspects of children’s books.

His new book, The Vagaries of Fame: Some Successes and Failures in Children’s Literature is available exclusively through Amazon, as a print on demand paperback publication and now as a downloadable Kindle book.  In an age where writers such as J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series have achieved global fame, The Vagaries of Fame examines more closely the lives and works authors including Gillian Avery, William Mayne, Percy F. Westerman, Dr William Gordon Stables and F. W. Farrar.  Farrar’s school-story Eric, or Little by Little first published in 1858, became enormously popular, selling thousands of copies, and reaching a 43rd edition by 1919, but today it is almost forgotten; lost to the dusty corners of a few secondhand bookshops, but still valued by some collectors. 

In this book Dennis takes each of the authors, discusses their popularity at the time and suggests reasons why they may have fallen from grace.  He also explores the rise and fall of the birth of the technological age at the BBC and their groundbreaking ‘Children’s Hour’ programmes and takes a look at some of the once popular publishing houses that have since been lost in the mists of time.

A recent review in The Children’s Books History Society Newsletter said ‘Dennis Butts wears his knowledge lightly and presents his subjects and his opinions with a refreshing energy...’ and Nigel Gossop from the Westerman Yarns Collection said ‘This is such a useful and immensely readable and informative book; a great reference source and a wonderful gift for anyone with an interest in collecting or learning more about children’s literature.’

Search for The Vagaries of Fame by Dennis Butts on Amazon.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Vagaries of Fame: Some Successes and Failures in Children’s Literature - A new book by Dennis Butts


Dennis and I back in 2011 at Portsmouth Grammar School
A new book by children’s literature history specialist Dennis Butts, includes a chapter dedicated to Percy F. Westerman and is now available from Amazon Publishing.  

In an age where writers such as J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series have achieved global fame, this new book The Vagaries of Fame: Some Successes and Failures in Children’s Literature examines the lives and works of some authors and their books who, having achieved popularity, have since disappeared from bookshop shelves, libraries and publisher’s lists, never to return.

Dennis said, “This is a topic that I have been considering for some while; to explore the ways certain authors and their books, having achieved great success for a time, seem to have disappeared from public favour, such as F. W. Farrar’s school-story Eric, or Little by Little first published in 1858, it became enormously popular, selling thousands of copies, and reaching a 43rd edition by 1919, but today it is almost forgotten.”

The Vagaries of Fame is a carefully considered collection of informative essays discussing ephemeral successes, ranging from the eighteenth-century poet Christopher Smart, taking in nineteenth-century writers including William Brighty Rands, Percy F. Westerman and Dr Gordon Stables and including such cultural phenomena as the juvenile drama Where the Rainbow Ends, children’s comics and the BBC’s Children’s Hour.   Modern writers discussed include Gillian Avery and William Mayne and a concluding chapter looks at ‘one-off’ successes, such as Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty.

Ideological, technical and generic factors all play their part in this consideration of the vagaries of literary reputations, in an attempt to understand some of the reasons for the failure and decline of what were once popular juvenile literary successes.

The Vagaries of Fame, priced at £10.00 is a print-on demand Amazon Publication.

Dennis Butts is a former chairman of the Children’s Books History Society and taught
children’s literature at Reading University.  He was a regular contributor to the Westerman Yarns Newsletters and was an ardent supporter of the Westerman Seminars.  With a life-long interest in the relationship between politics, society and literature he has written on many aspects of children’s books.  His recent publications include Children’s Literature and Social Change (2010), and with Peter Hunt, How Did Long John Silver Lose His Leg? and Twenty-Six Other Mysteries of Children’s Literature (2013) and Why Was Billy Bunter Never Really Expelled? and another Twenty-Five Mysteries of Children’s Literature (2019) (all published by Lutterworth Press).

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Sailing into Portchester Castle



I am currently transcribing some of the sailing logs and articles that Percy wrote; some for publication and others for his own records.  I have just found a reference to Portchester Castle that featured in the story The Prisoner of War -  A tale of Portchester Castle During the Napoleonic Wars, posted on this site in October last year.  Interesting to note that he visited the castle in the spring of 1905, sailing up to the watergate in his vessel Clytie I.

"Right ahead rose the massive square tower of Portchester Castle, and practically at high water we ran ashore at a hard near a little quay by the watergate of the castle.  Here we spent a couple of hours in wandering round the interesting old ruin, for interesting it certainly is, though possessing practically no history of romantic character".

Maybe his visit prompted him to give the castle some of the 'romantic character' that he thought it lacked.

Friday, October 25, 2019

In the near future...

Thanks for dropping-in on the Westerman Yarns blog site.  My departure in doing 'other things' over the last couple of years was very much due to my over commitment to other projects and organisations, but I am now back at my Westerman Yarns desk and dusting off my book collections that have been neglected of late.   I'm embarrassed to realise that my last blog post was 18 months ago.  However, I am, I hope, now in a position to get cracking with posting some new stuff.... and some old stuff that once appeared in the newsletters.

I've started the ball rolling by posting a very early Percy Westerman story The Prisoner of War - A Tale of Portchester Castle During the Napoleonic Wars which I hope you will enjoy.  If you want me to post anything on the site, please feel free to send me a message.

The Prisoner of War - A tale of Portchester Castle During the Napoleonic Wars


Introduction
This very rare Westerman story was written for a paper titled Pink’s Pictorial, published by William Pink, a Portsmouth grocery business, for their Christmas 1908 edition.  The story is preceded by a very flattering article about Percy and was clearly included to promote the release of his first book A Lad of Grit.  The Prisoner of War is written to appeal to the more mature reader and is interlaced with flashes of humour.  The story relies heavily on Percy’s local and historical knowledge and real locations.  Today the locations referred to in the story are still easy for the literary tourist to access.  Portchester Castle is open to the public; managed by English Heritage and the Old Portsmouth area still retains the early fortifications and is a thriving cultural centre of artists studios, cafes and bars. With some imagination it is not difficult to envisage how it might have looked to the heroes of our story.




Pink's Pictorial: There are two copies of this particular edition that we know of. One is held in the Westerman Yarns Collection and the other can found in the Portsmouth City Records Office.  Both copies are in a fragile condition.  The paper used has become fried with age and speaking only of our copy (now conserved in Melonex pockets), it has the consistency of a pack of very dry crisps - the paper will crumble if handled.


Portchester Castle is just a few minutes drive from my home and is a wonderful place for a walk at all times of the year.  It's imposing walls are a breathtaking feature of the seascape at the head of Portsmouth Harbour.  The picture above is taken at a high tide.

The Prisoner of War
A Tale of Portchester Castle During the Napoleonic Wars
by Percy F Westerman

You ask me, my friends to tell you of the circumstances under which I, Jean Francois Sainte-Marie du Petite Thouars, ex lieutenant de vaisseau, became an Englishman – a citizen of La Perfide Albion? It is a long explanation, but, in brief, I can reply, “C’est l’amour.”

I hasten to explain.  When in the year 1805, Milord Nelson had gone on a fruitless voyage to the West Indies in pursuit of Villeneauve, the waters of La Manche, or, as I must now term it, the English Channel, were thought to be clear of the presence of the dreaded British men-of-war.  Then it was that the 44-gun frigate “Curieux” sailed from L’Orient, intent upon capturing such misguided English merchantmen as dared to close over the shores of La Bella France, and on the “Curieux” sailed I. Lieutenant Jean du Petite Thouars.

On the second night after weathering Ushant we sighted a strange sail, and in close pursuit we held her until late in the middle watch.  At length we fired a gun as a signal for her to heave-to, and, with a creaking of tackle, her mainyard was swung aback, and we immediately forged close alongside.

Then to our utter surprise and consternation a voice hailed us in execrable attempt to speak the French tongue: “Rendezvous, Johnny Crapaud; nous sommes dam big frigat de quatrevingt cannons.”

Here was a terrible position – over our vessel but 44 guns opposed to an English 80 gun.  In the confusion that followed we attempted to sheer off, but with a flash and a roar that shook the very heavens, the Englishman let fly a broadside that brought our foremast down with a run, and littered the decks with broken spars and tangled cordage.  Then, almost before we were aware of it, the accursed frigate was rubbing alongside, and three score half-naked fire-eaters were slashing and hewing on our decks.

For my part, I was opposed to a great brute of a man, armed with a heavy capstan bar.  By the feeble light of the fighting-lanterns I could see his huge body stripped to the waist, his powerful arms with muscles like iron rods, and a head around which was bound a scarf of red silk that served to intensify the look of ferocious hatred on his face.

It is an honourable deed to be able to shed one’s blood in the defence of one’s country; but my faith, when it comes to having one’s brains knocked out by a savage Englishman it is time to cry “Halt”.

Can you blame me, then, my friends when I incontinently turned and ran down the main-hatch?  But, alas! it was the same everywhere; the enemy had poured in through the main-deck gun-ports, and, before we could realise the fact, we were battered down our own hold – prisoners of war.

What, then, do you think these accursed English afterwards told us?  (Excuse me, my friends, if in the excitement of my narrative I for a moment forgot that I myself am now an Englishman.)  They informed us that the vessel which had captured us was but a 28-gun frigate, and that our crew out-numbered theirs by at least a hundred men.

Oh! The bitter tears of mortification that we shed at this astounding information of the heartless perfidy of our foes; but lamentations were useless, and four days later the “Curieux” was towed into Portsmouth Harbour, where, under a strong guard, we were sent to the gloomy castle of Portchester.  Fortunately, we were spared the horrors of the prison-hulks, tales of which had spread throughout the length and breadth of La Belle France; but even now I cannot repress a shudder at the reminiscences of that terrible castle, though, par Dieu, even that gruesome place brought me some good fortune, as I will hasten to explain.

Two stories of the massive castle keep were devoted to the use of captive officers.  There were majors, captains and lieutenants of all branches of the army; artillery, hussars, chasseurs, and infantry of the line; but the greater part of the prisoners were naval officers, whom, you must know, were of superior stock to those of the army, the latter having risen almost to a man from the ranks of the Republican forces that had fought at Valmy and Fleurus. In consequence, there was little love lost between the representatives of the two arms of the service, and, instead of being staunch companions in misfortune, petty jealousy led to frequent quarrels and strife.

Slowly the long months of captivity passed, winter giving way to spring, which in turn was followed by summer.  During this time I applied myself diligently to study of the English language, and by degrees became quite proficient in its various idiosyncrasies.

Although treated in a different manner to the common soldiers and seamen we were treated to the indignity of being inspected every Thursday afternoon by crowds of curious visitors.  I say inspected advisedly, for although some came to buy the small nick-nacks our men cleverly made from bones and straw, or to haggle over the price of a few yards of lace, the majority simply regarded us an exhibition for their idle curiosity.

But one afternoon towards the end of June came a small party of visitors, escorted by a Major Parsons, of Denbigh Militia, who was in charge of our guards.

The major was a short, apoplectic-looking man, who apparently suffered from gout and an excess of ort wine, judging by his complexion and his irascible temper.

On this occasion his daughter formed one of the party.  How shall I describe Violet Parsons? C’est impossible.  Imagine a dainty, petite maiden, with clear-cut features, sweet blue eyes full of compassionate regard, and a wealth of golden hair – not straw-coloured, but approaching the rich tints beloved by Titian.  To this day I marvel how the major could have been the father of such a sweet little lady.

For one brief moment she lingered behind the rest of the party  “Poor man, I am so sorry for you,” she whispered; then, as if abashed by her boldness, she was gone.

It was but a glimpse of an angel of pity, yet it left an ineffaceable impression on my mind.

Slowly the week passed, and I lived only in the hope of seeing her again the following Thursday; but, alas, my expectations were doomed to failure.

When next she came she was accompanied by an elderly female, and for an all-too-brief five minutes we conversed, during which time I learned that she lived in the adjoining village and that she had taken a great interest in my unhappy condition.

From that time her visits became regular, and I knew that a French officer can make other conquests than those of arms.  My actions, however, were not to be kept concealed from my companions in captivity, and many a harmless jest at my expense was passed by my brother officers, which, in the happiness of my love, I could well afford to treat lightly; till one day an ill-conditioned bully, one Du Barry, a captain of chasseurs, passed a course remark concerning my idol, which no true gentleman could possibly ignore.  What he said I need not repeat, but my reply was a violet blow what wrought havoc on even his brutal features.  As a result, his seconds waited upon me that evening.

You have doubtless heard, my friends of the manner in which a duel was fought amongst us in these affairs of honour?  No?  Then I will tell you.  In the north-east corner of the room in which we were confined is a little cage-like hole in the outer wall of the keep.  If you chance to visit the castle you may still see it.  Imagine a hole 7ft. in length, and not high enough for a man to stand upright.  Into this den, in the dead of night, the two principals enter, both stripped (to avoid subsequent detection) like veritable “Sans culottes,” and armed with formidable daggers fashioned from the ribs of an ox.

It is soon over.  The survivor emerges, often covered with blood; the body of the vanquished is reclothed and cast through a narrow window into the courtyard of the castle, 80ft below.  Next morning the British military authorities announce that yet another prisoner has embraced suicide as the only way of escape.

This was the manner in which we fought, but, needless to say, it was not the body of Jean du Petit-Thouars that was unceremoniously buried without the castle walls.

At our next meeting I told my love of this little incident and never shall I forget the horrified look that overspread her features, and by her unguarded reply I know my affection was reciprocated.

“To think you killed a fellow-man on my account!” she exclaimed.  “Promise me that you will not quarrel with any of them again; for, if anything befell you, I know not what I should do.”

In truth the affair with Du Barry had established my reputation amongst my comrades, and I had little to fear in that respect; but my one desire was to break out of this gloomy prison and flee with Violet as my wife.  Though not romantic, my sweetheart consented to the project with fervour.

“Once you are free,” she said, “we can make our way to the Isle of Wight, where I have relations, and there we can be married.  By posing as an émigré – and there are thousands of Frenchmen loyal to the successor of Louis XVI who have taken refuge in this country – you will be free from molestation.”

We thereupon formed a plan, which we put into instant execution.  Every Thursday for nine long weeks my fiancée brought, with the greatest secrecy, a piece of rope ten or eleven feet in length, which, with a sailor’s dexterity, I spliced into one long length, working the silent hours of the night and hiding my handiwork by day.

At length the time for my attempt arrived.  It was Christmas Eve, a black night, with a keen east wind, while ever and anon the snow fell heavily.  Directly my companions had turned in I vigorously attacked the iron bars of one of the windows with a well-oiled file.  Half an hour’s work and the task was completed.  Hastily knotting one end of the rope to a broken bar, I cautiously looked out through the aperture before dropping the cord to the ground.

Outside was all quiet; the last roisterers keeping Christmas Eve in the village had fallen asleep, while not a light glimmered through the darkness.  Just as I was about to lower the rope I heard the voice of the sentries.  “Number Four: all’s well!” shouted a hoarse voice almost beneath my window, and the cry was taken up by Number Five, some fifty yards away.  Leaning well out, I could detect immediately beneath me the glint of the man’s bayonet, and the dim outlines of the top of his shako and his heavy knapsack.

“Mon Dieu! It is hopeless,” I muttered; but, to my great satisfaction, I heard the sentry’s footsteps as he made off, doubtless to join his comrade in some shelter from the keen wind until the sergeant made the rounds.

“Courage, mon ami,” I whispered to myself; then, dropping the free end of the rope, I swung over the edge of the abyss, and the descent began.  Spinning round and round, like a joint of a roasting jack, at one time grazing my face against the rough stone wall, at another gazing into the black obscurity of the night, my progress was painfully slow.  In spite of the muscular effort, which caused the sweat to pour down my face in rivulets, my hands were rapidly becoming numbed with the piercing cold, till the distance between each hand-grip became shorter and shorter, and I felt my strength ebbing away.  A torrent of thoughts flashed through my mind in those awful moments, till, my arms refusing to perform their task, the rope slipped through my hands, and, hardly suppressing an involuntary cry, I fell –

I struck the soft earth with a dull thud, and helplessly rolled several feet.  Then, realising that I was still alive, I staggered to my feet, conscious of a sickly pain in the neck and burning wounds in my lacerated palms.  Wading through the tidal moat, I reached the friendly shelter of an avenue of trees, and followed the pathway towards the shore where Violet had promised to await me.

True to her tryst, my sweetheart was there, and even in the darkness saw that she was attired in the garb of a sailor her figure trembling with suppressed emotion.

“Put these on,” she whispered, thrusting a bundle into my arms, and a few seconds found me clad in the uniform of a British captain of Marines, a heavy sea cloak completing my disguise.

Without another word she turned and made her way down a slippery hard, I following closely at her heels.  It was now nearly three-quarter ebb, and the tide was rushing furiously down the narrow channel.  With the utmost caution we launched a small boat, and with muffled oars I rowed silently down the stream, the dark, grim outlines of my former prison seeming to slip past as the swift current bore us southward towards happiness and freedom.

Oh! The memories of that Christmas morning, as, in the piercing cold and blinding flakes that tended, if possible, to increase the darkness – for it was now snowing heavily - found myself afloat in a frail cockle-shell with one who had staked her all in the welfare of a Frenchman and an enemy, and even as I pulled laboriously at the heavy oars, I indulged in pleasant reveries of the future.

My dreams were rudely shattered by an almost imperceptible shock, the boat running hard and fast on a hidden mud-bank.  Try as I could, the little craft remained immovable.  Violet gave a little cry of dismay.

“It’s Basket Point!”  she exclaimed.  “We are doomed to stay here till the tide floats us, and long before that we shall be seen by the guards at the castle.”

“Never, if I can help it,” I replied; “I’ll jump overboard and haul her off.”

“No, you must not,” she answered imperatively.  “Look!” And, suiting the action to the words, she pushed one of the oars into the filthy slime.  Six feet it sank without the slightest effort, and I realised the fruitlessness of the attempt.

Nothing could be done, so we sat huddled together for mutual warmth, awaiting in blank despair the daylight that was to reveal our presence to my captors, till, to our intense delight, we found that the tide had changed and the waves were already lapping the boat’s stern.

Filled with renewed hope, we waited till the boat floated, and then resumed our perilous journey.  An hour’s hard rowing brought us abreast of the first of the line of yellow-painted prison hulks, and we could distinctly hear the measure tread of the vigilant sentries.

“Hark! A boat is coming this way,” whispered my love.  “What if they hail us?”

“I will reply to them,” I answered stoutly.  “My English is perfect.”

“Your English is perfect only when your mouth is shut firmly, Jean,” retorted Violet, with a suppressed laugh.  “Quick!  Tie this round your face, and pretend you have been wounded in the mouth, and that you cannot speak a word,” and, whipping a black silk scarf from round her neck, she dexterously bound it about my head.

My heart was literally in my mouth, in spite of my confidence in a woman’s wit; but, fortunately, we were not observed, though the strange boat passed within a few oars’ lengths of us, and without further incident we passed the last of the hulks and gained the more frequented part of the harbour, where the presence of a boat was not likely to excite suspicion.

The snow had long left off, and a grey light was dawning in the east.  All at once the sound of a peal of bells floated over the water.

“St Thomas’s bells!”  exclaimed Violet; “’Peace, goodwill towards men.’  It is a happy omen, Jean,” to which I returned a fervent “Amen.”

Faint with hunger and exposure, we at length ran our boat ashore at Point, the watermen, seeing we were without baggage, giving us but scant head, for maimed and wounded officers were common objects in those days; and Violet, in her role of ship’s boy, led me to an inn, where she ordered breakfast for her “master, who had just been wounded in action.”

It was a dingy room, smelling vilely of rum and tobacco smoke, and, while the slatternly maid was busy preparing the meal, I, for the sake of appearances, took up a “Gazette” that lay on the table.

Suddenly my indifference was turned to intense excitement, for in the list of names of officers to be exchanged appeared, “Lieutenant George Herbert Willoughby, His Britannic Majesty’s Ship ‘Blazer,’ in exchange with Lieut. Jean Francoise Ste. M. Du Petit-Thouars.”

Patriotism and love fought but for an instant in my heart; then, directly the servant had retired, I showed Violet the fateful message.  A deathlike pallor overspread her sweet features as she whispered:

“Then what we have done is of no purpose.  You are now free to return to the France you love so well.  Forget the unhappy English girl –“

But she could say no more, for, folding her in my arms, our lips met for the first time.

“The English officer can find another French Lieutenant,” I exclaimed.  “Jean Francois du Petit-Thouars has found another country, and, what is more, a devoted woman’s love.”


Pinks Pictorial
Christmas Edition

1909