Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Westermanyarns Discussion Group

A bad time of year to attempt something new, I know, but here goes. I aim to bring like-minded people together by establishing a discussion group/forum. Apart from wishing all my 'westermanyarns' friends 'Seasons Greetings and Very Best Wishes for the New Year, I don't anticipate much else happening with this new project until January, but feel free to surprise me.

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

The First 'Westerman' Seminar

You read it here first! The day has been named for the very first ‘Westerman’ Seminar. To be held in Portsmouth on Saturday 19 February, 2011, at Portsmouth Grammar School. The programme for the day will include guest speakers and an opportunity to view various book collections and ‘Westerman’ related material and memorabilia.

If you are interested in receiving details of this event please email me, and I will send, by return, the latest copy of The Westerman Yarns newsletter and an A4 seminar poster. The full programme will be announced at the end of September ’10.

There are several editions of The Westerman Yarns newsletter. Please let me know which edition you would like:-

  • Dorset Edition
  • Portsmouth Edition
  • General Edition

Tickets will be £10.00, but for the moment I simply need you to register your interest in attending.

For PDF files of the poster or newsletter, or to register interest in attending the seminar, email me at


Monday, July 5, 2010

A Sea Scout Yarn

I have long talked about placing some of the Percy Westerman short stories on my blog. There are so many of these short stories and there are currently no comprehensive listings. They turn up in the most unlikely of places and it is such a thrill when a new story is found. The short story below was published in The Scout, dated May 9th, 1914.

The inspiration for this story may have come from an incident that happened in October 1913. A Mirror sailing vessel carrying eleven London Sea Scouts and two Assistant Scoutmasters from the Mirror Troop of Sea Scouts was run down by the steamer Hogarth in fog in the Thames Estuary at Gravesend, Kent. Three Sea Scouts and one Assistant Scout Master drowned. The inquest recorded that the Mirror was navigated with proper and seamanlike care.

This Sea Scout yarn contains a reference to ‘Turktown’ A nickname for Gosport, near Portsmouth in Hampshire. There are two possible suggestions as to where this name came from. The first is that there once was a strong Turkish community living in Gosport and the second refers to a Turkish ship whose crew became ill with disease that proved fatal for many of them. They were accorded British burial rights and buried at Haslar in Gosport.

In 1909 The Scout Magazine announced the formation of a Sea Scout branch in Glasgow and soon a Seamanship Badge was introduced. In the same year the cricketer Charles Burgess Fry (C.B.Fry) trialed Scouting on the water aboard T.S.Mercury, a nautical school primarily designed to prepare boys for service in the Royal Navy. This is believed to have been the start of the Sea Scout movement.

William Wylie (marine artist) who lived in Tower House at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour was instrumental in founding The 1st Portsmouth Sea Scout Troop in July 1912. It was in the following year that Percy published his first Sea Scout book, ‘The Scouts of Seal Island’. Many of these books began life serialised in The Scout - the official organ of The Boy Scouts.

His son, John. F. C. Westerman moved back to Portsmouth with his wife Murial for a short time in the 1930’s. In 1933, he founded the 38th St Mark’s, Portsmouth Sea Scout Troop. The troop was temporarily disbanded when the Blitz came, as he and others left to join the forces, but the Rover Scouts reinstated the troop again in 1942.

Percy wrote several books with the theme of Scouting, and all of these stories were based near or on water.

The Scouts of Seal Island (1913)
The Scouts of the “Petrel” (1914)
Sea Scouts All (1920)
Sea Scouts Abroad (1921)
Sea Scouts Up-Channel (1922)
The Boys of the “Puffin” (1925)
The Sea Scouts of the “Kestrel” (1925)
The Mystery of the Broads (1930)
Haunted Harbour (1937)
Sea Scouts at Dunkirk (1941)
“Sea Scouts, Alert!” (1955)

The Derelict - A story of When the Sea Scouts Scored
By Percy F. Westerman

My eye! This is thick," remarked Patrol leader George Byng of the Beavers to his opposite number," Patrol Leader Dick Ford of the Seals!

Ford nodded, but said nothing. He had his work cut out in keeping his eyes fixed upon a small spirit compass placed on the grating of the boat's stern-sheets.

The 1st Saltport Troop of Sea Scouts had recently been presented with an ex-navy twenty-four-foot gig - a great improvement on the sixteen-foot cumbersome boat that had served the Sea Scouts during the earlier stages of their career. The gig had (been thoroughly overhauled by a boat-builder at Turktown; the donor, believing that half a gift is no gift, had generously added a complete equipment, and the two patrols had jonrneyed to Turktown to take over the delivery of their new craft.

Sixteen miles of sea separated Turktown from Saltport - sixteen miles of open water with hardly a haven capable of affording shelter should it come on to blow. Con-sequently with commendable caution the Scouts waited till a steady glass gave every promise of fine weather.

Upon arriving at Turktown they found the gig afloat, with all her gear on board. The weather, somewhat unfortunately, was too fine; not a catspaw disturbed the placid surface of the water. Sailing was out of the question. It was to be a case of steady pulling.

Cheerfully the lads tackled their task, the Beavers taking the first half hour, the Seals relieving them at the end of that time. But
before half the distance was covered, a thick sea-fog sweeping down with remarkable rapidity enveloped the boat till it was a. hard
matter to see one end of the gig from the other.

Patrol Leader Ford had just managed to take a compass bearing of Bull Point - a prominent headland not far from the entrance to Saltport Harbour - and allowing for the “indraght” of the tide, he was carefully holding on to the course, indicating with a slight motion of his hand any movement of the gig from her right direction.

“We ought to be picking up the land by now Dick?" said his chum after a while. "I should have thought so, too," agreed Dick. "Here, White, you give Clemson a spell in the bows. Keep your eyes skinned and your ears open and let me know if you see or hear any signs of the surf breaking over the reef.

"Jimmy White, who by the fact of his wear¬ing a naval crown on his left arm showed that he was a King's Sea Scout, made his way for'ard to take up the seemingly useless task of peering into a bank of white fog, while Clemson was glad to take his place on one of the thwarts and warm himself up by a steady pull at one of the heavy ash oars.

"Sure you're not out by this?” asked Byng in a low tone, indicating the compass.

"I hope not” replied Ford. "At any rate, we'll carry on another quarter of an hour before turning in shore. That ought to take us clear of the Point.”

“Something ahead!" sang out White, "A cliff, I think."

“Avast pulling,” ordered Patrol Leader Byng in his best nautical manner, for the lad was the son of a seafaring man and took to the water almost as naturally as a duck. "Back water, all."

Through the fog a dark object loomed up, seeming to overtop the comparatively small gig. It was a steamship, enlarged out of all proportion by the magnifying effect of the moisiure-ladien atmosphere.

"Ship ahoy!" shouted Ford at the top of his voice."Ship ahoy - ahoy!" came an echo.

“Give them another hail, Dick," suggested Byng, who by pulling the starboard yoke line had brought the boat almost parallel with the steamship.

But no response, save the mocking echo, came from the big craft. Except for the gentle lap of the water against her rusty iron sides an uncanny stillness pervaded the ship.

"Strange," remarked Byng. "I don't think she's anchored. I can see her anchor hove right up to her hawse-pipe, and there's enough tide running to show her starboard cable if that anchor is down. And she's not making way either. Give way, there, and let's see what she's like. Easy ahead, together now."

Keeping barely a boat's length off, the gig was rowed slowly past the port side of the ship, which at close quarters appeared to be a coasting tramp of about three hundred tons displacement.

"She's fairly light," observed Patrol Leader Ford, pointing to the Plimsoll mark that showed five feet above the water.

"It's the list she has," replied his chum, "She's heeling over to starboard. Cargo shifted, maybe."

"Her crew have taken to the boats," announced White. "Look at the falls of her davits."

The King's Scout was right. From the four davits on the port quarter a tangle of ropes showed that the crew had made a hasty departure, and that no one had been left on board to haul up the lowering tackle. On her stumpy counter was the name Ragtime of Blackport.

"Look!" exclaimed Ford. ''My word, what a hole !"

The gig had passed under the stern of the derelict and was now heading towards the bows. Almost amidships a jagged rent extending from far below the waterline to the rail betokened that the vessel had been in collision and had all but received her death blow, for on that side barely eight feet of freeboard were showing, whereas on this port side there was nearly twice that height.

"She's sinking. We ought to give her a wide berth," suggested Hythe, who possessing coastwarden's rank saw possibilities of his prowess as a lifesaver being brought into action.

"If she were sinking with that hole in her, side she would have gone down long ago, replied Patrol Leader Byng. "She has water¬ tight bulkheads, and they are keeping the water back. It's a salvage job, you fellows, so Be Prepared. Cox and Jones, you remain in this boat. Grey, take the painter and make her fast astern. Stand by and cast off, if necessary."

"What do you propose to do?" asked the Patrol Leader of the Seals, who in point of seniority had to yield to his chum.

"Do? Why, get her into Saltport Harbour if it can be done – and I think we ought to manage it now there's a breeze springing up. Thompson, you'll be bound to find a lead-line handy; see what depth we're in. Dick, old man, I want you to rummage in the fore-peak and see if there is any canvas. If we are where I think we are, with this light breeze we ought to bring her straight into the harbour. Gilson and Rawlins, you cut below and see what water there is in the holds. Keep your ears open, and if you hear me give a succession of short whistles get back on deck as fast as you know how."

Patrol Leader Byng realised that an opportunity had arrived for the Sea Scouts to show that they were prepared. His responsibility was great, but with an inborn con¬fidence he gave his orders calmly and de¬liberately.

Soon Thompson reported that the lead-line gave eighteen fathoms. Allowing five feet rise for the second hour of the flood, that reduced the soundings to a little more than seventeen fathoms, and Byng knew that the only soundings giving that depth anywhere within thirty miles of Saltport were three miles S.S.E. of Bull Point.

"We were a bit out of our coarse," he remarked. "But perhaps it will be a lucky stroke for us. I wish the fog would lift though."

Presently four of the Scouts came trooping aft, dragging two heavy sails behind them, which upon examination proved to be a stay¬sail and a trysail - just-the canvas Byng hoped to find on board. Both holds were reported dry, and only a few inches of water were found in the lee bilge. Except for the flooded compartment, the Ragtime was as tight as a bottle.

As quickly as possible the staysail was hanked on to the forestay and hoisted. Slowly the tramp’s head paid off, and as the trysail was sent aloft the old hooker gathered way. To Byng's delight she answered her helm in a satisfactory manner, and although the maximum speed was a bare three knots through the water, it was sufficient to keep her fairly under control.

"Take the helm, Dick," he said. "Here's the course; nor'east by north; Gibson, come for'ard with me."

Gibson was the tenderfoot of the Beavers, but a fairly intelligent youth who could be trusted to obey orders.

"Look here," continued the Patrol Leader. "See that lever? That works the compresser. Throw it over and the anchor will be dropped. I want you to stand by, and when I give the word 'let go,” do it, see? I may not .have to give the order for some hours yet, or I may have to very soon, but in any case, Be Prepared."

Byng hastened back to the bridge. The fog was still very thick, but at intervals, owing to the rising wind, it lifted in patches, so that occasionally he could see as far as the bows. Beyond that all was a blur of white vapour.

Presently a fog syren blared out at less than a mile away. Some lumbering tramp, thinking it sufficient to give a warning every five minutes, was ploughing her way as fast as her antiquated' engines could take her.

"She's coming straight for us," announced Ford after an interval. "The sound is much' louder."

Byng knew that as there was no steam raised on board, the syrens of the Ragtime were useless. The only way of giving an alarm was the ship's bell, which by the Board of Trade Regulations is in thick weather only to be used by a vessel at anchor. There was no help for it. The bell had to be used, so adopting a method as different as possible from the recognised anchored signal, Byng sent one of the lads to ring it every ten seconds.

This expedient proved successful, for the oncoming tramp slowed down and altered helm, yet so close, did she shave the Ragtime that the Scouts could distinguish her outlines in the fog.

The lead now showed nine fathoms. Byng began to get anxious, for the coast could not be very far off. Concealing his anxiety, he kept keenly on the alert for the sound of the reed foghorn on the lighthouse at the entrance to Saltport Harbour.

Eight fathoms; seven fathoms. The bottom was shoaling rapidly.

Byng was just on the point of ordering the anchor to be let go to prevent the vessel from going ashore, when with remarkable sudden¬ness the fog lifted. Right ahead, less than half-a-mile away, lay not Saltport Harbour, but Mudbury Haven, a tidal inlet three miles to the east of Saltport. Owing to the set of the tide the tramp had been swept well to the east'ard in spite of Byng's allowance for the rate of the flood.

The longshoremen at the little haven looked greatly surprised to see a fairly large steamer coming in under sail, and scenting a chance of .salvage half-a-dozen boats put off.

Still more surprised were the old shellbacks to find a crew of Sea Scouts aboard, who firmly yet politely declined the eager request to be allowed to give them a hand. Byng knew their little game.

Once the longshoremen gained a footing on the deck of the Ragtime, they had a right to demand a share of the salvage, even if their assistance were practically worthless; so with a chorus of maledictions upon their youthful rivals, the boatmen stood off and waited to see what sort of a mess the Scouts wouldi make of bringing the disabled tramp up in a small and fairly crowded haven.

But Byng knew his business. At a word of command the staysail came flapping down on deck. With a rattle, of chain the anchor plunged to the bottom, and the tramp, with little way on her, swung round head to wind and tide.

It was not long before the coastguards put off, and their amazement was great when they learnt that the new arrival was the Ragtime, for early that morning the officers and crew of that vessel had been landed at Saltport by s.s.Dumbshow. They reported that at midnight their ship had been run down in a fog.

Thinking from the nature of her injuries that she was doomed, the men hurriedly took to the boats, and after rowing aimlessly about for several hours were picked up by the Dumbshow.

For more than twelve hours the badly-injured Ragtime drifted, until the Sea Scouts fell in with her.

ln due course the Admiralty Court awarded a substantial sum to the Sea Scouts for salvage, and with the money the Saltport Troop purchased a floating guard-ship to take the place of the stranded hulk that had hitherto served as their headquarters; while to show that they possessed the true spirit of aiding others, they made a grant towards the funds of the poorer troop at Mudbary - the haven to which Patrol Leader Byng had brought his prize in safety after a nerve - racking ordeal in the fog-enshrouded sea.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Thank you to the Henty Society

The Henty Society made my wife and I very welcome at Worcester University on Saturday 28 June at their summer gathering. After my presentation about the background and research into Percy and John Westerman we chatted over tea and cake – they really know how to treat visitors.

Topics of conversation included illustrators/artists who contributed work for both Percy Westerman and George Henty, book collecting and how my enthusiasm got the better of me in trying to find a hard, common link between Henty and Westerman through their love of sailing and boat ownership. Ann King (Secretary) who is a fountain of Henty knowledge, tactfully put me straight.

My darling wife who has been such a fantastic support and help in the research, and who is my prompt when I have those senior moments, held court with other members of the Henty Society discussing all things Henty and Westerman. It was such a memorable afternoon and so nice being with other special interest book collectors and enthusiasts.

My thanks also to Dr Rachel Johnson MA MCLIP, Research Librarian for Worcester University and her husband for recommending me, and for hosting my wife and I during our visit.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dust Jackets - Dust Wrappers - Dust Covers

I never know what to call them, but the term 'dust jacket ' works for me.

I recently visited a local bookshop and found that they had just purchsed a small, but well looked after, and valued collection of Percy Westerman books, all dated from the 1940's and into the early 1950's. These were obviously loved and cherished books that had been an important part of the previous owners growing up.

Dust jackets, although designed to be functional, are an iconic glimpse into the period of publication. The paper dust jackets can be so attractive. I was told by one book dealer that there are many collectors who only buy books for the cover art. It is such a shame that they are so fragile and do not easily stand the test of time. Dust jackets are often found in a poor state, torn with parts missing, or my personal favourite ' the cellotape repair'.... this stuff should be banned and withdrawn from sale or carry a government warning. Whoops! there I go again. Finding dust jackets in good condition is still exciting. Yes, "My name is Nigel and I have dust jacket envy".

The images with the cover artists/illustrators are:-
Standish Pulls it Off (1940) W Edward Wigfull
Squadron Leader (1946) Terrance T Cuneo
Golden Gleamer (1948) M Mackinlay
Sarabinda Island (1950) A Barclay
The Mystery of the Key (1948) Ellis Silas
Missing Believed Lost (1949) Will Nickless

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Percy Westerman maybe a Bad Influence on Youth

Recently, whilst researching some archived book reviews, I came across this article published in The Saturday Review dated July, 1926. I have copied it, complete with inaccuracies.

We deprecate the mania for inquiry into the tastes and thoughts of very young persons of which we have lately two illustrations. From Croydon it has been solemnly reported that the youth of the nation, so far as it is represented there, is intellectually in a bad way because the favourite author of boys is Mr P. F. Westerman and the favourite of girls is Miss Angela Brazil.

From a world-wide inquiry carried out by the Y.M.C.A. it appears that the youth of the world regards as the greatest men now living Signor Mussolini and Mr Ford, but thinks that in the British Empire there is a strong disposition to promote that eminence Buster Kearton, Douglas Fairbanks and Lou Cheney. But of what consequence is it what the average boy or girl thinks? Public opinion in the next decade, in these as in other matters, will be created, not by the boys and girls whose votes turn the scale in these plebiscites, but by a handful of young people holding quite other views. What matters is the attitude of a gifted minority, not that of the majority.
The Saturday Review
17 July 1926

Buster Kearton – should have read Buster Keaton
Lou Cheney – should have read Lon Chaney
Definition: Plebiscites – A direct vote on some question, usually of importance

It makes me think that the writer was probably ‘ an old hack’ with a very low opinion of young people, and, in an attempt to cobble together two quite unconnected pieces of information that had come his way, he was simply trying to give the reader his biased opinion.

The article was answered a little later by the Chief Librarian of Croydon Public Library – the source of the one of the two threads that generated to the initial article.

Intellectual Degeneracy

SIR – May I be allowed to say, in connexion with, your note on page 59, that it was not solemnly reported from Croydon that its youth were in a bad way because the favourite author of boys and girls were respectively, P.F. Westerman and Miss Angela Brazil. As a librarian I naturally keep watch, in the manner common to all modes of business, on the preferences of my readers. The inquiry that you mention was merely this check applied to the Junior department of the Croydon Public Libraries. The results were given, but no deduction was made from them, and certainly not the one with which you credit us.

Had I expressed any view, it would have been that Westerman is a hearty writer of health adventure yarns of the lineage of Henty and Fenn, and that Angela Brazil is at least wholesome. I wish as much could be said for the gifted young men who are producing fiction for older readers.

I am etc.,
W. C. Berwick Sayers
Chief Librarian
Croydon Public Libraries

Monday, April 19, 2010

Making Contact

I have been accused of not making contact with me easy, and hiding my email address within the text of articles in the blog. In an attempt to answer those critics here is my email address:

Write to me, Nigel aka Blasop. I look forward to hearing from you.