Friday, April 9, 2010

Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...

Friday, 9th April, 2010: from Dublin to Armageddon via Norway

Malcolm got engaged in a thread on, which started off by wondering what the Easter 1916 Rising was intended to achieve:
Was the threat of partition a contributory factor that motivated some of the participants in the rebellion and if so was it wrong to oppose partition?
Later in that exchange came Malcolm's small moment of discovery. Flicking pages, a detail jumped out.

For those of a certain age, who cherish the memory of Anneka Rice's bum disappearing down the street, what follows here may be something of a Treasure Hunt.

Arthur Hamilton Norway (1859-1938) was a British Civil Servant in Dublin. He was, to be precise, Assistant Secretary of the General Post Office, responsible for the packet-boats (the "Mail Boats") to Britain. There's something of a family tradition there: Norway ancestors were involved in the packet service out of Falmouth (and one family member featured as a victim in a murder which led to the last public execution in Cornwall). Somehow that little lot involves the Norway Inn, which Malcolm remembers as a good roadside pub between Truro and Falmouth: which welcomed and catered for families with children (and is still going strong).

At Easter 1916, it was Norway's office that became the command post in the GPO for Connolly and Pearse.

Over many years, Norway had churned out books on a whole range of varied topics, but mainly on travel. Highways and Byways in Devon and Cornwall (1904) is based on local travels in a horse-and-trap by Norway and his brother (a country vet), and has a lingering merit and turn-of-the-Victorian charm.

His wife, Mary Louisa (née Gadsden], and he both wrote accounts of Dublin in Easter Week. Hers comprised half a dozen detailed letters she wrote, and was published in 1916 as The Sinn Fein Rebellion As I Saw It. His was Experiences in War. Keith Jeffrey's The Sinn Fein Rebellion as They Saw It (Irish Academic Press, 1999) comprises both (front cover, right).

Malcolm particularly liked Mrs Norway encountering the elderly lady in the Hibernian (where they were all staying) who complained she couldn't sleep: the guns had stopped, and the "silence made her nervous".

Onward, Malcolm!

The Norway's son, Nevil, aged 17, was on Easter holiday from Shrewsbury School. He volunteered as a Red Cross stretcher-bearer, and so saw the events in Sackville Street up close and personal, receiving a commendation for gallantry.

Nevil Norway was rejected by the RFC because of a stammer (!), and joined up as a private in the Suffolks. Fortunately for teen-aged Malcolm's reading development (that awkward transition from Biggles to adult fiction, that was the fag-end of the war, and young Norway got to nearer to the meat-mincer of the Western Front than North Kent.

Our Nev then went to Oxford to study aeronautical engineering. Then, after Oxford, he went to work for De Havilland and learned to fly. He became deputy Chief Engineer under Barnes Wallis, working on airships (it was the Vickers design that actually worked), and was on the R100's return flights to Canada. In his spare-time he followed a family tradition, and wrote stories and novels (his first published in 1926).

In the Second War he was a Lt-Commander in the RNVR, working on secret weapons. This put him in the Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development which quickly became nick-named "The Wheezers and Dodgers". It also put him on the Normandy beaches on D-Day.

After the war he emigrated to Australia, continuing to write books, as Nevil Shute, which sold bushels through the '40s and '50s. Only the arrival of Ian Fleming knocked him off the top of the charts. The best one, for Malcolm, was one of the last: the nuclear-doomsday On the Beach (1957).

So, in a way, that's "four degrees of separation" from James Connolly to Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire. Sphere: Related Content


Shane said...

Malcom, sorry to go a wee bit off topic, but may I ask whether you think theories that Collins ordered the killing of Sir Henry Wilson are credible?

Malcolm Redfellow said...

Fascinating thought!

My best offer is the essay, on precisely this topic, by Peter Hart for Irish Historical Studies (1992).

After two goes, I'm still not sure whether Hart reaches a positive conclusion.

mewmewmew said...

When the Lady in his Life and Malcolm started visiting here, it was little more than a roadside steak bar. It has brightened, expanded and now puts on a decent appearance. A bit suburban golf-clubby perhaps, but none the worse for that. A mixed clientele makes it a bit more appealing than the norm in these parts.

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