Henry Williamson was not, like some authors, an inveterate writer of letters to The Times, as can be seen from the short list below. Indeed, his first was written only at the request of others, while most fall into the period immediately after completing the final volume of A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight, when, for perhaps the first time in his life, he had some time on his hands.


We have endeavoured to give his letters some context, where this is needed, and have included also responses from others. Original cuttings have been scanned for most; others have been researched via The Times Archive online.



                          30 December 1937       Norfolk coast scenery
  19 August 1959   From reed to fish
  15 June 1962   Snow on their boots 
  25 March 1966   The Forsytes 
  4 April 1966   The Forsytes 
  7 March 1967   Birds of property 
  24 April 1967    Book piracy 
  18 July 1967    No grasshoppers 
  22 November 1967   Mr Fred Majdalany 
  18 July 1968   ‘Shot in the arm’ 
  7 December 1968   Ordeal by owl 
  20 March 1969   The guinea passes 
  24 July 1970   Triple suffering 
  13 August 1971   Old Contemptibles 







In 1937 HW was a newcomer to the North Norfolk coast area, but no doubt it was his relatively high profile as a well-known author that appealed to those who persuaded him to write concerning the threat to Stiffkey marshes, as the British government belatedly sought to improve its training of the country's defence forces, with the threat of imminent war.


The Times, 30 December 1937:


letters1 30december1937




The War Office felt it necessary to comment in the next day's newspaper:


The Times, 31 December 1937:


letters1 31december1937a


The picture, says its caption, was taken from Camp Hill – a part of HW's Old Hall Farm:


letters1 31december1937b





HW's near neighbour, Louis Cafferata, offered his support, in a letter published in the new year; he was another newcomer to Stiffkey, having bought the Old Hall at roughly the same time that HW bought his farm:


The Times, 4 January 1938:


letters1 4january1938





Then, finally in this sequence, a few days later there were published these two letters:


The Times, 8 January 1938:


letters1 8january1938




There was also a leading editorial in The Times, coverage in the national press and, of course, substantial space given to the matter in the local press. The whole saga is explored further in Anne Williamson's  'Stewkey Blues: a local issue' in HWSJ 40, September 2004, an issue devoted to HW's Norfolk Farm. Arguments and protests became irrelevant once war was declared, and the military did indeed eventually arrive in Stiffkey, being based at Camp Hill on HW's land.





What prompted this letter, we don't know.


The Times, 19 August 1959:


letters2 19August1959




This reader disagreed strongly with HW's contention that a fish's tail-fin was not used for propulsion:


The Times, 27 August 1959:


letters2 27august1959





Barbara Tuchman's August, 1914, a best-selling history of the events leading up to the outbreak of war and the first month of the war, was awarded the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-fiction (the History Prize being restricted to books on American history). Published in the UK by Constable in the summer of 1962, it was reviewed anonymously in The Times on 7 June. The first to comment on a particular point in the review was Peter Fleming (traveller and author, brother of Ian Fleming):


The Times, 13 June 1962:


letters3 13june1962


His theory was supported by another, though HW quoted a different explanation:


The Times, 15 June 1962


letters3 15June1962





It became common knowledge early in 1966 that the BBC were planning to dramatise the various volumes comprising John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga, and HW, in his letter of 25 March, started a hare that ran to numerous letters from others concerning pronunciation, just a few of which are given below.


The Forsyte Saga, the last major BBC drama to be filmed in black and white, was shown in 26 weekly episodes on BBC2 from January 1967. This in itself was contentious, as BBC2 used the new broadcasting system of 625 lines, which gave better picture definition than the old 405-line system. The problem was that it needed a new television to receive it, and there were many complaints from viewers unwilling or unable to upgrade their set; so many indeed, that in September 1968 the series was broadcast on BBC1. Already a hugely successful series, with the repeat it is thought that 18 million viewers watched the last episode. The BBC sold the series to 26 countries, including the USSR. It had a marvellous cast, with Kenneth More (Young Jolyon), Eric Porter (the domineering inflexible man of property, Soames), Nyree Dawn Porter (his wife Irene), Joseph O'Connor (Old Jolyon) and Susan Hampshire (Fleur) among the actors.


The Times, 25 March 1966:


letters4 25march1966




The Times, 28 March 1966:


letters4 28march66




The Times, 31 March 1966:


letters4 31march66




The TImes, 4 April 1966:


 letters4a 4april1966





The Times, 7 March 1967


letters5 7march1967 





Book piracy – the unauthorised reprinting of books by publishing companies which ignored copyrights, based chiefly in the Far East – was a particular problem at this time.


The Times, 24 April 1967:


letters6 24april1967





This is perhaps the best remembered of HW's letters to The Times.


The Times, 18 July 1967:


letters7 18july1967




It drew this news item in the Midlands-based Express & Star the next day:


letters7 19july1967





A few words about Fred Majdalany would seem to be appropriate here, for he seems to be a forgotten writer today, with not even a mention in Wikipedia. Yet he wrote some very good books, both novels and histories. Born in Manchester in 1913, before the Second World War he worked in Fleet Street, largely as a freelance writer and drama critic. Joining the army in September 1939, he was commissioned into the Lancashire Fusiliers in early 1940 after a period in the ranks. He fought in North Africa with the 2nd Battalion and then in Italy, where he was awarded the Military Cross. Post-war he returned to his career in journalism and also worked for the BBC.


Majdalany's first novel, The Monastery (John Lane, 1945), about the final battle for Monte Cassino, was published soon after the war's end, and was dedicated 'For my friends of all ranks in the 2nd Battalion The Lancashire Fusiliers'. His second novel, Patrol (Longmans, Green, 1953) followed the fortunes of a squad of soldiers in North Africa. Both novels carried strong autobiographical elements. His best-selling and critically-appraised study Cassino: Portrait of a Battle (Longmans, Green) was published in 1957, and this was followed by The Red Rocks of Eddystone (Longmans, 1959), a very readable account of the building of the four successive Eddystone lighthouses; State of Emergency: The Full Story of Mau Mau (Longmans, 1962); The Battle of El Alamein (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1965); and The Fall of Fortress Europe (Hodder & Stoughton, 1969), this latter being published posthumously. Majdalany was only 54 when he died on 15 November 1967.


Majdalany's obituary in The Times (17 November) made no mention of his support for P.E.N., the international association of poets, essayists, editors and novelists, and HW, himself a staunch supporter, wrote this postscript to mention this and pay his own tribute. (P.E.N. had its beginnings in The To-Morrow Club, founded by Mrs Dawson Scott in 1917; HW, then a fledgling writer, attended some of the meetings in 1920/21, which he describes in The Sun in the Sands.)


The Times, 22 November 1967:


letters8 22november1967





The Times, 18 July 1968:


letters9 18july1968





This next letter prompted HW to reply:


The Times, 5 December 1968:


letters10 5december1968




The Times, 7 December 1968:


letters10 7december1968





The Times, 20 March 1969:


letters11 20march1969




Two people felt the need to respond to this:


The Times, 22 March 1969:


letters11 22march1969





The Times, 26 March 1969:


letters11 26march 1969





The fostering and adoption of children, with the dilemma of children torn between foster and natural parents, was much in the news at this time, with the distressing image on BBC News of a 9-year-old child being forcibly removed from her foster-parents, with whom she had lived since she was six months old, to be returned by Court Order to her natural mother, whom she did not know. The previous year a committee had been set up under Sir William Houghton to consider the law, policy and procedure on the adoption of children, and the then Home Secretary, James Callaghan, was quoted in The Times on 18 July 1970, in response to this particular case, as saying that the Houghton Committee's review would include 'the position of long-term foster-parents who wish to keep a child permanently or otherwise, against the wishes of the natural parents'. That day's Times also ran a leading editorial on the subject, 'The Child's Needs'. HW's letter was his own instinctive, if simplistic, response.


The Houghton Committee reported in 1972, and its recommendations were incorporated into The Childrens Act 1975 and The Adoption Act 1976.


The Times, 24 July 1970:


letters12 24july1970





The Times, 13 August 1971:


letters13 13august1971




A reader thought that there was an alternative explanation:


The Times, 16 August 1971:


letters13 16august1971







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