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Book One: The Island Fortress




Book Two: The Malevolent Glint:



So the story moves on to Book Two, 'The Malevolent Glint', which thought hangs over the story until revealed towards the end. (The quotations here are dealt with in the Appendix.) Part One is titled 'Crux', which word, interestingly, means the 'decisive or most important point at issue'; or, 'a particular point of difficulty' (Concise Oxford Dictionary). HW seems to be using it in the latter sense. However the difficult times are interspersed by all sorts of interesting details which carry the story and the reader forward.


The opening chapter is labelled 'Inquiline'. Farm labour is hard to get and to keep: basic living costs have increased and men can get much higher wages on airfield construction work. This includes Bert Close, who no longer works on the farm. Life is indeed difficult.


We read of the young, weak, and therefore bullied, heifer that falls into the dyke (HW's diary uses the Norfolk word 'grupp') three days running, despite Phillip (and HW) asking Matt to separate her. On the third day it is found dead, but this is not reported and so the carcass becomes worthless, an unnecessary loss of money. Together with dead hens and dead rats lying around, Phillip finds the struggle extremely depressing. (In real life, this all occurred at the end of April 1942 – leading to HW's suicidal feelings on 3 May.)


On top of this, Billy has decided to join the Air Force, despite Phillip's plea that he cannot work alone and that this will probably mean the end of the farm; while Matt announces he hasn't had a holiday for five years and is tired and intends to give up. Billy is sent to Southampton to stay with Uncle Tim for a few days, while Matt is also given a week's holiday. Matt does in due course leave.


(Windles – Bill – HW's eldest son wanted to join the RAF, but HW vetoed this, stating he was in a reserved occupation. HW knew that joining the RAF would almost certainly end in his son's death. I am convinced that part of HW's decision to go into farming was, having endured the hell of the First World War, to protect his sons from active service; but Bill was very resentful about this decision.)


A letter arrives from someone wanting a job with livestock and, before Phillip can reply in the negative (desperate though HW was for help, he was wary of yet another time- and money-waster), this person turns up, expecting the job and a cottage to be offered as he wants to write 'an ecological book on the sea-shore plant life'. He rather forces himself on the farm, and becomes known as the 'Inquiline'.


This is Richard Perry. There is no actual date for when he started work, but he is mentioned in the 'Farm Diary' on 9 May 1942: 'Perry, Jordan, W.H.W., worked on thorns in paddock.' And on the same day in HW's diary (while he was ill with cystitis and on Prontosil yet again), he wrote: 'Am going to put Perry in charge of stock.'


The description of the 'Inquiline' in the novel is quite harsh, but considered true to life. He takes over the 'Boys' cottage next door regardless, and goes his own way, equally regardless of difficulties caused: all in all, another disaster.


Phillip goes off to London for a few days to try and get some journalistic work, and goes on to see his father in Dorset, finding all well and his young friend looking after him. (In real life there was only one such visit, on 21 June 1942: this passage is to establish his father's happier circumstances.)


After several months of very unsatisfactory work (which is all very interesting to read in retrospect!), the Inquiline applies for another job and leaves. HW's diary on 1 January 1943 notes:


R. Perry left cowman's job. The feeblest, most awkward, unsocial man I've ever had the unhappiness to deal with. Cows very poor, calves full of unchecked ringworm . . . Norman took over cows and stock. [Norman Jordan, the fictional 'Steve'.]


The chapter ends with Phillip giving Lucy the definition of 'Inquiline': 'an animal living in the home of another'. (As in the dictionary, which continues: ‘one who eats at the same table: living as tenant of host and sharing food’ – i.e. a parasite! One is for ever amazed at HW's turn of phrase!)


As the new chapter opens we read, as in an entry from Phillip's diary, that Poppy is looking after the calves but is unhappy, as she has parted from Bert. (The sad truth here is found in HW's diary entry for 18 June: 'K. is away having an abortion . . .') We find too that Billy is now in the Air Training Corps. (Not so in real life, as explained.)


HW now makes an interesting analogy here, comparing 'the great spring-tide of human movement' that was the German Sixth Army under General von Paulus, and the wreckage arising from the Battle of Stalingrad, to:


A great spring-tide of elemental movement beat on the shores of the East Anglian coast in November 1942, breaking banks and flooding meadows and marshes, casting old boats and balks of wood and all the litter of the sea upon the tubular steel fences of tank-obstacles and barb-wire erected for miles beside the road  . . . Salt water and waves had flooded and beat on inland marginal fields, drowning the barley and oats and leaving faded obstacles of jetsam at the edge of its invasion. Thorn hedges were dying, the roots penetrated by salt. No small bird flitted there. Elizabethan flint walls had fallen down, cottage windows blown in.


Neither of these events is recorded in HW's diary, which is fairly blank at this time. However one entry does note:


News stimulates us all that at last we are doing a decent show in North Africa. Rommel is beaten and the Americans move into French Africa to cut him off. Hitler seems to be out-Hitlered. It's weeks now since we heard a German bomber.


A tide also turns in the life of the farm, for a new cowman arrives, whose nickname is 'Ackers'; HW’s diary notes:


Monday, 4 January 1943: N.J.'s nephew came after job in yards. Nice lad, 17 years of age. . . . K. Lack's still away.


Saturday, 16 January 1943: Douglas Jordan started. £2/16/- a week.


Phillip notes that:


The cows' tails were combed, their bodies washed; pails were scoured and set in a row; black rubber hose pipe was coiled after use, a padlock on the oat-bin, and Matt's legacy of old bones, bottles, rags, and whatnot, was buried deep in the paddock. . . . The tide had turned . . .


There is more optimism in a passage about game shooting with Box at Henthorpe (Case at Cockthorpe!), and we read of the occasion when Gladstone Gogney is Phillip's guest, as promised, where we learn a lot about the life of Gladstone Gogney: a very neat little personality cameo.


We then read of another of Phillip's guests: the wonderfully named Bannock MacWhippett. This is actually the occasion of the famous farm shoot attended by the writer and journalist Macdonald Hastings (father of the well-known journalist and historian Max Hastings), accompanied by a professional photographer, and which event filled several pages of Picture Post (6 November 1943). This event is recorded in detail by John Gregory in the excellent article 'Journalism: The Public Face of the Norfolk Farm' Part II, (HWSJ 40, September 2004, pp. 22–35).


The account in Lucifer is a superb description. HW captures the moment, its excitement and atmosphere in two pages in a manner far beyond the prosaic text of the Picture Post. (And I suspect HW thoroughly enjoyed upstaging – and rather lampooning – the journalist!)


One afternoon he [Bannock MacWhippett – 'a writer for a proletarian red-bannered illustrated weekly paper the photographic pages of which smelt of rubber solution'] arrived from Fleet Street in a rattling old car suffusing blue smoke, with a new gun apparently with sawn-off barrels, a new pair of canvas boots, and tremendous enthusiasm. . . .


How the pair worked! They were everywhere, peering and listening. . . . If during lunch, down by the old willows of the Common, an arm raised a bottle of beer – made of Norfolk Barley – instantly the camera got it. A black Labrador yawned; tongue, teeth, gullet, flews, all were snapped.


Well – it needs to be read in its entirety to get the full flavour!


In his Farm Diary on Saturday, 16 October, HW records a shoot which is presumably this particular one – noting farm work went on as usual; but sadly he gives no details about the shoot itself.



lucifer diary16 Oct 1943



But Phillip reveals that he prefers to be out in the woods on his own for shooting, and there is a charming cameo of father taking young Jonny out into the evening woods to get a pigeon from their hide, 'Wren's Castle'.


The next chapter, 'Clearing the Home Hills', opens with a retrospective view of Phillip's intentions and actual practice on the farm, and also historical practice with regard to the Napoleonic and now Hitlerian wars, with further comparison between Devon land in the west (64 inches rain per annum) and Norfolk in the east (22 inches per annum). He sums up with a symbolic description of a pre-war journey from Norfolk to Devon.


I left the shining North Sea in the morning as the sun was rising beyond Sweden, and came towards evening to Dartmoor lying under the vast glory of an Atlantic sunset. All day with the sun, running over nearly three hundred miles of England!


The sun rose through the oak and pines of the Home Hills, it drove a stupendous shining furrow across heaven, it sank in glory behind the western sea and Labrador, and hardly were the dull bars of a midsummer sunset quenched before the morning star was glowing in the east, leading up the sun again to shine upon my hilltop above the channel.


Pre-war farming had been all about pasture, milk (and money) and neglected fields.


But now, when the second internecine [mutually destructive] struggle was on . . . The view from my hilltop [on the 1941 wood-cutting visit] been over thousands of fields of yellow corn, receding into the summer haze of the distant Chase. The radiant heat of the sun reflected from the straw had everywhere given the illusion of old-fashioned times come again. The sickle, the sheaf, and the breast-bone turned black.


HW's masterly use of language paints a 'Hardyesque' picture that we can not only see, but actually feel that we are a part of.


From the general view to the particular detail: March 1943, clearing the 'great old bull-thorns' from the Home Hills, although Phillip feels at heart that it is a crime against nature to clear these lovely hawthorns, especially since they harbour the 'Abyssinian doves' (turtle doves: now on the endangered list). Realising the task is beyond him, he engages Gladstone Gogney and his steam engine tackle to do the job.


There is some lyrical communing with nature. Phillip muses over a rare letter from Melissa under the Hanger on the northern edge of Great Bustard Wood; he is completely alone and satisfied that the farm work is up to date. We are told that a pair of snipe are nesting in Denchman Meadow, and that Phillip's ambition as a child had been to find a snipe's egg, but never fulfilled.


The pastoral idyll is exploded when once again the Battle School arrives without warning. Live ammunition is used, and a precious Ayrshire heifer in calf is wounded in the udder. It does not survive. Phillip rushes off in justifiable temper to sort it out and does not return. (In real life the heifer was shot in September 1943 – HW has brought this forward in the novel.)


Meanwhile Jonny (now aged 7½) has also disappeared. When he reappears:


this strange small solitary creature who wandered off alone for hours, filling his dark eyes with the mysterious life all about him


has found the mythical snipe's egg. But there is an irony woven here: Jonny is full of wondrous excitement and eager to show his father this great prize; but we learn the reason for Phillip's non-appearance. He has been shot by the same soldiers.


After this dramatic announcement, HW, master of his craft, ends the chapter thus:


The fire-circles left by the burning of the uprooted thorns on the Home Hills remained bare during the early summer of that year. And those headlands by the hedges which had been roughly cleared of roots of brambles and blackthorns, and then ploughed, lay in sullen uneven furrows.


The Hills were left to the winds and the flowers, to the kestrel that hovered over the plateau for mice and beetles, to the village cats which prowled on the slopes for rabbits; and to the meaner men of the village who were poachers for the black market.


The next chapter, 'Dream', opens: 'Butterflies with tiger's teeth. Tiger swelling to a great black-flickering monster of pain . . .’ Phillip is in hospital, having been shot by the soldiers on the farm. Phillip's words here are actually taken from a letter that HW wrote to Ann Thomas as he lay in Cromer Hospital, where he had been taken on Saturday 10 July 1943, not having been shot by soldiers on the farm, but suffering from acute appendicitis. This is a quite dramatic and masterly twist of real life into fiction. In the next bed is a severely injured German Luftwaffe pilot, which brings his thoughts on the German problem into his subconscious.


The story continues with vivid details of Phillip's (HW's) dream from his subconscious mind. It is an interesting and extremely moving passage, worth reading with care; it encapsulates an image of a wood-spirit, killed and ritually burned, but then once again:


intagliated with a spirit of the woods. (I don't know if this is a proper word, but that was the word printed on my mind at the time – a blackthorn word, a black piercing of the mind as of thorns.)


'Intagliated' means 'carved on the surface of’ – as the Italian 'intaglio', an engraved or incised design on a stone or gem. HW's control and use of words is that of a poet.


Trying to puzzle out this dream-vision, Phillip draws on thoughts of Richard Jefferies, D. H. Lawrence, himself and Hitler:


glowing with the dream-quality of Venus – the ambisexual planet which after the dark night becomes Lucifer.


We realise the wood-spirit was Venus, and after death and ritual burning of Luciferian impurity the spirit becomes pure again. It is no doubt an allegory of HW's thinking about Hitler. Very subtly, HW inserts the central pivot, the concept, on which the book turns. Hitler, once Venus the light-bringer, has fallen into the abysm and darkness of Lucifer.


Phillip is visited by his wife, accompanied by an Army Officer, the young and charming Major Cloudesley, who apologises for the cow incident and offers compensation, and further apologises that Phillip has been shot. Phillip retorts:


‘Oh, my own carelessness, Major. I should have remembered that I wasn't on the Western Front, where no one, in khaki, ever shot at me and my footsloggers.’


The inference is that he has been shot deliberately.


Alert readers will have noticed the major's name. Lord Manfred Cloudesley was the chief character in HW's The Gold Falcon (1933), and HW is laying down a marker here for the next and final volume of the Chronicle, where this man (Manfred's son and heir) will play a major role. He is one of the very few characters in HW's novels that did not exist in real life and is entirely fictional.


In due course Lucy brings Phillip home, but he cannot settle and decides to visit Wallington Christie (John Middleton Murry of the Community Farm). Lucy is perturbed about his state of mind, fearing he is suicidal, and writes to her brother Tim about her fears. (In real life HW actually went straight back to work on the farm on 30 July to work on the harvest – although he got exhausted.)


As Phillip drives to the Community Farm (south of Diss, in southern Norfolk), he sees many crashed American planes. (Many American Eighth Air Force bases were concentrated around Bury St Edmunds and the surrounding area.) When he meets Christie Phillip tells him (with HW's tongue-in-cheek!) that he has had 'a sort of appendicitis'.


We are given here a potted biography of Wallington Christie, and are told he had been able to buy the Community Farm Centre by selling his first wife's manuscripts in America (Murry’s first wife being the celebrated writer Katherine Mansfield, who died of TB). We learn that he is now on his fourth wife, a stalwart of Rev. Dick Sheppard's Peace Pledge Union.


(For background to J. M. Murry see Anne Williamson, 'Millenium Revelations', HWSJ 35, September 1999, pp. 38-66, followed by Brocard Sewell's review of JMM's essay on HW, pp. 67-8.)


Also at the Community Farm is HW's friend (or rather bête-noir!) A. B. Cabton, ploughing heavy land, which Phillip thinks is being done at the wrong time – and generally that everything is being done wrong. Phillip's ideas are very different to Christie's. While he is there, one of the other men commits suicide. All in all, everything is pretty chaotic. However, Phillip has picked up one good idea: to have a weekly meeting of a joint family committee, which on return he immediately puts into practice.


The Norfolk Farm family committee did exist in real life, but had actually started in December 1942; the minutes were taken down by either Loetitia or young Bill. Selected pages are shown below – the last entry is made by Bill, whose attention had clearly wandered!



lucifer farmcmtee1


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So on to a new chapter, 'Ginger'. The garden of River View Cottage (the 'Farmhouse') is finally and drastically dealt with. Everything is uprooted and removed.


Never elsewhere had Phillip met a nettle which sprang up and grew up amazingly, with malice-glinting spines on leaves that raised a white rash on the forearm it touched. [My underlining.]


There, hidden and 'thrown away' in a welter of words, is the phrase that echoes and reinforces the thrust of this section entitled 'The Malevolent Glint': a metaphor for all the suffocating mental rubbish and petty irritations of life (the 'difficult matter') on the Norfolk Farm. We should also take in the inference of the phrase 'Grasping the nettle' – as HW was indeed having to grasp and uproot the nettle of the 'German (Hitler) problem'. It is very cleverly and masterfully done.


So the garden thrives and is productive with fruit and vegetables – and sunflowers. A diffident visitor arrives 'in a 1933-model touring-car', a night-bomber pilot who had become friendly with Billy. (This was George Mackie: see HWSJ 32, September 1996, 'Brief Encounter: George Mackie', with sections by Richard Williamson, George Mackie, Anne Williamson, and quotations from HW's The Phasian Bird.)


'Ginger' takes the family to bathe at Gibraltar Point, but Phillip's thoughts are with the haycocks on the Scalt, not properly built to his specifications, and so wet and ruined – and another petty irritation on the skin of life. But the sun returns and the hay is saved. Jonny finds the skeleton of a partridge in a charming 'childhood' scene. Signs of the war are ever present:


Above the harvest fields of Eastern England, as the corn was being cut, American squadrons of Liberators and Fortresses flew east in clear skies, leaving vapour trails to drift and spread tenuous long after they had gone out over the North Sea – to return a few hours later in the afternoon, but rarely in the formations in which they were last seen, and often in lower air.


Then at night:


dark British bombers began to drone in the deepening colour of the sky.


They all thought of 'Ginger, now with a bar to his DFC, doing his third tour of “ops” . . .’


The chapter ends:



lucifer 350



George Mackie in fact survived the war, and went on to have a successful career as an artist and book designer. He and Richard Williamson have maintained contact and have great regard for each other. The pilot who dies here is actually based on Edward Seago's partner (a relationship then illegal): Flying Officer Bernard Clegg, known as 'Crasher', to whom Seago's book Peace in War (1943) is dedicated, and which contains an essay and portrait of 'Crasher', who was killed on the very day in June 1943 that the book was published. The book also contains a portrait and essay on HW.


The next chapter reveals further farm problems – irritations – malevolent glints – based on difficulties with Josiah Harn and his pigs: two sold to Billy at double the market price. This is told as seen through the eyes of the 'Farm Committee'. (Further pages from the 'Committee Meeting Notes' were printed in HWSJ 40, September 2004, pp. 66-8.)


The chapter includes an incident between Phillip and Billy which ends with Billy hitting his father and knocking him down. Soon afterwards Billy goes off to join the RAF. (Not so in real life.)


The release of Birkin (Oswald Mosley) from prison to house arrest due to extreme ill health is noted, along with a discerning comment about the state of the war, with HW showing he was very aware of Stalin's real purpose.


There is also the startling description of a Beaufighter crash on the Great Bustard Field. Once the immediate crisis is over, there was a problem with onlookers ruining the beet crop, but on protesting all Phillip gets are scornful remarks. (There is no actual archive mention of this event, although all the Williamson 'boys' remember it happening! Recent research shows it occurred on 9 August 1944: see Len Bartram, RAF Langham, 1940‒1958: A Brief History including RAF Weybourne, Posthouse Publishing, 2012, p. 48.)


An army general arrives in a staff car: ostensibly to find a site for a 'strong-point' redoubt, but really because he had had a report from Major Lord Cloudesley earlier in the year. He announces in loud voice, to be heard by all, that he had played bridge with Phillip and Spectre West on Y/Z night before the Birdcage (see A Test to Destruction, p. 83-4 where this is described). There is no further mention of any strong-point: the general obviously made this visit to show official 'army friendliness' and support to Phillip in front of the farm workers and other soldiers. The general also informs Phillip that the Bengal Lancer had died the previous week.


(There is a time discrepancy here: Francis Yeats-Brown actually died on 19 December 1944. HW must have misremembered the date as 1943.)


Part Two of Book Two is entitled 'Still are thy pleasant voices', taken from the poem ‘Heraclitus’, a quotation from which fronts this section (see Appendix).


When the General's entourage had left, Phillip goes for a cycle ride along the coast, grieving for his friend Francis, who would never now come to work on the farm. (He goes east – to Blakeney and Cley.)


There was a ruinous windmill on a hillock above the gently rolling fields tremulously pale green with barley.


It is a contemplative, lyrical passage, but marred for its author because the sky is filled with sound and sight of hundreds of bombers and fighter planes flying south-east, while at the end he is again depressed by the pollution in Banyard Brook. However this sharpens his resolve to do something about this problem. (Improving the quality of the River Stiffkey was one of HW's great projects.)


Poor Banyard Brook was a drain where villagers threw their trash and rubbish, and every soil-pipe from those cottages with water closets emptied sewage into it.


He makes dams to increase the flow to give oxygen to the water: water that he knows shelters an otter and a kingfisher:


And then he heard a nightingale singing in the River Wood. This was the link, suddenly bright – the nightingale singing in the Kentish woods of his boyhood . . . in the coppices of Picardy . . . and the downs above the Fawley brook . . .


It is indeed 'the link': directly back to the quotation that heads the section ('Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake'). The song of the poet (his nightingales) will live, even though the poet dies. Indirectly, this link reminds us of the importance of nightingales as a recurring emblem throughout HW's writing – an emblem embedded within his inner being.


Billy comes home on forty-eight hour leave, full of enthusiasm for the 'Yanks' and their Mustang fighters. But Phillip only hears:


Black British bombers by night without cessation; silver American bombers by day unendingly.


Phillip then immediately launches into the (real) tale of Cheepy, the orphan chick, and her five guinea fowl chicks, the cat Eric (or 'Little by Little', known as 'Litter by Litter') and the sad tale of heroic Torty, the cat run over trying to save some of the chicks.


Phillip invents a wonderful story about Eric's grey fur acquired in fear of a 'fantastic Hitler-buck [rabbit] on a roller-skate'. This 'bit of unnatural history' can be seen as a very neat little analogy of the state of the war.


Phillip continues with the ploughing of the Home Hills with the 'little grey dicker', the original Ferguson tractor: slow and difficult work which will need redoing to break up the roots of the ingrained weeds (sadly, this was restharrow – now a rare sight). Among the war against weeds we read of the war against mankind (HW's microcosm of the macrocosm).


It was a warm day. The convoy on the sea horizon proceeded with the rolling bomb-reverberations they were used to; for now the tide of war was running fast in its new direction.


Billy comes home on leave, and with Steve sorts out the problem when the half-axle breaks (Phillip is still not strong enough to cope). Matt arrives and:


For the last time Hare and Tortoise spoke their lines of comedy.


Phillip is tired and depressed. The young boys come to help turn the furrows which curl back over, but it is too difficult: then a gull gets caught in the last furrow. Phillip manages to free it, and after a few moments it recovers and flies off. It is a moment of symbolic freedom for the world. Near death, it will recover and live on.


The heading for chapter 26 gives a rare date: 'June, 1944'. It is of course a most significant date within the progress of the Second World War: for on 6 June 1944 the long-planned invasion of Europe began.


Phillip takes a break and goes by train to the West Country, via London. The train is crowded and uncomfortable, but Phillip passes the time ruminating on the farms he sees. The whole passage (several pages) is extremely reminiscent of the famous Night Mail poem and film: note the wonderful 'train rhythm' of the words.


And thus and thus ran the worn engine of the brain inside the skull

of the little old farmer with the first class ticket

sitting in a third class carriage while wheels

rattle over worn steel rails past wide, flat fields . . .

And now the train passing into the suburban sprawl . . .

On to the smoky sky and stricken areas of bricks and mortar . . .


The city is strangely light and airy (because it has been bombed out), and 'nature' is growing rapidly in the vacant spaces. Phillip hopes that a post-war re-built London will incorporate open spaces, but knows that the ‘voice of Money’ will deny this.


Phillip goes to see his cousin Arthur Turney, in response to a letter, to whom he had sold his post-war Brookland Road Special Norton motor-cycle for £20 but which Arthur has never actually paid. Phillip asks now that he sends the £20 to the RAF Benevolent Fund. Arthur wants to divorce his wife and marry his girl-friend Alice, and wants Phillip to employ Alice so she won't be conscripted. However a further quarrel occurs and they part. Arthur has not changed!


Phillip is cheered by a note from the artist Riversmill (Alfred Munnings) with an invitation to the private view at the Royal Academy. (Munnings became President of the RA, and was also knighted, in 1944.) There is no evidence that HW actually attended this event. At the viewing Phillip meets 'a young West Country writer, whose farming journal he had read'. This is Ronald Duncan and his book Journal of a Husbandman (Faber, 1944).


The incident related here, about Duncan asking for help for 'Mauberley', cannot have happened at this time. 'Mauberley' is the American poet Ezra Pound (1885‒1972), who went to live in Italy in 1908, where he became chief protagonist of the Imagist art movement. During the Second World War he made broadcasts supporting Mussolini. He was not actually imprisoned (in Pisa, Italy) until April 1945, where he was held in appalling conditions in a steel cage, and where he began his extraordinary Pisan Cantos – in which the hero is named Mauberley. Later that year Pound was transferred back to America. Archive papers show that it was Richard Aldington, at a much later date, who asked HW to support a move to get Pound released from his American internment in a secure mental home. Of course that event happened outside the time-scale for the Chronicle, so presumably HW moved things around to fit it in here. Many eminent writers of that era were shocked at Pound's treatment.


Before leaving for the West Country, Phillip also calls to see his sister Elizabeth. This has its usual difficulties. She complains that men, by which she means her male friend, a farmer who lives in Robertsbridge in Sussex, are only after the £4,000 left her by Aunt Belle (Isabelle, eldest sister of William Leopold, who died in 1944). She also informs him that their father intends to marry his young girl-friend as soon as she is eighteen: and further moans about their sister Doris, who constantly complains about her own problems regarding her broken marriage.


Phillip continues down to Malandine (HW to Ox's Cross). He finds the area to be a 'Forbidden Area':


He had not realised a considerable area west of Malandine, and the foreshore below the village, had been used for some time as a practice battleground for the much-advertised invasion of Europe.


(This is the well-known Slapton Sands, on the south coast of Devon, where American troops were trained; it was at Slapton Sands that German E-boats attacked landing craft undertaking a rehearsal for the invasion, in which hundreds of soldiers were drowned. This was unreported and kept totally secret at the time.)


Phillip is told that his Gartenfeste has been vandalised, and on arrival finds a state of chaos. This is based on a real incident – though perhaps not quite so dramatic as the fictional version. A small pocket diary records on Saturday 3 June:


Damage to Ox Cross walls. 76 yards along north wall of field & 56 yards ‘south’ spinney.

Gate bar broken (main). Gate broken (little field)

Stable padlock gone. 1 ton of wood.


For Phillip this was a total disaster, as he had stored there all his notebooks and also those of cousin Willie. After a frantic search he finds them, damaged but decipherable. He writes a letter to his dead cousin (another embodiment of HW himself) in what is a cry of pain for the world torn apart by war. This calms him: he lights a fire of wood and makes tea, and then notices birds bathing in his ancient birdbath and sees and hears evidence of various birds in the area:


From afar came other calls. Larks were singing – the entire battle-practice area was a Nature Reserve.


As he wanders about he hears a distant noise:


Was there a faint continuous quivering, seemingly of earth, air, and sky? He climbed to the top of the pine, and looked out over the Channel, towards the unseen coast of Brittany.


Yes! That rolling bourdon of sound was gunfire. The invasion of Europe must have started.


The summer air strayed through the bright green leaves of the maimed beeches, the cold dewy air of morning was already lifting to an open summer sky. It looked to be a day of great heat, like July the First, of time remembered.  [A reference to the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, 1916.]


Phillip is very moved, grieving for the chaos created by war – a war he had hoped would never happen. The passage here reflects HW's own feelings as he came to terms with the horrors now unleashed on his comrades in the spirit of war.


Before he leaves, he notes that the house where Melissa used to stay is a ruin, shelled and mortared by the troops. He hasn't heard from Melissa for over a year. He returns to East Anglia, thankful


to sleep in his own bed again, out of the rain. [Unlike his experiences in the First World War.]


On his return the sunflowers – over a thousand of them – have grown tall and the air is full of the happy humming of bees.


The blue upper air of summer was humming too. The humming grew to a hard continuous thundering. The course of four-engined aircraft was no longer east over the sea, but south down the coast. Every day the sky was scored white in a thousand ragged lines behind glinting specks of day-bombers; a sapphire ground away in the trituration of vapour trails. A thousand silver bombers daily flew over the farm. When evening came the thunder swelled again within the farmhouse parlour. It seemed that the black curtains, the walls and ceiling, even the filaments of the electric-light bulbs and the very air of their lungs were in vibration together.


When the sunflower seeds are ready the children, including Edward (i.e. Rosemary, HW’s daughter by Ann Thomas), are given the task of shaking them into tea-chests and bagging them up. Although fun, this was a serious occupation which brought in some small income. All was recorded:



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During this occupation the farmer from Robertsbridge (Elizabeth's 'beau') and his sister arrive, wanting to find out why Elizabeth has cut off the relationship. This farmer suggests that Phillip goes in for a milking herd, and says he has a Gascoigne milking machine for sale. Out of duty, Phillip takes it upon himself to write to his sister about her suitor. (There is no evidence to support the actuality of any of this – but it is fairly typical of HW's sister's behaviour.)


Wet weather at harvest time allows Phillip to get on with his writing, but he is bombarded by maggots falling out of his precious hams – this evinces a resigned philosophical note:


Well, bombs fell on the macrocosm, small bomb-like objects drop on the microcosm. The microcosm survives, protected within the Island Fortress; maggots never consumed me, praise be.


There is a surprise visit from Rippingall, the reprobate manservant once of Phillip, lately of Captain Runnymeade, dressed in mourning, who announces the death of the Captain from cirrhosis of the liver, and also that Stefania Roswitz, the ex-ballet dancer and mistress of Runnymeade, had been killed in the London Blitz. They scatter the Captain's ashes on the marshes and then Rippinghall gives a hand with the harvest.


The young Percheron, Palgrove Mushroom, is harnessed for the work but suddenly canters off into Charles Box's field, which holds mares grazing. He has been imperfectly castrated – and this gruesome operation now has to be completed.


The eight children (Phillip's five – not Billy, already in the RAF, but including Edward – plus Doris's two boys, together with a young evacuee girl who lived on the farm for a short while) all help with the harvest. Local people think he works them too hard, although an entire family helping with the harvest was not an unusual practice on farms at that time. After the day's work they all go for a swim, joined by Billy, who arrives home for a short leave: a happy interlude. Ensuing details of behaviour ascribed to Edward (Rosemary) were in fact those of Doris's rather wild son. (The reading of Virgil's Georgics in Latin is fictional! HW himself had a translation of the Georgics, a poem on agriculture).


Unfortunately Phillip's barley is found unfit for malting (i.e. for use in the brewing process), and all-in-all the harvest gets ruined by wet weather.


At Michaelmas fifty-two farms are sold up. Phillip discusses the situation with Peter, now nearly sixteen (John was 16 on 28 October 1944). Peter says he wants to be a farmer, and so he is to leave school to take Billy's place, and we are reminded of the difficult circumstances of Billy's birth. The farm is to be made into a family trust. (None of this happened in real life.)


Threshing and drying of the corn are carried out in a hurry all with the usual problems, mostly caused by too much work and too few men.


The next chapter, Chapter 29, ‘Littles by Littles’, gives general thoughts about the fatigue caused by war and what it had been like at the end of the last war. Phillip remembers the poets who had sustained him: Wilfred Owen, William Blake, Shelley, and other poets and philosophers, and war books – All Quiet on the Western Front etc. It is an interesting résumé of the atmosphere of that time: the ennui of the ’twenties. The conclusion is that there has been no progress. However, Steve is playing tennis on the Old Manor courts – a farm labourer accepted within the gentry's domain – that must mean progress. He tells Steve that he, as a writer, has to understand (and be objective about) everything and everyone.


Phillip takes the family on to the marshes and they nearly get cut off by the tide racing in, a real and constant danger on that coast. There is a long descriptive passage on the coast, ending with the children looking for pieces of 'target', or the red drogues towed by aeroplanes for use as target practice.



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A fragment of 'target' kept by Richard Williamson



(Richard Williamson still has his own miniature 'target' that he made from a piece of the scarlet drogue:)



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All this is leading up to Phillip's plan to cultivate his area of the marsh land, so that it will support a milking herd, but the problem of tidal back-flow has to be dealt with; to which end Phillip decides to build a concrete sluice. He and the children arrive to begin work, watched by a gang of evacuee lads, and the work proceeds, accompanied by a running commentary from Phillip to the lads on everything that happens and is found. (The whole event is very typically HW!) All is successfully achieved – five concrete bridges have been built to link the meadows, and Phillip now has plans for post-war farm work, one of which involves building a lake for a trout farm.


He cuts the willow plot in Denchman meadow and sells the withies to a basket-maker for 2s 6d a bundle. However, when he delivers them the man refuses to pay the agreed price, and so Phillip just leaves them on the pavement in front of the shop and returns to burn all the residue rubbish.


He then has to plough the land and undertake more sluice and drainage work: now helped by Jonny (nine years old). There is a lovely cameo scene of Jonny on the tractor tilling the land with a five-barred gate, while his scarecrow of a father makes himself a much-needed cup of tea. Why a five-barred gate? You must read the story!


One Sunday Phillip and Jonny look for the otter holt. Jonny hopes actually to see the otter, but Phillip has to tell him that it was recently shot: its skin worth £4.


Rain falls for a week and Phillip wonders if his drainage system will work. It does indeed hold up against wind and tide.


Returning from market in the Ford 8 saloon, Phillip runs into a fierce blizzard which momentarily stops him. He had promised to take Jonny sledging, but feels too tired. Then he spies two figures out on the hill slope: Jonny and Billy, home on leave. When Billy is due to go back, Phillip offers him the locket with lock of Barley's (his mother's) hair, but Billy refuses.


Jonny, out on his own exploring the natural world, sees a strange owl, a 'Danish Owl' (a little reminder of the Great Winter Scene from Tarka the Otter) and, in his hollow ash tree, a new otter. And all the time the bombers are passing overhead:


Night after night they thundered high above the clouds, squadron succeeding squadron, until hundreds had flown away over the North Sea.


This constant reinforcing reminder is similar to the chorus in a Greek play.


We learn that unhappy Poppy has finally left the farm (since the abortion, HW's diary entries show frequent absence on her part, often days and weeks on end), and joined the WRAF. We read also of the twenty-four Italian prisoners of war – ‘Co-operators’ – who do little work but get a good living off the farm by poaching rabbits and game: shooting for sport is ruined, the agreement with Charles Box ended; and birds are poached by all and sundry.


On Christmas Day 1944, sitting ruminating before a fire, Phillip sees 'the evening star shining over the hill'. The radio tells of the German offensive 'in the snows and the frozen fogs of the Ardennes', and we are given a contemplative and reflective passage from his journal. It is a moving and important passage – an 'Apologia', an explanation – and read with empathy it gives insight into understanding HW's mind.



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Part Three of Book Two is entitled ‘Death of the Doppleganger’ (a doppelganger being the wraith of a living person). The epigraph, ‘Then I have ploughed my last furrow’, are words spoken by Hotspur (Henry Percy, son of the Earl of Northumberland) before his death during the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403; there is also another long passage from Thomas Callander’s book (see Appendix).


The opening chapter of this section is ominously titled 'Icarian Way'. We know Icarus flew too near the sun and so was killed. We learn Billy is about to go on his first operational flight, and Phillip thinks about his son and about Billy's dead mother, Barley. Back home again, Billy reports this action, a raid over Dresden on 13 February 1945 – a raid in which many civilians were killed, and which has since become notorious. He is already feeling the strain and goes to his father for comfort: their estrangement is healed.


HW follows this poignant passage with a lyrical one describing the return of spring and Easter:


To the church the children took willow branches from the Osier Carr. At night the red pantiles of cottage roofs glowed mysteriously under the full moon. It was a tradition that on Easter Sunday men of the village walked on the road above the New River with their wives and grandchildren, to look across the meadows to the woods coming into bud and leaf. Phillip opened the gate, and bade them welcome to all parts of the farm. . . .


Now the Allies were over the Rhine and deployed for final victory. . . .


(The Rhine Crossing took place on 24 March. There was a full moon on Wednesday, 28 March, Good Friday was 30 March, and Easter Day 1 April.)


Phillip self-identifies with the 'twisted blackthorn', the large and misshapen blackthorn tree growing by the 'Old River'. 'There were the marks of its suffering visible to the eye', but every year, about the time of the spring solstice:


there burst upon its blackness a fragility of white blossoms, breaking out of the dark-spined branches while yet the winds of March held back colour from the earth. Blossom glowed beside savage spines and on contorted branches, so startling and tender a sight confronting human thoughts which for so long, within the interior heart, had almost lost hope.


Banyard Brook is still a problem, exacerbated now by the effluent from chlorine disinfectant from a new cow-house ('lactorium'). Once Banyard Brook was beautiful: he had vowed to make it beautiful again, but is baulked at every turn. The brook is another example of the 'microcosm of the macrocosm'. Phillip (as did HW) perseveres with his work of cleansing, despite opposition from all and sundry, and is finally rewarded when he sees roach coming up to spawn. Billy, home on leave, makes an excellent suggestion about the management of the water weeds.


A fictional 'journal entry' discusses writers, pinpointing their characters succinctly: Proust (cork-lined room), Tolstoi (peasant garb), D. H. Lawrence (a runner away), Conrad (cries of pain), Turgenev (an exile). This leads him to a statement about his own novels:



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and then on to remember his own life and life at the family home in Colham. But he is troubled by a vision:


of myself – as a figure before me – . . . That figure remained still, facing away from me, while I stood motionless after the shock.


He feels he has failed in everything he has undertaken. Then the little bantam, Phantom, appears, looking very frail. He is placed in the hot cupboard, but next morning is found dead.


Phillip gets on with the harrowing, noting the aeroplane trails constantly crossing the sky, while seeing a hare and marking the lapwing nests – and longing yet again to 'begin his novel series; he must, he must, he must – or perish.'


That night he dreams about Billy, hearing the words 'I have come to fetch Billy' as his mother had also once heard in a dream the same words about her brother – 'I have come to fetch Hugh', while hearing later that day that he had died. Phillip is sure his eldest son has been killed.


So both Mrs Valiant and Phillip wait for the dreaded telegram:


Mrs. Valiant with hope to hear that her son James was safe in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp: Phillip, with the same concealed anguish, but no hope.


The next chapter, Chapter 33, is headed 'Finis declarat opus' (The end declares, or shows, the work), the phrase being taken from the Callander quotation which fronts this section.


In late April, with the war in its final stages, Phillip rediscovers the clarity of nature, the sky and the stars.


I do not remember such a sky, such a clear atmosphere, such a crystalline flow and ambience of light as now fills the late April days of this island from sea to sea as the war in Europe is moving to its end.


The lyrical passage continues, but at its end we are plunged straight into the family tragedy:


A letter had arrived from the R.A.F. station in Lincolnshire with the news of Billy's death while returning from an operation over East Germany.


(This of course is a purely fictional device: HW's eldest son did not die in real life.)


Lucy is worried about what this will do to Phillip, as he had in the past threatened to commit suicide. She wishes her brother Tim was at hand. Meanwhile Phillip is listening to Act III of Tristan and Isolde – music preparing for the news of another death.


He had known that one day he would hear the music of the Death-Devoted heart, Love-Devoted Head theme of Wagner’s Tristan. And that would be followed by the music of the finale of Götterdämmerung – Valhalla of the gods wrecked and in flames, the world of men drowning in the rising waters of the Rhine.


Wagner had seen it all, with the clairvoyance of genius: Siegfried, the pure hero, had, through arrogance, betrayed himself, and all about him.


The radio repeatedly reiterates the phrase: 'Stand by for an important announcement.' Then Siegfried's Funeral March. Then Grand-Admiral Karl Doenitz announces the death of the Führer. Phillip notes that he watched: 'Lucifer shining with a more intense glow' (meaning that Lucifer, the fallen angel, had taken one of its own into itself).


(Adolf Hitler committed suicide by shooting himself on Monday, 30 April at 3.30 p.m. His mistress Eva Braun took poison at the same time. His entourage then undertook the burning of both bodies in the garden and any remaining debris was removed and hidden in a secret destination. Doenitz, appointed Hitler's successor, did not actually make the announcement until 10.20 p.m. on the evening of the next day, 1 May, 'to the solemn setting of music from Wagner and Bruckner's Seventh Symphony'. It is not possible to confirm that HW did actually listen to this broadcast. The words he uses about the announcement in the novel are very similar indeed to those found in The Last Days of Hitler, a more or less official enquiry into Hitler's death by the historian H. R. Trevor-Roper, published by Macmillan in 1947 (there is a copy of the book in the archive). Both Roper and Alan Bullock (Hitler, A Study in Tyranny, Odhams, 1952), another notable historian, relate the details. A week later Germany capitulated and signed the surrender document.)


At this point in real life HW was in the major crisis of a nervous breakdown, very similar to that at the end of the First World War. He was exhausted by farm work, exacerbated by Bill wanting to leave the farm and work elsewhere (thus the symbolic 'killing' of Billy in a bomber raid in the novel). A sixth child had been born at the beginning of February 1945, adding to domestic stress. At this point, acting on the advice of her brother, Robin Hibbert, Loetitia, at the end of her tether, decided to leave the marital home and seek a divorce. She went to stay with Mrs Cafferata (at one time the owner of the Old Hall, now living with her sister near Selby in Yorkshire), taking the new baby and young Richard, nearly ten years old, with her. The older children were all away at boarding school – except for Bill, still working on the farm.


This was the final blow for HW: on 17 May he left the farm and went down to his Field at Ox's Cross, where he decided to commit suicide by drowning. He was rescued by two people on holiday from Yorkshire, Desmond Sutcliffe and his wife Lois, who calmed him down. (This information did not appear in my 1995 biography Henry Williamson: Tarka and the Last Romantic, as many of those involved were still alive.) No doubt due to patient persuasion by the Sutcliffes, HW now saw the way forward. With the war over he could honourably sell the farm and become a full-time writer again.


(A close relationship with the Sutcliffe family – there was another brother, Gerald – rich coal industrialists from Yorkshire, continued for many years.)


In the novel, we are told that Lucy has decided to leave Phillip so he can have his freedom, but she does not tell him for the time being. Phillip goes down to South Devon, planning 'to go out with the ebb-tide while bathing'. But there he sees two people in the sea, a woman calling for help because her husband is drowning, whom with difficulty (and thoughts of the drowning of 'Spectre' West in 1918) he rescues. They return with him to the Gartenfeste and help him tidy up the chaos created by the vandals. That night he sleeps out in the open, comforted by the presence of his rescued dark lantern, and thinks out his life, past and future. It is a very moving passage. The war is over:


But the struggle between Light and Darkness, between Heaven and Hell, continued among the constellations as in the souls of men who were artists. . . . The grace of God is poetry – the spirit of love – the major spirit of Evolution . . .


The old feeling has not gone from me, the old feeling I thought dead arises again as in youth, the elements have renewed my life.


But all is not entirely well for:


the same sun shining was affronted by a malevolent glint over Hiroshima in far Japan.


(The destruction of Hiroshima by the first atomic bomb took place on 6 August 1945. HW keeps the date in his novel vague in order to encompass his own time line.)


HW used this striking phrase, ‘malevolent glint’, again in an article for the Daily Express, 'Now the battle to beat the poison . . .' (Part III of the short series 'Save the Innocents'), 18 November 1970, reprinted in Days of Wonder, ed. John Gregory, HWS, 1987; e-book 2013).


Having encompassed this point (the title of Book Two), HW continues with several pages of further lyrical and philosophical thought which needs reading in its entirety, using the calming presence of nature all around him and feeling the presence of Richard Jefferies:


‘I am in the midst of eternity; it is all around me in the sunshine.’


The thoughts here at the end of the Second World War are very similar in substance to those that HW expressed at the end of the First World War in his early 1920s 'Richard Jefferies Journal'.


The healing process continues – the friends from Yorkshire return home, he meets up with some young boys who play and then help him clear up destroyed trees in the field. On V–J day he sets light to his beacon, one of many lit in celebration of the end of the war. (Victory over Japan Day was 14 August 1945.) He telephones the farm to tell them about the bonfire beacon, but there is no reply.


The next day the post brings a letter in Lucy's handwriting, but with a strange postmark. The letter contains the news that she is pregnant, and has decided to leave him. There is a second letter from her brother, Tim Copleston, reiterating the news about Lucy, and stating that he was very worried about Lucy's inheritance money (which was used for the purchase of the farm), because Phillip has already in the past 'purloined' the family furniture and treasures. (In fact Phillip – and HW – had saved them for the family, and returned them at the first opportunity.)


Phillip momentarily panics, but recovers and determines to continue with his plan of turning the farm into a dairy herd, and, contacting the Robertsbridge farmer (his sister's would-be 'beau') about the milking machine he had for sale, sets off for Sussex to buy it. (This rather borders on bathos after the above calamitous news.)


We read here, for the first time, that the sports-model Alvis Silver Eagle has been converted into a farm waggon, being given a wooden box-body at the rear to enable it to be classed for farm use, and so only taxed at the agricultural rate. This had actually been done at a very early stage of the farm era in mid-1938, when the Alvis was given a 'pick-up' body by Mr Ebbage, the Stiffkey carpenter. Sadly no photo exists of the car in this form.


On his way home to the farm (belting along!), he has to stop in a village to change a plug, where he notices that the house opposite him was 'For Sale'. (In real life this was towards the end of July, and the village was Botesdale, south of Diss in south Norfolk, and HW probably stopped at the garage which was opposite the house.) His alternative plan from saving the farm with a milking herd was to sell it and make a Trust on behalf of Lucy and the children. He impulsively now decides on this latter course – to buy this house for the family and sell the farm.


Interpolated here is a short (seemingly odd) passage relating how Phillip buys a captured and dying bird from someone in this village. It is a turtle dove (turtle doves have been referred to in an earlier and important passage): such birds are symbols of peace and freedom. He now sets this bird free. This tiny cameo scene needs to be savoured to absorb its full import. It is a very clever little allegory – and easily overlooked.


On arrival at the farmhouse, Phillip finds it empty, although Peter is there hard at work. There is a further threatening letter from Tim. Phillip asks Peter if he would take over the farm on behalf of the family, but he declines. Phillip then sells the farm via the (new) owner of the Old Manor – and we learn the farm tenant is to be the despised Josiah Harn. ('Harn' is an old word for heron: Hamlet's words 'I can tell a hawk from a handsaw' is almost certainly a misreading of 'harnser'.)


Phillip muses over what he feels is failure, particularly of the farm: epitomised here by the fact that his precious money-making sunflower seeds have been abandoned to the tomtits, greenfinches and sparrows.


Lucy sends a message via her aunt that she is prepared to meet up with Phillip, and so he sets off for Yorkshire. When he arrives and announces that he has sold the farm, Lucy says that the reason she had left was to force him into making that decision, as she knew that the farm was exhausting him and stopping him from writing. She says she will come back to help him sort everything out. She also tells him she has heard from Melissa, who is now returning from India. This mention is a marker to keep Melissa in the reader's mind – she returns to the forefront in the next, final volume of the Chronicle. (HW's small pocket diary notes for 14 September: 'Margot's wedding', although it is not clear if he attended.)


Phillip returns to the farm, immediately worrying about the harvest with so little help, but Peter has organised everything. (In real life Bill was still working on the farm – and HW himself did the organising.)


Horatio Bugg tries to ingratiate himself, but reveals that he is, together with another crafty villager, making good money, illegally, on the 'black market'. HW mentions here Knut Hamsun and General Mihailovitch: two men wrongly condemned for being traitors (though under entirely different circumstances), and then quotes an atrocity against German children by a known 'war-hero', not named. This is laying down another marker that will be developed in the final volume.


Preparations to sell the farm are put in hand with a valuer and an auctioneer. This process is conducted very much as it had been when Phillip bought the farm. The valuer's decision is final and not to be questioned (but perhaps questionable!).


HW's diary entry for Friday 21 Sept. 1945 tells us of his feelings:


Farm sold this day. I was deeply shaken. “The very stones cry out.” [See Bible, Luke, Ch. 19, v.42.]


The prices realised on the dead and live stock are noted on HW's copy of the auction catalogue:



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The 'Italian Co-operators', 'in their brown uniforms', help get in the harvest, happy with the knowledge that they would soon be sent back home. But the work is still pretty haphazard. Phillip sits at his corn-merchant's desk:


he sat there on one side of the double-desk where clerks in Dickens' time had probably shot ink from their quill pens . . .


There has been little mention of this massive desk but there is an iconic photograph of HW sitting at it:



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(HW subsequently kept this rather cumbersome piece of furniture in his Studio at the Ox's Cross Field.)


The final chapter is titled 'Surview and Farewell', a valedictory passage that rings bells with his previous essay of the same title in The Labouring Life (1932): and, as he had once done for a single moment in Tarka the Otter, the narrator momentarily becomes HW himself, explaining how the book had been written.


Many of the scenes of this narrative were written behind black-out curtains . . .


Phillip was with me everywhere – in the dark before dawn upon the heights of the Home Hills, while the glittering light of the morning star . . .


This merges into an extract from the fictional journal:



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and continues, to summarise the future:



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The volume ends on a note of calm resignation as Phillip and Jonny go down for a last look at the sea:


Here on the shingle ridge, where in summer tern and dotterall fly, sea joins sky on the horizon. Behind us, in a haze of stillness, lie the barbed wire and the fortifications protecting a new landscape of stubble and plough . . .


They see a young RAF pilot and his girl happily fishing (i.e. no longer worrying about the war) – and a butterfly being blown by the wind out to sea:


A fragment of summer was being blown away, to become again phosphate, carbon, and salt in the sea.


It was time to go:


Small children growing up to be young men: season after season of corn turning to summer's gold: butterflies, birds, trees, faces of friends – all, all, drifting down the stream of Time which some men dread as death.


A short-eared owl wafted down the sea wall. Partridges had ceased to call on the stubbles. Night had come to the western hemisphere.


The era of the Norfolk Farm had come to an end.






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Book One: The Island Fortress