The Gale of the World - the book



Back to The Gale of the World main page


Photographic essay (HW's photos of the Lynmouth Flood Disaster, and others)


Critical reception




The book:








Part Four: ST. ELMO'S FIRE


Because the plot of The Gale of the World is so complicated and so intense, it needs a fairly detailed analysis. I have previously examined the book in Anne Williamson, 'Rise and Shine III: some thoughts on The Gale of the World' (HWSJ 49, September 2013, pp 5-27), including the derivation of its title: words spoken by General Mihailović, the Chetnik partisan guerrilla leader who fought against Hitler's Nazi regime but was then abandoned by the Allies in favour of General Tito, who said, just before he was shot by the Communists in May 1946:


‘I and all my works were caught in the gale of the world.’


HW's title also signifies the chaos that had arisen during and after the Second World War, symbolised by frenetic activity, but it further embraces the particular 'gale' – the storm that devastated Lynmouth in August 1952 – which forms the climax of the book and the whole series. To fit the structure of this novel, HW moves that event from 1952 to an earlier year. Although he puts no fixed date within the novel, the work has to open in late 1946, as it is the time of the post-war Nuremberg War Trials and the subsequent hanging of the major Nazi war criminals.


The novel is set on the North Devon coast, based around Lynmouth and the area occupied by the Rivers East Lyn and West Lyn and their tributaries, with their source on the north-western quadrant of Exmoor as shown by the following contemporary map from HW's archive – so much more evocative of the wilderness of the area than modern maps:



gale 19 map



The overall structure of the book can be gained from the contents:



gale 20 Contents








HW had used that phrase in a very poignant scene in the earlier Power of the Dead (volume 11, 1963) where Phillip's Uncle Hilary explains (pp. 361-2) that our Hallowe'en is commemorated by the Chinese as 'The Seventh Moon of the Homeless Ghosts', when they light lanterns and float them away down a holy river to release the souls of the unhappy departed. The reader is meant to remember the concept of forgiveness that the earlier passage signified, which is imbued throughout the whole of The Gale of the World: forgiveness and compassion for all. The actual point here is that 'Hallowe'en' establishes the month to be October – and we soon understand that it is 1946.


It is therefore a time of mourning and trying to come to terms with the aftermath of the chaos created by war. (And remember, HW himself was in a state of exhausted breakdown at the end of the Second World War.) HW includes under this part-title a quotation:


‘We are all living under the harrow.’

Sir Winston Churchill to H.R.H. The Duke of Windsor, May, 1946.


'Harrow' is used here in the sense of giving pain. Hamlet uses the term 'Harrow up thy soul' – and HW knew his Hamlet very well.


In other words, at this time everyone is finding life difficult and painful.


Landscape is of vital importance in this book. HW sets a grand panorama for this final volume. The grandeur and savagery of primeval nature pervades and dominates everything. HW opens by setting the scene with a passage of lyrical description of the area of the setting of the action to come.



gale 21 opening para



It is a superb description and very recognisably 'HW style' (also Romantic) – very similar to the opening passage of Tarka the Otter and also, for example, The Dark Lantern. That passage ends with an ominous note: 'Annually sixty inches of rain fell there.' That is the first of many phrases which in music would be called 'leitmotifs': phrases which here draw attention to water in particular – all laying down a basis for, and building up to, the climax.


We are given a glimpse of the history of the area, and how a 'rich Worcestershire ironmaster' tried to tame the moor and failed. This was Sir John Knight, an industrialist, to whom there are several references to be found within HW's writing. And then we are told:



gale 22 para p 12



(Note that even after the book was published HW continued to make changes in his own copy.)


Into this autumn landscape appear two figures on horseback:


an elderly man on a hunter and a young girl on a cob, accompanied by a white goat.


The elderly man is established as the painter Frederick Riversmill. He is based on the well-known 'horse-artist' Sir Alfred Munnings, whom HW met first at the Fortescue's Castle Hill estate at Filleigh in the mid-1930s, when he was still living at Shallowford; he was also part of the Norfolk Farm scene, and appears in that volume of the Chronicle. Munnings had a house at Withypool, a hamlet on the edge of the south-east quadrant of Exmoor, and had lived there during the Second World War, as his main home at Dedham in Essex had been requisitioned by the military. (HW possibly created the name 'Riversmill' as the Munnings family were millers on the River Waveney at Flixton, Suffolk; or perhaps because of Dedham Mill on the River Deben.)


The young girl is Miranda Bucentaur: she is the fictional manifestation of Susan Connely, Malcolm Elwin’s step-daughter, with whom HW was briefly besotted in the autumn of 1946, as detailed in The Background section.


Riversmill has ridden out to check on a small building which he thinks would be useful to keep his painting gear, but peering through the window they discover the place is already occupied, and notice a pile


of small, slim magazines with yellow covers. ‘“The New Horizon” . . . that's Wallington Christie's quarterly.’


The riders also notice a small dog waiting patiently nearby. Enquiring at the nearby farm they discover the 'shepherd's cot' has been rented by Phillip Maddison, whom Riversmill calls 'The Norfolk Hero', so called by 'Buster' Cloudesley, a man obviously known to them. They learn Phillip has gone off (to London) to help a friend in trouble, and so they continue on their way.


The scene changes to London, where Phillip is looking for his friend Sir Piers Tofield in the 'passing figures in the shabby, half-starved London masses and the ruins of buildings hit by VI rockets.’ Thus post-war London, a year after the end of the war.


Phillip discovers Piers has been arrested for shooting out the engine of his Aston Martin sports car. This event actually happened. John Heygate (Piers), on returning to London after war service as a bombardier in the army in the Far East, discovered his second wife (Gwyneth Lloyd, a film actress, whom he had met while he was working with UFA, the German state film studio, in Berlin) had run off with an RAF officer, who, in the process, ruined Heygate financially and ran his Aston into the ground, as in the novel here. In a drunken despair Heygate had indeed shot at the engine of the car.


It is a cri-de-coeur from Piers that has caused Phillip to rush up to London. Phillip, tired and hungry and himself despondent, goes to the Barbarian Club (the Savage Club) where he reads in the newspapers the report of the Nuremberg Trials of the Nazi war criminals. He is joined at the table by Professor Hendrade (following HW's usual method of creating names for real characters, this should identify the well-known physicist Professor Cockcroft – but not all the given elements fit). Phillip is disturbed by what he is reading, and makes tactless remarks which upset the professor. Later he apologises, and also writes a letter explaining why he holds these views and giving an overview of the situation.


This letter is important, as it is not just an apology and explanation for the professor, but of course for the world at large. The professor quite understands and magnanimously forgives him (the inference being that therefore so should everyone).


Phillip continues his search for Piers in his known haunts, and at the Medicean Club (the Arts Club) notices a girl with short black hair who smiles at him, but he cannot recollect who she is. She is with a man whom we learn later is the war pilot 'Buster' Cloudesley. Phillip returns to the Barbarian Club.


Now entering the story is the night-porter of the Barbarian Club, Globe-Mornington, ex-operetta 'star'. He is the equivalent of a Shakespearian comic element. Through him, it is revealed that Phillip has taken over from Wallington Christie as Editor of The New Horizon – hence the magazines seen in Shep Cot by Riversmill and Miranda. (HW actually took over The Adelphi from John Middleton Murry in the autumn of 1948.)


Globe-Mornington has a message that Piers has been seen on the London Underground Inner Circle line – just going round and round. A rather neat allegory for Piers’ state of mind and body! We also learn here that Phillip is having trouble with an extremely painful eye. (HW did indeed have trouble with a painful eye around the time he was writing this book, which was eventually sorted out in 1970 with a laser cauterization of the tear-duct to stop continuous dripping and soreness.)


The theme of 'blindness' – an inability to 'see' – is a major thread of this final volume, a physical problem symbolising Phillip's disturbed (blind) state of mind. It makes the perfect allegory.


While looking for Piers, Phillip is approached by the girl who had smiled at him earlier. She is also looking for Piers. It is Laura Wissilcraft, the obsessive would-be writer last seen when she visited him on the Norfolk Farm. (In the Norfolk Farm books of the Chronicle Laura was based on Elsie Alderton, who lived at Eye in Suffolk – where all the actions ascribed to her there were drawn from real life. Elsie did contact HW again at this later stage, sending neurotic letters, so she would certainly have been in HW's mind. However, here 'Laura' is now firmly based on Ann Quin, the equally neurotic writer with whom HW had an intense affaire in 1964-5. Everything ascribed to Laura in The Gale of the World derives directly from Ann – her physical description, behaviour, thoughts, speech, movements.


However, Ann did not ever actually meet John Heygate, who after the Second World War went to live on the estate in Ireland that he had inherited (along with the Baronetcy) from his uncle; nor was she ever a glider pilot, as happens here as the plot progresses.


We learn shortly that Laura knows Melissa Watt-Wilby (a character from previous volumes: note the sound of her name!), and that they had worked in the same hospital in Calcutta. Laura and Phillip are attracted to one another – calling each other 'Prospero' and 'Ariel' (as did HW and Ann Quin in real life). This is an obvious element of The Tempest theme, as noted earlier.


Phillip, on receiving a letter from his sister Elizabeth, leaves to visit his dying father, who is in a nursing home after an operation on his prostate. Elizabeth is her usual querulous self. Richard is in despair, but initially is pleased to see Phillip. (HW visited his dying father on 11/12 October 1946 on his way back to Devon to live.) Phillip has to return to London to attend the Divorce Court hearing: Lucy is divorcing him for adultery. Phillip is not contesting this, so it is actually only Lucy who attends the court hearing, while Phillip hovers outside. (In real life HW provided evidence of adultery with Ann Thomas, who had returned to live with him in Devon and helped with The Adelphi.)


Meanwhile Phillip has learned that his father has died. (William Leopold Williamson died on 31 October 1946.) While at the Divorce Court he sees 'Buster' Cloudesley, also getting a divorce, and so contact is made between them. 'Buster' turns out to be the major who went to see Phillip when he was in hospital on the Norfolk Farm after being shot by soldiers and apologises. He is the son of Manfred, Lord Cloudesley, who was the chief protagonist of HW's novel The Gold Falcon, thus adding a distinctly surreal note to this novel. And, like the clue of the earlier 'Spectre' West, the word 'Cloud' signifies a nebulous abstraction that cannot be grasped – that is, he is not based on a real-life character.


Buster notes that the Russians, under Stalin, are as guilty of genocide as the Germans. This was a view that at that time was not 'wise': the USSR had not yet become the Cold War enemy, and the general feeling was entirely anti-German. HW is establishing a point. Later of course, the Stalinist atrocities became widely known.


At the Divorce Court, Lucy, being honest and transparent, does not persuade the judge that she has a case for divorce and he dismisses it. This is interesting from a psychological viewpoint. In real life, the divorce did go through. It was made absolute on 19 July 1947 – so the initial hearing would have actually been in January 1947, near enough in sync with the novel's time-line. Certainly for Loetitia, 'Gipsy', the impression to me was that she never considered herself 'divorced', and I personally doubt very much that she would have instigated proceedings were it not for her brother Robin's insistence and interference. And, despite all evidence, a part of HW remained 'married' to her (and is what is revealed here in the novel – written in the late 1960s). HW's personality, as must surely have been perceived, was too complex and singular to cope with the 'normality' of marriage. His damaged and tormented psyche was forever searching for a utopian ideal, not just of a partner, but of the world. He could not accept, or rather was continuously fighting the fact, that such perfection did not exist. (Hence 'Don Quixote'.)


So Lucy and Phillip, still man and wife, visit St Paul's Cathedral for Phillip to take notes for his writing (an early volume of the Chronicle has a scene set there), and she comforts him for the death of his father. While they are having coffee Laura comes in. She and Lucy have a common bond in Melissa (Lucy's cousin – as in real life Margot Renshaw was a cousin of Loetitia). Laura, not realising Phillip does not know, mentions that Melissa has been slashed on the face by a Sikh soldier while a nurse in India, and that it was in mistake for her. Melissa is currently having medical treatment to deal with this. Phillip then sees Lucy on to the train to return back to Suffolk.


This detail about the slashed face is based on real life, although it did not involve Margot Renshaw but another cousin by marriage: Geraldine (Gerry) Russell (see HW's diary entry for 1 October 1967, quoted on the Background page). The complicated relationship involves inter-marriage between members of the Chichester/Renshaw/Russell families. Gerry Russell's brother, John Russell (DSC & bar – a Second World War hero who had lost his leg in action), married Mary ('Bimmy'), daughter of Sir Edward George Chichester, 10th Bt., and his wife Phyllis (née Compton – who was the author of New Forest Child, with which book HW involved himself in 1970–72). This family inter-relationship was further cemented as Bimmy and John Russell's daughter Cherry (known as 'The Golden Girl') married Andrew Renshaw, eldest son of Sir Maurice Renshaw, a close friend of HW and brother of Margot Renshaw ('Melissa'). Gerry Russell, then aged twenty-four, had been a nurse in India in the Second World War, and had been attacked and had her face slashed by a sepoy. Copies of letters very generously provided by Gerry's sister Prudence in 2013 reveal that HW wrote to Gerry in October 1945 a few days before he left the Norfolk farm, hoping to see her soon in London. In one he mentions seeing Gerry when she was a young girl – so they had known each other before the Second World War. These letters do not mention the attack and its consequences, but are so kindly reassuring that it is obviously there as a hidden sub-text.


This is followed by a very short chapter (Chapter 6, 'Bruderschaft' – 'Brotherhood') relating life at the new family home, Hill House in Suffolk (Bank House, Botesdale), where Lucy's brother and wife and child are also living ('Bin' and Betty Hibbert, with their child). In the neighbouring village – indeed, just up the hill from Bank House – was a manor house, Redgrave Hall, then used as both a hospital and prison for war detainees. After the war’s end the inmates were allowed a certain amount of freedom. The Hill House contingent, out of kindness, befriend a German doctor from the camp. This doctor tells them that he had attended Feld-Marschall Rundstedt, and that this officer had stopped the advance of tanks at Dunkerque on the order of Hitler, who did not wish to damage the British, a ‘cousin nation’.


Again this is a true incident. This is what a German doctor told HW (who was still resident at Bank House at the time, and so actually before Bin and family went to live there). Whether the statement about Rundstedt’s action is true is open to question; but that is what the doctor believed and said.


The scene then moves to Laura's flat in London, with Laura brooding over her own life. Phillip arrives. Laura explains her kind of writing: 'I write in the idiom of the future.' (Ann Quin's book Berg has violent sex as its theme.) We realise from the conversation between these two that Laura is rather odd – indeed, her conversation borders on the bizarre. Phillip thinks of Billy, his death, the Jews killed in the gas chambers, and soldiers also killed – and now the hangings at Nuremberg, as:


Germany entered upon its dark travail, and accepted all had been in vain, in 1945 as in 1918. . . . He must write; the only thing left to live for: a dedication known and accepted . . . ever since the miracle of that Christmas day in no-man's land in 1914.


They go for a walk in Kensington Gardens. Phillip asks for her help in producing The New Horizon, telling her that in the last issue Wallington Christie had proposed that the atom bomb should be dropped on Russia, and that this has alienated readers (as did Middleton Murry in The Adelphi: see Anne Williamson, 'Millenium Revelations', HWSJ 35, September 1999).


Phillip now drives down to Bournemouth for his father's funeral. He calls in to see Piers at his old family home, which is more or less in ruins – Piers is very bitter (as was Heygate). Phillip continues on to Bournemouth, where he has to deal with his two sisters, Doris and Elizabeth, the latter highly querulous. Doris is unwell with a goitre. (HW's sister Biddy – Doris Mary – died in 1950, aged 52, after a hard life bringing up her two sons on her own after her husband Bill Busby had walked out and vanished.) Elizabeth reveals that their father's house has been left solely to her. (As happened in real life, in a Will made only the previous month, following a dubious promise that she would look after her father.)


During the cremation Phillip's thoughts review his father's life. It is a sombre passage: musing on life and death, mixed up with his feelings about the war and the death of Hitler. Afterwards, he goes to see his Aunt Viccy who lived nearby (she features in the early volumes of the Chronicle). They come to some kind of understanding. (This was HW's Aunt Maude in real life, her husband Theodore Gregg having already died.)


Phillip returns to London, where Laura now refuses to go down to Exmoor and help him: she has to look after her friend Beth, but will see him when she goes down there with Buster, who lives nearby. (The original for 'Beth' is unknown – but she was not connected with Ann Quin in real life.)


So Phillip returns to Devon (Chapter 9, 'Meeting with Riversmill') in his Alvis, but wishes it was his 'Norton motor-bicycle, my Brooklands Road Special', and relives his journey in 1921. He feels he is 'but an apparition from the Western Front —



gale 24 para p 93



And he remembers, poignantly:



gale 25 para p 93



(Note that despite all the late revisions to the text, the pulping of the first 3,000 copies, resetting and printing the second issue of the book, there are errors still present: 'Cranmere' should of course be 'Cranmer', Phillip's boyhood friend.)


Then after Taunton he turns north taking the coast road to Lynmouth. The description of this journey is lyrical – the prose sweeps along as the Alvis would have done, and his thoughts likewise. But at journey's end there is a sad meeting with a gaunt Aunt Dora in a now very run-down Ionian Cottage. Phillip then continues on his way up the hill to Barbrook, stopping on the stone bridge over the Lyn:


Listening to the dull roar of unseen water . . . There was a strange chuckling noise rising out of the glen . . . That dark chuckle coming up from the Glen: he remembered the same unearthly sounds arising from the Pass of Roncesvales. . . .


This is a reference to an earlier incident which forms the climax of The Innocent Moon, when Phillip gets caught in an avalanche in the Pyrenees while trying to get to Barley (and that was loosely based on the walking tour HW undertook in 1924 with journalist friends.)


These 'leitmotif' phrases reflect and presage ominous events: HW is, with his master-writer's craft, laying down a marker of horror to come. He continues:


This is my land and sea of ghosts, an extension of my greater phantasmagoria of the Western Front. . . .


His experience of the war was ever uppermost in HW's mind. It was his driving force.


Phillip continues with a phrase that only HW could write:


Sirius shaking rainbow fires over the black line of the moor.


(No wonder Ted Hughes referred to him as a poet.)


He eventually reaches his destination, the shepherd's cot high on the moor. To get to the location where HW places ‘Shep Cot’ (from Lynmouth), one returns directly up the hill (the old main road to Barnstaple) to Barbrook, turning right on to a minor road – a moorland track – following up the east side of the West Lyn River, which passes a farm and eventually peters out near Furzehill. The marked small buildings (linhays) suggest the site for HW’s ‘Shep Cot’. Beyond are hut circles and a series of tumuli. There are various clues within the text which corroborate this location, told to Anne Williamson by HW himself – but HW could also have used details from other local features.


Once settled inside, in due course Phillip switches on the radio for the news, to hear that ten Nazi war criminals have been hanged.


There are those who object to the inclusion of these historical facts in the novel, and to the views expressed by Phillip. At the time, however, the Nuremberg Trials were front page news, and it is entirely legitimate that they are included here. One has to understand, too, and have empathy with, what HW wanted to portray – the wider view: the Weltanschauung (or 'worldview') of philosophers (see Anne Williamson, 'Dual Heritage', HWSJ 42, September 2006, p. 5–37, which discusses this; especially see p. 23). It is inevitable that Phillip is in a state of tension over these events. He equates the Nuremberg Trials with the disastrous Versailles Treaty, and fears that it will lead to the same outcome. It is neither sinister nor subversive: one can only feel sorry for the tormented Phillip, who is working his way through Purgatory (as Christian does in Pilgrim's Progress) and will in the end prevail.


Buster Cloudesley holds similar views, but arrived at for different reasons, and expressed far more forcefully. He is an anti-communist.


Laura, sexually a 'man-eater', wants both Buster and Phillip, and plays them on her line, although not maliciously. She writes a letter to Phillip that is full of neurosis and sexual frustration. While reading this missive sitting on a wall in Lynmouth, he is hailed by Riversmill. In the course of their conversation Riversmill mentions an American by name of Caspar Schwenkfelder, Doctor of Diaphany of Little Rock Academy:


‘Lives in that Victorian Castle – it lies on the coombe-side east of your cot . . . built by the sugar-king who went bust playing the organ all day and night.'


Schwenkfelder is the notorious Ron Hubbard, founder of the Scientology movement. (HW was not a Scientologist himself: he merely uses it as a vehicle in this novel.) The placing of the castle here provides a minor research problem of its own. There is indeed marked on the map a place named as Roborough Castle, to the east of the spot where HW has placed 'Shep Cot', and situated on the side of the coombe above Hoar Oak Water. But Roborough Castle (and other named 'castles' on Exmoor) is not literally a castle: it is actually an iron-age hill fort, and so hardly fits the scenario – so it is all one of HW's Til Eulenspiegel jokes!



gale 26A hoar oak
Hoar Oak: a photograph taken by HW in the early 1920s




Later it becomes clear exactly where Schwenkfelder is entrenched – well to the west of Shep Cot – so there is actually an error here: 'east' should be 'west' (I suspect a mis-reading of HW's handwriting that went unnoticed once typed up and printed).


Riversmill invites Phillip to dine with them at Molly Bucentaur's that evening (presumably already arranged with the hostess!), saying that Buster Cloudesley will be there. He suggests Phillip comes to his house at Willowpool and that they go on from there.


(Alfred Munnings had a cottage at Withypool, a small hamlet just south of Exford, and HW stayed there on more than one occasion. The country name for 'willow' is 'withy' – so the origination of 'Willowpool' is clear. HW does not specify exactly where 'Willowpool' is. Trying to follow the fictional movements from the real Withypool on the map becomes totally illogical, and one realises that HW has moved this hamlet and placed it further north somewhere on the road nearer to Minehead. This then fits the route taken by Riversmill and Miranda on horseback in the opening scene and also later movements.)


The meeting and invitation cheers Phillip up – something to do – and he looks at the river,


seeing it as a score of separate streams bursting out of the great turf-sponge of the high moor: . . . He had heard that sixty brooks, or waters as they were called, fed the East and West Lyn rivers in their confluent descents to the Severn Sea.


So Part One ends, with that watery leitmotif becoming more insistent.





Phillip goes to Willowpool and Mrs Riversmill drives them on to Molly Bucentaur's.


(Again, HW does not specify where this is, but we learn later that the cottage is by Bewick Down. Using logic, a good map, and knowing how HW's mind works, this surely has to be located in the vicinity of Simonsbath, situated on the road that crosses the moor from east to west. Immediately to the north-west of Simonsbath is Dure Down. I would suggest that 'Dure' suggested to HW the artist Albrecht Dürer (he kept a Dürer print pinned up in his Writing Hut) – while another wood-engraver was Thomas Bewick: and so 'Bewick Down'. The routes taken here and later in the story then fit in very nicely! But this is all a fictional device anyway – at that time the Elwins, on whom the Bucentaurs are loosely based, actually lived at Underborough at Westward Ho!.


The arrival of the guests at Molly Bucentaur's is witnessed and hindered by a small herd of goats. Molly Bucentaur explains that the goats are the remnants of the famous 'Brockholes' herd. The Bucentaurs, having fallen on hard times, have had to sell up their estate, and are about to present the goats to Lynton Council to inhabit the Valley of Rocks, to replace those lost in the Second World War.


This roughly fits the Elwin's own penurious situation. And (but nothing to do with the Elwins) there had indeed been a herd of wild goats living in the Valley of Rocks, but during the Second World War they had become sadly depleted for various reasons – not least that most had been killed for food. Some had been saved, and kept 'interned'. After the war this nucleus herd was returned to their special habitat – and remain there to this day.


Molly takes Phillip up to meet her daughter Miranda, already in bed along with the other children, Imogen and younger Roger. (Eve Connely had two daughters, Sally and Susan, and often had the company of a young boy, who was the son of the relation who let them live at Underborough.) We find Imogen is shy and retiring, while Miranda is precocious and very well-read. She later gets up again. During the course of this evening – and throughout the book – she tends to quote frequently from The Water Wanderer (Phillip's book – which is of course Tarka the Otter) and Jefferies’ The Story of My Heart, and knows some philosophic theories. (Susan Connely's letters to HW do not reveal quite the same level of intellect!)


Miranda has one of the goats – a nanny called Capella – as a much-loved pet, and she is hoping that she can keep this animal when the others are returned to the wild. Capella goes everywhere with her, as we found in the opening scene of the book. It is also more or less house-trained, and likes to play as would a pet dog, especially retrieving cricket balls: a marker laid down here for a future scene.


Buster Cloudesley now arrives from London. He has just read a book written while its author was in prison during the war, and is full of enthusiasm for it, quoting loudly: 'both Fascism and its opponent, Financial Democracy have failed', and that the only way forward is for the nations of Europe to join in 'Europe a Nation'. We also learn that Buster is a glider pilot, and that he has a plan to rescue Rudolf Hess by glider.


(Rudolf Hess, 1894–1987, was a senior member of the Nazi regime. In 1941, without any official sanction – and to Hitler's extreme displeasure – he had flown to Scotland with the intention of negotiating a peace settlement. Instead he had been held in custody for the rest of the war. In 1946 he was convicted at the Nuremburg War Trials and served a life sentence in Spandau Prison, which was under Allied control, in Berlin. From the 1960s onwards there were those who campagned vociferously, the Daily Express chief among them, for his release on humanitarian grounds. In August 1987, still in Spandau, he hanged himself. HW is appropriating here various newspaper reports of similar plots to rescue Hess over the years.)


A little side-line is introduced here: Buster has found a replacement for the engine block of his 4½-litre super-charged Bentley – a rare commodity. Phillip had told him to try one of the Bentley Boys who lived in Norfolk. This is a reference to Tim Birkin, the famous Bentley racing driver, who had lived almost next door to the Norfolk Farm. This is another of HW's games – playing with the real name Birkin and his fictional name for Mosley. There was of course no connection between those two men.


After dinner Buster reads from this new book to the assembled company, without telling them the name of its author. All are impressed, and then wonder who it is by. Miranda is sure it is by Phillip, but he denies this. The author's name is then given: Sir Hereward Birkin.


(As HW states in his 'Acknowledgements', this is Sir Oswald Mosley's The Alternative, written after the war had ended. Mosley was interned under Regulation 18b in Brixton Prison from 1940–43, when he was released to house arrest due to ill health. He was finally fully released at the end of the war. The book was actually written post-war in 1946, and published the following year.)


Phillip asks if he may borrow it, to review it in The New Horizon, explaining that he is the new editor. (The Alternative was actually reviewed by John Middleton Murry in The Adelphi, Vol. 24, No 2, Jan-March 1948, before HW took over the magazine.)


Riversmill reveals that he had attended a Birkin meeting before the war. (Alfred Munnings was part of the small group who had attended HW's 'Norfolk Farm party', and next day also went to hear Mosley speak in King's Lynn.)


The smallholder Aaron Kedd, who lives to the east of Shep Cot, beside the Hoar River (tributary of the East Lyn), now comes to the fore. He is a local preacher of no denomination, 'whose mind has turned to hell rather than to salvation'. He is the owner of the badly treated little dog that Phillip has befriended and which he now buys for ten shillings (today a trivial 50p – but 10/- was a lot of money in 1947!). Phillip makes him a bed from a corn sack that he’d brought with him from Norfolk, marked 'Bodger of Great Snoring', and so calls the dog 'Bodger'. (Great and Little Snoring are real places.)


Phillip settles down to write his first editorial for The New Horizon. Its title is 'The Lost Legions' and its content follows fairly closely that of HW's actual first editorial for The Adelphi (Vol. 25, No. 1, October–December 1948; see the entry for The Adelphi). HW plays a little game here – mentioning the fictional Wallington Christie and the real life Middleton Murry in the same paragraph!


Molly Bucentaur arrives on horseback en route to Lynton (thus helping to confirm the placing of her home) and offers her help. She has brought the copy of Birkin's book, and Phillip incorporates a review of it into his editorial (not so in real life, as mentioned previously).


Phillip goes down to the 'village' to buy food, and sees a fisherman he recognises as a fellow-Barbarian (the Savage Club in London): Osgood Nilsson. (This is Negley Farson (1890–1960), journalist and renowned fisherman; his portrayal in this book is very true to life. Farson is buried in the churchyard at Georgeham, just across the stream from HW's grave.)


Returning home, he meets Miranda with her pet goat. She offers to help with the magazine, and he asks her to go through the pile of potential material to see if anything looks worth including. She exclaims excitedly over finding poems by James Farrar. (Again this follows HW's first editorial in The Adelphi, which incorporates material by this very talented young man killed in the war. HW championed his work and edited it for publication as The Unreturning Spring.)


The scene changes to Lucy in the new family home in Suffolk, where her brother Tim is making on his Holtzappfel lathe small boxes of ivory and sandalwood to sell to a Bond Street shop. (As in real life: Robin Hibbert became a master craftsman at 'turning', producing beautiful work. All three Hibbert brothers had emigrated to Australia on the death of their father; ‘Bin’ had returned to work, briefly, on HW's Norfolk Farm – and after the war and a short sojourn with his sister at Botesdale, returned to Tasmania. His ivory and ebony candlesticks adorn the altar of Hobart Cathedral in Tasmania.)



gale 27 boxes made by Robin Hibbert
Examples of boxes turned by Robin Hibbert




The children love the rabbit-warren house (Bank House was great for hide-&-seek, Richard recalls), and Tim and wife and baby have fallen lucky. Lucy receives a letter from her cousin Molly (Bucentaur) inviting the boys to stay during the summer holidays.


Back at Shep Cot, Miranda makes another visit and reads more James Farrar; but they are spied on by the obnoxious Aaron Kedd, who while shouting obscenities about their (innocent) behaviour indulges himself sexually. Phillip escorts her on her way home, 'as far as the Exe Plain, well beyond Aaron Kedd's cot down Horrock Water.' (Hoar Oak Water, due east of Shep Cot: Exe Plain is to the south-east of The Chains.)


Phillip's eye is very painful from the stress of working late at night by candle-light. Molly is beginning to feel troubled that Miranda spends too much time with him. To divert this she offers her own help instead. (There is a distinct undertow that she is jealous of the attention that Phillip gives her daughter. There were several instances in real life for HW of similar mother/daughter situations.) Phillip then has to go to London on business, where he visits Laura; but finds she is engrossed in her own book and her own miseries.


We learn that Mornington, the once-operetta singer-cum-night porter at the Barbarian Club, who offered earlier to be man-servant to Piers, is now actually man-servant to Buster Cloudesley: a very successful arrangement.


Measles at Miranda's school means she is sent home, where she now reads a book on the 'Cosmic Concept', written by Major Piston, whose elderly mother runs a boarding house in Lynmouth called 'Shelley's Cottage'. (Shelley's Cottage was the dwelling, then called Woodbine Cottage and today a hotel, where the poet Shelley stayed during his brief stay in Lynmouth in 1812. It features in On Foot in Devon. Incidentally, 'woodbine' is an old country word for honeysuckle.) The Pistons are vegetarians and the elderly mother is a medium. Miranda rather defiantly goes off on her cob to visit Phillip.



gale 28 p 140



Buster has set up a grass runway for his glider on 'the Porlock marshes behind the ridge of grey boulders above the line of high tide.' (Porlock is a small fishing village nine miles east of Lynton, with a high cliff behind its coastal marsh, known because of its association with Coleridge's poem. A gliding venture there would have been a perilous affair, due to the turbulent air. HW is drawing on the airfield actually found at Chivenor between Barnstaple and Braunton, where he once had a flying lesson, and where Ann Edmonds (later Welch) learned to fly in the 1930s; she is the prototype for Laura's gliding here.)


The glider is given a tow behind Buster's Bentley to become airborne, Mornington at the wheel. (The origin of this is that, the day before he left for Devon in late 1946, HW had given his Alvis Silver Eagle to Ann Welch who had been in the Air Transport Auxiliary during the war, and was now running a gliding club in Surrey. She used it to retrieve the tow line after gliders had been launched.) We find here a lyrical sentence which is typically HW:


The ravens were playing in the blue halls of the wind.


Laura has written to Phillip: Ariel to Prospero:


I shall always love you, but I must be free of your image.


Phillip's answer states:


I am no Prospero. My staff, or pen, [i.e. Prospero's magic wand] has been lost long since. Perhaps it was broken for ever, thirty two years ago tomorrow under the moon of Hallowe'en, 1914, on Messines Ridge in Flanders, which still doth haunt my dreams, a grim, unbidden visitant.


He encloses a poem on the drowning of Shelley. Laura thinks he has written it, and also decides that it means he plans to commit suicide. He writes again to explain that it wasn't his poem, but she still doesn't seem to understand and rushes down to Devon by train, arriving at Barnstaple, and then takes a bus to Lynton. (The little Barnstaple-Lynton railway across the moor that features in earlier books had been closed down in 1935.)


The bus journey, its passengers, and Laura's disturbed state of mind are described in some detail. At one point she jumps off the bus and sees a glider overhead and:


afar, of azure sea and the distant coast of Wales below woolly clouds calling to mind Bards and Druids, and the magic of Merlin.


At the same time, Miranda is out on The Chains on her way to see Phillip:


and so to a thread of water moving through swampy ground rough with clumps of purple grass and rush. Thus, unknowing, she crossed the West Lyn river at one of its sources.


Both are leitmotifs building towards the climax of the impending disaster.


Miranda arrives at Shep Cot, and they go out on to The Chains to watch Buster in his glider. Phillip remembers the German offensive of March 1918 code-named MICHAEL (this is described in detail in A Test to Destruction): even here that war is uppermost in HW's mind. Buster releases a message on a tiny parachute:




This gesture may seem a make-believe step too far, but again it has its roots firmly fixed in reality. During the Second World War (only just over in this novel, remember) small rockets were used to propel flares attached to mini-parachutes into the air during night exercises to expose any lurking enemy. Living on the farm on the North Norfolk coast the Williamson boys occasionally found one of these 'treasures'. Both Robert and Richard had one and used them to launch their special toys from the top of the chalk pit quarry, and HW himself sometimes joined in this fun. HW is drawing on his memory of a happy interlude in this scene here.


The photograph below is not one of those actual wartime models, but one that Richard Williamson found towards the end of the 1960s when working on a Nature Reserve adjacent to an MOD practice area. It is more than likely that HW saw this at the time, and it doubtless reminded him of the earlier incidents.



gale 28A



Later Laura arrives, having walked up from the bus at Barbrook, her usual rather hysterical self, although this time she has had an unpleasant encounter with Aaron Kedd.


Back home, Miranda announces that she will not be going to university, but will help Phillip with his work instead. Molly, rightly concerned, tells her this is a passing phase of hero-worship. Miranda does not want to know.


The scene moves to the Hallowe’en party at 'The Eyrie'. (HW has placed Buster's domain above the wood on the steep hillside above Lynmouth and overlooking the Lyn gorge – so 'Eyrie' is very appropriate.) This party becomes very wild and Bacchanalian: suitable to the occasion! Buster uses a searchlight to try and attract the attention of a coven of witches and wizards dancing naked round a fire some way below them. Laura throws off her clothes and runs to join them, doing cartwheels. These scenes represent the wild relief felt by many after the war.


They are spied on by Aaron Kedd, with his usual behaviour ('kedd' is another word for a blow-fly). Also present is Brigadier Tarr ('the Brig'), who lechers after Laura, who sorts him out with a judo throw. Kedd screeches obscenities. The Brig blows a horn – and Laura notes that he is only happy when he is in the air.


Later, as things calm down, Laura, in Phillip's bed, challenges him about Miranda. He withdraws into his thoughts, remembering Hallowe'en in 1914:


The old Western Front was pale under the same moon. Were there now foxes in the country about the Somme river? Trees grown high again to cluster together as woods above the Ancre stream, haunt of wildfowl which had never heeded the flash of guns in the valley below Thiepval and the Schwaben redoubt?


She again talks about drowning:


'I think drowning is the best death. It's the cleanest, and it's over soon, and no-one sees your body.'


(This was written, and The Gale of the World published, several years before Ann Quin drowned herself. Either HW was uncannily prescient or – more likely – such a conversation actually took place between them.)


Getting nowhere with Phillip, she then leaves his bed and gets into Buster's; but he has his own preoccupations about writing his father's biography, noting that in two months’ time he will have been dead 23 years. (This makes that event – the climax of The Gold Falcon – as occurring in 1924: Buster was then about five years old. HW's visit to New York, on which that book is based, was over the winter of 1930-31; but no date is ever given within the book. This is the only clue HW ever gives about the date – and this fits in with Buster's supposed service in the Second World War. However (inevitably), there is a contradiction, in that Manfred's doomed flight across the Atlantic was made in a Lockheed Altair, which was first manfactured in 1930!)


Phillip drives Laura to London in his Alvis Silver Eagle; her behaviour is neurotic and hysterical. In London he collects his New Horizon material from her flat, for Laura is en route to Corfu where she intends to write her book, and will not be helping either him or Buster in their work. (This follows Ann Quin and her sojourn in Greece.)


Phillip goes on to visit Lucy and the children, and Tim, where he is made welcome. He plays with baby Sarah, who has grown a lot! A freeze-up is beginning and Phillip returns. A cold journey, but back at Shep Cot it is reasonably warm. He muses over his archive of material from the First World War – books, maps, letters. But once in bed this merges into a nightmare of the Versailles Treaty and its aftermath.


On awakening his left eye is very painful. He rigs up a light via the Alvis battery, and gets on with his editorial for The New Horizon, which includes an  important passage about the need for a War and Peace of this era, and is drawn directly from HW's editorial written for The Adelphi (Vol. 25, No. 2, 'Notes of an Apprentice Hand'). He lays out here how he sees the European situation and its two devastating wars. It is of course a plea that his own planned work – his Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight – should be considered as worthy of the War and Peace accolade. (That is an aspect that needs a separate detailed analysis and argument, but there can be no doubt that it is a valid plea. It is surely the only work in modern literature that could ever be considered for such a comparison.)


Chapter 15 is entitled 'Princess Eirēnē': ‘eirēnē’ is the Greek for 'peace'.



gale 29A end para p 172


gale 29B para p 173



The cold intensifies: the Silver Eagle is drained of water and laid up. Phillip walks daily to the village. He meets Osgood Nilsson and 'his rosy-faced wife' Rosalie. She tells him they live 'up in the woods near that odd recluse Lord Cloudesley.' (So both are somewhere on the wooded slopes of Lyn Cleave.)


The coming snow reminds Phillip of the winter of 1916–17:



gale 30 para p 174



This in turn reminds him of Piston, 'That dark furtive clown of 1916 at the Lynton Convalescent Home' (he appears in The Golden Virgin), and he pays a visit to Shelley's Cottage, meeting Piston's mother, 'almost completely etherealised'. She claims to be psychic and a medium. Phillip questions Piston about the 1916 fire, but he is evasive. He tells Phillip that he has been 'clarified' by Schwenkfelder, and gives a potted history of 'Diaphany'. (Ron Hubbard originally named his movement 'Dianetics’ – when that closed due to his own embezzlement he started again, calling it the 'Church of Scientology', as religious movements did not have to pay tax. HW's name is rather clever – diaphany being 'transparent' but also similar sound to 'phoney'!)


Piston urges Phillip to visit his Aunt Dora, with whom he has become friendly, as holding similar views on the afterlife, and whom he calls 'Auntie'. Phillip goes down the street to seek her out; and we are given another warning water 'leitmotif':



gale 31 para p 179



Aunt Dora has changed:


What had been a ghost in lamplight was now an Edwardian-clothed skeleton with protruding teeth, pince-nez spectacles covering life-averted eyes.


She has been fasting for the last 39 days (an obvious Biblical reference: Christ fasted 40 days in the wilderness). Dora complains that Elizabeth is supposed to have come to live with her to help, but has not arrived. (This reflects a parallel real-life situation: HW's sister Kathy ('Elizabeth' in the Chronicle) was offered the home of their widowed Aunt Maude (Mrs Gregg) who lived in Bournemouth, in return for looking after her, her son Hubert having died in 1956; but Kathy prevaricated, wanting the reward without the effort involved.)


Phillip returns to Shep Cot. The next morning he awakes to 'a curious pallor': the snow has arrived. (The official date for the start of one of the worst winters in modern times was 21 January 1947. Its effects were particularly bad as the country was still recovering from the war, and shortages of food and coal – both for power stations and domestic heating – were chronic, and caused much hardship.)



gale 32 p 181



Dora's thoughts, as she huddles in bed, starving and with only a thin blanket to keep off the cold, are of her recently changed Will, leaving everything to Elizabeth instead of Phillip. She realises Phillip's true worth and decides to revoke the Will back to his favour, especially the family papers of her mother's family:


the von Föhres of Württemburg. If Boy wished to write novels with a family background, as Thomas Mann had done in Buddenbrooks, he would require every help.


(For a discussion of the similarities between HW and Thomas Mann, see Anne Williamson, 'Dual Heritage', HWSJ 42, September 2006, pp. 5-34.)


Inevitably, and before she could change her Will, Theodora Maddison dies of cold and self-inflicted starvation (on the 40th day). In early March, after the thaw has set, in Phillip visits his Aunt and her emaciated body is discovered. (Mary Leopoldina Williamson actually died in 1945 at her home in South Devon. Sadly, the family papers in her possession disappeared, seemingly burnt by the solicitor whom HW, unable to go down at that time, had instructed to deal with everything.)


The next chapter (Chapter 16, 'Boy on a Bicycle') opens at the Suffolk home of the family. Young Jonathan has a hidey-hole up in the rafters of 'Birdy House' (Bank House, Botesdale) where he watches starlings and swifts. Father arrives in his Alvis Silver Eagle to collect the caravan, brought over from the Norfolk Farm, to put on the moor. His brother-in-law tells him that the prisoner-of-war camp is now closed, and he thinks the Ukrainian soldiers have been sent to Australia. We learn that Phillip's sister Doris has also died that winter. (HW's sister Biddy actually died in 1950, but we know that HW is compressing events into a shorter time-frame in this novel.)


It is arranged that the boys will cycle down to Devon in the summer holidays. This reminds Phillip of his own youthful cycling days – lost for ever and for ever . . .



gale 33 HW poem p 190



Returning to Devon, Phillip passes through 'Heathmarket' where, as a new subaltern, he was stationed in 1915 (as was HW in Newmarket), and remembers Bertram Baldersby of Baldersby Towers – later killed in action – and Wilfred Owen, 'haunting the Western Front'. His eyes hurting and feeling tired, he stops to spend the night by Stonehenge (as he has on other previous journeys throughout the Chronicle), awaking to ‘a dawn of great stillness and beauty, despite the lack of lark-song', killed by over-spraying with yellow DNC.


He pays a visit to his Aunt Victoria, living in Bournemouth (HW's Aunt Maude). She is surprisingly affable and tells him about his sister Elizabeth's mercenary behaviour (recollect the earlier note on the real-life situation). She also recommends an eye-specialist living in Bournemouth, who in turn recommends one in Minehead – 'a particular author of wild life on the Moor'.


Phillip goes on to visit Piers at Field Place, his deceased father's old home (John Heygate's father had lived in Lymington, on the coast of Hampshire). There he finds Beth, the unhappy friend of Laura Wissilcraft, who is now living with Piers. She tells Phillip that Laura has returned from Corfu and has gone down to Devon with Buster Cloudesley. Continuing via Minehead, the eye specialist merely recommends rest.


Phillip walks on the moor with faithful Bodger, and sees curlew (there is a good description here). He is training Bodger to find him on the moor in case he gets lost. Overhead are gliders: Buster Cloudesley and Brigadier Tarr have started a gliding school, and Laura is their first pupil.


Laura arrives shortly to visit Phillip, in neurotic mood as always. She admits to an affaire with a musician in Corfu (as did Ann Quin in Greece). In discussing the gliding, Phillip thinks of Icarus, and quotes the line from Francis Thompson’s The Mistress of Vision:


'"Falls my singed song down the sky, even the old Icarian way."'


They go down into the village for coffee. We learn from Laura that Buster cannot get on with his father's biography, particularly as he is inhibited by the intrusive questioning of Osgood Nilsson. She reminds Phillip about the Oldstone Down Midsummer Eve Festival of the Eirēnēan Society:


'Oldstone Down is one of those charged mountains, like the Hartz mountain in the Black Forest.’


‘I believe in Blake, who said “Everything that lives is holy.”’


As he leaves Phillip sees smoke coming from the chimney of Ionian Cottage, and is dismayed to see his sister Elizabeth.


The next chapter (Chapter 17) concerns Mrs Osgood Nilsson – Rosalie – who, having heard tales about Phillip from his sister, makes a visit to Shep Cot. We learn immediately that her father had written 'ghoulish extravaganzas under the nom-de-plume of D. Raguller.' HW is playing there with the word 'Dracula', for Eve Farson was the daughter of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula. We are also given a pretty accurate portrait of Negley Farson as Nilsson.


Rosalie finds no-one at home, so she noses around and reads some typing left on his desk. Apart from comments about Laura, and others by Laura, it includes an important passage about the First World War and Phillip's raison d'être for his 'series of novels', ending


'The Great War was the epitome of lovelessness in Western civilization. That is the theme that has long possessed me.'


Rosalie then climbs up on to The Chains to find Phillip – and finds Miranda also present. With her clever gossipy manner she wheedles information out of them, and then rushes home to relate all to her husband.





Osgood Nilsson himself now comes to the fore. As correspondent for a New York newspaper he is writing a series of articles under the overall title 'Living under the Harrow; Churchill's Island Fortress since the termination of the war', the purpose of which is to emphasise the degeneration of morals and pre-war ideals. (This cleverly links back to HW's Churchill quotation fronting Part One.) He had decided his first article should be about the College of Diaphany set-up, run by Caspar Schwenkfelder.


Nilsson goes to the Castle to gain his material. Left alone to wait, he takes one or two valuable books from the shelves and puts them in his capacious 'fishing' (poacher's) pockets of his coat. He is then taken in hand by the 'Public Relations Officer' – none other than Archibald Plugge, who has appeared in earlier volumes (he is based on Bobby Roberts, friend of John Heygate, and whom HW met originally in the late 1920s; he was one of the trio involved in 'desecrating' the Georgeham Village sign.) Archie is rather a tippler. The ensuing 'journalese' article causes quite a stir.


For his second article Nilsson, having encountered the famous artist in the bar of the local club, writes about Fred Riversmill and the decadence of the arts. Munnings himself was well-known for his perorations on this subject, including an impassioned – and notorious – speech made as President of the Royal Academy (there is a copy of it in HW's archive).


Nilsson has also decided to write about Buster Cloudesley's famous First World War air-ace father, Manfred, questioning the validity of the story. But before he can begin Rosalie tells him that the 'peal are running', and he goes off to fish. (Farson was a well-known fisherman and indeed is probably best remembered today for his book Going Fishing, an angling classic.)


He is seen by Phillip and Laura. After showing them his badly ulcerated leg (a habit of Negley's!) Nilsson requests their help to move his caravan and also, with another article in view, quizzes Phillip about his views on Exmoor becoming a Nature Reserve under state control. His erratic driving terrifies Phillip. (HW was the most terrible passenger!)


They arrive at the 'Marksman' pub where the landlord is Corney – the one-time manservant to Manfred Cloudesley, now a 'white-haired man with reflective eyes'. Nilsson quizzes Corney about his dead master, and he tells him the story of the ghosts appearing on the night that Manfred drowned (dog and dead wife Ann, as related in The Gold Falcon). Nilsson's insistent defamation upsets Phillip who leaves shortly, followed by Laura. Later, Nilsson loud-mouths local society in what he calls (as a derogatory term) the 'Zymes Club'. (All of which was sadly typical of Negley Farson’s behaviour.)


We move into Chapter 19, 'From the Vasty Deep': the séance held by Piston's mother. Piston is very nervous beforehand, worrying that those with the wrong vibrations might turn up (thinking of Nilsson and Tarr). Those who actually attended 'that June evening at Shelley's Cottage' were Molly and Miranda, Buster and Laura, Brig. Tarr, Phillip and Archibald Plugge – and Mrs Nilsson, on her own.


The comments here about The New Horizon (The Adelphi) are not strictly true. Certainly perhaps some subscribers gave up when John Middleton Murry left (or had already defected due to Murry's views) – but the magazine held its own. HW handed it over to George Godwin almost certainly because Ann Thomas was no longer around to run it.


Old Mrs Piston goes into a trance: she appears to see someone sailing off little paper boats containing messages, and produces a message that has appeared to her with a poem written on it. This scene really only makes sense if the original real-life background is known (and HW evidently expected his readers to know it!).


We now come to the centre of the Romantic theme. This is the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley who, when staying there in 1812, was known for making paper boats containing political messages and floating them out to sea from Lynmouth, hopefully to reach Wales – he also sent little hot-air balloons!); and then had to flee from the hounding authorities. (Further details of this episode can be found in Anne Williamson’s Following Henry Williamson's Footsteps in On Foot in Devon, an e-book published by the HWS.) The woman referred to is Jane Williams, with whom Shelley was in love at the end of his life (they met in 1821), and who had written him a letter two days before the fateful sailing in which Shelley drowned in Spezia Bay in Italy. Jane lived with Edward Williams, who was also drowned, together with the young boatman. The boat was meant to have been named Ariel, and although Byron had ordered it to be changed to Don Juan (and it was painted thus) to Shelley it remained Ariel.


The poem itself is ‘Buona Notte’ ['Good Night'], and was written by Francis Thompson as if it was Shelley's reply to Jane Williams' letter. This poem was included in the copy of Thompson's Selected Poems that was given to HW by Frank Davis in 1921, where it is prefaced by the words:


Jane Williams, in her last letter to Shelley, wrote:


'Why do you talk of never enjoying moments like the past? Are you going to join your friend Plato, or do you expect that I shall do so soon? Buona Notte.’


Francis Thompson picked up on that last word 'Buona Notte', then twists Jane's word 'Plato' (Shelley had translated Plato's Symposium and followed neo-Platonic philosophy) to ‘Pluto’ (the Greek god of the Underworld), and so encompassing Shelley's death by drowning.


Mrs Piston speaks, in her trance:



gale 34 Buona Notte



Miranda is understandably very upset by this séance and the poem involving her own name, and Molly takes her away. The whole scene is a clever fulcrum pointing towards the storm and drownings that occur in due course.


Laura then hysterically accuses Phillip of having written the poem and tricking the Pistons. Phillip had already explained the background of the poem to Laura in his earlier letter, but here she is still wilfully misunderstanding . . . and it was, of course, Laura herself who had made the Shelley-like paper boat out of the poem Phillip had sent her, and launched it on the Lyn when up on the moor, which the Pistons had later found; and then convinced themselves that it was a message from the past via the ether.


The group eventually part, agreeing to meet up at Oldstone Down for the Midsummer Festival.


So the scene changes to Oldstone Down. This is Holdstone Down, overlooking the coast and the Severn Sea about seven miles west of Lynton and Lynmouth. However HW has moved the fictional site nearer to Lynton – as after the ceremony the 'congregation' go back down the wooded valley to Lynton for breakfast: the trek from Holdstone itself would not have been viable!


Apart from simply dropping the 'H' from 'Holdstone', interestingly there is a 1936 postcard in HW's archive addressed to his family staying at 'Oldstone' at Westward Ho!: this was where the Elwin family lived courtesy of a relative, and where the Williamsons spent more than one summer holiday by the sea. The convolutions of HW's mind are endless! HW was in Paris seeing Mrs Louise Reeve, his hostess in Georgia in 1934, and while there he attended a memorial to Henri Barbusse.



gale 35A postcard from Paris


gale 35B front



It is Midsummer dawn:


Oldstone Down between the lights of midsummer. The form of a motor-coach visible beside motorcars on heather growing beside the narrow coastal road. Far below, tidal currents of the Severn Sea were enscrollings of reflected sky. A lone gull called, spirit of blind ocean.


Mrs Piston is the chief invocator to Princess Eirēnē. Her invocation is enhanced by a column of blazing matter appearing in the sky across the Severn Sea. The phenomenon has actually been caused by the Bessemer Steel converters in the steelworks in Wales. (The Bessemer process was a steel-making process invented by Sir Henry Bessemer in 1855 to remove unwanted impurities from the pig-iron. Air was forcibly drawn through the iron to remove impurities such as carbon, silicon etc., creating a blast of 'fireworks' thrown up into the sky from a tall chimney.)


The prosaic description of this process seen by the participants of the midsummer ceremony is interpreted by the Eirēnians as proof of their beliefs. They are to breathe deeply and absorb the 'Great Power', and so receive the spirit of life.


And once again a seemingly bizarre scene is based on total fact, as a cutting that HW pasted in his diary in April 1971 reveals:



gale 36 Aetherian Soc cutting HW diary



HW went to the service, and describes it in his diary:


gale 36A HW diary entry April 1971



(The Aetherius Society still exists as an international group  and meets annually on Holdstone Down and other places the society considers important.)


Even the unusual cloud formations are known to be an occurrence of the particular physical landscape and conditions of the area (land air currents meeting sea air currents in certain temperatures and humidity).


After this event Laura asks Phillip to take her 'to the Burrows of Cousin Willie'. HW writes here a lyrical description of the Burrows – but the outing itself is not very successful. Phillip is haunted by thoughts of Willie and Mary:


days long past, recalled with sudden stillness of the heart, for that they were of Time lost, yet waiting to be brought back from ancient sunlight—


Laura, neurotic and unstable, with typically unpredictable responses to the thought of death, rushes off. Phillip wanders about alone.



gale 37p 242



Eventually, after wandering for some time in the healing Burrows, Laura calms down. Darkness falls and Phillip lights a fire from driftwood. He sends Bodger off to find her and she returns.


Again scene and mood change. Molly receives a letter (postmarked 'Bussdale' – i.e. Botesdale in Suffolk) from Lucy, telling her that she and the family will be arriving the second week of August. The boys are to cycle down and will camp in a tent. She will be accompanied by Melissa. Miranda's thoughts are confused, and she tries to analyse her feelings. Molly again tries to discourage her association with Phillip.


The three Maddison boys, Peter, David and Jonathan set out on their epic cycle ride. It was 300 miles or so from 'Bussdale' to Lynmouth and the boys were inadequately clothed and had little money. They cycled into driving rain and a south-west wind – thus taking longer than planned. (In real life it was only the two older boys who cycled; young Richard went in the car with his mother and baby Sarah, now two years old. The real destination was Ox's Cross. 'Melissa's' part here is purely fictional.)


Phillip anxiously awaits the boys on the quay at Lynmouth, furtively avoiding his sister Elizabeth, who is now living in Ionian Cottage – everything left to her by Aunt Theodora. (In real life, Mary Leopoldina's Will was in favour of HW's eldest daughter, Margaret.) His anxiety about his blurred eyesight is increased when he finds he is seeing double.


Suddenly the children arrive, wet, cold, and hungry, telling the tale of their rather miserable but exciting journey. They visit Buster Cloudesley, who feeds them. Brigadier Tarr is also there. Peter asks about flying saucers and receives a rational answer. The Brig takes the opportunity to apologise for his behaviour on the Norfolk farm during the war, explaining his own situation. (The reader needs to be au fait with the background here, as the connection is not explained!)


Brigadier Tarr in The Gale of the World is probably based – as was partly 'Spectre' West – on Brigadier Arthur Cecil Willison, author of the book The Relief of Tobruk (1951), who had become rather eccentric and died in a house fire in 1966; he lived at Trentishoe Manor, near Lynton. (For further background on Willison see Anne Williamson, 'Some Thoughts on Spectre West', HWSJ 34, September 1998, pp. 86-7.)


The boys fend for themselves in Phillip's caravan on the Moor. They live mainly on kippers, but they manage to get a rabbit away from a buzzard – both are noted as being less plentiful since the war. Content after the rabbit stew, they hear a young owl calling, and play a trick on it by making owl and cuckoo noises. This amusing incident is based on real life – and was first written up in The Adelphi, Vol, 25, No. 2, 1949, in 'Words on the West Wind', and where the only food was kippers; HW's sons remember it only too well!


Once in bed, Phillip gives the boys a book to read. It is Richard Jefferies' The Story of My Heart. They read a passage about cremating remains in a fire on the summit of a hill which includes the words:


'. . . the ancient, ancient sun shone on the fresh grass and the flowers, my heart opened wide as the broad, broad earth.'


(HW is really reminding his readers of the basis of his life's thought processes.)


Phillip suggests that they build a funeral pyre to burn the ashes of the boys' grandfather – a man who had loved the country but had had to work in London.


Lucy now sets off from Suffolk for Devon with baby Sarah and accompanied by Melissa, who has been having plastic surgery on her facial scar, done by the famous war surgeon, Archie McIndoe – HW thus quietly slipping in a tribute to this great man. Melissa has also been taking a course in 'Diaphany' in 'a Surrey country house'. En route they visit Piers at Field Place, and we read a somewhat surreal scene about a black rabbit, a fox and a spaniel. Melissa says she will be continuing her Diaphany course under Caspar Schwenkfelder (now calling himself 'Field': 'felder' is German for 'Field') in Devon.


On arrival, they stay the night with Molly Bucentaur (reinforcing the placing of the Bucentaur home), and next day go on to Shep Cot, leaving Melissa at Oldstone Castle, where she thinks about her two brothers Giles and Nigel, killed in the Second World War. Laura is gliding in Falcon One. She is, as always, somewhat hysterical, but she wants to see Melissa.


Phillip and family (including Laura and Melissa, and Miranda, Imogen and young Roger) have a reunion walk beside the East Lyn river, with lyrical description. But this again marks that water leitmotif:



gale 38 p 269 copy



(Note the inclusion of the series of changes in the life of a salmon here.)


In the middle of the ensuing happy family picnic, thoughts of Shelley drive Phillip back into himself and he leaves to get on with his work.


The next chapter opens amusingly with the Bucentaur children playing cricket with the goats, due shortly to be handed over to Lynton Council in the Valley of Rocks. Peregrine Bucentaur returns in time for 'Cricket Week', which is concurrent with the Festival of the Arts. Miranda is excited, as she is to wear the Edwardian ball gown (in which she has been painted by Riversmill) at dinner. Peregrine arrives driving a vintage Hispano-Suiza motorcar.


He talks to Miranda, his daughter, that evening while she is dressing – finding her beautiful and kissing her somewhat amorously. This is seen by Molly. In order to avoid trouble, she decides, despite Miranda's protests, to send her daughter off to stay with Buster. The immediate need is to hire camping requisites for the many guests coming for cricket week, and Molly, Miranda and Melissa drive down to Minehead to sort this out. The unhappy Miranda confides to Melissa that Phillip needs help – he 'sees the good in everyone'.


Peregrine discovers that Miranda has been sent off to stay with Buster, and is annoyed. He has also overheard 'a boiled owl in spectacles' (Archie Plugge) and Brig. Tarr say that Miranda has been visiting some 'writer' of dubious reputation. Molly explains this is cousin Phillip, whom she also visits.


The reader is then given an explanation of the difficult Bucentaur marriage and the family history, with a description of the manor of Brockholes St Boniface. HW appears to be using nearby Lee Abbey as the basis for this location and playing his usual verbal games. 'Brock' is an obvious reference to badgers, associated with the abbey: 'Boniface' was an innkeeper in Farquhar's Beaux Stratagem (1707). Lee Abbey was a hotel during the Second World War. (One can see the line of HW's thought process!) There is no association of the Elwins themselves with Lee Abbey – and, although Molly and Miranda fit, Peregrine himself is most certainly not based on Malcolm Elwin, other than the cricketing aspect. (Possibly HW used Eve's first husband as his prototype.)


Leaving this hidden history of Lee Abbey and returning to the main thrust of the story, Lucy takes Melissa with her on a visit to Phillip's sister Elizabeth at Ionian Cottage, where there are several Pomeranian dogs. (HW's sister Kathy successfully bred these dogs in her retirement in Bournemouth, where she lived in their father's old house. They won several national prizes.) Elizabeth is her usual rather malicious self, denigrating Phillip by saying he had allowed Aunt Dora to die, and relating the old childhood stories against him.


At last the Lynton Festival of the Arts arrives, with a description of the various events involved – some popular, some more cultural – which is to end with a Grand Festival Ball at the principal hotel with fireworks afterwards. HW is drawing here on the very successful North Devon and the Taw and Torridge Festivals run by the (sadly underrated) poet Ronald Duncan, a close friend of HW. At the 1953 festival HW gave a talk, 'The Two Rivers of my Youth', while it ended with a ball given by Lord and Lady Fortescue at Castle Hill, Filleigh. Here in the book, the Festival includes 'Cricket Week', a tournament between various local teams.


These cricket tournaments certainly existed, the matches being a great feature of the sporting year: the Valley of Rocks had – and still has – an excellent cricket pitch, and the teams had similar outlandish names to those in the book. Malcolm Elwin was a great cricketing man, and was captain of the Devon Dumplings team, based at Instow. Fixture lists and membership booklets exist in HW's archive.



gale 39A Malcolm Elwin President Instow Cricket Club 1966 74       gale 39B Club list
Malcom Elwin    



HW now interestingly pinpoints some of his characters as if setting them in a 'play' scenario.


'Lucy was in the caravan below Barbrook beside the gently tumbling West Lyn' (note that leitmotif again), reading Bevis, by Richard Jefferies. (Bevis was of course part of the influence of Richard Jefferies upon HW. He had been given his grandfather's original 3-volume edition when aged ten. It was also a book from which his first wife Loetitia ('Lucy') quoted when they first met – making an instant bond between them.


'Melissa in her room at Oldstone Castle', deciding she must sort out Elizabeth's psychological problems: 'make her clear' (scientology parlance), which would help Phillip.


Laura is 'being kind' to Brigadier Tarr, who thinks she loves him.


Buster Cloudesley, in his house – The Eyrie – examines the bottle that his father had released as he drowned in the Atlantic, containing his enigmatic letter of farewell to his son. (This relates directly back to The Gold Falcon.)



gale 40 p 284 letter from Manfred



Buster's man Mornington, late of the club in London, interrupts with a query about supper and Buster goes out on to the terrace. He thinks of Shelley writing his great poem ‘Adonais’ on the death of Keats, and Francis Thompson on the death of Shelley – but he has not written a tribute to his father. (So we can clearly see here that Buster is an alter ego for HW, whose series A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight can be seen as a metaphorical biography of his father in this world of Einsteinian relativity created by HW. Buster's thoughts here are of course HW's own thoughts.)


Buster feels 'an electric chill' and senses someone standing in front of him, and realises it is his father, whom he recognises from the portrait by Orpen.


(Sir William Orpen, RA (1878–1931) was an official war artist, in which capacity he painted, among many others, a number of portraits of the heroic airmen of the First World War. He is part of the elaborate scenario that HW built around Spectre West in the earlier war volumes of the Chronicle. This reinforces here, in a most subtle way, the mental connection between 'Spectre' and 'Buster'.)


Buster tries to rationalise this occurrence. He decides that his father, as a falcon, has found his way home to its native eyrie. (Another direct reference to The Gold Falcon, in which Manfred is accompanied throughout his journey by an unseen spirit – a gold falcon.) Buster plays Ricard Strauss' poignantly beautiful Four Last Songs, which moves him to tears. There is an overwhelming and moving sense here of the inter-connectedness of all things of the spirit. At the end he again resolves to rescue Hess by glider.


Meanwhile Phillip teaches the boys how to manage a canvas and wood canoe in the sea. Peter is put in charge, the two younger boys taking turn as crew. Phillip also goes out – unusually joyful. Lucy is happy that all is well. Phillip gives Jonathan his fly-rod and flies and there is a nice description of him happily fishing. (The Williamson boys had canvas canoes on the River Waveney in Suffolk, when the family moved to Bungay in 1950; and HW did give his fly-rod to his son Richard.)


Rosalie Osgood calls on Lucy, and offers to take the family down to the beach at Lynmouth, the hill being too steep for Lucy's Ford 8. Melissa is also there and they call on Elizabeth, who finds the children polite and Melissa charming. She invites everyone back to tea. Later, Melissa calls back to see Elizabeth and stays the night. And again we have the chilling river leitmotif in a long description, as Melissa listens to the sound of the water running past:


Water and air were playing on stone and leaf and branch in the wan light. . . .


Ripple-echoes were fading out, but to return: a fast flowing succeeded by a sudden lull, an individual gushing of water, subsiding to a quietness of following streams preparing to gather strength again as though to assault that certain large boulder beneath the window, to push it seawards: a hollow pause of water breaking back in bubbles on a large mid-river rock.


HW has lifted this description from an earlier essay: 'Withypool: June 1940', printed in The Adelphi, Vol. 21, No. 1 Oct-Dec 1944; reprinted in HWSJ 35, September 1999, pp. 69-72. The walk actually refers to one taken with Alfred Munnings ('Riversmill') in September 1938. HW annotated his Adelphi file copy:



gale 41 Adelphi extract



The next day Melissa confides in Caspar Field, and later that day goes to see Phillip – who is lighting a fire with wisp of grass, leaf, tiny stick, one after the other, in what one can only call HW's own inimical way!


Fire to Phillip was a friend: companion of frozen nights in a Flanders wood in 1914, by which he avoided frost-bite, while reliving days as a Boy Scout in Kent, always with his lone and familiar little fire, heating water in his billy-can or frying sausages in an old Boer-war collapsible pan.


Melissa is worried that Phillip will find her facial scars repugnant, but he is very understanding and tender. She wants to help him, but he is withdrawn. The next morning she returns to base, realising that he is now in love with Miranda. She reports back to Caspar, who pontificates on the cause of Phillip's problems. (Recollect that HW recorded in his diary that Margot had a lot to say about his problems after her Scientology course!)


Piers Tofield now turns up with Beth in his refurbished Aston Martin. They go to see Lucy:


So Piers drove to the Green Meadow where, under the canopy of trees the echoes of cascade and waterfall floated up from the glen.


Another water leitmotif.


Piers decides to stay on for the cricket match:


‘Colonel Bucentaur’s Crimson Ramblers are playing the North Devon Savages.’


(As mentioned previously, these names are not as outlandish as they might appear!)


Phillip arrives, and he and Piers go for a paddle out to sea in Peter's canoe: their friendship renewed. Phillip then returns to Shep Cot, and work. He reads, with the aid of a magnifying glass, the official account of German thinking prior to the 1916 Somme attack (the volumes are in HW’s archive). Then he prepares his Silver Eagle, ready to take the huge load of wood up to The Chains to make the planned funeral pyre.



We now enter the climactic Part Four: ST. ELMO'S FIRE


This is fronted by the quotation 'Tout paysage est un êtat d'âme': literally translated as 'All landscape is a state of mind', but better interpreted as 'Nature reflects the soul', or 'The soul is reflected in nature'. (The quotation is from the Journal Intime of Henri Frédéric Amiel. For further explanatory notes see Anne Williamson, 'Rise & Shine III', HWSJ 49, September 2013, pp. 5-27, and particularly the accompanying note 8.)


St Elmo's fire – officially called 'corposant' (corpo santo = holy body) – is the ball of blue lightning seen on masts of ships and the like; Saint Elmo was in fact Peter Gonzalez, Spanish Dominican in 1200s, who became the patron saint of fishermen. Although seen as showing the protection of the saint, St Elmo's fire could also presage disaster (presumably according to whether one survived or not!).


The first chapter here (Chapter 23) is headed 'Cloven Hoof', a subtle double entendre: literally, as the goat-herd ruminants that are to be presented to the Council before the cricket match that afternoon have cloven hooves, but also an insinuation of Pan – and thus of the Devil. The chapter opens with an amusing account of the various cricket matches:


Lt. Col. Bucentaur's eleven [the Crimson Ramblers] was composed exclusively of ex-commandos and paratroopers who had served with Brigadier Tarr and one of his war-time lieutenant-colonels, Lord Cloudesley . . .


This combination and the rumour of Cloudesley's declared intention to rescue Hess put about by Nilsson has attracted the attention of 'a certain Fleet Street editor'.


The children are detailed to help prepare the cricket pitch by pulling the roller, but Miranda has stayed in bed in Buster's house, emotionally upset by her father's behaviour against Phillip and his refusal to let her keep her beloved goat Capella. It also becomes obvious that her father has made some sort of sexual advance towards her.


Having finished with the pitch, Peter now goes off on his own, to follow a stag hunt on Exmoor, introducing another element into the story – which later has its own importance.


HW's diary entry for 5 February 1968 explains:



gale 42A Diary entry 5268



Buster, Laura, and the Brig return in high fettle from gliding – they went high, and now plan to return and attempt the height record later that day. They have raced back from Porlock with Bucentaur:


Hispano Suiza versus supercharged Bentley – up the narrow Porlock hill with its 1-in-3 left-hand turn, roaring along the road winding through a heather-grown escarpment to the descent at Countisbury, with its view of a grey bouldered shore divided by the Lyn flowing into the sea. Down to nought feet; and up, up again to the Eyrie, happy as birds in preened summer plumage as ice clinked in tumblers.


(This is a notoriously steep route with twisting corners, and fraught with danger.)


Discussing the gliding they state: 'We must enter competitions. There's a young woman, who ferried Spits during the war, organising trials in Surrey.' (This is Ann Welch, HW's 'Barleybright' of the early 1930s, in the Air Transport Auxiliary during the war ferrying aircraft to front-line units, to whom HW gave his Alvis Silver Eagle in 1946 – and who, just beginning at that time, went on to run the British National Gliding Championships. HW's son John became a member of the British team and was Glider Champion, holding the height record.)


Miranda now gets up and announces her intention to go and see Melissa at Oldstone Castle, despite her father's voluble objections.


It is an exceptionally hot day. The gliding trio go back to their hobby, while the local dignitaries and the crowd begin to gather for the goat-herd presentation and ensuing cricket match. Peregrine lords over all, including his embarrassed and resentful son Roger. 'King Billy', leader of the goatherd, is kept shut in a horse-box to keep him out of mischief, but Peregrine rather loudly comments about the chaos if someone lets him out (as a challenge so to do!).


At half-past two the Town Crier opens the ceremony, but someone (the inference is that it is Roger) has indeed let King Billy out, and the goat runs off with one of the Crier's black-patent silver-buckled shoes amid considerable mayhem. Speeches are made – while the rest of the goat herd, except Capella, who looks for Miranda (who has made her way to the pavilion), join King Billy on the rocky seaward crags.


The cricket match begins, while the gliders circle overhead gaining height in the heat thermal: Buster in Falcon One, Laura and the Brig in the two-seat Falcon Two. They are hoping to get the height record. The cricket match goes slowly at first, but when a ball is hit into the rough, King Billy seizes it as part of his old game played with the children. As did Shakespeare, HW frequently adds in such farcical scenes to counterbalance tension.


Meanwhile Piers has gone to see his old friend Phillip at Shep Cot, and finds him struggling to sort out the Alvis and admitting to problems with his eyesight. He tells Piers that he has closed down The New Horizon. (The reasons for this as given in the novel are not as happened in real life, as previously explained.) Piers is sympathetic, and persuades Phillip to go down to watch the cricket match.


It is 'the Day of the Ants'. A lyrical description of this quite momentous annual happening follows, when the ants emerge from their nests in thousands and rise up into the sky to mate with the queens. A day of feasting for gulls, which wheel and swoop into the swarm. As the ants fall down on the cricket pitch and the players, so a flock of starlings invades, which temporarily stops play. Tea break is taken.


Miranda spots Phillip going away from the crowd, and makes her way towards him, but he is confronted by a newspaper reporter (sent by The Times), who has recognised him and quizzes him about Buster Cloudesley's plan to rescue Hess. He has read Osgood Nillson's article, and noted that Cloudesley's cricketers are all ex-commandos and paratroopers. Phillip gets rid of him.


Miranda catches up with Phillip and finds him in great pain from his eye. Sitting together, they are spied on by the repulsive Aaron Kedd, who wildly accuses them of the behaviour he himself indulges in.(Kedd, of course, plays the role of Caliban in the novel, furthering the Tempest theme.) As they move away, so a fire breaks out in the dry gorse, set alight by Kedd. Peregrine hears the commotion and leaves the pitch. Seeing Miranda is upset, he rushes up to Phillip shouting accusations and punches him, knocking him down. Miranda stops him, shouting that Phillip is blind and that is what has upset her.


Meanwhile, King Billy, startled by the spreading fire, rushes forward and grabs the umpire's sweater, retiring to a rock to eat it, while the other goats invade the pitch. Mayhem ensues.


The title of the penultimate chapter, 'The Smoke of My Resolution', is reference to Hamlet's 'To be or not to be' speech – 'the native hue of resolution be sickled o'er with the pale cast of thought'. Hamlet has procrastinated against action – Phillip has procrastinated against the action of writing his great work – as also had HW.


The fire spreads rapidly, fanned by a rising wind, while clouds are also ominously covering the sky. The well-travelled Nilsson recognises the danger signs and decides to move his caravan away from the river. He also is cornered by the reporter, who decides Nilsson has said that the attempt to rescue Hess is planned for that day. He rushes off, thinking he has a scoop!


The two gliders are caught up in the swirling mass of clouds and lose touch. Buster realises he is actually in a tornado: he cannot make contact with the other glider, neither can he control his own. HW's description is superb – and totally authentic, as all the details were given by his son John, who experienced a similar events, as a result of which he gained the height record.



gale 43A para p 324


gale 43C cutting pasted into 1957 diary Johns height record



Molly stays with her daughter in the cricket pavilion. Phillip makes his way back to Shep Cot after sending David, who tries to help him, back to his mother. He says he is going to take the Alvis up on to The Chains for the planned funeral pyre. But Phillip can hardly see, and follows faithful Bodger. Molly leaves, and Miranda escapes through the window at the back, determined to go to Phillip at Shep Cot.


The cloud build-up intensifies: 'The very air was waiting, while heavy bombards of nimbus clouds approached like a curtain of doom . . .' HW's descriptions of the sky leading up to the final cataclysmic event: of the cloud formations and the effects of the ensuing deluge, intertwined with the plight of the gliders, must surely count among the greatest of their kind: a word-painting by the hand of a great master.


Phillip trudges on, remembering his father and their last walk together on the Downs at Fawley, ten years before. Reaching Shep Cot, and taking his gun, feeling this is the end, he drives the Alvis (with difficulty) up on to The Chains, leaving the car and struggling on to the tumulus. The storm increases, and there is a long passage of intense detailed description (remember here that HW had gone to Dartmoor to walk in a winter storm specifically to experience and garner the details he wanted). In the midst of the maelstrom Phillip is sustained by the thought:


I can go home after all this, I have a warm place to go to, I am free, this isn't Passchendaele – there all were homeless – I am free –


He picks up the shivering Bodger, but at that very moment is hit by a bolt of lightning, losing consciousness as he smells Bodger's burning fur. While Phillip is lying unconscious on the tumulus (note the allusion to Richard Jefferies) he is joined by a stag and two hounds, lost from the earlier hunt. The reference is surely to the parable as found in Isaiah, chapter 11:


The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together . . .


(Interestingly, a little further on in Isaiah we read (ch. 14, v. 12): ‘How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning.’ Words that reinforce HW's theme in Lucifer before Sunrise.)


Phillip slowly regains consciousness, within a passage of extremely powerful writing: where his thoughts, the images flashing through his brain, are punctuated by the beat of his heart: 'thump' – repeated, very effectively, at intervals, ending:


He had got through! He had reached the Town-major's office in the Old Prison of Ypres!


And his heart beat again, a great tongueless bell in the ruins of the Cathedral beside the Great Hall; and he was carrying his sister, small and burned in the fire, in his arms.


As he comes to, he likens the brain to:


an entire G.H.Q. whence messages were dispatched electrically, as over a telephone system, to demand action . . . a kaleidoscope of batteries firing on targets, co-ordinated by a Headquarters Staff ordering a ceaseless barrage of cross-fire and cross-signal . . .


And thus the release of living pictures out of Time past . . .


(Note the Proustian reference to 'Time past'.)


He realises he is alive but dreadfully tired, and promptly falls asleep. In a dream he sees Melissa and his first wife Barley walking together among the phantoms of the past. When he wakes he realises he is on The Chains, and becomes aware of the dead Bodger, and also of the two hounds lying next to the stag. He struggles back to the car with Bodger in his arms, and lays him down on the seat. The Alvis is shimmering with the blue of St Elmo's Fire, and at that moment there is a flash and the car catches fire, and along with it the huge pile of faggots that he had tied on above the petrol tank.


Laura and the Brig, caught up in the huge storm, find themselves in trouble. The Brig decides to bail out to give Laura a chance – and although he survives the immediate shock, he is inevitably killed in this heroic attempt. Buster's glider has been struck by lightning which entered:


the steel-corset'd body of Hugh, twenty-third and last Baron Cloudesley of Lyonesse, in Cornwall.


(This gives an Arthurian/Tennysonian echo to the tale, and reflects the end of the earlier Gold Falcon novel. 'Twenty-third baron' is an error. It should be ‘twenty-eighth’: doubtless an error in reading HW's MS which went unnoticed.)


Laura, lost in the clouds and literally frozen with cold, sees the huge fire made by the burning car and makes for it, managing to crash-land in the watery mire. Phillip struggles to get her free and warms her next to the fire. When she has recovered enough they make their way down off the moor:


Now below them lay the slope to the common, white with water gushing down everywhere.


The final chapter is headed 'Watershed' – a term of both literal and metaphorical meaning. Making their way back to Shep Cot they find it under two feet of water.


The little runner of the West Lyn, where once Laura had sailed a paper-boat was a ten-foot-wide torrent leaping and foaming downhill with the speed of a trotting horse.


They rest briefly at the farm and then continue:



gale 44 para p 340



This is indeed the Twilight of the Gods – Wagner's Götterdämmerung.


As they continue Phillip's thoughts churn over his early life – the situation taking him back once again to the war:


desperate-hoping pale faces becoming withdrawn above duckboards winding among the linked water-craters of the Salient, cringing at droning roar of howitzer shells descending . . .


As they continue down, so they find the water flow is dangerously faster. They get to the bridge and are told it is too dangerous to cross; but Phillip is desperate to get through to Lucy and the children and goes ahead, accompanied by Laura. They just manage to get across, but cows and a car are swept away, and as they talk to the policeman on the other side, the bridge itself is carried away.



gale 45 para p 342



During the chaos Globe-Mornington and Corney are safely ensconced in The Eyrie with brandy and sandwiches and listening to the radio, overhearing a message that a DUKW (an amphibious personnel carrier) is being sent out by road from Fremington (next to Instow in the Taw‒Torridge estuary). Buster has not returned. Phillip and Laura arrive. Mornington tends to their needs. Molly phones to say that Miranda is missing. Then Corney sees an apparition of his old master, Manfred, standing by the hearth, and knows he has come to fetch 'Master Hugh'. (This harks back to The Gold Falcon, where Corney sees the ghost of his master on the night he drowned in the Atlantic.) Laura finally collapses. There is no news of Lucy and the children.



gale 46 p 345



The story-line changes (deliberately lessening the tension), and picks up with Peter going off to watch the stag-hunt earlier that day. He makes friends with a boy who explains the niceties of the hunt. They follow the hunt up on to The Chains, but then, as it carries further on beyond, they return to Lynmouth to look at the canoe. Osgood Nillson turns up and, saying that he can see a storm coming, asks them to help move his 'trailer' from Green Meadow (Barbrook) via Scob Hill, Watersmeet, Myrtleberry Cleave, over the Lyn Bridge and into Lynton (the route is traceable on a good map). They return to Green Meadow to move the family caravan. Mrs Nilsson offers the family hospitality.


Peter decides to wait for his father by the bridge in the dark and pouring rain, along with the other lad, who becomes frightened by the storm. (See HW's diary entry for 5 February 1968, reproduced earlier, where he thinks up this scene.)


They are there when the great rush of water comes down, taking all before it.



gale 47 p 349



They hurry to get out of the way. They talk to a policeman, who tells them to go home. As they toil up the hill they are given a lift by the persistent reporter, who questions Peter about the plan to rescue Hess. Peter stonewalls him. When they get to Osgood Nilsson's house, he then questions him and is asked in, but 'off the record'.



gale 48 p 351



Phillip makes his way with great difficulty down to Lynmouth, seeing a canoe which he thinks might be Peter's. Almost delirious, he thinks he is back on the Ancre in the First World War, as his mind cannot take in what the policeman is telling the news reporter about the devastation. It is a very moving passage:


Men in steel helmets were lying down, one had a Lewis gun, the water gleamed with German flares across the marsh, where the enemy held the left bank of the Ancre below Thiepval. The R.S.M. said Jerry had broken through, but why was he talking about the effects of the flow of water?


His sense returns and he tells the policeman he must get to Ionian Cottage to save his sister and a friend. The reporter, giving the message from Peter, says his family are safe: whereupon Phillip collapses. The policeman explains to the reporter what Phillip has been through, and the news-hound rushes off to report back to his paper.


When Phillip comes to again he overhears two locals saying that all in Shelley's Cottage are dead (Piston and his mother): again he thinks he is in the Front line:


The solitary parachute flare wavered as it sank slowly down.


The Germans were across the Ancre Valley. Why had all his men left him?


He thinks he must have been hit and wounded, but Piers is there and looks after him, taking him back to the Nilssons. On awakening he learns from Lucy that his sister and Melissa are safe. The front of the house had been washed away but they had been upstairs at the back and were unharmed.


Later they walk down 'Mars Hill' into Lynmouth to see Elizabeth and Melissa. Lucy has already 'opened Elizabeth's eyes' about Phillip, and brother and sister make friends – the final reconciliation. Shep Cot has been washed away and all Phillip's work for his forthcoming books destroyed, but he says it was but preliminary notes which he will not need. He learns from Mornington that Laura has been taken to hospital but there is no news of Buster or the Brigadier.


Phillip goes on down to the beach accompanied by Mornington. HW describes the scene of devastation that had been Lynmouth as he had actually seen it on that very day. The photographs that he took at the time are reproduced in the Photographic essay page.



gale 50 p 356



The Bucentaurs are standing waiting on the beach. Mornington tells Phillip that Miranda's name is among the list of missing persons. He is alert to trouble between Phillip and Peregrine Bucentaur, and keeps close. Bucentaur accuses Phillip of abducting Miranda from the cricket field – but luckily he was seen going away in the opposite direction to Miranda. A press man comes to say that there is a white goat with a red collar hung up in a tree in the water; and then the searching frogmen find the body of a young girl.


In his mind Phillip hears the so poignant words of the poem Francis Thompson wrote for Shelley: 'Ariel from Miranda hear, This message that the sea-waves bear—'


He goes off on his own in near despair, but Molly, having asked Lucy and the children to go back with her, sends Melissa to him. He is virtually in a state of collapse; Melissa takes him back to Oldstone where she nurses him through double pneumonia.


When he is recovered enough they take a bus across to 'the estuary of the Two Rivers', and on to the sand-hills of Braunton Burrows. They walk together to Airey Point, remembering the faithful Bodger and drowned Willie. He says that with her help he can at last now write his novels, and knows exactly how he will start: with his father and his dark lantern out mothing on the hill at Wakenham, and catching a glimpse of a Camberwell Beauty – and then meeting a girl born in Camberwell, whom he marries.


The book – and the whole series – ends, echoing Blake and Jefferies, with a final great cry to the ether:



gale 51






So the tremendous series is brought to a close in a complete circle.


In my end is my beginning.


HW added a final 'L'ENVOIE' detailing his feelings (as in his diary entry):



gale 52A LEnvoie

gale 52B






gale 52C The Last word







Back to The Gale of the World main page


Photographic essay (HW's photos of the Lynmouth Flood Disaster, and others)


Critical reception