Saturday, January 28, 2023

A stir in consequence

‘John Morgan with a large body of cavalry said to be at Glasgow & marching on Lex[ington] expected tonight. The whole town is in a stir in consequence.’ This is from the Civil War diary kept by Frances Dallam Peter, born 180 years ago today. She died when only 21, from an epileptic seizure, but her diary - published recently with a scholarly introduction and many annotations - is considered to provide ‘valuable insights’ and ‘a unique feminine perspective’ on the war.

Frances Dallam Peter was born into a large family in Lexington, Kentucky, on 28 January 1843. Her mother was related to William Paca, the Governor Maryland who signed the US Declaration of Independence. Her father was a medical scientist born in England; he served during the Civil War as a senior surgeon and administrator of the military hospitals in the area. Frances (or Frank as her family called her) was considered a talented, charming girl, interested in reading, drawing and writing. She went to school at the Sayre Female Institute. However, she suffered epileptic seizures which restricted her ability to develop any significant life beyond the family home. She died of a seizure in 1864 when only 21 years old. 

Peter is remembered today wholly because of a diary - scrap paper composed of military hospital supply sheets stitched together with thread - that she kept from the age 10 until her death. The diary is notable for containing no self-pity regarding her medical condition but rather is preoccupied with events beyond her domestic affairs (family members, for example, remain relatively minor players in the diary). She expresses many and forthright opinions on the politics and military matters of the day. Indeed, it seems that her diary served as a means for her to respond to and interact with the outside world. Although parts of the diary appeared in 1976, a much fuller and annotated version was published in 2021 by The University Press of Kentucky as A Union Woman in Civil War Kentucky: The Diary of Frances Peter (edited by John David Smith and William Cooper Jr.). Much of it can be previewed at Googlebooks

Kentucky Press provides this description of the work: ‘[Peter’s] candid diary chronicles Kentucky’s invasion by Confederates under General Braxton Bragg in 1862, Lexington’s monthlong occupation by General Edmund Kirby Smith, and changes in attitude among the enslaved population following the Emancipation Proclamation. As troops from both North and South took turns holding the city, she repeatedly emphasized the rightness of the Union cause and minced no words in expressing her disdain for “the secesh” [i.e. supporters of the Confederacy].

Peter articulates many concerns common to Kentucky Unionists. Though she was an ardent supporter of the war against the Confederacy, Peter also worried that Lincoln’s use of authority exceeded his constitutional rights. Her own attitudes toward Black people were ambiguous, as was the case with many people in that time. Peter’s descriptions of daily events in an occupied city provide valuable insights and a unique feminine perspective on an underappreciated aspect of the war. Until her death in 1864, Peter conscientiously recorded the position and deportment of both Union and Confederate soldiers, incidents at the military hospitals, and stories from the countryside. Her account of a torn and divided region is a window to the war through the gaze of a young woman of intelligence and substance.’

Reviews of the published diary can be read at Emerging Civil War and Civil War Books and Authors.

Here are several extracts from the published diary of Frances Peter.

19 February 1862
‘Last evening a short time after the salute was fired a large crowd was seen to assemble at Mrs Morgans . . . & several soldiers were seen to search the house. We learnt to day that the occasion was this. While the guns were firing Frank Key or as he is called Key Morgan with two or three other boys went to the janitor of the college [Transylvania] and got the key to the door leading on the roof on pretext that a ball had been thrown up there, & hoisted a secession flag on the college. The janitor saw it and cut it down & by order of the teacher Mr. Patterson put it in a cellar till it could be delivered to the authorities, but a Mrs John Dudley who lives near the college told Morgan who got the flag & took it home & having secreted it made the best of his way off. Some soldiers however had seen the flag on the college and came to inquire the cause of its being there, which having learnt they searched Mrs Morgans house found the flag which they tore up and divided among themselves. They got the names of the boys concerned & will probably arrest them. Mr. Patterson this morning suspended them until a faculty meeting could be held when they (the boys) will probably be expelled.’

22 February 1862
‘Washington’s birthday has dawned dark & cloudy as if the elements sympathized with the loss that Dr. Dudley’s death will be to Lexington. His body is expected here Monday. Coburn’s regiment has received marching orders.’

25 February 1862
‘Col. E. Dudley’s body arrived here Sunday and was attended from the cars to the Oddfellows Hall by the Mayor, Councilmen and crowd of citizens. The funeral oration was pronounced by Mr. Brank today at the Oddfellows Hall where the body lay in state. The 33rd Indiana, Col Coburn, the Lex Blues, Cap Wilgris, Odd fellows & masons, with some of the old Infantry Chasseurs, formed part of the procession with some of Dr. Dudleys men who came with him & a great many carriages. It was the largest funeral ever seen here (except Henry Clay’s).’

16 April 1862
‘They have taken the house near the college that was used for a hospital by De Courcy for a hospital for some of the soldiers here & Mr. John Dudley who occupied one half of the place received orders to move & left this morning, a good riddance. The 42 Ohio Col Shelton & the 18th Ky. Col Warner are here at the fairground. It was discovered the other day that one of Lindsay’s [22nd Ky.] men who was left at the hospital had the smallpox & there has been no end to the trouble that was had getting a place to put him.’

12 July 1862
‘John Morgan with a large body of cavalry said to be at Glasgow & marching on Lex[ington] expected tonight. The whole town is in a stir in consequence. Gen Boyle sent a dispatch that men should be sent out to meet Morgan. The Home Guards, Provost Guard & volunteers from the hospital with a battery that arrived the other day went out on duty. A company came to night from Cynthiana. A dispatch was sent this evening to Cincinatti for troops. For several days the atmosphere has presented a very hazy, smoky appearance & at times a slight smell as of burning was perceptible. We heard this evening that Lebanon had been burnt by Morgan.’

Battle of Quebec

‘I dined this day with Capt. Law, the principal engineer, whom in the morning I made prisoner, but in a few hours I was, in my turn, made prisoner. Capt. Law has treated me with great politeness and ingenuity.’ This is one of the last entries in a campaign diary kept by Captain Return J. Meigs during an ill-fated expedition, led by Benedict, to capture British-held Quebec in the early years of the American Revolution. Meigs, though taken prisoner, was released within months. He went on to play a significant role during the war (being commended at one point by George Washington), and, subsequently, as a Cherokee agent in Tennessee. He died exactly two centuries ago today.

Meigs was born into a large family in Middletown, Connecticut, in 1740. His father was a hatter (see here for an explanation of the strange first name). As a young man he went into a trading business. He married Joanna Winborn in 1764. They had four children, but she died in 1773. The following year, he married Grace Starr, with whom he had two children who survived infancy. He served in the local militia, achieving the rank of lieutenant in 1772 and captain in 1774.

In 1775, after the Battle of Lexington at the start of the American Revolution, Meigs led a company of light infantry to Boston where he was appointed major in the Continental Army. Later the same year, he accompanied Colonel Benedict Arnold on his 1,000-man expedition through Maine to rally Canadians to the independence cause. During the brief and calamitous assault on Quebec City (the first major defeat of the war for the Americans), on 31 December, Meigs was captured. He remained a British prisoner until May 1776 when he was paroled. After Meigs was formally exchanged in early 1777, he returned to active service as major of the 3rd Connecticut Regiment of the newly organised Connecticut Line, though before long he was commanding the the 6th Connecticut Regiment.

Meigs is best remember for leading a raid (now called the Meigs Raid) against the British forces in Sag Harbor, New York, in May 1777. It burned 12 ships and took 90 prisoners without losing a single man. The U.S. Congress awarded him a presentation sword for his heroism. He was made colonel (of the 6th Connecticut Regiment) and became acting commander of the 1st Connecticut Brigade. He put down an incipient mutiny and was reward with the written thanks of Gen. George Washington. Meigs was retired from the army in 1781. After the war, he was appointed surveyor of the Ohio Company of Associates. In 1788 he was an American pioneer to the Northwest Territory, and drew up the code of regulation used until the formal creation of the Northwest Territory the following year.

In 1801, Meigs moved to Tennessee to fill the combined position of agent to the Cherokee Nation and military agent for the United States War Department. Though his role as military agent ended in 1813, he remained a Cherokee agent - promoting the well-being of the indigenous people - until his death on 28 January 1823. His son, Return J. Meigs, Jr., was elected as Ohio governor and later, by the legislature, as U.S. Senator. Further information is available at Wikipedia and the Meigs Family History site.

Early on in his army career, during the calamitous expedition to Quebec, Meigs kept a detailed diary. This was eventually published nearly a century later in 1864 as Journal of the Expedition against Quebec under command of Col. Benedict Arnold in the year 1775, and is freely available at Internet Archive. (Also available online are at least two further journals kept during the same campaign: one written by Captain Simeon Thayer and the other by Captain William Humphrey.) Here, though, are several entries from Meigs’ journal (including the last, written after his capture).

2 October 1775
‘In the morning proceeded up the river, and at 10 o’clock arrived at Scohegin Falls, where is a carrying-place of 250 paces, which lies across a small island in the river. Here I waited for my division to come up, and encamped on the west side the river, opposite the island, with Captain Goodrich. It rained in the night. I turned out, and put on my clothes, and lay down again, and slept well till morning. Our course in general, from the mouth of the river to this place, has been from north to northeast.’

30 December 1775
‘This morning, between the hours of 1 and three o’clock in the morning, our train threw into the city about 30 shells, which produced a number of shells and a brisk cannonade, which continued all the day. As it had been determined to make an attack upon the city, the ladders being ready, and the weather stormy, which was thought best for our purpose, the troops are ordered to parade at two o’clock to-morrow morning.’

31 December 1775
‘[. . .] I now come to Col. Arnold’s division, which was to proceed to the attack in the following manner. A lieutenant and 30 men were to march in front, as an advanced guard; then the artillery company, with a field piece mounted on a sled; then the main body, of which Capt. Morgan’s company was first. The advanced party were to open when arrived near the battery, which was raised upon a wharf, which we were obliged to attack in our way; and when our field piece had given them a shot or two, the advanced party were to rush forward, with the ladders, and force the battery above mentioned, while Capt. Morgan’s company was to march round the wharf, if possible, on the ice. But the snow being deep, the piece of artillery was brought on very slow, and we were finally obliged to leave it behind; and, to add to the delay, the main body were led wrong, there being no road, the way dark and intricate, among stores, houses, boats, and wharves, and harrassed at the same time with a constant fire of the enemy from the walls, which killed and wounded numbers of our men, without our being able to annoy them in the least from our situation. The field piece not coming up, the advanced party, with Captain Morgan’s company, attacked the battery, some firing into the port holes or kind of embrasures, while others scaled the battery with ladders, and immediately took possession of it, with the guard, consisting of 30 men. This attack was executed with so much despatch, that the enemy only discharged one of their cannon. In this attack we lost but one or two men, the enemy lost about the same number. In the attack of this battery, Col. Arnold received a wound in one of his legs, with a musket ball, and was carried to the General Hospital. [. . .]

His honor, Brigadier-General Montgomery was shot through both his thighs and through his head. His body was taken up the next day. An elegant coffin was prepared, and lie was decently interred the next Thursday after. 

I am informed that when his body was taken up, his features were not in the least distorted, but his countenance appeared regular, serene, and placid, like the soul that late had animated it.

The General was tall and slender, well limbed, of genteel, easy, graceful, manly address. He had the voluntary love, esteem, and confidence of the whole army.

His death, though honourable, is lamented, not only as the death of an amiable, worthy friend, but as an experienced, brave general, whose country suffers greatly by such a loss at this time. The native goodness and rectitude of his heart might easily be seen in his actions. His sentiments, which appeared on every occasion, were fraught with that unaffected goodness, which plainly discovered the goodness of the heart from whence they flowed.

In the afternoon the officers were confined in the Seminary, and well accommodated with bedding. The soldiers were confined in the Recollets, or Jesuits' College. I dined this day with Capt. Law, the principal engineer, whom in the morning I made prisoner, but in a few hours I was, in my turn, made prisoner. Capt. Law has treated me with great politeness and ingenuity. In my return from Capt. Law’s quarters, I called at the house of Mr. ___ Munroe, who politely invited me to live at his house, if I could have permission.’

1 January 1776
‘This whole day in the Seminary. The first day I knew confinement. I hope I shall bear it with becoming fortitude. Major M’Kenzie brought General Montgomery’s knee-buckles and Mr. M’Pherson’s gold broach and made a present of them to me, which I highly value for the sake of their late worthy owners.’

Thursday, January 26, 2023

The father of immunology

Edward Jenner, sometimes referred to as the father of immunology, died 200 years ago today. Though but a family doctor and surgeon, he managed to pioneer the use of cowpox as a vaccine against smallpox. A diary he kept for a short time in 1812, published in the Annals of Medical History journal, is freely available online - for those with an interest in such medical matters!

Jenner was born in 1749 in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, the eighth of nine children. His father was the vicar of Berkeley. He went to school at Wotton-under-Edge and Cirencester before being apprenticed, age 14, to a surgeon. He continued his training at St George’s Hospital, London, under John Hunter, one of the most prominent surgeons in the capital. Subsequently, he set up - very successfully - as a family doctor and surgeon at premises in Berkeley. He married Catherine Kingscote in 1788, and they had three children. That same year he was elected fellow of the Royal Society following publication of a study on the life of cuckoos. In 1792, after twenty years’ experience of general practice and surgery, he obtained a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of St Andrews.

Jenner is best remembered for his pioneering work on a vaccine for smallpox - a mass killer at the time - and is thus often referred to as the father of immunology. Indeed, he originated the very word vaccine in his 1798 paper - Inquiry into the Variolae vaccinae known as the Cow Pox (in which he described the protective effect of cowpox against smallpox - Variolae vaccinae translating as pustules of the cow). When his ongoing work with the vaccine prevented him from general practice, he petitioned parliament, and was granted substantial funds to continue his research. In 1821, he was appointed physician extraordinary to King George IV, and he was also made mayor of Berkeley and a justice of the peace. He died on 26 January 1823. More biographical information is available from Wikipedia, the Duke University Libraries, Encyclopaedia Britannica and The Jenner Institute

Duke University Libraries hold a significant number of Jenner’s papers, including a 188-page diary maintained by Jenner in 1811 and the fall of 1812. Primarily it contains notes on patients and their treatments for various illnesses, from syphilis to gout to heart ailments (including prescriptions) along with records of many vaccinations. The contents of the diary are further described: ‘There is a note of receipt of a letter (1812 Sept 12) from Dr. Alex Crichton stating that vaccination flourished throughout the Russian Empire. Also contains reports on the dissection of organs from a cow, horse, and sheep, along with two sets of notations regarding diabetes, and one on "pulmonary affections”. There are occasional notes with weather observations, recipes, lists of letters written, patient charges or payments, and a few comments on his house repairs using stucco. At the end of the volume are a number of poems and epigrams.’

The full text of the diary was edited by C. Doris Hellman, B.A. and published in the Annals of Medical History (July 1931) as An Unpublished Diary of Edward Jenner (1810-1812). This can freely read online at the website of the National Library of Medicine. Much of the diary will only make sense to medical readers but here are a couple of extracts as they appeared in the Annals of Medical History.

10 September 1812
‘Visited Capt. Hamstead. His cough is still teasing - pulse 92 - expectoration scanty

T. Benzoes bistervede die - Pulv Jacob: gr iij omni nocte - Rd £6.60

Consulted by Mrs W at Stroud. She appears to labor under the secondary symptoms of Syphilis - Her legs exhibit the correct representation of Willan’s - She has ulcerated Tonsil & pains in the Joints and Knees. Rd £2.20

Maria Gayner from Alkington Work house was vaccinated with a limpid virus taken from the edge of a pustule on the 12th day (exempted . . . grate) The pustule was at the time nearly converted into a Scab. It produced no effect - Now, the same Scab diffused thro’ water would produce the effect of matter on the 8th day; therefore it must necessarily contain the early-formd virus in this concreted form.’

16 October 1812
‘Wind - West - fine morning Little storm at midday.

In the evening about 8 oClock I observed a remarkable Halo around the Moon. It’s diameter was so great that it appeard to occupy nearly on sixth part of the Heavens - It was rather faint. The position of the moon was a little Eastward of the South.

Examind at the Kennel a Horse that died yesterday as it was supposd of the Stagger. On dissection there were the same appearances as in the dog that dies of Distemper. One Lobe of the Lungs was in the highest state of inflammation - and the whole of the Membranes which line the nasal Bones were much inflamed. This I have always observd in Horses which have died of the Staggers.

11 December 1812
‘Wind north 9 am - Frost - a little sleet has fallen

Hanh. Baker Highst Field

Wm. Baker Do

Inserted fresh Vaccine Matter into the arm of the Mother Mary Baker Wm Nash one of the Children vaccinated Friday the 4th has taken the cow pox in the most regular manner. This child was vaccinated repeatedly with fluid matter & at the same time three of his on home it took effect, but not on the Child William, on whom there appeared the Red Gum very generally. The operation was twice repeated, but without the least effect.’

23 December 1812
‘Visited the Rev Mr J. At Frampton - found him not only anasarcous but affected with ascites - the Legs largely ulcerated -

Coal dust small qu: of Clay. Coal Tar - Mix or Brown Paper dippd in Coal dust & Coal Tar.’

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Blah, blah, blah . . .

Happy sixtieth birthday Alexandra (Sasha) Patrusha Mina Swire, political Tory wife par excellence. She rocketed into the public eye a couple of years ago on publishing her private diary, inadvertently exposing the rather smug lives of her husband, herself, and a ‘chumocracy’ of political friends.

Swire was born on 18 January 1963, the only daughter of Sir John Nott, former Member of Parliament for St Ives and Secretary of State for Defence under Margaret Thatcher, and his wife Miloska Vlahović, daughter of Yugoslav resistance leader Lujo Vlahović. She was educated at Cranborne Chase School, and at St Martin’s School of Art. She trained as a journalist, and worked on local newspapers. She married Hugo Swire in 1996, who became MP for East Devon in 2001, and they have two children. In 2005, she sought to be the Conservative Party candidate for Teignmouth but lost to Stanley Johnson. Otherwise, she has worked as a political researcher for her husband, until 2019 when he retired from parliament.

The following year, Little, Brown published Sasha Swire’s diary under the title Diary of an MP’s Wife: Inside and Outside Power. In her preface, she explains that she has been a ‘secret journal writer’ since childhood but that it was not until her husband entered politics that ‘a consistent narrative seemed to weave itself through my journals’. She continues: ‘They appeared to match an emerging and probably genetic obsession with the activities associated with governance and especially the debate between parties in the fight for power. The entries slowly evolved into a detailed record of what it was like to be a couple at the beating heart of politics during two tumultuous political decades.’

Swire’s diary attracted considerable publicity, not least because, as Wikipedia says, it ‘contains insights into the private lives of Conservative politicians’. Reflecting in the Tatler on response to her diaries, she wrote: ‘I was totally unprepared for the headlines that followed. It felt at times as if my wings were made of wax and feathers, that the sun had melted them and there was no shortage of hands pressing down on my head to keep me from resurfacing from a deep ocean. To be confronted with such a distorted picture of my real self was challenging to say the least.’

Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian said of the book: ‘It’s very much a view of politics from inside “the gang” and to read it is to understand the grating rage of those outside, realising that power lies not around the cabinet table but in jolly kitchen suppers with an impenetrable clique of old friends.’ She goes on: ’If the first half of the book is a giddy romp through life under the “chumocracy”, the second is more bittersweet, chronicling the fracturing of old friendships post-Brexit in what has become a court exiled from power. A leaver by temperament, in a circle of Tory remainers, by the end Sasha has come to feel something of an outsider herself. As her old friends argue fruitlessly over the best way to thwart a hard Brexit and plot unsuccessfully to manoeuvre Rudd into Downing Street, she backs the arch Brexiter Dominic Raab’s leadership bid before warming to the “slobbering golden retriever” Boris Johnson.’

Some pages of Diary of an MP’s Wife can be read at Googlebooks. Here are several extracts.

30 March 2015
‘David meets the Queen today, to mark the formal start of the general election campaign. It will be based on the usual fear tactics: families facing a £3000 tax bombshell if Ed Miliband gets into office, blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, Miliband is pushing the message that the biggest threat to British business is the prospect of exit from the EU. Blah! Blah! Blah!’

12 July 2016
‘H comes back from a leaving party at No. 10. He is sad and silent, and does not want to talk. He says it feels like a bereavement. Only hardcore Cameroons were there. Speeches all round, including one from Samantha. Dave says to H that he told Theresa she should keep people like Hugo and Philip Dunne because they are solid and reliable. He also tells her not to go near Fox and Davis, that they are trouble and have no following. But I really want Hugo to move on now. It’s unlikely - very unlikely - that H will be offered anything, since T has already said she wants female parity in cabinet, and H won’t move sideways. So, it’s over and out, bar the promised knighthood. There is absolutely no indication where Theresa is going to place anyone. H puts his hand horizontal to his nose and says to George, “The water is here, so how are you going to get out of this one, Houdini?”

Dave says to H, “I have put in a good word with May.”

H replies, “Thanks but I’m thinking of joining you on the back benches.” ’

17 July 2018
‘I’ve never known such a febrile atmosphere since we have been involved in politics. Last night May announced she was accepting the amendments to her own plans, meaning the rebels were suddenly on the side of the government and the loyalists were the rebels. In the end she ‘won’ by just three votes. It’s getting so topsy-turvy, it’s difficult to keep up.

Well, I’m off to Devon tomorrow, where people are sane. Amber [Rudd] is speaking to the Association, so I need to go and make up a bed. At least we won’t have many more days like this one for a while. Mind you, with Old Ma May’s piecemeal approach anything could happen. Last time she went on holiday she got bored and called an election. If she hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t be where we are now.

Stepping aside from Brexit for a moment, we have a new sex scandal, involving H’s former chief of staff Andrew Griffiths. I should have guessed he was heading for the red tops: he was pretty flirtatious with me at a reception in Downing Street a few years back. I remember thinking, is this flattery and am I enjoying it? Or is this a bit OTT? He has been caught sexting two barmaids he called the ‘Titty Twins’. Two thousand texts in three weeks, apparently, an average of around ninety-five a day, which must have been quite time consuming. The texts mostly concerned his desire to tie them up and whack them using his weapon of choice, the ‘Spank Paddle’. He has subsequently had the whip withdrawn.’

8 August 2019
‘Up in London, our current Rasputin figure (Cummings) is sending rockets up the arses of anyone in range (spads, ministers, civil servants, the Queen, Dominic Grieve, probably Boris).

Thing is, we all know Cummings is stark raving mad (you just need to look at his blog) but we are hoping that his maverick, radical, lunatic streak is what just might, possibly, get us over the line. I discuss him with Dominic Lawson, who is down holidaying in West Penwith and who is an old friend. He tells me he is a genius, but he is so bloody rude to everyone, particularly politicians, that he is absolutely loathed by the establishment. His father, Nigel Lawson, had complained to Dominic about his abruptness and he was a prominent leaver and Sir John, who met him on several occasions during the Brexit campaign, also says he is utterly ‘appalling’.

Down at the other lunatic asylum/snake pit, Mac the Knife (John McDonnell) pops up to say that if Boris doesn’t go when they tell him to, he’ll put Jezza in a taxi and send him off to the Queen to tell her they will form a government instead. (Just shows how out of touch they are - no one takes taxis these days, they take Ubers or public transport.) Trouble is, McDonnell has just told the SNP they can have another referendum, so the Queen is hardly going to agree to assisting in breaking up the union, and would she really want to hand power over to a bunch of Marxists?’

Saturday, January 14, 2023

De Wolf’s last stand

James Madison DeWolf, a surgeon with the US army regiment that fought and lost the famous Battle of the Little Big Horn, was born 180 years ago today. He is only remembered today because he left behind eyewitness accounts - a diary and letters - of the three to four months leading up to his death. (See also Calhoun in the Black Hills.)

DeWolf was born in Mehoopany, Pennsylvania, on 14 January 1843. He worked as a farmer until the start of the American Civil War, when, aged 17, he enlisted in the Union Army. He saw combat at the First Battle of Bull Run; and, he was promoted to Corporal. Severely wounded in the arm, he was discharged in October 1862. Two years later, he re-enlisted and served in the artillery until 1865. A few months later, though, he went to work for the regular United States Army. He was promoted from private to hospital steward. In 1871, he married Fannie J. Downing at Camp Warner, Oregon Territory.

In the early 1870s, DeWolf determined on a career in medicine, and appealed to be allowed to study at Harvard Medical School. He graduated in 1875. Although discharged from the army, he was re-employed on contract as a private physician. Later that year, he was appointed to Fort Totten, and the following spring he was assigned to Major Marcus Reno's battalion. At the Battle of the Little Big Horn (also known as Custer’s Last Stand) he was shot from his horse and then - according to Wikipedia - scalped next to his orderly in full view of the retreating cavalry. 

Dewolf is only remembered today because he left behind eyewitness testimony - in a diary and letters - of the battle. This was published by University of Oklahoma Press in 2017 as A Surgeon with Custer at the Little Big Horn: James DeWolf’s Diary and Letters, 1876 (edited by Todd E. Harburn). Some pages can be sampled at Googlebooks and Amazon. They can also be read in full online at the website of the State Historical Society of North Dakota in a transcript titled: The Diary and Letters of Dr James M. Dewolf, acting assistant surgeon, US Army; his record of the Sioux expedition of 1876 as kept until his death (transcribed and with editorial notes by Luce Edwards). 

Here’s part of the publisher’s blurb for A Surgeon with Custer:

‘While researchers have known of DeWolf’s diary for many years, few details have surfaced about the man himself. In A Surgeon with Custer at the Little Big Horn, Todd E. Harburn bridges this gap, providing a detailed biography of DeWolf as well as extensive editorial insight into his writings. As one of the most highly educated men who traveled with Custer, the surgeon was well equipped to compose articulate descriptions of the 1876 campaign against the Indians, a fateful journey that began for him at Fort Lincoln, Dakota Territory, and ended on the battlefield in eastern Montana Territory. In letters to his beloved wife, Fannie, and in diary entries - reproduced in this volume exactly as he wrote them - DeWolf describes the terrain, weather conditions, and medical needs that he and his companions encountered along the way.

After DeWolf’s death, his colleague Dr. Henry Porter, who survived the conflict, retrieved his diary and sent it to DeWolf’s widow. Later, the DeWolf family donated it to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Now available in this accessible and fully annotated format, the diary, along with the DeWolf’s personal correspondence, serves as a unique primary resource for information about the Little Big Horn campaign and medical practices on the western frontier.’

Here are several sample extracts.

24 May 1876
‘Young Mens Buttes at 5 AM went 8 miles & crossed stream nearly dry 8 miles or 9 miles camped in a valley on Heart River passed a butte 3 miles from camp, no unusual incident see the usual amount of chase of Antelope by the Hounds band plays at every fish in the stream camped at 3 P.M. had to bridge the coolie 8 miles back Marched 18 miles’

7 June 1876
‘5 AM to 8 P.M. 32 miles about go direct across to Powder River from O’Fallon Creek keep up on the divides a bad pass & several deep ravines about 4 miles from Powder river steep banks & liable to wash would be impassable in wet weather. Cloudy & cool all day some fine misty rain not enough to wet the ground found several remnants of Buffalo carcases that Indians had killed game getting scarce no doubt due to the presence of Indians in the vicinity found some wild Heilatrope as found in Oregon some sage brush and some Rolling Prairie & Badlands.’

8 June 1876
‘Remain in camp on Powder River Genl Terry & 2 Co Cav start for Boat at mouth of river fair’

19 June 1876
‘41/2 to 4 P.M. 33 miles marched 91/2 miles back from the river on the bluffs 8 miles along river bottom then the balance on Bluffs tlie last mile was dreadful badlands & almost impassable found lots of Agates some pretty’

24 June 1876 [De Wolf’s last entry]
‘5 A.M. to 7 P.M. 3 hour halt, marched 10 miles & large branch nearly as large as main stream found another 7 miles beyond marched within a few miles of the forks found lots of new signs old camps in profusion they begin not to be so high’

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

I bayoneted two Turks

Albert Jacka, the famous Australian war hero, was born 130 years ago today. His eventful life, cut very short by the consequences of soldiering in the First World War, has been immortalised in various biographies and war histories. Many of these draw on a terse and laconic diary he kept during the Gallipoli Campaign. The most famous entry in the diary concerns the actions which led to him being awarded the Victoria Cross - the first Australian to be so honoured.

Jacka was born on 10 January 1883 at Winchelsea, Victoria, Australia, but his family moved to Wedderburn when he was five. On leaving school, Albert worked for his father in the timber industry before taking a job with the Victorian State Forests Department. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in September 1914, and was sent to Egypt in early 1915. By the end of April, though, his battalion had joined the newly-formed New Zealand and Australian Division, under Major General Alexander Godley, part of Anzac. The division landed at (what is now called) Anzac Cove in the Dardanelles on 16 April to take part in the Gallipoli Campaign. This would prove to be a disastrous failure for the Allies.

Jacka quickly established a reputation as a fearsome soldier; and, on 19 May, during a concerted Turkish assault against the Anzac forces, Jacka’s bravery proved decisive in combat with the Turks, and in holding a trench line. For this he was - famously - awarded the Victoria Cross. Almost immediately, he became a national Australian hero, though it was not until September 1916, that King George V presented the medal to him personally at Windsor Castle.

Jacka spent the rest of the war in France, and was repeatedly promoted, achieving the rank of captain in March 1917. Some felt, though, that he might have achieved a higher rank had he been, according to the Trooper Tours website, more of a diplomat and less of a pugilist (a reference to his boxing ability, and willingness to settle disputes in the ranks by administering a clout to the chin of the fractious). He went on to be awarded a military cross and bar; but, again, his supporters believed his acts of bravery deserved a higher honour, i.e. a bar to his Victoria Cross. His war ended in May 1918 when he was wounded during a German gas bombardment.

After the war, Jacka entered business with army colleagues and helped establish an electrical goods firm, but this business failed during the Great Depression. He married Veronica Carey in 1929, and they adopted a daughter, but the marriage would not survive. Jacka served as a councillor and later a mayor of his local community, but, by 1931, he had left local politics, and was struggling to make ends meet. His health soon gave out, largely it seems, from a combination of stress and complications associated with his many wounds and being gassed. More than 6,000 people filed past his coffin as it lay in state; and his funeral procession, flanked by thousands of onlookers, was led by over 1,000 returned soldiers - the coffin was carried by eight Victoria Cross medal holders.

Further information is available at Wikipedia, the Australian Dictionary of Biography, and the Albert Jacka website. Moreover, Jacka has been the subject of several biographies, and has featured in many books about the First World War. An early history, Jacka’s Mob, was published in 1933, and featured an introduction by the poet laureate, John Masefield. In 1989, Sun Books in association with the Australian War Memorial, published Ian Grant’s Jacka VC, Australia’s Finest Fighting Soldier. In 2006, Allen & Unwin published Jacka VC: Australian Hero by Robert Macklin; and in 2007 Mira Books brought out Michael Lawriwsky’s Hard Jacka: The Story of a Gallipoli Legend.

Some of these books quote from a diary Jacka kept during the Gallipoli campaign. In particular, one extract - concerning the day of his actions that would lead to the VC award - can be found on many war history websites, and in most ANZAC histories. Unfortunately, Jacka’s diary is neither detailed nor informative, as Macklin explains in Jacka VC: Australian Hero (much of which can be read on the Amazon website).

‘Bert Jacka, as he was now known by his mates in the 14th, opened his new diary just before Christmas 1914, but,’ Macklin says, he was no Samuel Pepys: ‘Terse and laconic, he seems to have used the diary reluctantly, as though responding to a plea from his mother, to keep track of his great adventure. His entries quickly became intermittent and would end with the withdrawal from Anzac. However, they do provide glimpses of character, not least by their simplicity and directness.’

Macklin also quotes from Jacka’s diary more than other sources, and the following few extracts come from his book.

22 December 1914
‘Embarked on H.M.A.T Ulysses at 4.40pm. Put out to sea at 8pm. Anchored for the night at 10pm.’

13 January 1915 [Docked at Colombo, Ceylon now Sri Lanka]
‘Beautifully fine morning. Palms making a pretty background to the white houses. During the day a lot of fun was caused by Major Steel chasing the troops who had broken ship. Sergeant Major Blainey was threatened with being thrown overboard for drawing and firing a revolver at a nigger plying a boat for hire.’

1 May 1915
‘Turks making great attacks on our trenches. They are brave but are going to certain death. Mowing them down in the hundreds.’

20 May 1915
‘Great battle at 3am. Turks captured large portion of our trench. D. Coy called into the front line. Lieut. Hamilton shot dead. I led a section of men and recaptured the trench. I bayoneted two Turks, shot five, took three prisoners and cleared the whole trench. I held the trench alone for 15 minutes against a heavy attack. Lieut. Crabbe informed me that I would be recommended.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 10 January 2013.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Feeling better is dangerous

’[Mr K] says that if he dies before the election I’m to go round his MPs - because they’ll say it was his own fault he worked too hard - and tell them it wasn’t all his fault. After all, they pushed him in to going here, there and everywhere. Everyone wanted him to visit their electorates. I grin at the thought of accosting Messrs Watt, Freer and Rowling with that message. These thoughts of death probably arise from his trip to Christchurch yesterday, when he saw Dr Mcllroy again. He’s been feeling better but the doctor has said feeling better is dangerous. He still has to get more weight off.’ This is from a diary kept by Margaret Hayward about her boss, Norman Eric Kirk, the prime minister of New Zealand. Kirk, who was born a century ago today, did indeed die in office, just a couple of years after this 1972 diary entry.

Kirk was born on 6 January 1923 in Waimate, South Island, New Zealand, the son of a carpenter. He left school at 13, and moved through a series of relatively unskilled jobs. He did, however, continue to study, in libraries, enjoying history and geography. In 1942, the army found him unfit for military service, so he returned to odd jobs. In 1943, he married Lucy Ruth Miller, and they would have five children. That same year, he joined the Labour Party's branch in Kaiapoi, where he and his wife had bought a plot of land, and on which Kirk built a house. In 1951, he was appointed chairman of the party’s Hurunui electorate committee, and two years later he led Labour to a surprising victory in elections for Kaiapoi’s local council. Subsequently, he became the youngest mayor in the country, aged 30.

After two unsuccessful attempts to enter Parliament, he was elected as MP for Lyttelton in 1957, and soon after moved with his family to Christchurch. He quickly consolidated a strong position within the Labour Party, and in December 1965 was elected leader of the parliamentary party and thus leader of the opposition. He led his party to two general election defeats (the second only narrowly) before winning the 1972 general election with a large majority against the National Party. As prime minister, Kirk pursued a policy of less dependence on the US, advocating more regional economic development and solidarity with Australia. In 1973 he strongly opposed French nuclear tests in the Pacific.

Overweight and never particularly healthy, Kirk, nevertheless, kept up a heavy work schedule during his premiership. By 1974, he was having various medical difficulties, including surgery for varicose veins. In mid-August, he heeded the advice of doctors to have a complete rest. But, it was too late. With serious heart and lung problems he was admitted to hospital on the 28th; he died on the 31st. His death shocked the country, and there was a national outpouring of grief. Further information is available at Wikipedia and The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand.

In 1968, a young woman named Margaret Hayward went to work in Kirk’s parliamentary office. Kirk and her family had been neighbours many years previously, and, since being in politics, Kirk had repeatedly invited Hayward to come and work for him. In 1971, at Kirk’s instigation, she began to keep a diary focused on his activities. This was first published by Cape Catley (Wellington) in 1981 as Diary of the Kirk Years. A substantial portion of the book can be read freely online at Amazon. In an ‘Author’s Note’ she says: This diary is my record of the last 34 months in the life of Norman Kirk. It was recorded from my viewpoint, and so is a partial view. It contains what he told me, and what I observed; and of course something of the activities of the many people whose lives touched his. In this compressed version little appears about my reactions, or my life and friends outside office hours. Official secrets, or documents classified as secret, including Cabinet papers, were no part of my daily record.’

1 March 1972
‘Mr K has at last found out who wrote the Southland Times article, attributed to “Our Political Correspondent”, in January. It said: “Mr Kirk is clearly still grossly overweight and, not to put too fine a point on it, must accordingly remain a bad health risk . . .” His habit of bounding up the steps to his office might impress some people but did nothing for “serious-minded analysts”. Hugh Watt, too, now “cuts little ice”.

It continued that such was Mr K’s fear of the Auckland lobby that he threw his support behind Mr Watt in the election for deputy leader. He certainly realised that if either Mr Faulkner or Mr Tizard became deputy leader, and Labour failed at the polls later this year, then he might suffer a fate similar to that which befell Mr Nordmeyer. Indeed, if Tom McGuigan instead of Mr K had stood in Lyttelton in 1957, McGuigan might well be the leader of the Labour Party now - and matters “might have turned out better for Labour if that had been the case”.

I’ve learnt that all politicians watch for “inspired” articles, and since then Mr K has wondered who wrote it and who provided the inspiration - the Government, or one of his own colleagues. Now Tom Skinner has told him that the writer is the fattest man in the Press Gallery, Keith Hancox. Mr K is wryly amused and says he must have a talk to Keith some time.

This morning Cyril Burton called to escort Mr K to a packed meeting at Corso headquarters. I tagged along with a tape recorder.

Mr K gave one of his better speeches. Judging by the hush before applause broke out, what he’d said had shaken his audience. As he was leaving, an elderly couple, missionaries in East Pakistan for 33 years, stopped him. Obviously moved, they congratulated him on the depth of insight he had gained during such a short visit.

Mr K asked me to watch TV news tonight for any report on the speech. Instinctively - or perhaps just because of what’s happened before - I felt the best parts wouldn’t be screened. And they weren’t. Only the hesitant beginning, showing him complaining about the lack of transport available to distribute food, rather than later when he was so positive.

The next news item, as if refuting Mr K’s speech, showed a New Zealand Air Force Hercules being loaded with aid materials.

Mr K, who had managed to see it himself after all, was furious and rang to check my reaction. He asked how he could stop that sort of thing. The news clip was obviously from old film because no Hercules had landed in Bangladesh since July. And, he said, on TV he looked fat and about five stone heavier than he is now. “I don’t look that bad. I’ve just checked in the mirror.” 

The problem of how to get him across on TV as the person he really is has concerned Rex, John Wybrow when he was his private secretary during the 1969 election campaign, and me for the last three or four years. So far there’s been no answer. It was hoped employing Media Consultants might help, but Brian 

Edwards and Peter Debreceny haven’t tackled media presentation but rather have done things which irritate the boss, because they are politically inept.

As a result of his years in the House, where it’s essential to show no emotion or the other party knows where to hit next time, Mr K has learnt not to react. Certainly he gets angry over an injustice, and will pound his bench in the House as he makes his views known, but he’s learnt not to rise to a bait in public, or let his feelings register on his face. All this makes for very dull TV interviews.

In 1965 when he deposed Arnold Nordmeyer as leader, he was depicted as the dominating bully who had beaten upright Nordy, the former Presbyterian minister who as Minister of Finance had become unpopular by the way he went about heavily taxing both beer and cigarettes. What may then have been accentuated to combat that image - being quietly spoken and reasonable - has resulted in Mr K being so low-key as to be almost non-existent. On TV he scarcely raises a spark, let alone sets the screen alight.

Something will have to be done to get his personality across. People can’t be expected to trust or vote for someone they feel they really don’t know.

I’ve discovered over the years that Mr K has to be needled before he lets his deep concerns show. Somehow, someone has got to convince him his performances are not good enough. But I can’t see who there is to do it.

John Wybrow. . . He admires Mr K but never seems to take anything too seriously, being flippant about matters the boss regards as vital if Labour is ever to be the government again. And before the leadership election John had insistently promoted Bill Rowling for deputy leader. So although John has said, quite correctly, that it might help if Mr K would smile more on TV, they have such differing viewpoints that I can’t see Mr K taking much notice of John.

Hugh Watt. . . Mr K wants Hugh to remain his deputy because he is convinced Labour must show solidarity in election year. Besides being loyal, Hugh also gives a sense of continuity, as he was Arnold Nordmeyer’s deputy leader too. But Hugh Watt would probably baulk at criticising his leader’s TV appearances. He must be aware that it is largely Mr K’s support that has enabled him to remain as deputy. That’s a pity, since Mr K would probably listen to him.

Bill Rowling . . . In spite of what some may think, Mr K appreciates Bill’s ability and has tried to promote him, though not for deputy. But the trouble in politics as in big business is that no one is going to risk telling his boss unpleasant truths, let alone repeat them until he takes some action. And Bill would probably reason, with justification, that Mr K would be suspicious of his motives and take no notice, anyway.

The only likely person seems to be John Hart, Mr K’s close friend in Auckland whom he sometimes calls on and talks to for hours - as did Michael Savage, Peter Fraser and Walter Nash before him.’

16 March 1972
‘Media Consultants have persuaded the Labour Party to help them finance TV training equipment. This morning, for the first and probably the last time in his life, Mr K went for TV training.

He abhors the thought of “an image”; he believes that being himself is enough. But Rex and I have been busy pointing out to him that there was no sign of his “being himself’ in TV interviews.

He admitted there could be some truth in that so reluctantly set off in the morning sunshine for Media Consultants’ office in Tinakori Road. Apparently he wasn’t going to give Brian Edwards and Peter Debreceny too much room for criticism. He wore a new Auckland-made brown suit, a welcome change from the baggy navy or grey suits he usually wears.

He returned at midday saying the exercise was “most useful” and that he could see a big difference between the first and last takes. The interviewer threw everything at him, made some very personal remarks, and “I didn’t flicker an eyelid”. They’d thought he would be upset but he’d explained to them he’d learnt not to react because he couldn’t afford to in the House, otherwise the other side knew when and where to attack.

He was taken aback at their criticism of Hugh Watt and said they wouldn’t even give him credit for the good statement he’d just issued about the surprise merger of Wellington’s two daily newspapers, saying the capital city might have two papers, but now they spoke with the same voice.

He had the feeling that Media Consultants were pushing to get rid of Hugh Watt as deputy leader, and wondered whose views they were reflecting.

Bill Rowling has announced from Palmerston North that he will be standing for Tasman, not the Avon seat. Mr K is disappointed when he reads that, and speculates that Bill may have made that decision so he won’t be available to help with the New Zealand-wide campaign in November. If he isn’t associated with the campaign, and Labour loses, then he won’t share the blame and “can step straight into my shoes”, Mr K conjectures.

Then he says that if he dies before the election I’m to go round his MPs - because they’ll say it was his own fault he worked too hard - and tell them it wasn’t all his fault. After all, they pushed him in to going here, there and everywhere. Everyone wanted him to visit their electorates.

I grin at the thought of accosting Messrs Watt, Freer and Rowling with that message. These thoughts of death probably arise from his trip to Christchurch yesterday, when he saw Dr Mcllroy again. He’s been feeling better but the doctor has said feeling better is dangerous. He still has to get more weight off.

So today he’s feeling lugubrious and tells me he wants to be buried, not cremated. “I don’t mind giving the worms a field day.” I say something brisk, and work goes on.

Tonight he’s flown down to Christchurch again for the annual meeting of the Sydenham branch of the Labour Party.’

4 April 1972
‘Not an Easter to remember: 120 bikies invaded Palmerston North. Chains, beer bottles, knives and iron bars were used during a brawl in the Square. Bikies and the Mongrel Mob were prised apart by police with drawn truncheons. It’s hard to believe this could happen in New Zealand, but overnight law and order has become a political issue.

From Dacca there’s a report that the Government’s belated decision to send an RNZAF Hercules to airlift relief supplies would help make amends for its only other official aid - 

thousands of tons of baby food dubbed “absolutely useless” by UN experts because it’s a sophisticated product no one in Bangladesh knows how to use.

The Government hasn’t heeded Mr K’s advice to send building materials and jetboats instead. The comment from the head of United Nations relief operations, from the other side of the world, has an unwitting irony. He says, “You can’t build bridges with baby food.” ’

5 April 1972
‘I had stayed with friends in Tauranga for Easter and then travelled through to Tokoroa as Mr K had agreed to address the Chamber of Commerce there.

The speech went well, and today, as he drove back to Wellington through miles of magnificent rimu and beech forest, Mr K recalled the hunting he did at Katikati in the 1940s soon after his marriage when meat and money were scarce. He shot whatever he could: rabbits, hares, pheasant, duck, even the protected native pigeons. “When the puriri trees were in berry, the pigeons were so plump they sometimes burst when they hit the ground.” ’

Thursday, January 5, 2023

A fairly burdensome exercise

‘I decided that the Brussels years were likely to be a sharply isolated segment of my life, and that I might mark them by attempting this new exercise.’ This is the highly regarded British politician Roy Jenkins - who died 20 years ago today - explaining why he decided to keep a diary during the four years in which he was President of the European Commission. He concluded that he had found it ‘a fairly burdensome exercise’. One might wonder if it was worth it: evidence from my own diary suggests Jenkins’s diary efforts were no less dull and repetitive than my own as a teenager!

Jenkins was born in Abersychan, Wales, in 1920, the only son of a trade union official who went on to serve briefly as a minister in the 1945 Labour government. He was educated at a Cardiff grammar school and at Balliol College, Oxford. There he studied PPE, and became friends with Tony Crosland, Denis Healey and Edward Heath among others. During the war, he was trained as an officer, but was then posted to Bletchley Park to work as a codebreaker, and where he became friends with the historian Asa Briggs. In a 1948 by-election, he was elected as MP for Southwark Central (becoming the youngest MP in the House) until the constituency. When it was abolished, he stood for the new Birmingham Stechford constituency which he represented until 1977. In 1945 he married Jennifer Morris, and they later had two sons and a daughter.

In 1947, Jenkins edited a collection of Clement Attlee’s speeches, and then published a biography of Attlee. He would go on to write further political biographies (of Asquith, Baldwin, Gladstone, Churchill) but it was to politics that he was committed. He gradually became a leading figure in the shadow cabinet, and when Harold Wilson took power in 1964, he was appointed to the post of aviation minister. Soon, however, he was promoted to Home Secretary. In that position, he secured parliamentary time for private members’ bills to liberalise the abortion law and legalise homosexual practices between consenting adults. He also promoted a strengthening of race relations legislation and the abolition of theatre censorship. In 1967, following the devaluation crisis, Jenkins took over as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Although considered at the time to be one of the best post-war Chancellors, the deflationary measures he enacted are now considered as having been too cautious and too late.

Back in Opposition, Jenkins attracted a significant following among MPs and among the public. He was elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in 1970, but over the next two years he fell out of synch with the party as it moved further to the left and into opposing membership of the European Community. Nevertheless, when Wilson was re-elected in 1974, he returned, unhappily, to the Home Office. During the 1975 referendum on Britain’s membership of the EEC, he headed the successful Yes campaign. When Wilson resigned in 1976, the subsequent leadership ballot saw Jenkins lose to Callaghan. Leaving British politics, he took a four year post as President of the European Commission. 

Back in British politics, in 1981, Jenkins and other Labour Party dissidents formed a new party, the Social Democratic Party, of which he was briefly leader. In 1987 he accepted a life peerage (with the title Baron Jenkins of Hillhead) and moved from the House of Commons to the House of Lords, where he was a leader of the new Social and Liberal Democratic Party. In the late 1990s, he served as a close adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair for whom he also chaired a major commission on electoral reform. He served as chancellor of the University of Oxford from 1987 to 2003; and, in 1993, Jenkins was elected to the Order of Merit. He died on 5 January 2003. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, The Royal Society of Literature, and Liberal History.

In 1989, Collins published a diary Jenkins had kept while serving as President of the European Commission: European Diary 1977-1981. This can be previewed at Googlebooks, or freely borrowed digitally at Internet Archive. A Preface by Jenkins himself describes why and how he kept a diary.

‘The four years covered by this book are the only period of my life for which I have kept a narrative diary. I have fairly careful engagement diaries for the past forty years and from 1964 substantial chunks of unworked memoir raw material, dictated close to the event. But I had never previously (nor have I since) attempted a descriptive outline of each day in the calendar. However I decided that the Brussels years were likely to be a sharply isolated segment of my life, and that I might mark them by attempting this new exercise.

I found it fairly burdensome, for I am naturally a slow (and I like to think meticulous) manuscript writer and not a fluent dictater; and a slowly written manuscript diary was clearly not compatible with the scale of the task and the pattern of life which I was recording. However, I kept it up to the end, but was glad when it was done. I dictated to a machine, sometimes within forty-eight hours of the events, but more typically a week or so later. When there was this sort of gap I worked from a detailed schedule of engagements. The tapes were then typed up and corrected by me during my next period of semi-leisure. [. . .]

So for a variety of reasons I have greatly shortened the text, and any shortening of course is bound to be selective. But have I doctored it? I obviously do not think so. I have tidied up a good deal, but I have never consciously changed the sense, I have resisted (with some difficulty) esprit d’escalier, and where I have added, mainly but not exclusively in footnotes, it has been for purposes of clarity. The only exception has been where, seeking economy in words, I have suddenly seen that a new linking sentence could get one from A to B in fifteen words rather than five hundred.

I do not therefore claim complete textual integrity, as opposed to integrity of substance. But the original text exists, can be published in due course if anyone so desires, and is available in the meantime for inspection by anyone who feels they might have been maligned by ex post judgements.’

Here are several extracts from the published diary.

10 May 1977
‘Breakfast with David Owen at Carlton Gardens for the Foreign Ministers of the Little Five, nominally in order to debrief them on the Summit. Some discussion after two opening statements by David and me, in which K. B. Andersen asked the only interesting question, which was whether I thought that the arrangements in London had been compatible with the Rome compromise. I said ‘No’, but I nevertheless thought it had been worthwhile that we were there.

Left Carlton Gardens at 9.30 and was in the hotel in Strasbourg only two hours and five minutes later. Answered questions in the Parliament after lunch. Gave a dinner for Colombo - as President of the Parliament. An enjoyable discussion during which my morale improved, partly because I suddenly realized that I had made a French breakthrough. During my first three months in Brussels I thought it had definitely retrogressed, and even after that had not improved, but it has now jerked forward and I suddenly felt much more fluent and had no difficulty in leading the whole two-hour discussion in French.’

5 January 1979
‘I became extremely depressed on reading the newspapers, and decided that the French monkeying around on MCAs and holding up the start of the EMS meant that Europe was in danger of falling apart and that I had better try and do something about it. Therefore I did some vigorous telephoning to Brussels and set up a meeting for the Sunday morning in Paris with Barre with the intention at least of trying fully to understand the French point of view. The commercial planes being totally unreliable, I set up an avion taxi from Northolt to Brussels at 3.45.

In the meantime I had an early lunch with Harold Lever at Brooks’s and found him buoyant and very sensible on nearly everything. My agreement with him, as with Shirley, is now very close indeed. He is of course much more interested than Shirley in economic and monetary matters and remains a firm partisan of EMS. He is depressed about the Government, but not excessively so, and thinks it might easily win the election. He intends to stand himself again and is obviously quite keen to go on in the Cabinet if he can. But when I suggested to him at the end that if they were still in office after Nicko* and wanted to make a political appointment to Paris he and Diane would do it well, he responded rather enthusiastically.’

21 March 1980
‘I went to sec the King at Laeken from 9.45 to 10.30. He was looking much better after great back trouble all winter, with an operation and two months out of action. Today he seemed restored, although looking alone and isolated in the vast and rather dismal Palace of Laeken - redeemed only by its view. My state of health was not very good either, and a good third of the conversation was valetudinarian.

We also and inevitably talked about Europe. He was very keen to promote a budgetary solution acceptable to the British and made some very sensible remarks about how important it was to a country like Belgium that the basic European power matrix should be triangular rather than bipolar. We also discussed both British and Belgian internal politics a little and he claimed, though not in a dismissive or aggressive way, that the communal linguistic question was very much a matter of politicians rather than people. Whether he is right or not I do not know, but he is in a good position to judge.’

19 December 1980
‘Office at 9.15. A little signing before inner office Christmas drinks at 11.45, and then to London by the 12.45 plane, and on to East Hendred. The effective end of Brussels and the beginning of Christmas and, more significantly, of the return to British politics.’


A word search of my own diaries reveals that I have mentioned Roy Jenkins more than half-a-dozen times over the years. Here are three extracts, two of which are about, and rather critical of, European Diary 1977-1981.

1 April 1982
‘Roy Jenkins won the by-election at Hillhead and is now set to become the leader of the SDP. Despite the lack of definite policies and some declining popularity, it seems the new party is a force and is here to stay. I cannot comment on his personality, as I must confess I know nothing about him, but I don’t believe the existence of a strong centre party can be bad for the future of the country in the short term.’

30 December 1990
‘I am reading Roy Jenkins diary of the period when he was President of the European Commission. This was a Quick Choice from the library when I was there last week; but I am pleased to have it. Not only does it give me an added insight into the workings of the Commission at the highest level but it is a document of considerable importance - not so many diaries are published by such senior politicians. It has been likened to that of Anthony Crosland which, I remember, finding fascinating. I do not find Jenkins fascinating. Despite going to some lengths to tell us how much material he has cut out from the five years of diary entries, and how difficult it was, the diary is still weighed down by an extraordinary obsession with time-keeping, the length of meetings and speeches, and the weather. It reads like my teenager diary, but whereas I catalogued TV programmes, whether an evening was good or not, which teacher had been horrid or helpful, and what the food was like, his reads like a catalogue of visits, whether a meeting was good or not, whether other diplomats or politicians had been helpful or a hindrance, and what the food was like. There are occasional descriptions of places, and pithy character sketches and occasionally he goes into some detail about the issues. Most space seems to be given to the most important leaders, thus Jenkins devotes a page or two to meetings with Schmidt or Giscard, while most entries have been paired down to half a page or less. I think he is coming across as rather a snooty man (even though he goes out of his way to let us know that he doesn’t always dress to form).’

20 January 1991
‘I have finished Roy Jenkins diary. I must return it to the library today. Overall my impression remains the same as that recorded in December’s notes. The style of his diary reminds me exactly of that I used as a teenager. The content is occasionally interesting but far too concerned with lists of people, engagements, places; with general comments about whether a meeting was ‘good’ or whether people were ‘interesting’ or ‘dull’; and with travel arrangements. His tone is generally pompous and we never get any idea about the people who arrange his travel, his dinner, his paperwork; we never get an insight into any of the more minor issues or about the more mundane workings of the Commission.’

Sunday, January 1, 2023

A little pissoir

Joe Orton could have been celebrating his 90th birthday today had he not been murdered by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, in 1967! For a brief period in the mid-1960s, before his death, Orton was becoming celebrated among the London literati for his shocking but humorous plays, such as Loot, as well as for his promiscuous homosexuality. The raw details of Orton’s life with Halliwell and the extent of his sexual escapades were fully exposed when his diaries were published in the 1980s.

John Kingsley Orton was born on 1 January 1933 in Leicester, the oldest of five children. He left school at 16, but was admitted to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1951 after an audition. There he met Kenneth Halliwell, with whom he to went to live in West Hampstead, and with whom he collaborated on writing novels. For a while, Orton worked as an actor and stage manager, but then he also began writing on his own. In 1959, the couple moved to an Islington bedsitter bought with money inherited by Halliwell.

In 1962, both Orton and Halliwell were sent to prison for a few months for defacing public library books. Once out of prison, Orton took up play writing in earnest. He sold one play to the BBC, and soon after was taken on by literary agent, Peggy Ramsay (who suggested he call himself Joe, rather than John).

By his early 30s, Orton had established a name for himself within a new theatre genre: black comedy. Entertaining Mr Sloane, first produced in London in 1964 and in New York in 1965, shocked audiences with its combination of genteel dialogue and violent sexual drama. Few other plays followed, notably Loot and What the Butler Saw, leading Orton to become something of a society darling. In August 1967, he was beaten to death by Halliwell, whose own failure as a writer and artist was in sharp contrast to Orton’s growing literary and social success. Halliwell committed suicide the same night, dying, in fact, before Orton. See Wikipedia or the Joe Orton
website for more biographical details.

Orton first kept a diary between 1949 and 1951, and then again in the last year of his life. According to the Joe Orton website, the juvenile diaries, ‘reveal an unremarkable young man with a yearning for fame and to break away from the mundanity of everyday working life in Leicester’, while his later diaries chronicle ‘his literary success and many sexual encounters’. It was on top of the latter, a red-grained leather binder of diary pages, that Halliwell left a short note before killing his lover and himself: ‘If you read his diary all will be explained, KH, P.S. Especially the latter part.’

An interesting article, by the theatre critic Michael Thornton, on the Orton-Halliwell dynamic at the time of the murder/suicide can be found at the Daily Mail website. Thornton was a friend of Orton’s at the time, and the article draws on his own diary entries about Orton.

Joe Orton’s diaries were first edited by John Lahr, and published by Methuen in 1986 as The Orton Diaries: Including the Correspondence of Edna Welthorpe and Others. An unabridged republication of the original edition was brought out by Da Capo Press in 1996 - the introduction can be read online at Amazon. Many extracts of the diary are included in John Lahr’s Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography of Joe Orton much of which is available to read online at Googlebooks

Here is an (x-rated) extract (just part of one day’s diary entry) from The Orton Diaries (which can also be found in Prick Up Your Ears). The day before, Orton and Halliwell had returned from a short visit to Tripoli.

4 March 1967
‘Spent this morning ringing up P. Willes, Peggy, Michael White and Oscar. [. . .]

I took the Piccadilly line to Holloway Road and popped into a little pissoir - just four pissers. It was dark because somone had taken the bulb away. There were three figures pissing. I had a piss and, as my eyes became used to the gloom, I saw that only one of the figures was worth having - a labouring type with cropped hair and, with cropped hair, wearing jeans and a dark short coat. Another man entered and the man next to the labourer moved away, not out of the place altogether, but back against the wall. The new man had a pee and left the place and, before the man against the wall could return to his place, I nipped in sharpish and stood next to the labourer. I put my hand down and felt his cock, he immediatley started to play with mine. The youngish man with fair hair, standing back against the wall, went into the vacant place. I unbuttoned the top of my jeans and unloosened my belt in order to allow the labourer free rein with my balls. The man next to me began to feel my bum. At this point a fifth man entered. Nobody moved. It was dark. Just a little light spilled into the place from the street, not enough to see immediately. The man next to me moved back to allow the fifth man to piss. But the fifth man very quickly flashed his cock and the man next to me returned to my side, lifting up my coat and shoving his hand down the back of my trousers. The fifth man kept puffing on a cigarette and, by the glowing end, watching. A sixth man came into the pissoir. As it was so dark nobody bothered to move. After an interval (during which the fifth man watched me feel the labourer, the labourer stroked my cock, and the man beside me pulled my jeans down even further) I noticed that the sixth man was kneeling down beside the youngish man with fair hair and sucking his cock. A seventh man came in, but by now nobody cared. The number of people in the place was so large that detection was quite impossible. And anyway, as soon became apparent when the seventh man stuck his head down on a level with my fly, he wanted a cock in his mouth too. For some moments nothing happened. Then an eighth man, bearded and stocky, came in. He pushed the sixth man roughly away from the fair-haired man and quickly sucked the fair-headed man off. The man beside me had pulled my jeans down over my buttocks and was trying to push his prick between my legs. The fair-haired man, having been sucked off, hastily left the place. The bearded man came over and nudged away the seventh man from me and, opening my fly, began sucking me like a maniac. The labourer, getting very excited by my feeling his cock with both hands, suddenly glued his mouth to mine. The little pissoir under the bridge had become the scene of a frenzied homosexual saturnalia. No more than two feet away the citizens of Holloway moved about their ordinary business. I came, squirting into the bearded man’s mouth, and quickly pulled up my jeans. As I was about to leave, I heard the bearded man hissing quietly, ‘I suck people off! Who wants his cock sucked?’ When I left, the labourer was just shoving his cock into the man’s mouth to keep him quiet. I caught the bus home.

I told Kenneth who said, ‘It sounds as though eightpence and a bus down the Holloway Road was more interesting than £200 and a plane to Tripoli.

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 1 January 2013.