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Richard Knott

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Cecil Beaton

Places in ‘Posted in Wartime’ 2. – London to Land’s End, 1943


Cecil Beaton sets out for India in late 1943 to work for the Ministry of Information – from Chapter 11…

 

The departure from a cold, bleak Paddington station was inauspicious and Beaton was glad to stop en route at Lord Berners’ exotic country house near Farringdon in Wiltshire.  The next day he flew on to Land’s End where he was obliged to settle for a frustrating wait, only brightened by the dazzling good looks of the Canadian pilot who was to fly them south.  Eventually the Dakota was cleared for take-off but crashed almost immediately, a tongue of flame licking through the cabin before the whole aircraft became swathed in a dense cloud of thick orange smoke.  With an explosion likely, it was necessary to get out of the aircraft as soon as possible and Cecil found himself by the open door,  observing others on board jumping out into the darkness.  It was clearly better than burning to death, but there was no knowing how far he might fall….

What happened next?  Find out in my book Posted in Wartime’ (Pen & Sword).

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‘Posted in Wartime’ – What’s It About?


‘Wartime exile then is a key theme in this book; it is what connects the six principal characters, both the celebrated and the unknown.  ‘Posted in Wartime’ has a double meaning of course: the first of which refers to the role and nature of written correspondence during the war – the impact, for example, of censorship and stretched lines of communication, the slow and unreliable postal service on which those sent abroad relied for news and reassurance.  Even, presumably, my tight-lipped father.   The second meaning concerns the despatching of  individuals to far corners of the world, sent hither and thither to fight, police, drive transports, administrate, liaise, or entertain.  That process was often the result of some anonymous civil servant’s whim or staff officer’s hunch which duly consigned someone to a rattling, cold Liberator or DC3, or a transcontinental train; or, more likely, some rusty troop-ship beating its way from one fly-blown port to another.’

That’s it basically.  The book is concerned with the following key issues/newsworthy items: what wartime service does to people; the nature of exile; how people’s background determines the kind of war one faced; and how wartime service changes lives forever.  There are a number of very topical locations in the book as well, including Iraq and Palestine.

In addition there are a significant number of interesting people who appear within the book, including:   Tony Benn, Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, Greta Garbo and Evelyn Waugh.  I’ll provide some more information tomorrow about the book’s main characters, including my mysterious father!

 

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