Compared to some, my father Jack was an intrepid traveller, thinking nothing of driving through the night to Portugal or Austria in the post-war years. But his love of the road was of a different order to Freya Stark’s who always assumed that any journey was possible, and a God-given right. Perhaps that difference reflected their disparate backgrounds: hers – exotic, cosmopolitan, comfortable; Jack’s – urban, grey, short-lived, and narrow; Freya brought up in an artist’s sprawling house near Dartmoor, its grounds thick with rhododendrons; and my orphaned father from his Black Country two-up, two-down, with its weedy yard and outside privy. She regarded the wider world as hers to explore; he, though, would have chosen to see the war out in gloomy boredom in some obscure RAF station in the English Home Counties. That was all to change in 1942 when Jack was posted to the Middle East.
Did their paths ever cross? It’s certainly possible. Was he perhaps part of her police protection on one of the occasions when she passed through Habbaniya? One thing is certain: Freya understood exactly why she was in Arabia, writing in her diary towards the end of March 1942, that ‘Hitler must make for oil or die.’ Jack was not a man to keep a diary, or care about the bigger picture. He was there simply because his luck had run out and some miserable bugger behind a comfortable desk had decided that Jack Knott’s war would not be complete without taking in some years in the desert sun, and, before that, a long sea voyage around the Cape of Good Hope.
Another extract from ‘Posted in Wartime‘ (Pen & Sword, March 2017); the quotation from Freya Stark is from ‘Dust in the Lion’s Paw’, page 129.