I’d like to welcome Ian Skillcorn, a publisher of women’s and historical fiction, to History With A Twist. Ian’s fiction imprint Corazon Books has already notched up a Top 10 bestseller on Amazon and a #1 in the Women Writers and Fiction category. Ian is re-publishing a novel by author Diana Raymond, which is set in 1930s’ England.
Diana was born during the First World War, and lost her father to the fighting a year later.
Here, Ian shows how that tragic event impacted on her life. We hear so much about the casualties of war and precious little about the widows and children who must cope with those losses. Ian’s article redresses that imbalance and highlights the achievements of a fascinating woman…
We are all familiar with the images of destruction on the battlefields during the Great War, but the fighting also had a devastating effect on the youngest lives on the home front. Over half a million children in the UK lost their fathers during the First World War.
The financial and psychological impact on them was profound. For many, it marked the end of childhood. They were required to take on adult roles, to leave school early and start working; young boys suddenly found themselves the ‘man of the house’.
Some children, born during or just after the war, were never to know their fathers; the author Diana Raymond was one of those children. She was born one year before her father, William Thomas Young, was killed at the age of thirty six, in the preliminary bombardment to The Third Battle of Ypres (or The Battle of Passchendaele). This loss affected both the course of her life, and her writing career.
In the immediate post-war years, newspapers published frequent appeals for help for the children of those who had made ‘the supreme sacrifice’. Orphan Schools, Orphanages and Funds beseeched the public to support and educate the fatherless children of the fallen. One such charity was the
Officers’ Families Fund, established by the Marchioness of Lansdowne. It was thanks to this fund that Diana benefited from an education at Cheltenham Ladies’ College. The college was both a boarding school and a day school. Diana went as a ‘Day Girl’ and said that one of the greatest skills she learned there was working on her own.
On leaving, like many young women of the era, she learned shorthand and typing. During her lunch-hours she would sit in an ABC café, writing her first novel in notebooks.
While financial hardship could be addressed by aid from charitable bodies, the psychological effect of losing a father in conflict was life-long. Diana recounted that during her childhood, so many children had lost a father that ‘one looked on families with fathers in a kind of puzzled surprise’.
She and her mother did not talk much about her father, and this was a background which Diana later gave to a character in her fiction.
Diana suggested that spending a great deal of her childhood alone was probably responsible for her being a somewhat private person; perhaps finding it easier to write than talk, although she liked to think she could listen. In fact, in a recent interview, her daughter-in-law Margaret said that Diana was ‘a wonderful listener’.
By the time Diana visited her father’s grave for the first time, she was a grown woman. Her husband, the acclaimed novelist Ernest Raymond, traced it to the Brandhoek Military Cemetery in Belgium.
Previously, Diana had never attached particular importance to graves, viewing them as no more than ‘stone-silent’, but the visit to her father’s final resting place moved her deeply, and she felt that the trip brought her closer to the man she had never known.
Ernest Raymond lived through, and survived, the Great War, during which he was a padre.
In contrast to Diana’s childhood, their son Peter was able to talk to his father about the war, particularly about Ernest’s experiences in Gallipoli.
Ultimately, it was a shared love of the poet Keats which bridged time to connect Diana to her father.
Before enlisting, William Young had been a Lecturer in English at Goldsmiths College, London University. His last book, published posthumously, was an anthology of Keats. For almost 60 years, Diana lived in Hampstead, and was a frequent visitor to the nearby Keats House.
In the 1940s she wrote a play, John Keats Lived Here, which was performed by the Hampstead Players to mark the bicentenary of Keats birth, in 1995. Although Diana always felt her father’s absence, his introduction to the anthology of Keats served as a comforting presence.
In Diana’s possession throughout her life was a bronze medallion ‒ this was The Memorial Plaque (also known as the ‘Dead Man’s Penny’), which was given to the next-of-kin of servicepeople killed in the First World War. Engraved on the medallion ‘the figure of Britannia stands with arms outstretched, holding a laurel wreath, a lion at her feet’.
Beneath the wreath are her father’s name and the words ‘He Died for Freedom and Honour’. In later life, Diana reflected that her father would have believed this was what he fought for, but ‘the subsequent years seem to question such certainty’.
Diana Raymond (1916-2009) wrote 24 novels, as well as theatre criticism, poetry and a play about Keats.