Monday, 19 August 2019

Research into Belgian refugees in Britain - addition to the literature

After a PhD, many chapters, lots of flurrying around projects producing literature lists, lists of resources and the like, the delight of discovering a new source that had been overlooked until now is both pitiful and very exciting at the same time.

Judging from what has been published before the watershed 1977 PhD by Peter Cahalan, published in 1982 (i.e. 1982 was the year of reckoning, no Google Books or downloadable PDF files from McMaster back then), references to Belgian refugees between 1982 and the 1920 Report on the Work Undertaken ... appear to be limited and any reference rather cursory.

In Flanders, one publication that is typically overlooked is Van Isacker's 'Mijn Land in de Kering' (published in 1983 but covering a period up to 1980), even though focus lies more with the refugees as internally displace persons or when in the Netherlands. In Britain, one publication from about the same time, although published between Cahalan's 1977 and 1982 works, is 'Dear Old Blighty' by E.S. Turner in 1980, which contains about ten pages on Belgian refugees. 

Allow me to draw from the Dreaded W for once (edited though it is): Ernest Sackville (E. S.) Turner (1909-2006 - he passed away at the gentle age of 96) was an English freelance journalist and author who published twenty books, including Boys Will Be Boys (Michael Joseph, 1948), The Phoney War on the Home Front (St. Martin's Press, 1961), and What The Butler Saw (Penguin, 1962). He contributed to the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books, and Punch (the last one for more than 50 years).

The Independent has his obituary still online. There a reference is made to the process of 'Turnerisation': a softening technique to make everything easy and accessible. Another characteristic of Turner's works is "the fascination for the oddities in life, and the lure of the off-beat. You cannot dip into an E.S. Turner book for long without starting to collect fascinating trivia." (Miles Kington) 
True, "No matter where you open a page, you learn something you feel you should have known."(Kington again), and this could not be more true than for his 'Dear Old Blighty', not the most exciting of titles today, but maybe it was at the time. Preproduction and writing included, the contract must have been secured in 1979, 40 years ago.

The Dreaded W also has a description of E.S. Turner's oddities that might explain why he disappeared from the radar to a large extent: "In this period between the wars, he added voyages on liners flying under the flags of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy ... and did a motor tour in "swastika-hung" Germany in a Morgan three-wheeled automobile." And yet when "mention is made of political leanings—O'Hagan refers to Turner as "never a left-wing die hard" and as having a "rightwing persona (which was only partly a pose)". During a House of Commons debate on the foxhunting issue, Labour MP Tony Benn quoted from E.S. Turner's Roads to Ruin: A Shocking History of Social Progress (1950), the book where Turner exposed the upper class's "disgraceful rearguard action…" against reforms such as "abolition of child chimney sweeps and the repeal of laws under which convicted criminals could be hung, drawn and quartered."

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