The blitz

A reappraisal of James Courage

James Courage is one of those fine writers who, though he enjoyed considerable success in his lifetime, has now more or less slipped from view. None of the eight novels he published between 1933 and 1961 is in print and most of them are impossible to find secondhand. The same goes for a collection of his short stories published in 1973. He is chiefly remembered for A Way of Love, a bold novel about a homosexual relationship that was published in 1959 and became a minor cause célèbre in New Zealand when it was banned there. Courage was born in New Zealand in 1903, but came to Oxford University in

Father Christmas battles through the Blitz

When the shrill air raid sirens blared their familiar warning cries over the city at 6.01 p.m. on 29 December 1940, Londoners thought they knew what was coming. Life under siege had taken on a strange sense of normality. They had been bombed systematically by the Luftwaffe for months and fully expected this to resume with ferocity after a brief lull over the Christmas period. But the events that unfolded that night would bring horrors on an entirely new scale. The 136 bomber planes that swooped down from the sky and dropped their high explosives and 22,000 incendiaries onto the capital were intent on creating an inferno. It worked. The

A passionate wartime love story is rescued from oblivion

Once in a while, just at the right moment, a truly gorgeous real-life love story appears out of the blue, or in this case out of a chance purchase on eBay. Thanks to a serendipitous sequence of connections, including a perspicacious dealer and a fast-moving literary agent, the wonderful (and super-latively edited) seat-of-the-pants romance of Eileen Alexander and fellow Cambridge student Gershon Ellenbogen has been saved from oblivion. Having survived a serious car accident on the eve of the second world war with her only-just-platonic friend Gershon at the wheel, Eileen begins writing him some of wartime’s funniest, most unexpected and possibly unintentionally sexiest letters as she reports on her

The return of the deep shelter mentality

Seven weeks confined to a city apartment changes a man. Trees, for example, have never been a particular passion of mine but recently I’ve spent many happy moments studying the plane tree outside my bedroom window, and in particular the magpies’ nest therein. On Saturday a baby magpie emerged from the nest and edged tentatively along a branch. There it stayed for several minutes until it retreated to the security of its nest. On Sunday, the Observer reported that a similar nervousness now afflicts the British. According to the paper, fewer than one in five of the public believe the time is right to end the lockdown. Britain is not