Hugh Cecil

Process of elimination: the horrors of Ravensbrück revealed

Concentration camps in Nazi Germany were originally set up in 1933 to terrorise Hitler’s political enemies; as war drew near, their function expanded to gratify his obsession (and that of Reichsführer Himmler, as head of the SS which administered them) with ‘purifying the race’ by getting rid of gypsies, Jews, ‘asocials’ — prostitutes, criminals, vagabonds

Beasts in battle

‘Never such innocence again’ wrote Philip Larkin of an unquestioning British people on the eve of the first world war, and much has been made, not unreasonably, of the trusting frame of mind in which young men of that time accepted the arguments for war in 1914. ‘Never such innocence again’ wrote Philip Larkin of

To see how good Journey’s End is, just look at who it’s offended

‘You have no idea,’ wrote the publisher Ralph Hodder-Williams in 1929 to one of his authors, what terrible offence Journey’s End has given — and terrible pain too, which is a great deal more important. I think you will agree that the chronic alcoholic was extraordinarily rare. He was referring to R.C. Sherriff’s controversial tragedy

The art of deception

Max Beerbohm, dandy, cartoonist and penetrating drama critic, was par excellence the observer of the glittering English period that stretched from the 1890s to the death of Edward VII, poking unsparing but mainly good-humoured fun at the peculiarities of its political and cultural leaders: Swinburne, Asquith, Lloyd George, Chesterton, Kipling and the King among them.

A soul in agony

In this compelling book, Matthew Hollis  analyses how Edward Thomas, for years a frustrated literary critic and prose writer on rural themes, became all at once, at the age of 36, a poet of genius. It was his close friendship with the American poet Robert Frost which, in 1914, precipitated this long-delayed fulfilment. Married while

From void to void, with time to kill

Just as the slaughter in the trenches of Flanders and northern France gave birth to the tragic verses of Wilfred Owen, so the experience of bombing and being bombed between 1940 and 1945 generated its own major poetry in Britain and the USA. The scale of the catastrophe was vast: 55,000 of British Bomber Command

Anything for a laugh

A hundred years ago, when Britannia still ruled the waves, the Royal Navy fell victim to a humiliating hoax, reports of which kept the public amused for a few wintry days in February 1910. Disguised as ‘members of the Abyssinian Royal family’, with woolly wigs, fancy-dress robes and burnt-cork complexions, a gaggle of young people

Living the pagan idyll

For years an intimate friend of my mother Rachel Cecil, Frances Partridge inhabits my memory from early childhood. Before she reached 50, her dark, delicate skin was already seamed with a thousand wrinkles like a very old woman’s, although she remained youthful all her prodigiously long life, retaining an acute power of sympathy. She would

In a class of his own

‘Voltaire and the Sun King rolled into one’ is how Elizabeth Longford has described her Oxford tutor Maurice Bowra. As Fellow and then Warden of Wadham College from 1922 to 1970 and successively Professor of Poetry, Vice Chancellor of the University and President of the British Academy, this short, powerfully built, unbeautiful, but magnetic man

Memoirs of the Great War

Survivors of a Kind, by Brian Bond In Survivors of a Kind, Brian Bond, one of our most distinguished modern military historians, has written an absorbing and affectionate study of the military memoirs of the first world war, bearing all the authority of a life- time’s work on the British Army. With some of the

Not forgetting the horses’ indigestion

The appearance of this volume is an important publishing event. It is the first book in ten years from one of the outstanding historians of our age. Its brevity and unflamboyant presentation are deceptive. Those who have admired Norman Stone’s work in the past will not be disappointed — it is full of surprises and

Singing in the mud

This is a courageous and original book. Its editor, Vivien Noakes, is resisting, though not alone (Martin Stephen, Anne Powell, Dominic Hibberd and John Onions could also be cited), a trend of opinion which has shown no sign of receding over the past 50 years: this has effectively labelled Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Isaac Rosenberg,

Public servant, private saint

Leonard Woolf had a passion for animals, not unconnected with an appetite for control. Dogs (with the occasional mongoose or monkey) were his companions to the end of his life. Discussing human nature, he put them on an equal plane: ‘There are some people, usually dogs or old women, extremely simple and unintellectual, who instinctively

The sunlight on the garden parties

Listing page content here As a social and economic phase of English life the ‘Edwardian age’ had a longer span than the ten years of Edward VII’s reign. It began, roughly speaking, with Queen Victoria’s silver jubilee in 1887 and ended with the outbreak of the first world war in August 1914. Although a far

Will Haig end up as a cuddly toy?

If you ask most people in Britain today for their views on the first world war, they tell you that it was a futile holocaust in which our nation’s brave and disillusioned young men were herded into a hell of mud and machine-gun fire by incompetent products of the English public schools. Executions for cowardice

A season in Hell

This sensitive, outspoken diary begins during the dark last days of the ‘dead little, red little army’, the British Expeditionary Force which bolstered the French left flank in Flanders from mid-August 1914. With the desperate defence of Ypres, through Hallowe’en into December, when the Germans were repeatedly beaten off, began the stalemate of trench warfare.