Friday, 25 July 2014

‘This is their week of destiny’

Extract from the diary of Captain PHB Lyon, June 1918 (D/DLI 7/424/3)
D/DLI 7/424/3 Extract from the diary of Captain PHB Lyon, June 1918 
In 1918, Captain PHB Lyon, 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, was taken as a prisoner of war, arriving at his first camp at Karlsruhe on 11 June (he was soon moved to Graudenz where he spent the remainder of the war).  He kept a diary of this time, 'A Diary - Seven Months of Captivity', much of which focuses on eating and reading.
‘…at seven o’clock we were initiated into the unofficial regulations by a tall philosopher-browed subaltern, who was apparently the permanent staff of the place – a prisoner of some standing. He told us all the tips about getting parcels from home; also about the library – an excellent one where books can be changed twice a day… I wrote home this evening, and read ‘His Last Bow’ till it was time to turn in.’ (Captain PHB Lyon, ref: D/DLI 7/424/3)
His Last Bow is a Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle, one of only two stories written in the third person. It was initially printed in The Strand magazine in September 1917 before being published in an anthology of the same name with six other stories, in the October. It is not indicated in the diary whether it is the magazine or book form that Captain Lyon is reading, though the fact that it came from a library suggests the latter. It is interesting that someone is reading what is considered to be Conan Doyle’s British morale booster in a prisoner of war camp in Germany, less than a year after its release.

Sherlock Holmes was evidently popular among soldiers.  The Wipers Times and its subsequent incarnations featured the serial adventures of Herlock Shomes and his companion Dr. Hotsam, RAMC, centred around such locations as Typers, and the Denin Gate.

After the image is a summary of Conan Doyle's wartime contribution that reveals key plot details.

The Strand Magazine, vol. 65, no. 321, September 1917, Magazine Rights: Public domain, Courtesy: Toronto Public Library, Wikimedia Commons
The Strand Magazine, vol. 65, no. 321, September 1917, Magazine Rights: Public domain, Courtesy: Toronto Public Library, Wikimedia Commons
His Last Bow begins on 2 August 1914 with a German Baron, Von Herling, visiting the coastal home of another German, Von Bork, and discussing Von Bork’s success at infiltrating British society and government. Though Von Herling wonders if Britain will take arms, ‘This is their week of destiny’, Von Bork knows it is likely and is preparing to leave the country. First though, he is expecting another visitor, an Irish-American by the name of Altamont, who is bringing some British naval intelligence. 

The Baron leaves and soon after Altamont arrives. He expressed concern that so many of Von Bork’s informants have been arrested, and worries that he will be next. If the reader has not already guessed the true identity of Altamont, he hands Von Bork the intelligence copied into a book titled ‘Practical Handbook of Bee Culture’. As Von Bork looks at it, he is chloroformed by John Watson. 

Whilst other papers may contain real intelligence, papers supplied by Sherlock Holmes as Altamont are ‘…thoroughly untrustworthy. It would brighten my declining years to see a German cruiser navigating the Solent according to the mine-field plans which I have furnished.’ As Von Bork is bundled, bound, into the car to be taken to London, Holmes looks out to sea and speaks those poignant words to Watson: 
‘There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.’

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