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The Iron Pier.



THE FOLLOWING EXTRACT comes from the end of my new hybrid book of prose and poetry, Some Words on Those Wars. It makes a fitting conclusion because Pamela Adams, my mother-in-law, appears earlier in the book in various contexts, and as the central presence in a long poem, “Kedging in Time.”

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She was a child during the First World War, and active as a “plotter” during the Second, when her husband was working at Churchill’s Cabinet War Room. Over the years, Pamela wrote a great deal about her family.  She wrote lengthy typescripts, many of them illustrated, about such figures as “Young George,” her great grandfather, Lord Albermale, who fought at Waterloo; about “Clare,” her mother; and “Louisa,” her grandmother. Their first names usually served as titles.

An exception to this was her extensive memoir about living through the London Blitz. The memoir was called “A Diary for Diana.”  Diana Matthias, nee Adams, was her daughter who, before her death in 2020, archived the manuscripts and sometimes made copies for relatives and friends. At present, at least one copy of each manuscript is in my hands.

Pamala was very modest about what everyone in the family called her books. She insisted that nothing was really a book until it had been published and preferred to call her work “writings.”  Her early projects were undertaken after her husband’s death and her move from the Suffolk village where they had lived to the Weymss Castle Estate in Fife, Scotland, in the 1980s. Her family reaches circuitously back to the Drurys of John Donne’s poetry by way of the Drury-Lowes, and follows a jagged family tree with diversions by way of Keppel, Charteris, Bonham-Carter, Adams, and finally Matthias.  I hope one day that at least one of these manuscripts, “Louisa,” can be published on its own. Louisa Charteris, neé Keppel, was an extremely talented watercolorist, a brilliant diarist, and an avid traveler in the grand Edwardian manner. It would make a beautiful and fascinating illustrated book.

By the time Pamela was working on her later “writings”, she had gone blind. This did not stop her work, for she took easily to dictation and enlisted a Bonham-Carter relative to write out what she recited.  One of these late dictations was a letter written from Clare Park in Surrey where she had reluctantly gone to live following the death of her companion in Fife. It is written to Robert K. Massie, author of Castles of Steel, Massie’s history of the British navy during World War I. The letter is dated July 3, 2004.

Dear Mr. Massie

Permit me to congratulate you sincerely on your excellent new book concerning the latest stages of the 1st World War, 1914-1918. I was especially interested in your chapters concerning the last stages of the war at sea.

I am now a very old lady of 93, but in 1918 I was a young girl and was an eyewitness of two of the events you so vividly describe. One was the exuberant rejoicing on board the ships of the Grand Fleet on the night of November 11th 1918 when they dropped anchor in the Firth of Forth, and the other was the actual surrender of the German Fleet on November 22nd

Pamela goes on to tell Prof. Massie that she believes she may be the last person living to have witnessed these events. Her “writing,” “The Iron Pier,” explains how this was probably true, and goes on to describe her experience living with other naval families along the north coast of the Firth of Forth in order to be near their husbands and fathers based at Rosyth. When she was nine years old, she played with the other children on the beach and watched the Grand Fleet passing before them in line headed out to the North Sea. “Great ships they were: battleships, battle cruisers, light cruisers, all with clouds of black smoke belching from their funnels, rightly you call them Castles of Steel.”

“The Iron Pier” is a longer version of her letter to Robert Massie. At the beginning, she describes waking up in her house at the Wemyss Castle Estate, standing on the terrace, and looking across the Firth of Forth to Edinburgh. She also sees three abandoned oil rigs, “looking like monstrous Meccano toys thrown down by some giant’s child grown tired of his play. What she remembers are “the ships out patrolling the wide waters of the North Sea, expecting to meet the German Hoch See Flotte and praying to renew the former indecisive encounter at Jutland.”  A footnote reminds the reader that on the 31st of May 1916, British and German ships met for the most notable naval engagement of the war, after which both sides claimed victory in what was finally an indecisive battle. She continues, remembering those days of her early youth.

When leave was granted for a few hours, landing craft could be seen rounding the end of a tall promontory on the left of the bay, and coming up to land at an iron pier that jutted out from the foot of the headland. There was a thin little path, hardly more than a goat track, scratched out of the rock which led back to the village, and on leave days a single line of ant-like figures moved along it coming back to their homes on shore. Sometimes a wife or child would go along the path in the hope of meeting a returning sailor, but usually we waited at home for there was no knowing who would be able to snatch leave at any particular time. Younger and unmarried officers nipped off to the busy life in Edinburgh, but my own father looked only for some peace and quiet.  My memory is of a tired man lying asleep on the lawn, his cap pulled hard over his eyes, and myself being told not to make a noise. I had often been on board his ship and seen the tiny sea cabin and the upper bridge (“monkey island”) where a Captain spent most of his time at sea – on duty at all times.

Pamela explains that “the lure of the sea” was sufficiently great to distract from anything like formal schooling. A few families banded together to engage a governess, but the children continued running away from her lessons to play on the beach, among the rocks, and in the woods.  Although formal education was finally dispensed with, Pamela suddenly discovered that she could read and plunged into the novels of Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Perhaps the adventures in those books were more alluring than the “Parents National Education Texts” that were dispatched north from London. All this time, she says, the children of the naval families were highly sensitive to the moods of the adults with whom they lived. “We were well aware that a sea battle was expected, and when the ships were out, inevitably there was anxious tension among our mothers on shore, and ears were permanently attuned to listen for distant gunfire.” Pamela continues, describing her search for the house where she and her mother had lived.

The passing years had greatly enlarged Aberdour village, and now a flourishing yacht club in the bay combined with a good golf course on the hills above, have made a favored holiday resort for the people of Edinburgh. From the city, a fine new road bridge spans the Forth, but I had first arrived by the original railway bridge, and now decided to leave my car in the parking place of the sleepy little station, which seemed to have changed not at all. From there I thought I could orient myself and find the way to the shore.

I recognized the steep, narrow street, dark shadowed even at midday, for once it must have been cut out of the hill itself, and houses and gardens rose high on either side. Walking down it seemed to me unchanged, and the names of former inhabitants whose children had been my playmates came back into my mind – Craig, Hallet, Woolcomb, Duff – I fancied that from among any of those bushes and trees a child might again jump down and walk the road beside me down to the sea. The street stopped abruptly at the shore and the shadows gave way to brilliant light. Ahead was the beach and the sea, with the midday sun sparkling on the water. Immediately on the right was a path leading to a row of houses facing the sea. A gate marked “Private” barred the entrance, but it led to my old home and, determinedly pushing it open, I walked through. There were about half a dozen houses, and the last but one was Corrimar. Square and sturdy, its grey stone walls stood back a little from the small garden in front, and the panes in the windows winked where they caught the rays of the sun. I stood and stared at an upper one which had lighted my own bedroom, while memory flooded back into my mind.

At this point, Pamela recounts a reverie from her early youth, first remembering the dark skies and whistling wind of winter, spray hurled against her window pane, her blankets pulled high over her head, as she hid from the tumult she feared would engulf not only all the ships at sea but also her own small house perched precariously at the sea’s edge. As she walks in the present down to the shore with a small lunch in a paper bag, she sees a crowded beach and a few yachts out in the bay, “their sails mere flecks of white, and away to the left beyond a neat stone pier, was a forest of thin masts swaying gently from boats on their moorings.”  Then, in the distance, she sees what she has been searching for, “an iron pier jutting out from the headland. . . . It looked crooked, as if it was broken down and no one used it any more.”  After lunch, she settles back into her reverie, and imagines herself and the other children playing on the low rocks, one in particular that was covered at high tide, but now, at low tide, “made a good conning tower of a submarine.”  The reader of my poem “Kedging in Time” will now see from where many of its celebratory materials in Part II are derived. Here are a few of the opening lines:

and Pamela was nine.
She lived near Rosyth in the little coastal
village, Aberdour. Her father was a captain & she sometimes
saw his ship out on patrol. She wished she were a boy
and could go to sea herself and didn’t like it when
her mother & the other naval wives would say
But you can marry a sailor!  Precocious reader, she’d go down
to the rocks emerging at low tide with Buchan or Childers,
Rider Haggard or Hope. She’d be the hero on the run,
she’d be the spy, she’d be the swashbuckling master
of a masked identity. Then she’d make a large uncovered stone
her ship, fire a broadside at the Germans who were hunting
through the fogs to find her father and, although
she didn’t know it, her future husband too. Her own child
would also be a captain’s daughter and the strategist of
tidal rivers to the south where toy wooden soldiers rose in marsmist
reeds and tipped their Bismarck helmets to the girls, Achtung!

Pamela continues more or less from passages that are the source of my lines. Still in her reverie, she looks beyond the “lookout rock” where the waters of the Forth wash against the little island of Inchcolm.

The broken walls of an ancient monastery could just be seen on clear days, but it was out of bounds in war-time, and it was only many years later that I was able to visit the place, and then in the company of my own granddaughter [my daughter Laura] The medieval monks of the little abbey , sorely tried by the raids of pirates rowing up the Forth in search of booty, had learned to abandon their home in summer time and take refuge on the mainland. Some said they used the big cave where we children played to escape the marauders.

Outside the cave, in a little cove, there was a smooth flat rock that sloped back into the sea, and it was there that I saw Tiko. He was a young seal who hauled up to bask in the sun on warm days, and I was sitting very still when he first appeared. He pulled himself half out of the water and lay with his head a little lifted, staring at me with round unblinking eyes. If I stayed motionless, he would lower his head and seem to wink and twitch a whisker into a smile, but if I tried to stand up, he immediately raised himself up on his flippers and slid back into the sea. He came several times, but then disappeared. I feared he had gone for good. When he appeared again, I called his name softly, “Tiko, Tiko,” and believed he knew me and blew out his young whiskers in welcome. His visits coincided with the tides I think, and he would only come when his rock was exposed to suit his taste.

I looked back at the children on the “submarine” rock and saw that their group had broken up. The boys ran back to their houses and the girl, seeming uncertain what to do, came slowly towards me. As she came closer, the brim of her hat shaded her face, but I could see clearly the letters embroidered in gold on the black ribbon round the crown – H.M.S. MONARCH. She disappeared behind the “lookout” rock and in a few minutes appeared again at the top. There she stood still gazing out to sea, and then sat down and, clasping her hands round her knees, continued her watch.

I knew what the child was looking for and in time her patience was rewarded. The top of a mast, the bows, the main superstructure and then the whole ship appeared round the headland, followed by another and another and another. Steaming in line ahead they came, leaving tin white lines on the water behind them, and great clouds of black smoke in the sky, while overhead floated balloons.  Silent, powerful, relentless they came, the squadrons of the Grand Fleet stretching across the whole width of the bay as they passed to take up positions and drop anchor in their home base of Rosyth. The child watched them from her vantage point – Light Cruisers, Battle Cruisers, the great Queen Elizabeth flying the flag of the Commander-in-chief, followed by the Second Battle Squadron – Orion, Thunderer, Monarch, Conqueror, and here she raised a hand in greeting, for father always promised to wave from “Monkey Island’ and she to wave back when Monarch passed. On came the procession – Lion, Princess Royal, Tiger, Repulse, Renown – more battleships, more cruisers, all escorted by the small dark line of destroyers passing on the wings like sheepdogs guarding their flock. The sweep was over, no enemy sighted, the fleet was in, and maybe leave would be given. Soon there would be picket boats, barges and galleys gliding round the iron pier, and tired men climbing up the ladders and filing alone the cliff path on their way home. The girl climbed down from her rock.

Pamela slowly emerges from her reverie, sits up and looks around in present time. The dream child from her past begins to fade and she finds herself reflecting much more consciously on her vivid memories. “The child I now saw was me, though the date was much the same.”  She remembers a cold November night when she was in her bath with the curtains drawn across the window in strict adherence to the blackout rules. She hears a foghorn out at sea, which she thinks strange because the night is clear. Suddenly the door bursts open and her mother rushes in waving a telegram. “Darling it’s over, it’s over,” she shouts.

“Armistice has been declared. The war’s ended.” I looked up blankly. There had always been a war in my lifetime, or so it seemed. And what was “Armistice”? My mother laughed and pulled me out of the bath, wrapping me round in a large towel. It’s wonderful,” she cried. “Unbelievable! Come and look.” She pulled back the curtain, opened he window, and I saw a sight I will never forget.

The night sky of November 11th was no longer black. Moon and stars, if there were any, were obliterated that night, for outside in the bay lay the Fleet, or as many of the ships as could drop anchor there. Their outlines were clearly visible from lights of their neighbors, for every port hole was open and streaming with light, while the sky was lit up by the stabbing beams of searchlights turned on to full power and sweeping upwards and from side to side in great arcs, mingling and crossing each other in wild and crazy patterns.  Star shells were shooting up, lanterns raised to mastheads, and tiny figures could be seen dancing on the decks. And the noise! Fog horns were whooping, bands playing and every throat in the Fleet was cheering wildly or singing as loud as they could. I stared in amazement.

Before describing the surrender of the German fleet, Pamela wants to walk along the cliff path and stand once again on the iron pier. She picks her way over the seaweed and shingle at the top of the beach, passes the new stone pier, and finds the path that led along the face of the cliff. The iron pier was on her right. It stretched out above the sea “on thin black legs, the first few yards of planking remaining in place, and then the metal sagged sideways and dipped gradually into the sea as if too tired or too dispirited to remain upright. The residue of an iron ladder hung tipsily from a rusty railing, and I could see more of the steps trailing on to the rocks under the water.” Pamela stands in the lee of the headland, stares beyond the pier at the oil rigs and phantom ships.

Certain that it would be too risky to walk out on what was left of the iron pier, she turns around and finds on the left under the cliff a house and a little garden with a few tables and chairs.  She remembered this house as a “secret place,” guarded by a marine sentry. She had learned later that a few men were doing research on submarine detection in the house, inventing what would be called “sonar.” But now it appeared to be a guest house, so she sits down at one of the tables, orders a coffee, and while she drinks it finds the old letter from her mother, Clare, that she has brought along to read. It is dated 22nd November 1918, and describes how they had left the iron pier early one morning to go out into the North Sea and watch the surrender of the German Fleet.


Friday, November 22nd, 1918

Just a line to tell you that we are none the worse for our expedition yesterday. It was indeed a wonderful day and one that will stand out for ever in our memories.

It was a most kind and happy inspiration of the C in C to let us all share in our husbands’ great day and see the closing act of the great drama on the high seas, and I know they were proud and glad to have us there to see it. . . We went in a big Tug which had often taken people round the Fleet in old days in Portsmouth, and with an awning and seats she was made most comfortable. The day was perfect – the fog at last lifted and only a gentle swell of the water when we started at 9:45 a.m. We were given a small tug to go off from here, an found the big one in the middle of the Forth.

We steamed out beyond the island of Inchkeith, and then anchored to await the arrival of the Fleet. We had just finished our sandwiches about 1 p.m. when there was a cry “They’re in sight!’ Then they began to steal out of the hazy distance the sun shining on them and making them look almost white. It was thrilling picking out gradually and recognizing both friend and foe. We saw them halt and turn to anchor with our big ships on either hand, and then at last we turned and saw the whole horizon thick with the pointed hulls of the 49 captive Destroyers escorted by many more of our own – line upon line of them, led by the Castor, which came within a few yards of us, heartily cheered by the small children on bord with us.

When they anchored, we steamed all down the lines and had a really wonderful view. We went especially close to some of the enemy Destroyers. They were a great contrast to ours and looked very grimy and rusty, battle worn and uncared for. Each bridge had a young British officer in charge, and the German crews stood about in aimless groups cheek by jowl with their officers, and were dressed in the most varied and grubby attire. The former smiled mostly at sight of us but the officers stood very still and grim. The big ships looked rather better cared for, but they were still a marked contrast to ours. They looked however a fine fighting force with most powerful guns, and it seemed a sheer impossibility that they should have come here in voluntary surrender.

The whole of our Fleet turned out to meet and escort them in and our newest and mightiest Battle Squadron – the 1st B.S., command by Sir Charles Madden in Revenge, accompanied by the 2nd Battle Squadron stayed at anchor to mount guard.

Siddie’s [her husband’s] Squadron escorted the C in C’s flagship as they always do at sea, being the centre of the Grand Fleet, but as they were the furthest off in line from us, we did not see them close.

I send you papers describing the meeting on board the Q.E. with the German Admiral. I was told yesterday that the poor man was ashy white, and when he first went down to face Admiral Beatty he could not speak.


At this point Pamela looks up from the letter and reflects:

I remembered the swell of the sea, the November mist that lifted to modest sunshine, and the sight of the long line of great ships through which we passed.  I too was astounded by the condition of the German ships and the unkempt appearance of the crews. I can remember no cheering nor the wish to do so, but, young as I was, I felt pity for a defeated foe, and awe at their fallen might. I did not know that their ships had been kept in harbour by higher command and not allowed to sail, nor had I heard of the naval mutiny at Williamshaven only a month before. Der Tag was the day the German Navy had toasted, when they would meet the British fleet which they longed to overpower. But it had not turned out that way.

The two fleets steamed to the harbour of Scapa Flow in the far north of Scotland, and there the Germans dropped anchor and awaited to hear their fate. It was expected that the captured ships would be distributed among the various victorious allies, but many heads were puzzled about how this could be done amicably. On November 21st 1919, almost exactly a year after the surrender, when the British squadrons came back from exercise, they found the harbour empty. The German crews had opened the valves and let in water and scuttled their own ships. It was a well-coordinated operation, and for a time the authorities were perplexed as to how communication between German Captains had been achieved, for the crews were confined to ship and no inter-communication allowed.  The answer was later discovered to have been messages smuggled by means of the post boat which was permitted to call at each ship to deliver and pick-up mail to families at home. The date of the sinkings was significant – exactly a year after the Armistice, which had originally been signed for one year. This period had been extended but the German prisoners were not informed, and after the official time had expired, the Commanding Officer felt at liberty to renew hostilities in any way he thought fit.

During that first winter of peace, wonderful parties were given on board many of the ships for the sailors’ children, and again and again we climbed down the ladder of the iron pier to boats waiting for us on the dark waters below. Father Neptune (brother to Father Christmas) appeared dripping with seaweed, to give us presents; there were conjurors and fireworks; a roundabout fitted on to capstan bars; rides on a saddle strapped to a gun that rose slowly up and then swiveled around; a glorious slide down a sail; swings in hammocks and, most exciting of all, we were lifted into the basket of a balloon and winched high into the sky. Ships’ cooks produced prodigies of food and there was dancing on the quarter-deck, during which I fell in love with my host, a Captain who had been a cadet with my father in Britannia. I did not meet him again till during another war, when I was already married and he a very senior Admiral.

It was getting late and the man came out of the Guest House to ask if I wanted anything else. “Yes, please,” I said, “A glass of rum.” He looked surprised, “Anything in it, madam? he asked. “No,” I replied, “Neat and a big one.” Rum I felt was a sailor’s drink. Nelson’s men were issued with it before Trafalgar and, for all I knew, Drake may have had a swig after his game of bowls. My husband had a ration before the attack on Zebrugge, and Regan, his coxswain, told me he used to bring my father a cup of cocoa laced with it to the bridge on cold nights in the North Sea. When the glass came, I walked with it to the iron pier, and took a few steps forward – enough to see the water below me. Then I took a sip and poured the rest into the sea. “Vale,” I thought, “and thank you.”

Pamela concludes…with some thoughts about the great British Fleets of former years having been reduced to only one – enough to fight the war in the Falklands, but only just…

Pamela concludes, as she returns to Wemyss, with some thoughts about the great British Fleets of former years having been reduced to only one – enough to fight the war in the Falklands, but only just – and sees the “Castles of Steel” as “great Leviathans fading from the sea as had the Dinosaurs from the land. The dark squadrons of the air that superseded them might in turn give way to unmanned missiles whistling through space, as the deadly evolution of technology ruthlessly marches on and the human factor declines.” Thinking of Bleriot’s first crossing of the Channel in 1909, she is also thinking, though this is the subject on one of her other manuscripts, of the next World War, The Battle of Britain, and the Blitz when she herself worked as a plotter and willingly put herself in danger, even though she was pregnant with her daughter Diana, who eventually became my wife.

The evening when I returned to Wemyss I looked out again across the Forth. In the dark the oil rigs were lighted up and lay like little Christmas trees decorated with festive candles. Former prejudices dispelled, I thought now that they looked pretty and friendly, and remembered how they contributed to warmth and light and wealth, as well as employment and hope to the people in the northern regions. Those who worked on them were brave men, and as important in their way as the sailors in their ships. These rigs were redundant now and due soon to be towed away, and I wondered what next would succeed them. There were rumours of vessels carrying more dangerous cargo than oil – frozen liquid gas – soon to appear in Dalgheti Bay.

But now the Forth flowed quietly by, and tomorrow morning early the gulls would fly past my window on their way to feed at the estuary, as they had done for centuries before a man first pushed his coracle out onto its waters.

The visiting watercolorist.

PAMELA SAYS NOTHING in her memoir about her grandmother’s visits. The missing person is accounted for in Memoirs of Louisa Charteris and Memoirs of a Grand-daughter. Chapter 1 of this manuscript is called “Louisa Keppel,” and is written by Louisa herself as an informal diary dealing with her father, George, the 6th Earl of Albemarle; her grandmother Susan, daughter of Sir Coutts-Trotter, an eminent banker; and her own youth. The Keppel home was at Quidenham in Norfolk. Louisa had two sisters, one who died young, and a brother.  She was particularly close to her surviving sister, Augusta. (There is nothing in the memoir about Alice Keppel, mistress of Edward VII, but information is far from lacking elsewhere.) One of the first artistic masterpieces that Louisa may have seen was Sir Joshua Reynolds’ painting of Lady Elizabeth Keppel that hung above the fireplace of the family friend, Lord John Russell, who was Leader of the Commons when Lord Melbourne was Prime Minister.

The Keppel family travelled widely. France, Switzerland, Italy, and Malta were the favored destinations. It is not clear when Louisa began to paint and draw, but the boxes of her paintings now in my possession contain what look like childhood drawings. (They are not signed.). It is safe to say, however, that both landscapes and the human figure appealed to her quite early, as we can find in her archive fairly amateurish watercolors (that are signed) leading to a more and more impressive command of her medium. Louisa particularly loved Malta, and in fact it was there where she met The Hon. Frederick Charteris, son of the Earl of Wemyss, and later married him. Louisa’s description of the British ships leaving Malta rhymes with Pamela’s later account of the fleet sailing from Scappa Flow.

Louisa’s journal stops abruptly at the end of an anecdote about her husband’s affection for The Widow West who, in the recorded dialogue, speaks like a stage Scott. She fears she may be breathing her last but is told that “a h’oister will recover the dying.” The widow’s granddaughter runs for the cure and returns. “Here I be Grandmother,” she says. “Here be the h’oister. Du you swallow him.”  After rocking vigorously in her chair to make the h’oister “fly around and around my dear insides,” she begins to feel better. ‘T’was four and twenty hours afore that there h’oister was jested. But bless the Lord he’s jested now.”

With Chapter 2, “Louisa Charteris,” Pamela takes over the narration that begins with Louisa’s marriage to Frederick Charteris, R.N., on 30 November 1864.  Her account is able to draw on Louisa’s letters which were bequeathed to her second cousin, Miranda Villiers, secretary of the Keppel Association, on condition that she lodged them with the Norfolk Record Office. Pamela was able to obtain copies of the letters before they were deposited in the Norfolk archive.

From this point on, and continuing into chapter 3 which Pamela titles “Gran,” Louisa’s story is very much that of a serious watercolorist’s mature work done mainly in Norfolk and the various villas in which she stayed on her travels. The manuscript incorporates photocopies of paintings from Villa Aronati; Varenna; Villa Scott, Mentone; and nearby sites, like the chapel near Bellevue, Meltone; and Old Saint Paul’s, Hyeres.  Most of the paintings date from 1909, which was clearly a year full of energetic European travel in the grand Edwardian manner.

Pamela mentions an easel and a canvas, suggesting oil painting rather than watercolors; but I have seen only watercolors and wonder where the oils are, if they were ever painted, and what they are like.

With the outbreak of World War I, Louisa was mainly in London while her husband was at sea and her son Ronald with the Royal Flying Corps. Her London drawing room overlooked Sloane Square, where the volunteers — and, later on, the conscripts — in khaki uniforms emerged from the underground station and formed ranks to be marched off to some theater of the war. Even in these times, Louisa painted. Pamela mentions an easel and a canvas, suggesting oil painting rather than watercolors; but I have seen only watercolors and wonder where the oils are, if they were ever painted, and what they are like. Louisa belonged to the Fine Arts Society, and showed pictures at their exhibitions.

During a Zeppelin raid, Louisa, her daughter Clare, and granddaughter Pamela hurry down the stairs looking for cover. Speaking in her own voice, Pamela remembers the scene:

“From my vantage point I heard voices below, and looking down saw a group of men standing in the entrance hall. One had a beard, and was dressed in naval uniform, and another was a soldier who looked up, and called ‘Has anyone been hurt up there?’ I turned to tell the others, but already they were beside me, and I heard Mother give a little gasp of surprise. Now I could see that the bearded naval officer had a great deal of gold on the peak of his cap, and more gold braid on his sleeve than I had ever seen. After a short conversation, he touched his cap in salute, and the men turned and went away. Mother came slowly back up the stairs, seeming a little breathless. ‘That,’ she said, ‘was the King.’”

When Pamela and her mother moved north to Aberdour near “the iron pier,” Grandmother Louisa followed. I have seen only one painting from this period that, in a fascinating way, acknowledges that the War is still on. Now 80 years old, she painted mostly as she always had. Pamela writes that “she painted some charming pieces from the garden of our house. One shows the cliff headland, one the iron pier, and another the beach just below our house and out to sea the little island of Inchcolm.” But I have found a small watercolor in the collection worth mentioning. I carefully peeled it off the manuscript page to which it was glued. It is about three by four inches and shows a beach partly surround by large rocks and trees. But when I turned the painting over, there was a pencil drawing on the back. It shows one of the battleships headed out to sea. Sadly, it is too light a drawing to reproduce, but there is no question at all about its subject. Beyond the delicate coastline are the ships that sailed each day into the North Sea and, should the enemy be there to meet them, might not return.

So that is a little bit about Louisa.  The following small portfolio does not limit itself to scenes from Aberdour, but includes watercolors of various scenes in various sizes representing places in Italy, France, Malta, and elsewhere.

Some watercolors:
Click to enlarge.










John Matthias is editor emeritus of Notre Dame Review, emeritus professor of English at Notre Dame and the author of some thirty books of poetry, translation, criticism, and scholarship. Shearsman Books published his three volumes of Collected Poems, as well as the uncollected long poem, Trigons, two more volumes of poetry, Complayntes for Doctor Neuro and Acoustic Shadows and a novel, Different Kinds of Music. Tales Tall & Short— Fictional, Factual and In Between  was published by Dos Madres in 2020 and The New Yorker recently published his widely read memoir, “Living with a Visionary.” Some Words on those Wars is forthcoming from Dos Madres Press.




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