August 28, 2004
The English The English The English Are Best.
Some readers may recall the Flanders and Swann song, with the lines "The English, The English, The English are best, I wouldn't give tuppence for all of the rest" and it is in that spirit, not entirely serious yet not truly joking either, that I offer you extracts from the obituary of Commander Keith Rogerson:
Commander Keith Rogerson, who has died aged 76, was a naval officer whose service spanned the principal maritime incidents of the Cold War era.A distinctive figure with a Punch-like nose, red cheeks and shaggy eyebrows veiling bright blue, inquiring eyes, Rogerson did not fit well into any system; occasionally he would "lose" a portion of his paperwork by posting it through a crack in the bulkhead. He revered the Queen and the Pope but instinctively distrusted pretty well everyone else.
At 13, Keith went to Dartmouth. On the first day of term in the autumn of 1942, a targeted German air raid hit the quarterdeck on which he and his fellow cadets were assembled and came close to destroying his entire intake.
Subsequently, the cadets were shuttled between the grim enclosure of Muller's orphanage in Bristol and the enchanting grounds of Eaton Hall in Cheshire, the Duke of Westminster's seat. As all serving officers had been called up for active service, the cadets greatly benefited from the superior education offered by retired schoolmasters called upon to help.
I'm sure that most of you were aware that in Nelson's Navy boys joined as, well, boys, but still joining at 13 years old in 1942? I also like the little snark at the usual quality of naval teaching.
Roman Catholic cadets were still a novelty in those days and the history lessons were something of an ordeal for Rogerson, albeit mitigated by the presence of a fellow Catholic, Henry Harwood, whose father had distinguished himself at the battle of the River Plate.
The exotic nature of Catholics was still true when father went to Dartmouth a decade later (although not as a 13 year old).
Although physically strong, Rogerson was a determined anti-sportsman, strenuously avoiding all team games and anything that involved a ball.His interests were directed towards horses and hounds - hunting as a young man, race-going and fence judging in later life - and dogs. Three generations of home-bred bassets were succeeded by two of bloodhounds, then a pack of four black lurchers, which added the right level of anarchy to Rogerson's expeditions along the Meon Valley.
As he set out one day with his customary tangle of leads, whistles and hunting crops, the postman observed: "All's well with the world, there goes the Commander out for a shout with his dogs."
As I have repeatedly suggested in these pages Plum Wodehouse did not really create characters, he just observed and caricatured those around him. The same might could be said of other writers about the English, John Winton perhaps (one can see elements of Lt-Commander Badger in the above and Winton would certainly have known Rogerson, if only by reputation) and even Richard Gordon.
So, a note to those reading light and comic English literature, or what you may think is such. Yes, we really are like that, or at least we were and shall be again, when God is in his heaven and all is right with the world.
Update: an entry in the "isn't it a small world stakes". Father, Royal Navy from ooh, 1951/2 or so to 1986/7 or so, writes to inform me that he had lunch with the above mentioned Henry Harwood last week. Small world indeed.
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