Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Objectors and Resisters, 1914-18: example 1, Edward Gaitens

A passage (pp.94-95) in Robert Duncan's book directs the reader to an "undeservedly neglected novel" not published until 1948 but rooted in the experience of a Scot who opposed the First World War. The author, Edward Gaitens, was a Conscientious Objector (CO) who like many other COs spent time in prison. His work is not entirely neglected; he has an acknowledged place in Scottish literature of the 20th century and his stories of Glasgow working-class life were published and appreciated in his lifetime. What is overdue for acknowledgement and appreciation is his contribution in this novel to the literature of the First World War.

From "fair daffodils" to dungeons dark...

Canongate Classics edition, 1990
(This blurb's interpretation is open to question, to say the least).
The Introduction by Scottish writer James Campbell to the 1990 edition, although more perceptive than the blurb, touches rather briefly on the pervasive theme of the Great War:  ( "Eddy tries to spring himself from his slum prison... only to be dumped in a real prison for his idealistic opposition to the Great War..." and 'revolutionary socialist' Gaitens' attitude to it. He mentions the three convicted COs, and the depiction of Wormwood Scrubs as a hell-hole in an "amalgam of fiction and undoubted authentic direct experience." The narrative of Gorbals life includes the "world of ideas", from poetry to left-wing politics, although rooted in everyday reality

How He Wrote
The novel is in two sections of six chapters each. Book 1 is prefaced by a quotation from German poet Hans Sachs: "Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn! " - "Madness everywhere!" and Book 2 by "Was gilt's, was ich dir sagen kann?" -  [approximately] What can I tel you it's worth, what can we say it's all for?

Book 1 is mostly set in the pre-war background, introducing characters, setting them in context, and in the case of the younger ones describing their explorations in literature, politics and relationships, their arguments and different standpoints. Women, in some variety, are strongly present and often centre stage in scenes set in tenements, closes, streets and dance-halls. The main protagonist, Eddy Macdonnel, and his two friends Neil and Donald, attend a meeting offering an "open platform to all exponents of progressive political thought" in the Pavilion Music Hall. Among other names dropped are George Bernard Shaw, W W Jacobs, and probably the best-known of Glasgow's war resisters, John Maclean: (p.131 - Eddy wants to attend "Jonny McLean's class on the Significance of the Paris Commune").

In Chapter 6 the effects of war are being felt, with each male of an age to be conscripted constrained to make choices, whether to conform, take a principled stand or compromise. One of Eddy's brothers has already joined the Territorials although "not irresistibly driven by patriotism" and duly obeys the call; another earns comparatively big money doing work of national importance in the shipyards. The friends are opposed to the war effort but Neil argues that it's fair enough to work in protected industries on grounds of Marxian Expediency since "the only logical way to escape participation in a Capitalist war is tae live on a desert island or commit suicide". Both he and Donald opt for conscientious objection when it comes to the bit. The latter's decision is shown in his family context: the arrest of COs "always came in the small hours".  Eddy stages his own one-man demonstration in the recruiting office when it is his turn, loudly denouncing it all and ending this section on a high note of internationalist optimism and revolutionary fervour: 
(pp.135-6) ... mutinies everywhere... He believed the War would end suddenly, any time now, and the Workers all over the world would fraternize.... The great Socialist Revolution would blaze up... John McLean had said it, Guy Aldred had said it, that Glasgow would be the nucleus of World-Wide Revolution... 
 - except that, notwithstanding Eddy's (later self-mocked) heroic stance the doctor keeps right on "passing man after man into the Army and the ordeal of War". 

'Corner-boys' in the Gorbals, 1948
Something of the Gorbals world Edward knew
 was still in existence when his book was published.

The second book considers the consequences of the choices made in relation to the war, and the subsequent fate of Eddy's three older brothers (James, John, Francie) and two friends (Donald, Neil), again firmly their families and community as these adapt to the changed world. The reader learns something of what COs have had to go through. Donald has spent time in a Corporation Mental Home after a (para)suicide bid: since the war and the Work Centre for COs "his nerves had slowly gone to pieces". He looks back on the 18 months spent in Dartmoor, remembering the comradeship and the intellectual buzz, but no longer identifies with that youthful idealism. Neil too feels alienated from former political comrades and from his formerly supportive, politically aware sisters (Christian pacifist and uncompromising revolutionary socialist). He notes that fellow members of left-wing social groupings tend to follow the opinions of leaders of their parties instead of thinking for themselves. Both men have apparently settled for conventional post-war existence in 'normal' non-ideal relationships, though not without some mental strife.

Of Eddy's own post-war existence next to nothing is said, apart from a passing mention of his being in London (the fact that a perceived 'normal' relationship was not on the cards for him as EG's alter ego may have something to do with this). Instead, Chapter 6 disrupts the chronological sequence and plunges back to one of the darkest days in the life of a CO, in prison. As well as describing some of what they had to suffer, it goes some way to suggesting how those who survived coped. Eddy is confined to his cell after reporting to the doctor and dreads the prospect of the solitary hours ahead. In the course of them he reflects on prison life and what has brought him to it, ranging over the past, analysing his complex motivation and interrogating his ideals. He refers to key points of COs' history as later confirmed by non-fictional accounts: the behaviour of prison doctors, warders, fellow prisoners including Sinn Feinersprison diet; the risk of insanity in 'solitary' - three "went mad" including one CO; the pros and cons of 'Absolutism'; alternative 'service' - road-making in the Highlands; Zeppelin raid; and the impact of the Russian Revolution.

Eddy gets through, and even achieves a sense of well-being in the end, not consoled by religion or even revolutionary fervour, nor by any self-glorifying notion of martyrdom, but thanks to his inner resources: imagination, intense awareness, capacity for enjoyment, and power of rational thought. It has not been entirely a dark day in the life of the mind. And Edward survived to bear witness, to have said what he wanted to say and be listened to, and to get on with his life, eventually finding a long-term partner.

Perhaps surprisingly - for something that so manifestly "should" be read - it's a highly readable book, whether for the first time as a sequential, unusually structured novel, or a collection of stories to keep going back to for particular episodes. 

Time for a new edition, with some notes? Or an adaptation or two in another medium?

The cover of the Canongate Classics edition is "Self-portrait, 1914", by Stanley Spencer - Striking, certainly, but is it appropriate, given that the artist was neither working-class nor Glaswegian and that he served willingly in the First World War? Apart from the great poignancy, with hindsight, of the face of a young man in 1914 (EG would have been 17 in that year) there is however another tie-in: 
"In May 1940 WAAC  [the War Artists' Advisory Committee] sent Spencer to the Lithgows Shipyard in Port Glasgow on the River Clyde to depict the civilians at work there. Spencer became fascinated by what he saw.."

How He Lived

The Pearce Register gives details of what happened to Edward in the war, as follows:
Edward Gaitens
Occupation         'unskilled labourer' - later a writer and novelist
Age        -
Birth year            1897
Year       -
Death year          1966
Soldier Number                -
Address               364, Govan St. (?)
Address 2            Glasgow
Local authority  Glasgow City
County Lanarkshire
Country                Scotland
Latitude               55.85
Longitude            -4.25
Ordnance Survey reference        NS590650
Absolutist            Yes?
Motivation          -
Military Service Tribunal                MST (Military Service Tribunal) Central Tribunal at Wormwood S. 20.12.16, CO class A, to Brace Committee
Central Tribunal                Central Tribunal Nos. W.2557 Class: A - Genuine
War Service        3 (R) H.L.I., Edinburgh; CM (Court Martial) Edinburgh 8.12.16 - 1yr.HL (With hard labour) 28 days, Wormwood S.
Magistrates Court            Arrest reported 15.12.16
Magistrates Court comments     Absentee
Prison   Wormwood S.; 'spent two years in Wormwood Scrubs' (Oxford DNB)
Work Centre      HOS (The Home Office Scheme, administered by the Brace Committee) Ballachulish - 16.5.17 sent home and awaiting arrest. Agent found his work unsatisfactory.
Work Centre comments  Rejected by The Home Office Scheme, administered by the Brace Committee
WO363 false
Notes    'He was homosexual and never married'. His only novel, 'Dance of the Apprentices' (1948) contains descriptions of his time in prison as a CO
Sources                Cumbria RO(Carlisle)D/Mar/4/97; Oxford DNB (2004); NA/WO86/73/20; NA/MH47/1 Central Tribunal Minutes; Not found in NA/WO363; FH/SER/VOPC/Cases/2(4207) also FH/SER/VOPC/Cases/3(3820 and 3350 - spelling 'Gatins')
Record set          Conscientious Objectors' Register 1914-1918

It looks as though the 1916 prison sentence mentioned led to his case being considered by the Central Tribunal and his being sent to work on the Home Office Scheme at Ballachulish, then on being found "unsatisfactory" (perhaps having been involved in the unrest among COs there) he was sent back to the Scrubs for a period which would match the circumstances of 'Eddy' as above. 

Biography [Canongate]
Edward Gaitens 1897-1966), was born in the Gorbals of Glasgow. Leaving school at fourteen, he undertook a variety of casual jobs to support himself over the years. When the First World War broke out he became a conscientious objector and was imprisoned for two years in Wormwood Scrubs. In the 1930s he started to write, and his early attempts were greatly encouraged by his fellow Glaswegian, the successful dramatist James Bridie, who had become chairman of the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre at the time. A number of Gaitens' short stories were first published in the Scots Magazine. mostly based on his own life in the Gorbals, these were later collected as Growing Up and Other Stories (1942).* Six of these stories were incorporated into Dance of the Apprentices (1948), a novel of city life and the turbulent years between the First World War and the Depression. Gaitens continued to write from time to time during the years in which he lived - virtually anonymously - in London and Dublin. Growing Up ... and Dance of the Apprentices remain his only published books.

*At the time of writing this blog the short story collection is rare:
Growing Up and Other Stories. GAITENS, Edward. Published by London: Jonathan Cape, (1942). "Duplicate Proof for Retention", of the first edition. (1942)   Used   Quantity Available: 1
Price: £ 244.12 + Shipping from Canada
Description: Navy blue wrappers, 168pp. Gaitens was born in Glasgow's Gorbals and left school at the age of 14. He was imprisoned as a conscientious objector during World War I. His friend O. H. Mavor ("James Bridie") encouraged him to send stories to the Scots Magazine, later published in this collection "Growing Up". His novel "Dance of the Apprentices" (1948) is a realistic and unsentimental depiction of working-class life in Glasgow. Gaitens lived in Dublin and London for several years and died on 16 December 1966. Spine cocked and slightly worn at base, else a very good copy of a most uncommon proof. 

With the online records now available it is possible to trace more of the life, as in:
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB):
 Gaitens, Edward (1897–1966),short-story writer and novelist
... was born on 26 February 1897 at 104 South Wellington Street, in the Gorbals, Glasgow, probably fourth of six surviving children of Edward Gaitens, stationer, and his wife, Mary, née Colwell. Gaitens was educated locally and left school at the age of fourteen, taking up a succession of unskilled jobs. During the First World War he spent two years in Wormwood Scrubs prison as a conscientious objector. He was homosexual and never married.
Gaitens began writing in his middle thirties. His first short story, ‘Growing Up’, was published in the London Mercury in 1938 on the recommendation of the playwright Osborne Henry Mavor (James Bridie)*, to whom he later dedicated his only novel. His first book, Growing Up and Other Stories (1942), was well reviewed. H. G. Wells wrote to the author, ‘I do not exaggerate when I say that at least two of these stories are among the most beautiful in the English language’ (Gaitens, Dance of the Apprentices). These ten lively, social–realist pieces depict a sensitive boy observing and responding to his Glasgow background—family, shipyard work, unemployment—and discovering transcendental moments of beauty, as in ‘The Sailing Ship’. They appear to draw their inspiration from Gaitens's own experience. His long-term companion (and later literary executor) Charles Turner has been quoted as saying that ‘he put his life into his writings’ (Urquhart and Gordon [see below], 203).
Gaitens lived in London during the Second World War and served for four years as a firewatcher. He returned to Glasgow after the war, working as a night telephonist. Encouraged by an Atlantic award in literature (1946) for Growing Up, he wrote Dance of the Apprentices (1948), the novel for which he is best-known today. It is episodic in structure, six stories from Growing Up appearing, with minor alterations, as chapters in the novel. Again the book seems to be semi-autobiographical, charting the adolescent experiences of Eddy Macdonnel and his friends, the apprentices of the title. Part 1 closes as they go gladly to prison as conscientious objectors at the outbreak of the First World War. Part 2 covers the next twenty years as they come to terms with the unsatisfactory ‘world fit for heroes’ to which they have returned, but the last chapter is a strikingly detailed and bitter depiction of Eddy's—or Gaitens's—experiences in prison.
Gaitens published little else during his lifetime and his work was neglected for some years, perhaps owing to the restricted scope of his subject matter, perhaps to the ephemeral nature of his true medium, the short story. During the early 1960s, renting a basement flat in Edinburgh in poor health and considerable poverty, he sublet a room to the poet George Mackay Brown, who later wrote ‘I think his gift had deserted him, but he kept still a bright eye and an eager spirit … He had long abandoned Catholicism, but men must be believing something and Edward's religion was art’ (Brown, 159). Gaitens died of a heart attack in Deaconess Hospital, Edinburgh, on 16 December 1966.
* A pre-title page in the Canongate edition is headed "To Dr O. H. Mavor, a Glasgow man", presumably Gaitens' original dedication although this is not explained.

1901 England, Wales & Scotland Census: Govan, Hutchesontown, Lanarkshire, Scotland:
In 1901 the family were to be found at South Wellington Street in the Gorbals
     Name           Household                        Age       Birth year  Occupation       
Edward Gatens Head     Married    Male      35           1866        News Agent       
Mary     Gatens Wife      Married    Female   34           1867       -              
James   Gatens Son        -              Male      11           1890         Scholar 
John      Gatens Son        -              Male      9              1892       Scholar 
Frank     Gatens Son        -              Male      5              1896       -              
Edward Gatens Son        -              Male      4              1897       -              
-              Gatens Son        -              Male      0              1901       -              
William Caldwell  Brother-In-Law Single    Male      17     1884       Bleachfield Worker    
 Place of birth for all of the above is given as Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland.

The fictional Macdonnel family in the novel closely matches the Gaitens (spelt Gatens in the Census) household as it appeared in 1901: in the novel, Eddy has brothers called James, John and Francie, and a maternal Uncle Wullie who lives with them. ('Francie' dies young not long after the war, in a mental hospital; Frank/Francis Gaitens died in 1923.) On the other hand, the father in the book is not called Edward, and the mother usually just gets 'Mrs', perhaps distancing their sometimes harsh protrayal from the real parents.

In 1911 the family can be found via Scotland's People, once you get past another misspelling, at 364 Govan St., as a household of 9 occupying 3 rooms with 1 or more windows, and sharing the address with five other families. The parents are listed at the end of one page, their six children (and the uncle) on the next.

GAITENS EDWARD  aged 45 Brassfinisher, Foundry b.Lanark, Glasgow
GAITENS Mary aged 40
... GAITONS EDWARD 1911 M 14 [page 644/15 32/ 20] b. Hutchesontown Lanark ...

At this point. James, aged 20, was an Engineer’s Labourer; John (19) working in a Shipyard; Francis (15) an Engineering Apprentice; Edward (14) and Cuthbert (7) Scholars; and a sister, Mary, was 3 years old. William Caldwell (26) was a Lamplighter, Edward senior a Brassfinisher in a foundry. Cuthbert, if aged 7, was not the unnamed 1901 baby who may not have lived long. A few more autobiographical boxes are ticked: in the novel, as well as the 3 older brothers, Eddy has a sister, Mary, and a younger brother, Egbert - the rather incongruous choice of name is blamed on his mother - appears fleetingly. 

... and some daffodils
A different sort of tenement?
 No.37 Church Rd.
In the 1939 Register of Electors (England & Wales) 
Edward appears in the "Turner Household (2 People) 37 Church Road, Barnes M.B., Surrey, England":

Edward Gaitens 25 Feb 1897        Male      Commercial Traveller (Cereals Selling To Retail Trade)     Single

Charles Turner  14 Nov 1901        Male      Private Sec To Film Scenario Wrist [Writer] Single    

The ODNB article above refers to Gaitens' "long-term companion (and later literary executor) Charles Turner."

A section of Church Rd., SW13 including nos. 27-37
(looking over Barnes Pond).
Charles and Edward shared No.37 with two other 'households' of electors (and possibly some non-electors),  one of 4 people, the other consisting of a (married) shorthand typist whose husband, from her surname, may not have been eligible to vote.

"A lasting place in Scottish literature"
The title story of Growing Up and Other Stories (London: Jonathan Cape, 1942) - about a 14-year-old going to work in a shipyard - was published in a 1978 anthology. (As noted above, the full collection is currently available in the form of a used ‘Duplicate Proof for Retention’ of the first edition at £244.12 plus shipping from Canada).
From Modern Scottish Short Stories

In some illustrious company.

1 comment:

  1. Recent blogpost about a highly relevant book: "Despised and Rejected": Pacifism and "abnormalaity" in a 1918 novel -