The Suffragette Bombers: Britain’s Forgotten Terrorists by Simon Webb

Dimsie Goes to School cover

The Suffragette Bombers: Britain’s Forgotten Terrorists by Simon Webb was originally published in 2014.

The author had been annoyed when Andrew Marr had implied that the suffragettes “were not terrorists in any serious modern sense”, the truth is actually very different and Simon Webb set out to put the record straight. He did repeat himself quite a bit but this is still a very informative and interesting read as well as being an eye-opener for me as I had thought I knew a fair amount about the subject, it turns out that I didn’t.

It’s often thought that the years from 1900 to the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914 were something of a golden age of peace and prosperity. The truth is that it was a time of upheaval with the WSPU led by the Pankhursts conducting a campaign of terrorism. In 1906 the non-violent suffragists had been hopeful that their campaign for universal franchise would be successful as the Liberals had won a landslide victory, but heigh-ho, the new government was busy with other things such as setting up the welfare state and Old Age Pensions. The suffragettes who were mainly upper-class people who didn’t want ‘votes for all’ only wanted votes for wealthy women, home and business owners, a very small minority of women. At the time most men didn’t have the vote either.

Emmeline Pankhurst was completely in control of her Women’s Social and Political Union which was financed by aristocratic people to the extent that it was awash with money. Her daughter Christabel skipped Britain to live in Paris in luxury. She helped her mother control things from there. The last half of this book seemed to be a long list of terrorist activities that went far further than chaining themselves to railings and breaking windows.

Historic churches were routinely burnt to the ground, many bombs were deployed causing huge damage to people and buildings, trains were bombed, houses were burnt to the ground. St Paul’s Cathedral was almost blown up. A new Carnegie library was completely burnt within less than 24 hours of it being opened, railway stations were popular targets for bombs and for some reason Scotland took the brunt of the campaigns of violence. Dundee seemed to be a hotbed of suffragette violence. In Fife where I live they burnt down Leuchars railway station and parts of St Andrews University. Historic documents went up in smoke. Golf courses and football grounds were routinely damaged, anywhere that would particularly upset men really. The beautiful Kibble Palace in Glasgow was blown up just after it was opened, the list of atrocities just goes on and on. It’s no wonder that their are photographs in existence of furious people going after suffragettes as they had no care for the lives of others and just didn’t care what happened to the general public who had to put up with all the violence.

Interestingly when there was a truce in 1911 the WSPU’s coffers were much emptier than they had been. Apparently the violence pulled in the money from donors. I couldn’t help thinking about that Qanon woman Marjorie Taylor Green who has been pulling in loads of money from donors who agree with her particular brand of madness, the more crazy her speeches are the more money they send her! It seems it was much the same for the suffragettes.

Yes some women were permanently harmed due to being force fed but that didn’t last long as the powers that be were so worried about creating martyrs for the cause that when suffragettes were sent to jail for setting off bombs they just went on hunger strike for three days and were released, no matter how long their sentence had been. Emily Davison of course ended up being their martyr and over the years there have been arguments as to whether she meant to kill herself or not. She had tried to commit suicide on two earlier occasions, breaking her skull in one attempt, she was a poor soul really who obviously had mental health problems despite being highly intelligent and having been to university, she was badly treated by the Pankhursts who refused to give her any money despite the work she did for them. She wasn’t a young woman she was 41 years old and that return ticket to Epsom to see the Derby meant nothing as on the race day the price of the single or return ticket was exactly the same and I suspect that the busy ticket clerks just gave everyone a return ticket.

One thing that did annoy me was that the author remarks at the beginning of the book that the suffragette dcolours of white, green and purple stood for purity, hope and majesty. Of course the purple stands for equality which is why it was used by the Fathers for Justice campaigners in recent years.

Anyway, that was a long one, I had a lot to say but it’s just so interesting the way history can be whitewashed over the years. We’ve always been taught that we women had a lot to thank the Pankhursts for when in reality the public at the time lived in fear of being blown up by them and their very well paid staff, and they had no conscience at all about burning down the workplaces of poor women, leaving them destitute. They never wanted ordinary people to have the vote at all never mind ordinary women. I’ve only listed a small amount of the places damaged and sometimes obliterated by them.

This book has a very comprehensive bibliography. I was sent a digital copy by the publisher via Netgalley.

The Loud Halo by Lillian Beckwith

 The Loud Halo cover

The Loud Halo by Lillian Beckwith was first published in 1964 and it’s the third book in her Hebridean series. These books are comic novels set in the village of Bruach where ‘Miss Peckwit’ has gone to recover from an illness, she had been a teacher in the north of England. Life on a remote and primitive Scottish island is very different from what she has been used to. There’s no indoor plumbing, actually no plumbing at all, no running water just a well and the toilet is a shed with a big bucket – if you have a man strong enough to lug it out. Lillian makes do with two earth sheds which she takes turns at using and seems to think that’s hygienic enough.

By this time Lillian has been well and truly accepted by the locals and is even speaking some Gaelic. The books are stories of her encounters with her neighbours who all seem to be eccentric. There’s Kirsty who treats her poor brother like a slave and she steals her neighbour’s crops with no conscience involved, her neighbour ends up having to move.

More and more tourists are arriving, despite the midges and they are turning out to be good business opportunities for the locals. Quite a lot of this book deals with the things that the islanders get up to in order to get money, including the government assistance which they all seem to be on, there’s also an awful lot of boozing going on. I had a feeling that life on the island was beginning to lose its charm for Beckwith and indeed at the end of the book she has packed up and the villagers are seeing her off at the station. She did write some more Hebridean books in later years though.

It was a wee bit of a Miss Buncle situation – if you’re familiar with that D.E. Stevenson book you’ll know that Miss Buncle wrote a book about life in her own village which became very successful. The trouble was that all of the characters were far too recognisable and none of them was happy at being put in her book!

This book is a good light read, a glimpse back to the days before everyone on the islands had all mod cons. By the time I went to Skye for the first time in 1970 the locals even had freezers which I was very impressed with as we only had a small fridge with ice box at home. Our old friends who had gone back to live on Skye again after a five year sojourn in Glasgow had a freezer in their living room, it was one of those sliding lid ones and thinking about it I think it actually said ‘Wall’s ice cream’ on it! Anyway, I still have a few of these Beckwith books to read so I’ll continue with the series at some point in the future.

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

The Lotus Eaters cover

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 2010. If it hadn’t won that prize I doubt if I would have picked the book up because the subject matter didn’t really appeal to me, but I ended up really enjoying this book which was quite a surprise to me.

The book begins on April, 28th 1975 with Helen Adams picking her way through the streets of Saigon. The long war is coming to an end. There’s a lot of looting going on in the centre of town, it’s time for her to leave the city and go home, but she wants to hang on and be the last photographer to leave, she’s sure there are still great photo opportunities for her.

Ten years earlier she had decided to go out to Vietnam to become the first female war photographer there, she was totally clueless. She wore suede high heels and only had an instamatic camera so had never even loaded film into a ‘real’ camera. She had been drawn to go to the war zone because her younger brother had been killed there, she wanted to find out how her brother had died if possible, but it was also partly because she had always been infuriated by the way she had been left out of things by her father as he took her brother out with him to do father/son bonding things, such as hunting. She felt she had some catching up to do.

The male photo journalists weren’t happy about her being there, nor were the combatants, but Helen hung on to Sam Darrow’s coat tails and learned the job from him. From Linh his assistant she learned Vietnamese, something that the others didn’t bother to do.

This is a love story of sorts although the obsession with getting good photos that tell a story and will be of interest to the folks back home as well as the editor of Life magazine becomes paramount. Like others before her Helen is loth to leave and go home to a mundane life, she’s become a bit of an adrenalin junkie despite her terror as she accompanies the soldiers on patrols. The love interests didn’t ring quite true for me, but that’s me nitpicking.

Despite the descriptions of violence and the horror of the war this is a really good read, very atmospheric. It’s the sort of book I would normally avoid, simply because the setting is in such a steaming hot country – daft I know but I prefer books set in cold countries – but I’m really glad that I read this one. It’s quite amazing to think that this was her first book. It is so much better than the last James Tait Black prize winner which I read (Personality by Andrew O’Hagan).

I was also impressed by the two pages of bibliography which Soli listed at the back, she certainly did her homework.

The Double Image by Helen MacInnes

 The Double Image cover

The Double Image by Scottish author Helen MacInnes was first published in 1966, so at the height of the Cold War and this book seems now to be a nostalgic look back to the time when spies were kitted out with seemingly innocuous items such as pencils, cuff links, tie clips and lipsticks in which could be hidden notes, microfilm or even a poison filled tablet for use in desperation.

The book begins in April in Paris where academic John Craig is doing some historical research. He’s very surprised to bump into an old professor of his in the street. Professor Sussmann looks very worried and it transpires that he has just seen a man that he had presumed to be dead years ago. Sussmann is an Auschwitz survivor and he’s in Paris to testify against a group of Nazis who are on trial in the city. Of course the Nazis are all claiming that they were only obeying orders, but the man who was giving them the orders is Heinrich Berg and according to Sussmann he has just seen him in Paris, although he was supposed to have died and been buried years ago. The worrying thing is that Sussmann thinks that he was recognised by Berg as they had been childhood friends.

So begins an old-fashioned but very readable espionage tale which ends up with John Craig becoming involved in a joint MI5, CIA and Deuxieme Bureau plot to catch Berg along with others of his ilk. As you would expect there are plenty of surprises along the way including double agents.

When the action moves to the Aegean island of Mykonos, a place that John Craig had intended visiting anyway, the sense of danger and tension ramp up.

This was a really enjoyable read, probably particularly if you remember the ‘good old days’ of the Cold War.

I love the dust jacket of this book but sadly my hardback copy has lost its cover. The one above is the one that should have been on my 1966 copy though, I think it’s very stylish.

The Long Ships by Frans Bengtsson

The Long Ships

The Long Ships by Frans Bengtsson is a Scandinavian classic and was first published in English in 1954, translated from Swedish to English by Michael Meyer. This is a great read which combines Viking raids in various countries, slavery, conversion to Islam under duress, escapes, fights and battles a-plenty, romance and details of domesticity in the late 10th century. There’s quite a lot of humour too, with the whole idea of men going ‘a-viking’ apparently coming about because the men were tired of listening to their women’s sharp tongues over the long dark winter.

This is a real page-turner with the action beginning in Skania (southern Sweden) where a young man called Orm has been left behind with the women while the men go a-viking. Orm had been rather mollycoddled by his mother after his older brother Are had left home and never come back again, presumed dead. But Orm ends up being abducted from his own doorstep and so begin his adventures which end up with him becoming a leader of men. But it isn’t all about fighting men, there are plenty of good, strong female characters in this book.

This book does seem to be historically correct and it details how Christianity was spread throughout Scandinavia, something which seemed unlikely given that the Vikings were so keen on raiding holy islands and murdering monks and priests.

Frans Bengtsson was a poet and biographer and The Long Ships was his only novel, it’s a great Viking saga.

This year I intend to try to read quite a lot of European books in translation, this one counts towards that personal challenge.

The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay

The World My Wilderness cover

The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay was first published in 1950, her second last novel with The Towers of Trebizond being her last.

The book begins in post war France at the Villa Fraises where Maurice Michel had lived with his English wife, but Maurice had drowned and as the rumours were that he had been a collaborator it’s assumed that the maquis had dealt with him in retribution. Maurice’s step-daughter Barbary had been on the fringes of the maquis (French Resistance) along with his son Raoul and they had led a fairly wild life dodging the Gestapo and causing mayhem whenever they could. The end of the war hasn’t made much a of a difference to their behaviour.

Barbary had been very close to her mother Helen but since the birth of a son to her and Maurice she’s not really interested in her teenage daughter and decides to pack Barbary off to her father who lives in London. Barbary is appalled at the thought of going there and living with her father and step-mother, but she settles down to life there in her own way, enjoying the many bomb sites and continuing to kick against any authority, and embarking on a career as a shoplifter.

As Barbary’s father is a high flying lawyer she’s a real liability to him, she’s not going to fit into his upper middle-class London society, but she can’t cope with the ruffians of London either.

There are various wildernesses in this book which moves from rural France to the Highlands of Scotland then to the bomb sites of London, and also the wilderness that a family can be when it’s torn apart and re-made in a different guise.

I think the only other book by the author I’ve read is The Towers of Trebizond and I enjoyed that one more with its quirky characters and humour.

Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer

Black Sheep cover

Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1966 and my copy seems to be a first edition. If you’re wondering which book to read next from your to be read stacks and you just can’t make up your mind – as I often can’t, then a Georgette Heyer book will always hit the spot – I find.

The setting is Bath where unmarried sisters Abigail and Selina Wendover share the custody of their seventeen year old niece Fanny. Fanny’s parents are dead but have left her very well off when she comes of age, meaning that she’s a prey to all fortune-hunters – a type of beast which haunts the streets of Bath.

Stacy Calverleigh also inherited a large fortune but he has run through it all with his serious gambling habit and in no time at all he’s targetting Fanny for her money, and she very quickly believes she’s in love with him. But her Aunt Abigail knows of Stacy Calverleigh’s reputation and is determined to protect Fanny from him.

This brings Abigail into the society of Stacy’s Uncle Miles. He is the Black Sheep of his family and was sent out of the way to India to find his fortune (or fail) twenty years ago. Miles Calverleigh has just returned from India for good but he isn’t interested in his nephew, he’s enamoured of Abigail. But she believes Miles is a bad lot, she knows that he was expelled from Eton before being packed off to India, so she’s not interested in him.

If you’ve already read Georgette Heyer’s books you’ll know that there’s a lot of witty dialogue involved. The blurb on the inside dustcover says:

Black Sheep is one of Miss Heyer’s lighter-hearted romances, with a charming heroine and a most intriguing hero – mysterious, good humoured, cynical, outrageous and in the end irresistible.

A good read.

This is Edinburgh by Miroslav Sasek

This is Edinburgh cover

This is Edinburgh by Miroslav Sasek was first published in 1961 but my copy is a 2006 reprint. I swithered about buying this one, I already have so many books for children but the illustrations are so charming and as I flicked through it I saw the iconic Jenner’s department store building – that swayed me to definitely buy it. I’ve been told that Jenner’s is going to be shut as a store and converted into posh apartments, so it’ll be nice to have it still as it was within the covers of this book.

This is a lovely volume which features many of the places that tourists want to see when they visit the city – Edinburgh Castle, St Giles’ Cathedral, Greyfriars Bobby and Holyrood Palace, but also the more out of the way places such as Dean Village, which I love. The famous penguin parade at the zoo is depicted, although since the pandas took up residence the penguins haven’t been the main attraction that they once were, much to their chagrin, but they started getting their own back by aiming their poo at the waiting visitors!

From The Times, 2011: Penguin poo hits the fans in panda queue


They arrived at their new home in a police cavalcade, having touched down in a private jet, so it was perhaps inevitable that the UK’s only pair of giant panda would ruffle the feathers of their neighbours at Edinburgh Zoo.

According to keepers, the penguins who live upstairs may be suffering from “monochrome jealousy” of Tian Tian and Yang Guang. Eschewing traditional housewarming gifts, the rockhopper penguins are targeting the visitors queueing up to see the pair with droppings.

There is a news video from 2011 about the jealous penguins here.

Of course the pandas don’t feature in this book as it dates back to 1961 with just a few wee updates at the back of the book.

You can see a lot of the illustrations in this book here.

The author first wrote This is New York and This is London before turning to Edinburgh. It’s a children’s book to be enjoyed by all ages.

Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome

Peter Duck cover

Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome is the third book in his Swallows and Amazons series, it was first published in 1932. This one seems to be very difficult to find in second-hand bookshops and a good friend of mine ended up buying me a new copy of it.

Peter Duck is an old sailor, commonly known as an old salt, he lives in Lowestoft and is spending his time at the harbour watching everything that’s going on and wishing he could go out to sea again while fearing that he never will. He has sailed all around the world in clippers with wool and tea, but his sailing in recent years has been limited to going up and down the local rivers with potatoes and coal.

When he realises that one of the ships in the harbour is on the serious business of stocking up on food, water and everything from the chandlers that they could possibly need for a long voyage he’s very interested. The Wild Cat is a schooner which is going to be crewed by Captain Flint alias Uncle Jim and the children of Swallows and Amazons fame – Nancy, Peggy, Titty, Susan, Roger and John, accompanied by Polly the parrot and Gibber the monkey.

When another adult crew member is unable to join them at the last minute Peter Duck steps in to fill the void. He’s thrilled to have the chance of getting on the high seas again.

But there’s another very smart schooner in the harbour and the captain – Black Jake – has been watching everything that has been going on. He’s an obvious baddy and after hearing Peter Duck telling a tale of his childhood experience of seeing treasure buried on a remote island he’s been determined to find it. So when the Wild Cat sails out of the harbour she’s closely shadowed by Black Jake’s schooner Viper. That schooner is crewed by ex-convicts, a violent bunch of desperadoes.

The Wild Cat heads for Peter Duck’s Caribbean island, named Crab Island by him, by way of the Bay of Biscay through heavy seas, and eventually manages to shake off the Viper. At one point the two ships had been so close that it looked like the crew of the Viper would be able to board the Wild Cat. The young red-headed lad called Bill who had been on the Viper manages to escape from it and is helped onto the Wild Cat by the Swallows and Amazons. He has led a dog’s life on the Viper being frequently whipped, but he’s a knowledgeable sailor and a great help aboard the Wild Cat.

This book is really an updated (for 1932) version of a classic tale of piracy, the children have a lot to learn about real sailing, not just rowing around on a lake. It’s a good old adventurous romp with some danger thrown in – just what I was needing really.

Still Glides the Stream by D.E. Stevenson

Still Glides the Stream cover

Still Glides the Stream by the Scottish author D.E. Stevenson was first published in 1959 but my paperback copy is a 1973 reprint.

To begin with the setting is the Scottish Borders where Will Hastie has returned to his childhood home after being away for twelve years. His return is tinged by sadness as Rae his childhood best friend was killed in World War 2 and everywhere Will goes brings back memories for him and makes Rae’s absence all the more sharp.

To make matters worse Rae’s mother is suffering from some form of dementia and she keeps expecting Rae to turn up at any time, she’s constantly talking about him. Rae’s father is a retired colonel and his family home is entailed so he’s obviously worrying about what will happen to his wife and Patty his daughter when he dies as the house and land will then be owned by a cousin.

Like many elderly parents the colonel is keen to see Patty settled so that he doesn’t have to worry about her being left on her own and homeless when he dies, but his anxiety might be leading him and Patty in an unwise direction.

Will begins to feel left out of things and decides to take a walking holiday in France, in the area where Rae had been killed, hoping to track down the farmer that Rae had been billeted with and possibly get some information from him. Rae’s last letter had been rather cryptic.

This was a really enjoyable read and I particularly liked the settings of rural Scotland and the more exotic ambience of the south of France. D.E. Stevenson often gets in a wee nod to her more famous relative Robert Louis Stevenson and she has Will saying that he isn’t travelling with a donkey.

On the back The Bookman says: “Hypnotically readable.”
and from Books and Bookmen Skillfully blends love of people and love of the countryside.”

What do you think of the 1973 cover of this book? I think it’s ghastly, that era must have been a particularly low point for book covers I think.