Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Barry Stone's Secret Army, a real story about the original Stalky from Kipling's Stalky& Co

Rudyard Kipling's Stalky & Co was one of my favourite books when I  was at school and remains so today.

Episodic in form, it is set at an unnamed boys boarding school referred to College or the Coll based on the United Services College (photo) in Devon which Kipling attended. Founded especially to educate the sons of military officers, it had a focus on preparing pupils for military service, many going on to Sandhurst and Dartmouth.

The books three central characters are Beetle partly based on Kipling himself, the charismatic leader Stalky based on Lionel Dunsterville and M'Turk, based on George Charles Beresford. The three form a team and engage in various exploits, often at the expense of Mr King, the master of a rival house. While they did respect the headmaster and indeed the padre, they had a very cynical attitude to life and very little respect for formal authority or indeed rules. This is not a gentle book. When the padre asked them to help a younger boy whom he suspected was being badly bullied, they did so by applying the same techniques to the bullies that had been used by them, techniques that would now attract a significant prison sentence.

I wasn't especially happy at school when I read the book for the first time. I identified at once. The broad patterns of life were familiar so I could understand, and I really identified with their escapades and their successes.

The school sergeant who knew they were up to no good was not fooled when they sauntered out one day. He knew that they planned to break bounds. I followed with them as they burrowed through the gorse to find the little clearing on the top of the cliff overlooking the sea where they could have a quiet smoke. The sergeant's attempts, binoculars in hand,  to find them were quite funny and would ultimately lead to total defeat in a very funny scene indeed.

I mention all this because of a newsletter from Allen and Unwin referring to a new book by  Barry Stone, Secret Army,  subtitled "An elite force, a secret mission, a fleet of Model-T Fords, a far flung corner of WWI".

This is a real life story of that Stalky from Stalky & Co, Lionel Dunsterville, the story of 'Dunsterforce'.

The publishes have kindly put up a sample chapter on ScribD. It's.a story that somehow fits exactly with the image I had formed of him from the original book.


In a comment, Sue pointed me to this English blog To the Manor Born by Lucy Fisher on the English class system. She had just been reading an interesting post on it about boarding schools and thought I might find the whole blog entertaining. I did.

While it's tangential to this post, I thought that I would add the link here because other readers might find it interesting. .


Anonymous said...

I was just reading a very interesting post about boarding school in the UK on a blog called To the Manor Born (Lucy Fisher). Do have a look at this blog if you can, I think you'd enjoy it.


Jim Belshaw said...

That's a fun blog, Sue. I will bring it up in the main post.