1.6.40

Last night to Waterloo and Victoria to see whether I could get any news of [Eric][1]. Quite impossible, of course. The men who have been repatriated have orders not to speak to civilians and are in any case removed from the railway stations as promptly as possible. Actually I saw very few British soldiers, i.e. from the B.E.F., but great numbers of Belgian or French refugees, a few Belgian or French soldiers, and some sailors, including a few naval men. The refugees seemed mostly middling people of the shop-keeper-clerk type, and were in quite good trim, with a certain amount of personal belongings. One family had a parrot in a huge cage. One refugee woman was crying, or nearly so, but most seemed only bewildered by the crowds and the general strangeness. A considerable crowd was watching at Victoria and had to be held back by the police to let the refugees and others get to the street. The refugees were greeted in silence but all sailors of any description enthusiastically cheered. A naval officer in a uniform that had been in the water and parts of a soldier’s equipment hurried towards a bus, smiling and touching his tin hat to either side as the women shouted at him and clapped him on the shoulder.

Saw a company of marines marching through the station to entrain for Chatham. Was amazed by their splendid physique and bearing, the tremendous stamp of boots and the superb carriage of the officers, all taking me back to 1914, when all soldiers seemed like giants to me.

This morning’s papers claim variously four-fifths and three-quarters of the B.E.F. already removed. Photos, probably selected or faked, show the men in good trim with their equipment fairly intact.

[1] ‘Eric’, abbreviated from the second name, was the name by which Eileen Blair’s much-loved brother, Laurence Frederick O’Shaughnessy, was known. Orwell does not type his name in his diary, representing it by four short dashes. He was a distinguished chest and heart surgeon, having won four scholarships and studied medicine at Durham and in Berlin. He was a Hunterian professor at the Royal College of Surgeons, 1933-35. In 1937 he won the Hunter Medal Triennial Prize for research work in surgery of the thorax, and the following year he received an honorarium and certificate of honourable mention for a dissertation on surgery of the heart. He produced an adaptation of Sauerbruch’s Thoracic Surgery (1937) and in 1939 collaborated with two others in work on pulmonary tuberculosis. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps at the outbreak of war and was killed tending the wounded on the beaches of Dunkirk. He was by then a major and only thirty-six years old (from obituary in The Times, 8 June 1940). His wife, Gwen, was also a doctor. Her brother’s death greatly affected Eileen; see Tosco Fyvel, George Orwell: A Personal Memoir, 105-06, 136. Peter Davison

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4 Responses to 1.6.40

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention 1.6.40 « THE ORWELL PRIZE -- Topsy.com

  2. itwasntme says:

    What a terrible loss we have with Dr. Eric’s death. Who knows what great contributions he could have made in the future. Judging by his past sterling accomplishments, we have all lost something by the war, even if we don’t know it.

  3. What great visuals. Thank you, George.

    Searching for Eileen’s “much-beloved brother,” seeing nothing, hearing nothing; there’s only refugees everywhere walking like zombies in a silent Fritz Lang epic and the Blair’s, hand-in-hand, are going against the tide of “shop-keeper-clerk type[s]” from foreign lands who carried parrots in huge cages and seemed “…..bewildered by…..the general strangeness.”

    Scenario Seasoning is provided by a melancholy flashback to boyhood memories.

    It’s heart-breaking.

  4. The Ridger says:

    The man writes brilliantly even in his diary.

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