Sam and Sam Website


The book has been printed!

It is available from the Sam&Sam website here.

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Reminder to Email Subscribers

A few months ago Calderonia moved to a new site.

If you were subscribed to posts by email, you can resubscribe to the new site by clicking here and then using the link at the top right.

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Calderonia Has Moved

The Calderonia blogsite has moved from this current address, to For the latest updates, please go there.

The address will redirect to the new site, but some browsers may have that cached as still directing here, for a week or two. If in doubt, go directly to

This (archived) version of the site will still be online, with all the posts up to the date of this entry (10 April 2016) archived, but for the latest from Calderonia please go to

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Watch this Space

Calderonia is an experiment in biography through a blog. It tells the story of George and Kittie Calderon’s lives from 30 July 1914 to 30 July 1915 from day to day as it happened, but exactly 100 years afterwards. It therefore feels like a biography in real time. When no facts were known for a particular day, the author posted on subjects ranging from the Edwardians, recently published biographies and his own problems as a biographer, to translating Chekhov and the Commemoration of World War I.

The blog-biography can be accessed in various ways. To read it from the beginning, go to the top of the column on the right and click the appropriate link. You can then read forward in time by clicking the link at the end of each post. If you wish to start at a particular month, scroll down the column on the right to Archive at the bottom. Posts can also be selected through Search Calderonia and the Tags on the right. An update on the complete biography of George Calderon always follows this introduction.

6/4/16. I have now revised 96% of my book George Calderon: Edwardian Genius. The last chapter, covering Kittie’s life 1923-1950, feels too close still (I finished the second draft only two months ago) to tackle, so I am limiting myself to re-reading the very rich material that went into its making. Another reason for the delay is that I am waiting to view some new archival material that popped up only last month in the course of my regular trawls of the Web. I hope to post about that in two weeks time.

Meanwhile, it is still a rare pleasure to be able to draw followers’ attention to a commemoration that is not of those who ‘died as cattle’ in World War One, but of those who survived it and of the doctors, nurses and orderlies who enabled them to do so:


The Appeal flyer

The First Eastern General Hospital (Territorial Force) was Cambridge’s outstanding contribution to the war effort, yet hardly anyone has heard of it today and there is nothing on its site to commemorate its existence.

It was a huge military hospital covering ten acres on the present-day sites of Clare College’s Memorial Court and Cambridge University Library. In a breathtakingly efficient act of collaboration between colleges, the War Office, Addenbrooke’s Hospital and local firms, work began in September 1914 on the construction of twelve 800-foot long huts comprising twenty-four wards with 1500 beds and the first patients were admitted on 17 October. The facility took in wounded, injured and sick from the B.E.F., the Mediterranean Force, the Home Force and Belgian casualties. It was a state of the art hospital (‘open-air’ for two years) and brilliantly run. Over 70,000 patients passed through it between 1914 and 1919 and it had an extraordinarily low death rate.

I heartily support the campaign to commemorate the doctors, nurses, VADS, orderlies, military personnel and teams of local people who created this amazing medical village, and the thousands of war victims whom they helped return to an active life. I commend the Appeal to followers of this blog. £25,000 is needed and at the time of writing  £11,388 has been raised. Full information can be obtained at:

The memorial will be a large inscription hand cut by Cambridge’s Kindersley Workshop into the stonework of the outer wall of Clare College Memorial Court (this college owned most of the land on which First Eastern General was erected). The text will read: HERE IN THE FIRST EASTERN GENERAL HOSPITAL 70,000 CASUALTIES WERE TREATED BETWEEN 1914 AND 1919.

It seems particularly appropriate that the inscription should be designed and executed by the Kindersley Workshop, as David Kindersley (1915-1995) trained under Eric Gill (1882-1940), who was a major contributor to the style adopted for war memorials after WW1 and cut many himself. Kittie Calderon knew Eric Gill and adopted his apprentice Joseph Cribb as a correspondent and recipient of parcels from her when he went to the Front.


ISBN 978-1-902702-29-2

The full story of the hospital is told in the above book. Its title refers to the fact that the site started as a cricket field and ended as a copyright library. Between 1920 and 1929 it also provided emergency accommodation for 200 families at a time — the beginning of Cambridge’s social housing.

Philomena Guillebaud’s book is another gem of British local history (see ‘Watch this Space’ 2 March 2016). Rigorously researched, it is also lively, witty, and tells a profoundly inspiring story. In historical terms I was most interested to discover how far in advance of war the ‘shadow’ Territorial Force hospitals began to be assembled (1908). As Guillebaud puts it, the opening of First Eastern for admissions within ten weeks of the declaration of war ‘was no miracle: it was a remarkable case of successful forward planning’. The leadership of the hospital, principally surgeon Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Griffiths and matrons from Addenbrooke’s Hospital, was hugely impressive. Further proof, then, that the Edwardians were not the bumbling amateurs some may think.

This book may be obtained by sending a cheque for £14.00 (includes postage and packing) made out to Philomena Guillebaud at 26 Wilberforce Road, Cambridge CB3 0EQ.

From 10 April 2016, Calderonia will be moving servers to an improved WordPress site. The link will go straight to the new site, but if you have bookmarked then please be aware that this will be the old version of the site and for the newest Watch this Space posts and other updates from 10 April you should change your bookmark to (which you can do now and everything will still work exactly as it should).

This is the most recent ‘Watch this Space’ post. For the archive of ‘Watch this Space’, please click here. By popular request, however, the previous post remains up, immediately following this.

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Watch this Space

23/3/16. I have now revised 92% of the typescript of my book. I shall tackle the last two chapters, which cover Kittie’s life 1915-50, after Easter. One reason for leaving them till then is that there are two pieces of new information that I am waiting for, which will probably have to go into the revision — there’s another kind of spanner that can affect one’s plans and deadlines! I will blog about these new items in a week or two.

The experience of revisiting chapter 14, which covers the last year of George’s life, was not so much dreadful (see last week’s post) as complex, and complex in an unexpected way. Yes, re-reading the extremely thick files on 1914 and 15 was draining, eviscerating at times; I was torn between not wanting to relive it and feeling I must relive it in order to ensure the revision was ‘fresh’. But actually I did not get caught by emotion more than two or three times whilst working on the chapter; I think what I was mainly experiencing was the brain remembering the pristine impact on me of these events in George’s life, and writing the first draft, rather than reliving them. I gather that that is how it works with injuries: you may appear to be struck down again by an injury you had years ago, but actually it is largely not the same, real pain but the brain being triggered by stress to ‘recall’ the pain. Anyhow the events as I revisited them were more at arm’s length, the revision was more dispassionate. This was a good thing, as when you are revising you really do need to stand further back from your text. Thus I spotted a number of things that I had skated over before, and was able (I think) to improve them.

The new thing that I found myself meditating as I revised the chapter was the extent to which, by singlemindedly propelling himself in 1914 and 1915 to the very most dangerous points in the war zones, George was consciously offering himself for ‘sacrifice’. Last year I considered the views that by signing up he was seeking ‘Adventure’, that he was suffering from Peter Pan Syndrome (‘to die will be an awfully big adventure’), that he was merely collecting material for a future book, or that he knew he was terminally ill and so his death was a kind of assisted suicide. But what if he believed that his highest duty was to sacrifice himself for ‘the cause of the free’, as Binyon puts it in ‘For the Fallen’?

In his classic work The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War (CUP, 2008), Adrian Gregory writes (p. 156) that ‘the idea of redemptive sacrifice was second nature to the [British] population, whether they realised it or not. […] Patri-passionism, the redemption of the world through the blood of soldiers, was the informal civic religion of wartime Britain’. But I have to say, I have never had that impression. It has always seemed to me that, whether amongst war poets, soldiers or the general population, the belief that self-sacrifice was glorious because it was needed to win the war did not come glibly or easily, it was hard wrung, delayed, and never accepted by some.

There is an outstanding example of what it could mean, though, in a book I have read recently, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (Knopf, 2008), by Drew Gilpin Faust. The American Civil War was in a way the first modern, ‘industrial’ war, and the effect of it on the American nation was similar at many points to that of the First World War on the British people. The young philosopher and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr volunteered to fight for the North out of certain moral beliefs, and went through the whole Civil War. Drew Gilpin Faust quotes intellectual historian Louis Menand to the effect that ‘the war did more than make Holmes lose those beliefs. It made him lose his belief in beliefs’. Obviously, it was exactly the same for many British soldiers, war poets, nurses and families. However, thirty years after the Civil War Holmes gave a speech entitled ‘Soldier’s Faith’ in which he said:

The faith is true and adorable which leads a soldier to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands, in a plan of campaign of which he has no notion, under tactics of which he does not see the use.

Drew Gilpin Faust (p. 270-71) paraphrases Holmes’s argument:

The very purposelessness of sacrifice created its purpose. In a world in which ‘commerce is the great power’ and the ‘man of wealth’ the great hero, the disinterestedness and selflessness of the soldier represented the highest ideal of a faith that depended on the actions not of God but of man. ‘War, when you are at it,’ Holmes admitted, ‘is horrible and dull. It is only when time has passed that you see that its message was divine.’

It was many years after his active service in WW1 that Stanley Spencer wrote of his altarpiece ‘The Resurrection of the Soldiers’ at Sandham Memorial Chapel: ‘The truth that the cross is supposed to symbolise in this picture is that nothing is lost where a sacrifice has been the result of a perfect understanding.’ Holmes’s and Spencer’s insight came with time. Like Owen’s uncharacteristic poem ‘Greater Love’, it was hard won. After surviving a WW1 battle you were unlikely to believe in ‘patri-passionism’.

I have never found a reference in George Calderon’s correspondence to ‘sacrificing’ himself for a cause or an end. There is no doubt that he insisted on being where the action was because he wanted Adventure, risk, a story to tell afterwards. He was prepared to drop all his considerable literary projects in 1914 for that.

But there is equally no doubt that he believed in what he was fighting for — freedom from brutal oppression. In my final chapter of his life I argue that he was also fighting for the new world order that he deeply believed would emerge from the war. Perhaps his own motivation did not go beyond that, but it is our Holmesian/Spencerian distance from events that makes it seem to us now that George was driven by self-sacrifice as an ideal.

A Happy Easter to all followers and visitors.

From 10 April 2016, Calderonia will be moving servers to an improved WordPress site. The link will go straight to the new site, but if you have bookmarked then please be aware that this will be the old version of the site and for the newest Watch this Space posts and other updates from 10 April you should change your bookmark to (which you can do now and everything will still work exactly as it should).

This is the most recent ‘Watch this Space’ post. For the archive of ‘Watch this Space’, please click here.

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Watch this Space 9 March 2016

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Watch this Space 17 February 2016

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