In his first letter to Kittie after embarking on the R.M.S. ‘Orsova’ at Devonport on 10 May 1915 (she was probably still watching the ship with other wives whilst he was writing), Calderon seems to have summed up his time at Fort Brockhurst in a ten-line paragraph.
I say ‘seems’, because the first five lines have been ‘appled’ out by Kittie. ‘Appling’ is another Edwardian word to add to this blog’s vocabulary. If you did not want something to be read in a document, you wrote ‘apple’ through it tightly and continuously, as that combination of letters was pretty effective at scrambling what was underneath. George himself did this in some of his love letters to Kittie in 1899, when he wished he hadn’t written something but did not want to rewrite the whole letter.
In practice, ‘appling’ was usually a combination of writing ‘apple’ and stretches of Slinky-style scribbling — what we might today call ‘knitting’. If the latter is done in very round loops, it also looks like a series of apples.
After the five lines appled out by Kittie, George’s handwriting continues:
Peels offered their little young happy circle to me — and afforded every kind of refuge from the hard and arid gaiety of the Anteroom [the officers’ mess sitting-room]. I am deeply obliged to them. They gave me a colour that, in the ordinary course of things, I never could have got.
Peel was a young fellow-officer of George’s who lived in digs at Brockhurst with his wife and perhaps children. The ‘Anteroom’ was presumably one place where George would entertain with his piano-playing; yet ‘hard and arid gaiety’ sounds damning. Perhaps the ‘colour’ that the Peels ‘gave’ George even prevented him from sinking into the depression he had suffered as an interpreter at Ypres.
Kittie’s ‘appling’ raises a fundamental question for the biographer. Do you respect it, or try to unscramble it and read what is written underneath? In the case of George’s love letters, I could make out a few words and they did not suggest that I was missing much; that they would add much to what I knew already. Here, though, what Kittie has appled out (very effectively) could be significant. There are, I believe, forensic programmes for reading what is written beneath blotting out, so I am inclined to follow that up.
If you have lived with the subjects of your biography for as long as I have, you do feel a loyalty to them, a reluctance to breach their ‘trust’. But writing biography is a balance between empathy, sympathy, and omniscience!
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