It does not seem exactly a year since the small boys Jack and Roly Pym ran across from their holiday home at Seaview on the Isle of Wight to greet George Calderon, a kind of uncle to them, who had just arrived to take a room in the villa opposite…
It seems an eternity.
It seems an eternity because so much has happened in only one year: from the declaration of war on Germany five days later, through George’s protracted efforts to get to the Front, through his experiences at Ypres, his recovery from a wound, through illness and long weeks away from home, to jockeying himself into a position from which he could be sent to the most dangerous spot on another Front… Then there were the enclosing events of this unspeakable War, both abroad and on the home front, George’s family life, his ongoing literary projects, the lives of his and Kittie’s many friends, the problems of national commemoration today, the trials of biographers… And finally sudden death at Gallipoli and no closure in sight for Kittie.
Both for me and, I know, some followers, it also seems an eternity because we have lived through it all day by day. Somewhere, I believe, Carl Jung said that the present is ‘terrible in the intensity of its ambivalence’. Rather like one’s own life, so many of the days of this blog have been intense with that ambivalence that I can no longer remember them all; the relevant brain cells have apparently been seared out; I cannot possibly now get my memory round the whole of this blog-year’s events.
The experience has, yes, been a bit wearing. I am a bit ‘gutted’. Whether this is just the exhaustion of ‘experiencing’ all this with George and Kittie, or whether it is some kind of cathartic ‘gutting’, I can’t say. There is much to digest from running this blog for a year, and I will need time to do that. I daresay others will, too.
Only three things remain:
First, to thank my son Jim Miles from the bottom of my heart for designing, running, and constantly improving this blog, then fixing at a moment’s notice the kind of occasional emergency that we seemed faced with on Monday morning (27 July). I would never have ‘got up and done’ this blog without my wife’s and son’s initiative, and it would simply have been impossible without their input for more than a year. Similarly, I am fundamentally beholden to the encouragement, advice and assistance of Mr Johnnie Pym, who is a famously meticulous editor and as the son of the aforementioned Jack Pym stands closer to George, Kittie and the world of Foxwold than anyone. The trustees of the Calderon estate and Johnnie Pym have with immense generosity allowed me to post any document or photograph in which they hold copyright. I cannot thank them enough. My thanks to my brilliant research assistant Mike Welch, who has followed up so many leads for me in databases and national archives, also know no bounds. I owe a special debt of gratitude to those worldwide, particularly Clare Hopkins, Louisa Scherchen, Katy George, Johnnie Pym, John Dewey, Derwent May, James Muckle, Harvey Pitcher, Sam Evans and Peter Hart, who have responded to posts with such stimulating Comments or emails.
Second, to explain that the blog will continue to be available online in its entirety. It will in effect become a website about George and Kittie’s lives 1914-15, and in the fullness of time special links will be put in to enhance its use as a database. Some editing will probably take place, and some new material be added to existing posts. The narrative ends today, but from tomorrow, 31 July 2015, there will always be a last post entitled ‘Watch this Space’, which will introduce new visitors to the site and contain the latest news on the writing and publication of the full biography George Calderon: Edwardian Genius. Comments will be responded to/moderated once a week.
Third, to summarise the rest of Kittie’s life without George.
* * *
On 9 September 1915 Kittie received her last telegram from the War Office. It told her that George was ‘now unofficially believed killed in action 4th June and Lord Kitchener expresses his sympathy’. She continued to live by the hope that he was a prisoner in Turkey, but in May 1919 the last prisoners were returned from Turkish captivity and George was not among them. Nevertheless, she insisted that his name always be kept on the list of ‘Missing’. She told her god-daughter, Lesbia Corbet, that she seriously expected George to ‘walk in the door one day’, just as he had in 1906 after months in the Pacific.
Kittie now threw herself into editing a collection of George’s works and assisting Percy Lubbock in his biography-tribute George Calderon: A Sketch from Memory. These five books were published by Grant Richards between 1921 and 1924. All were very well received, especially Tahiti (which Kittie had assembled from George’s drafts and notes) and Percy’s memoir. During those years, the national press was speckled with reviews of George’s works, memories of him, and attempts to evaluate his life achievement. Some of his plays were reprinted as single works, his Chekhov translations and introduction were reprinted in Britain and America, there were stage and radio productions of his plays, and J.B. Fagan’s 1925 production of The Cherry Orchard in George’s translation finally established Chekhov in the commercial theatre.
On 5 August 1921 the third great love of Kittie’s life, Nina Corbet (‘Black Raven’), died suddenly in Italy. Many of Kittie’s friends (e.g. Masefield and the Sturge Moores) had already left London, and a year later she settled with her faithful housekeeper Elizabeth Ellis in a cottage at Sheet, near Petersfield, in Hampshire. Probably she was attracted by the Arts and Crafts group there and the proximity of a branch of the Lubbock family. However, the petty politics of this rather self-fancying community did not suit her. She spent much time away from Sheet staying with friends, then in 1934 moved to ‘White Raven’, a house specially built for her by architect Jack Pym near Ashford, Kent. Here she was close to her brother, John Pakenham Hamilton, and could regularly visit the Pyms at Foxwold. She turned the green field in which ‘White Raven’ was set into a superb garden. She was happy there.
As well as taking an active part in church life and voluntary organisations at Ashford, Kittie received visits at ‘White Raven’ from many old friends, including, probably, Coote Hedley and his wife, and was always available to her numerous godchildren. She often spent the nights weeding her own and George’s archives, captioning photographs and writing comments on letters, as well as composing fragments of memoir herself. Her sight was failing, however, and she was assailed by nameless health problems. In 1939 she revisited her birthplace at St Ernan’s, Donegal, with her friend Louise Rosales.
The Second World War was extremely stressful for Kittie, as the railway yards of Ashford were a bombing target and ‘White Raven’ was directly under the flight path of doodlebugs. On 1 November 1944 Kittie and Elizabeth Ellis narrowly escaped death when a flying bomb landed at the bottom of the garden and blew in the roof of ‘White Raven’. After the War her health deteriorated rapidly. In 1948 she moved with Ellis to Hove, close to her lifelong friend Kathleen Skipwith. Then Kittie went into a nursing home in Brighton, where she died on 30 January 1950 in her eighty-third year.