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 The facts

“Well, I don’ see why we shun’t have one, too,” said William morosely. “Grown-ups get all the fun.”
“They say it’s not fun,” said Ginger.
“Yes, they say that jus’ to put us off,” said William. “I bet it is fun all right. I bet it’d be fun if we had one, anyway. They have a jolly good time, smellin’ gases an’ bandagin’ each other an’ tryin’ on their gas masks. I bet they bounce out at each other in their gas masks, givin’ each other frights. I’ve thought of lots of games you could play with gas masks.”

Verdict

So far we’ve had stories in which William prepares for war, anticipates war, longs for war; but now there actually is a war, and William is having the time of his life. This is the first in a lengthy run of ‘William at War’ stories that give William an opportunity to imprint his personality on the home front.

In this story, the Outlaws are embittered that their youth excludes them from joining the Air Raid Precautions organisation. So Ginger makes a sign reading “AIR RADE PRECORSHUN. JUNIER BRANCH. ENTRUNCE FRE”, and they set to work.

“Ladies an’ gentl’men,” William shouted above the uproar, “will you kindly shut up an’ listen to me? I’m goin’ to tell you how to win the war.”

Some of his audience are purely there to make trouble (Arabella Simpkin), some are there in vain hope of a freebie (“A gas attack smells like pear drops… No, I’ve not got any pear drops. I never said I’d got any pear drops… I never said a bomb was made of pear drops”) but some are genuinely interested – especially in the opportunity to ‘bandage each other up’ with equipment stolen from Mrs Brown’s medicine cabinet.

This eventually breaks down in disorder, but, in a wartime re-enactment of William Clears the Slums, 16.8, William then discovers about Evacuation, and promptly evacuates two young boys into his own house, where their voices from a supposedly empty room lead Miss Milton to believe that she has become a clairvoyant.

The facts

“Of course,” Mss Smithers was saying, “the country had been full of their spies for years before the war began. They’d come over as tourists or students or even professors and they’d each take a tiny bit of the coast line and study it till they knew every inch of it. Riddled with spies, the country was. And what they’ve done once they can do again.”
In the hall stood an elderly man with a short, white beard. He was saying, “I’m a geologist, you know. I’ve come here to study this part of the coast.”
And then, of course, William knew beyond a shadow of doubt that he was a German spy who had come over to prepare for the next war.

  • Number: 13.1
  • Published: 1931 (1930 in magazine form)
  • Book: William’s Crowded Hours
  • Synopsis: William belives a geologist is actually a German spy.

Verdict

William is so convinced that Professor Sommerton, a fellow guest in the Browns’ seaside hotel, is a German spy preparing for the next war (ie the one after World War One) that he dogs the poor geologist’s every move, steals his notes at the end of each day and generally makes his life a misery.

To be fair, this is not just one of his usual over-imaginative games overstepping its bounds (although there are elements of that: “Here’s his code what I’ve got at deadly peril,” William was saying to his imaginary chief. “If he’d seen me he’d’ve killed me. He’d gotter special pistol in his pocket made to look like a fountain-pen an’ I bet if he’d’ve seen me I’d’ve been dead by now”). So genuine is his fear of German espionage that he tries to summon police assistance to deal with the menace.

The Browns were staying in the boarding-house in which they generally stayed. The Browns chose it because it did not object to William. It was not enough for the Browns to go to a boarding-house that did not object to children. It bad to be one that did not object to William.

It turns out that the police in small seaside resorts don’t take reports of espionage very seriously if they come from 11-year-old boys whose suits are covered in sand and seaweed.

So William charters a boat to sneak up on the spy from the sea, intending to use its owner as an adult witness to Professor Sommerton’s subversive activities.

They find Professor Sommerton chest-deep in an unexpected rising tide. So while William doesn’t manage to save England from invasion, he does manage to save an eminent geologist from a watery grave.

The facts

The Outlaws met joyfully in the middle of the road and were only separated by a motor car, which narrowly missed putting an end to all further exploits of the Outlaws.
“Serve him right if he’d killed us,” said Ginger, “an’ got hung for it.”
“No,” said William. “I bet it’d be more fun for him not to get hung – but for us to haunt him. I bet if he’d killed us an’ we’d turned into ghosts, we could have had awful fun haunting him – I say” – warming to his theme – “I bet it would be as much fun as anythin’ we’ve ever done, hauntin’ someone, groanin’ an’ rattlin’ chains an’ scarin’ ’em an’ jumpin’ out at ’em an’ such like.”

  • Number: 9.3
  • Published: 1928 (1927 in magazine form, originally titled William the Bold Archer)
  • Book: William the Good
  • Synopsis: William sets up a reserve army to defend the country if it runs out of gunpowder.

Verdict

Fortunately nothing whatsoever to do with The Archers, this story begins to hint at the interwar period in which all the William anecdotes so far have been set.

The Outlaws decide to gather a “bow an’ arrer army” of local boys, so that when the next war comes along (how prescient they were!) and national stocks of gunpowder run low (“’cause with all the lot they used up in the last war there can’t be much left”) they can step in and save England (“like Moses an’ Napoleon did”).

“Always the way,” Douglas muttered bitterly as he listlessly strung his bow. “Umpire for hours an’ hours an’ hours an’ when my time comes only two goes left.”

In a classic Crompton coincidence, the next morning the village is ‘occupied’ by soldiers on training manoeuvres, and though they look, act and sound English, William convinces his really quite numerous band of archers that this is all just a ruse to lull the villagers into a false sense of security.

He reaches this conclusion (i) because he has an overactive imagination, (ii) because he overhears one of the commanders using a Latin phrase (“foreign langwidges wot I couldn’t under stand a word of”), and (iii) because Ginger sees General Bastow* looking at a map (“If he was really English like what they pretend to be he’d’ve done England at school in Geography”).

William’s life was too full to admit of his cherishing vengeance against anyone for longer than a week.

So the archers engage in a complicated plot to vanquish the invading army, which comes to a head when they believe themselves (all sharing William’s overactive imagination) to have drowned General Bastow.

When General Bastow is seen striding up the path to William’s house the next day, then, Ginger naturally concludes, “This must be his ghost!” Challenged by William to “go’n’ give him a good hit and see if it goes through him”, he does so, and oh-so-human consequences follow…

*Geek note: General Bastow is erroneously referred to as “General Bristow” in the caption to one of the illustrations, and this error continues to the present-day Kindle edition!