‘The Orwell Tour’ Oliver Lewis – Book Review (NetGalley)

Part travelogue, part biography, this book (Pub DateĀ 6 Apr 2023) flits seemlessly through timelines and cultures in a profound, insightful manner, almost Dalrymplesque in its style in places, albeit minus the architectural sensibilities; it is a rainbow patchwork held together convincingly by the towering, restless mind that is George Orwell.

And I very much appreciate the hard work that has gone into producing this book, clearly a work of patience driven by fascination.

Like many, I was already familiar with Orwell’s two most famous works from school. I was not well acquainted with his biography, nor that of his native restlessness and originality, as diverse as his many dwelling places during his life.

What emerges from these pages is an enjoyable exploration, a voyage, if you will, around this literary giant. To many Orwell remains an enigma, following the opposite course of a lot of people during their lives. For example, I began with strong leftward leanings which have morphed slowly to the centre in later life; the course of Orwell’s life was somewhat opposite to that, as the author explains well, perhaps understandable considering his upper middle class origins during the latter years of the Indian Raj.

Orwell’s experiences in Spain during 1936-7, do indeed seem seminal too, correcting his own left leaning path, to the point that by the end of his life he seemed to be once again embracing a patriotism which, to be fair, he never abandoned at all. Maybe this is why he is often acclaimed and disliked by both right and left.

The author’s descriptive passages relating to India, Eton, Spain, London and Wigan in particular, are to me most enjoyable and profound, stating that England’s long term problem with itself is still as much about social hierarchy as it is poverty. And that pigeon racing in Lancashire is still popular today, hanging like those slowly decaying symbols of a once powerful cotton industry.

What does come across well is Orwell’s refutation of pigeon holes. I think he understood the futility of hanging tags around people; why shouldn’t socialists be patriotic? And why shouldn’t conservatives embrace redistribution of wealth? England? Whose England? indeed.

As Malcolm Muggeridge was to point out at Orwell’s death, to many he was an enigma, both an arch conservative in relation to England and its customs and traditions, as well as someone willing to embrace a revolution in thought, even if he was to see the error in the latter, particularly during the emergence of the Cold War.

I would point out one other error though from the text – Henry VI of England was not the first Yorkist king of England; that particular honour falls to Edward IV, brother of the future Richard III.

That said, this was a most enjoyable and enlightening read and one which I would wholeheartedly recommend to any open minded and curious person wishing to know more about one of the most important authors of the 20th century.


Copyright Francis 2022

Serving in India 1942 to 1946 – My father-in-law’s time with Squadron 159 (Part 1)

My father-in-law is on the left.

For four years during World War II, my father-in-law served in RAF Squadron 159 in India.

We knew very little about this period of his life until the death of my mother-in-law in 2004. Soon after this he began to talk more about his experiences, firstly travelling aboard ship and being in India for four long years in various locations.

He also produced some black and white photographs in regard to his service, some of which I have included here for illustration in these several pieces.

It became a fairly common trait among servicemen on all sides after that war, and also post the Great War of 1914-18, to be reticent about their time in service, especially about describing more traumatic events. It must be remembered that back then there was little in the way of counselling after experiencing such action.

The B-24 Consolidated Liberator.

It must be said, however, that my father-in-law didn’t see active service during that time, arriving on the subcontinent at the age of twenty one. He was part of the ground crew, a critically important role for missions. They had been sent onto India in the first half of the year, before the arrival of the aircraft; the plane of choice for the long distance raids eastwards was the B-24 Consolidated Liberator, a four engine bomber produced in the United States.

The reason for the deployment of this squadron (among others) was to defend the then British Empire from Japanese incursions into south east Asia, threatening Burma and even India itself. India was strategically well placed for such operations to halt and repel this advance.


Copyright Francis 2022