D J Taylor in this week’s Spectator reviews a book about the life of a post-war British writer named John Lodwick. This is A Forgotten Man by Geoffrey Elliott and depicts a prolific writer of over a score of books whose works have simply disappeared. Taylor checked the circulation record for his books at the London Library and found that it ranged from inactive to nonexistent. It appears that all of his books are out of print (except for the ebook of his 1948 thriller Brother Death). As Taylor describes his oeuvre, it sounds rather promising:
In an era already tending to institutionalised drabness, he belonged to an all-but extinct part of the literary demographic — the writer as man of action, who fights (none too scrupulously, on this evidence) in wars, explores far-flung climes as a traveller rather than a tourist and, perhaps inevitably, leaves behind a personal myth that is almost as enticing as the shelf-full of books.
He hasn’t left much of a personal archive and much of his life as reconstructed by Elliott is based on the autobiographical nature of many of the books. There is also his war record but he doesn’t seemed to have impressed his senior officers. According to Taylor:
… Lodwick served successively in the French Foreign Legion, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and a Commando Unit, blew up fuel depots in Crete and ended up in a Serbian POW camp…
This perks up one’s interest for a Waugh connection, but Taylor soon shatters that:
Geoffrey Elliott does his best for Lodwick, offers context when data ebbs and can be forgiven for making more of his chance encounters with famous contemporaries than is warranted by the stark record of their association. His dealings with his ‘friend’ George Orwell, for example, were limited to a single meeting and I didn’t believe for a moment that Evelyn Waugh — again, met in the course of a brief wartime interview — mangled his name to produce the character of ‘Corporal-Major Ludovic’ in the Sword of Honour trilogy.
Taylor’s conclusions are usually sound, but it might be interesting to judge for oneself. Unfortunately, the review doesn’t reveal which of Lodwick’s books (if any) relate to his war experience or whether any mention service with the Commandoes in Crete. In the introduction to the reprinted thriller, Chris Petit describes Bid the Soldiers Shoot as an autobiography and says Peal of Ordnance is about WWII. Second-hand copies are widely available, but those will soon fly off the shelves if Elliott’s book has any success in restoring interest in Lodwick’s career.