Authors: D. E. Stevenson
Mrs. Tim of the Regiment
The four books about Mrs. Tim and her family were republished during 1973 and early 1974, and the author was asked to write a foreword.
The books consist of:
Mrs. Tim of the Regiment
Mrs. Tim Carries On
Mrs. Tim Gets a Job
Mrs. Tim Flies Home
The first âMrs. Tim' was written many years ago (in 1934). It was written at the request of the wife of a professor of English history in a well-known university who was a personal friend. Their daughter was engaged to be married to an officer in a Highland Regiment. Naturally enough they wanted to know what it would be like and what she would be expected to do.
There was nothing secret in my diary so I gave it to Mrs. Ford to read. When she handed it back, Mrs. Ford was smiling. She said, âI read it aloud to Rupert and we laughed till we cried. You could make this into a very amusing book and call it
Leaves from the Diary
of an Officer's Wife
. It just needs to be expanded, and you could pep it up a little, couldn't you?'
At first I was doubtful (it was not my idea of a book), but she was so persuasive that I decided to have a try. The result was
Mrs. Tim of the Regiment
. By this time I had got into the swing of the story and had become so interested in Hester that I gave her a holiday in the Scottish Highlands with her friend Mrs. Loudon and called it
The two books were accepted by a publisher and published in an omnibus volume. It was surprisingly successful. It was well reviewed and the sales were eminently satisfactory; the fan-mail was astonishing. People wrote from near and far saying that Mrs. Tim was a real live person; they had enjoyed her adventures immensely and they wanted more.
But it was not until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 that I felt the urge to write another book about Hester Christie.
Mrs. Tim Carries On
was easily written, for it is just a day-to-day account of what happened and what we did and said and felt. The book was a comfort to me in those dark days; it helped me to carry on, and a sort of pattern emerged from the chaos.
Like its predecessor, the book was written from my own personal diary but this time there was no need to expand the story nor to âpep it up' for there was enough pep already in my diary for half a dozen books.
It is all true. It is true that a German plane came down on the moor in the middle of a shooting party and the two airmen were captured. It is true that German planes came down to low level in Norfolk, and elsewhere, and used machine guns to kill pedestrians on the roads. Sometimes they circled over the harvest fields and killed a few farm labourers and horses. Why they did so is a mystery. There could not have been any military objective in these manoeuvres. People soon got used to it and were not even seriously alarmed but just took cover in a convenient ditch like dear old Uncle Joe. Perhaps the German airmen did it for fun? Perhaps it amused them to see old gentlemen rolling into ditches?
An American friend wrote to me as follows: âYour Mrs. Tim has made us
. We have been trying to imagine what it would be like to have a man-eating tiger prowling around in
back-yard.' She had hit the nail on the head for, alas, the strip of water which had kept Britain safe from her enemies for hundreds of years had become too narrow: The tiger was in our back-yard.
To me this book brings back the past so vividly that even now â thirty years later â I cannot read it without laughter and tears. Laughter? Yes, for in spite of the sadness and badness of Total War, the miseries we suffered, and the awful anxieties we endured, cheerfulness broke through at unexpected moments and we laughed.
When they were first published, these four books about Mrs. Tim were all very popular. Everybody loved Mrs. Tim (everybody except the good citizens of Westburgh who disliked her intensely). Everybody wanted to know more about her and her friends. But the books have been out of print and unobtainable for years. I was pleased to hear that they were to be republished and that they would all be available again. I was particularly glad because together they contain the whole history of the Christie family and its friends. Taken in their proper sequence, readers will be able to appreciate the gradual development of Hester's character and the more rapid development of Tim's. As the years pass by there is a difference in the children; Annie and Fred Bollings become more adult; Jack and Grace McDougall, having weathered serious trouble, settle down peacefully together. The Christies' friends are very varied but all are interesting and unusual. We are introduced to the dignified Mrs. Loudon; we meet Pinkie, an attractive young lady whose secret trouble is that (although seventeen years old) she does not feel âproperly grown up, inside.' But, in spite of this, Pinkie makes friends wherever she goes. Her circle of friends includes all the young officers who are quartered at the depot and is enlarged by the arrival of Polish officers who have escaped from their war-shattered country and are billeted in Donford while they reorganise their forces and learn the language. There is a mysterious lady, swathed in Egyptian scarves, who is convinced that in a previous existence she helped to build the Great Pyramid. There is Erica Clutterbuck whose rude manners conceal a heart of gold, and two elegant American ladies who endeavour to persuade Mrs. Tim to go home with them to America so that they may exhibit her to their friends as âThe Spirit of English Womanhood'.
Several picnics take place. Some are enjoyable, others not, according to the weather conditions and the feelings of the assembled company.
But the chief interest is to be found in the curious character of Tony Morley and his relationship with the Christie family. At first he seems to Tim and Hester a somewhat alarming personage. (To Tim, because he is a senior officer and fabulously wealthy: he drives a large and powerful car, owns a string of racehorses, and hunts several days a week. To Hester, because he talks irresponsibly and displays an impish sense of humour so that she never knows whether or not he means what he says.) Soon, however, they discover that beneath the surface he is a true friend and can be relied upon whenever the services of a friend are urgently needed. We find out how he uses his tact and diplomacy to smooth the feathers of a disgruntled cook and show her how to measure out the ingredients for a cake with insufficient weights. We learn how he helps Hester to save a naval officer from making a disastrous marriage and how he consoles and advises a young husband whose wife has deserted him. We are told of Colonel Morley's success with a battalion of raw recruits, how he wins their devotion, licks them into shape, and welds them into a satisfactory fighting machine by imbuing them with the necessary esprit de corps. We see him salute smartly and march off at the head of his battalion en route for the Middle East. Knowing his reputation for reckless courage, Hester wonders sadly if she will ever see him again. But apparently Tony is indestructible. He has survived countless dangers and seems none the worse. He pops in, out of the blue, at Rome (where Hester, on her way home from Africa, is seriously embarrassed by her ignorance of the language). Tony Morley arrives in his usual sudden and unexpected manner. By this time he has become a full-blown general and, having learnt to speak Italian from an obliging enemy, is able to deal adequately with the situation. He also deals adequately with a little misunderstanding at the War Office where he sees a friend and pulls a string or two for Tim.
Meanwhile the Christie children, Bryan and Betty, are growing up rapidly. In fact they are âalmost grown up', and, although they are still amusing and full of high spirits, it is obvious that they will soon become useful members of the post-war world.
We meet them at Old Quinings where their mother has managed to find a small house for the summer holidays. Here, also, we meet Annie and Fred Bollings, Grace McDougall and her boys, an old-fashioned squire with a pretty daughter, a school teacher whose unconventional views about free love are somewhat alarming, and a very good-looking young man who is studying medicine but is not too busy to open gates for a fair equestrienne. We meet the amiable Mrs. Daulkes and the far from amiable Miss Crease whose sharp eyes and caustic tongue cause a good deal of trouble to her neighbours. Another unpleasant visitor is Hester Christie's landlady, the wily Miss Stroude, who tries to bounce Hester and almost succeeds, but once again Tony comes to the rescue in the nick of time to defeat Miss Stroude and send her away âwith her tail between her legs'.
Betty says, joyfully, âThis is the best holidays, ever' but Hester's pleasure is not complete until the arrival of Colonel Tim Christie from Africa. Now, at last, she is happy with all her beloved family under one roof.
I cannot finish this foreword without voicing the grateful thanks of Mrs. Tim to her many kind friends in America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand who sent her parcels to augment her war-rations. The parcels contained tins of fat, packets of tea and sugar and dried fruit, bars of chocolate, and boxes of candy for the children. These generous presents were shared with friends and were worth their weight in gold.
Tim wakes up very peevish after last night's celebrations in Mess (how strange the after effects of enjoyment on the human frame!). He reminds me that his Aunt Ethel is coming to dinner and to spend the night on her way to Dover and the Riviera. Reminder quite unnecessary, as Aunt Ethel's visit has been a cloud on my horizon ever since it was arranged in November.
Tim enjoins me to âgive the old girl a decent dinner', but is not helpful as regards details. When pressed he suggests lamb, which, I point out, is unprocurable at present, except in frozen form.
Tim replies that âall that' is my job, and that he can't think of food in any form this morning, as his head is like a boiler-room, and what on earth are the children doing â there might be half a dozen of them from the noise.