Annual General Meeting 2017 – LONDON

Captain Hornblower famously fought the French. A further creation of 20th century Londoner and novelist C S Forester, was Charlie Allnutt in ‘The African Queen’ – Humphrey Bogart in the film version, along with Katherine Hepburn – and Allnutt fought the Germans in Africa. So what are a bunch of foreigners doing, coming to celebrate two very British heroes in Greenwich on 2 September this year?

The Chairman of the C S Forester Society is Ludwig Heuse from Frankfurt. The society webmaster is Belgian; the Treasurer, married to a retired Royal Navy officer and living in France. Add to these an energetic sister-society in Sweden, visitors from New York, the Netherlands, Norway, Canada and Denmark, and you have a truly international British success.

AGM attendants 2017

Editor of the C S Forester Society Lawrie Brewer says ‘What would Hornblower have thought of us, gathering round the table in what was the Greenwich Royal Naval College, two centuries after he fought the Napoleonic wars? What would Charlie and Rose make of our readings of their amours and adventures on Lake Tanganyika? I think they would have celebrated the peace we enjoy now, and the fun we have in celebrating the essence of English heroism and international values’.

It is nearly 20 years since the C S Forester Society was founded at an Italian restaurant in Oxford. Since then members have met each year – in France, in Stockholm, on board HMS Belfast in the Pool of London, and of course in Portsmouth. 10 years ago a group of enthusiasts discovered a novel the author had lost before moving to the USA to work for the British Council during WW2 – ‘The Pursued’, successfully published in Britain (and a BBC Afternoon Play) and the Commonwealth, in German (it was made into a play for German radio also), in Spanish and in Greek.

This September the Society gathered in Westminster Abbey where the appropriately named Canon Ball had prepared a special service in the Lady Chapel where Hornblower was inaugurated Knight of the Bath. Then, onto the Old Admiralty Boardroom (now housed very-politically-correctly in the Department for International Development) where the signal from the roof weather-vane is still in place to inform Officers of which way the wind blows. Dinner, at The Gun in Docklands – built in celebration of the overseas trade Hornblower protected in 1810, and now offering our annual recreation of the Castle Pie first enjoyed on HMS Hotspur. The subway/DLR to Greenwich, and the next day literary talks about the African Queen, the Romance of Steam Boats presented by Rev Mark Rudall, Ronald Meister’s talk on Lieutenant Bush and Dirk Scholten reflecting on the epithet ‘literary’ in terms of Forester’s work. At short notice Patrick Humphries came and talked about the biography he is writing of the Dulwich College 20th century contributors to the world of books  – Raymond Chandler, P G Wodehouse, A E W Mason and of course CSF.  A guided tour to the National Maritime Museum – ah, Christopher Wren, Ingo Jones, Admiral Lord Nelson himself would have smiled at the harmony we achieved. On the sunlit Sunday we took a clipper up-river past Poplar, past the East India Dock and warehouses now converted into a gleaming modern London, and to Westminster pier: that was Nelson’s last journey, too. With Hornblower’s help of course.

In C S Forester’s ‘The Commodore’ Hornblower offers Czar Alexander a toast: “The Navy’ he said, ‘the guardian of the liberties of the world, the unswerving friend”. The same spirit of continuing friendship was proved alive and well in Westminster and Greenwich on 2 September.

Lawrie Brewer

18 September 2017

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