Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ronald Welch...

This one is my favourite - Seven Years
War in America background
In the recent spate of A to Z posts [clicky for mine] featuring various members of the Bloggerati expounding on their book reading habits and history, I had cause to answer the question "what was the most important moment in your book life" with the answer Ronald Welch (I also answered Arthur Ransome but that's a different post..) and as usual it prompted me to do a little more digging...

The answer to the question was easy, I don't even remember stopping to think who it might be, as a younger version I devoured his books, reading them over and over, and they undoubtedly fed those nascent wargaming fires that I was also stoking up with copies of Featherstone and Grant at the same time...

Ronald Welch (14 December 1909 – 5 February 1982) was actually born Ronald Felton, he took his pen name from the Welch Regiment [clicky] which he served in during WWII.

He was born in Wales (at Aberavon in West Galmorgan), the son of accountant Oliver Felton and his wife Alice (nee Thomas). After attending Berkhamsted School (1922-28) in Hertfordshire, he earned a place at Clare College, Cambridge, where he studied history (M.A., 1931). Welch then went on to work as an assistant history master at Berkhamsted before moving to Bedford Modern School as a senior teacher in 1933.

By all accounts he seems to have had a strong attraction for Wales so the choice of regiment was probably not so strange, but having said that he was working as a history teacher (he read History at Cambridge) in Bedford on the other side of the country when the war broke out, so clearly there was something drawing him back to his native Wales.

He would have been 30 (so comparatively old) when the war broke out, but was already a Lieutenant in the schools cadet force (Officer Training Corps  or OTC). He was commissioned Lieutenant in the Welch Regiment in 1940, and served throughout the war - there isn't much detail but I also read that he had served in tanks.He reached the rank of major and remained in the Territorial Army after the war.

When the war finished he returned to teaching and throughout the 50's was headmaster of Okehampton Grammar School in Devon (1947 to 1964). It was while headmaster here that he started writing the books that I then became so addicted to..

He won the 1956 Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book by a British subject, for Knight Crusader, the first novel in the Carey Family series (which he published in 1954) but continued to write well into the 70's.

Just managed to get a copy of this one!!
All of the books feature the Carey family who's ancestral home is in Wales, but each of the books features a specific period of military history - so "Knight Crusader" is about the 3rd Crusade , "For the King" about the English Civil War etc. 

The thing that set them part for me was their depth and accuracy, the well documented and clear historical background, but set against a good story - the very best way to learn history that I've found! The best editions were also illustrated by William Stobbs who pictures were just superb - the following is typical of his style..


I own seven of Welch's books now, but it's taken me years to obtain them. My latest acquisition is "For the King" - they're all out of print and go for funny money on eBay and the like. The good news however, is that I've just heard they are being reprinted [clicky] - don't hold back, I very much recommend them...!

18 comments:

  1. I have on the shelf a hardback copy of "Captain of Foot" from 1969.I got it from my dad.A super read it was/is...

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    1. Tradgardmastare - it'll be more valuable to you clearly, but that's one of the rare ones - I've seen them go on eBay for up to £50... I'd encourage a re-read...! :o)

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  2. I had literary aspirations as a youth. My great idea was to write a series of historical novels linked by a family. Then I read Ronald Welch. Unfortunately I have never been able to forgive him for stealing by big idea before I had even thought of it.

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    1. David - made me laugh - write the series anyway!

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  3. There is also the Gauntlet of course, outside the Carey books. Very exciting news about the reprints, I've never read the hawk or Nicholas Carey, and have only got copies of For the King and Captain of Dragoons. Not sure what I think of them having the original illustrations though as I never liked thm...

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    1. Vintage Wargaming - absolutely - in fact I own the Gauntlet too, as it's probably the most available of his books. I don't remember reading the Hawk, but I'm definitely thinking of getting the Galleon from the current re-print series...

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  4. I'd Forgotten about Welch- I read Knight Crusader whilst still in Junior School and the rest of the Carey books later Until I read thise WQelch was in my head confused with Henry and Geoffrey Treece- also writers of note of the same era. See Vikingg Dawn etc .
    As for Ransome
    "Swallows and Amazons Forever"

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    1. Big Andy - Welch is very much in the same vein as Trease and Treece - but for probably quite small reasons I always preferred him.. I think it was probably the military focus in all his books... Ransome was an altogether more complex character, I really must do a post on him as well at some time....

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    2. I'm much more aware of Ransome- his activities in the Russian Revolution for a start. I have some very mediocre poetry by Treece in an aged Penguin anthology. Leaving aside Welch - who I had forgotten. My favourite historical novelist of that era and for that age-group would be Rosemary Sutcliffe.
      I' have several of her books.
      I'm pretty sure I have a couple of Treece/trease as well but not Novels- one is a biog of The Earl of Newcastle the other an editied jounal of a servant doing the grand tour with some Milord.
      Andy

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    3. Andy - have you read "The Rider of the White Horse" by Rosemary Sutcliff?? Should be right up your street for a number of reasons...! :o)

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  5. Just saw this; excellent news on the reprints. I was addicted to the Carey novels as a boy too and have a fair number but missed the last ones (on the Indian Mutiny, Zulu War and 1st War). I feel now that as a novelist he's vastly inferior to, say, Rosemary Sutcliff (she had an almost magical ability to summon up interesting and complex characters with a few deft sentences), but for nostalgia reasons I do still like his books and recently re-read Captain of Dragoons, Escape From France and For The King.

    Thanks again for the news and the trip down memory lane!

    Cheers,

    David
    http://nba-sywtemplates.blogspot.co.uk/

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  6. P.S. I'd second Rider of the White Horse as a good read; Simon by Rosemary Sutcliff is another ECW novel worth reading too. (And Fairfax's own memoir of his campaigns in Yorkshire on which much of Rider of the White Horse is based is a very vivid read too; if anyone wants it and can't find it I can email a copy.)

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    1. David - going to have to beg to differ slightly on Sutcliff vs Welch but nothing to lose sleep over... :o) I can tell you however the the new reprints are second to none in terms of quality... wholeheartedly recommended!

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  7. At least it's only differing slightly, Steve. ;-)

    I'm glad to hear the new reprints are such good quality; I've ordered The Galleon and will order more as they are reprinted. Even though I have many of the books I was tempted by the full set of 12 (although it's a pity the Zulu War novel is not amongst the 12). :-) (I wonder if the people asking such crazy prices on Amazon for the books s/h are going to be discombobulated now?)

    Thanks.

    Cheers,

    David.

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  8. David - doubt it... I spotted someone selling the reprinted Galleon for £56 the other day...! Makes my blood boil...

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  9. Yes, sadly I'm sure you're right. I wonder, though, if anyone really buys at these crazy prices? I've often seen other items at mad prices on Amazon s/h when the same item is available new at vastly less on the same page! It makes no sense at all. (Did you see that someone is asking £360 for Mohawk Valley s/h on Amazon? Incredible...)

    Cheers,

    David.

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  10. P.S. Have a look to see what people are asking for his Zulu Warrior on Amazon! http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-listing/071536555X/ref=dp_olp_used?ie=UTF8&condition=used Now that's one definitely worth reprinting!

    D.

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  11. I've now received the reprint of The Galleon - very nicely produced. I'm a bit tempted to buy the whole set but think I'd better stick to my initial thought of buying only those I don't already have or have only in tatty versions. That still means I'll be buying 6 or 7 of them!

    Thanks again for mentioning the reprints.

    Cheers,

    David.

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