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Julia Jones, Yachting Monthly's literary reviewer reads The Journeying Moon, offers and extract from the book and recounts her passion for post Second World War writers, returned from soldiering

The Journeying Moon: Book review

I chose The Journeying Moon by Ernle Bradford as this month’s Book at Bunktime because I was interested in those immediate post Second World War individuals who found that the drab Britain of late 1940s was not the world they’d hoped for.

A few months ago I selected a passage from Adrian Hayter’s Sheila in the Wind when the solitary sailing is clearly a means of coping with what we’d now call PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Bradford’s problem is not so intense – he’s back in London; he’s got a job, he’s married. He just can’t settle. In the second chapter he describes his 21st birthday when he was serving on a destroyer in Alexandria. He made a promise to himself that one day he would come back and sail these waters on his own terms, not under Royal Navy orders. And that’s the promise he begins to fulfill in this book.

If Bradford found it impossible to settle to ‘normal’ postwar existence: his young wife Janet was simply desperate to get away. She’d been a teenager when war began, born into a family of artists where no one had any nautical inclination at all.

I was introduced to Janet quite recently by Sam Llewllyn. She’d offered to tell me about the yachtsman, advertising copywriter and RNVR officer Robert Bevan who’d taken the time to explain rigging to her. This wouldn’t ever have been a topic of conversation in her birth family and she remains grateful to this day.

I don’t know exactly how she and Ernle met (though he was an art student before the war) but he had the perception to recognise that going to sea was something vital for Janet. Her feeling for it was special. I selected the passage where they set out on their new life as I felt many people would respond to the thrill of new life and adventure.

Ernle planned to finance their adventure by writing about it – and he succeeds. His later books are often on historic or naval subjects but the great quality of his writing in The Journeying Moon is the excellence of his description. We are all responsive to the sounds, smells and colours of the sea, as well as its moods and possibilities, but he has the gift of expressing this in language that has the quality of painting or poetry.  He’s also sharply observant of the postwar social situation in the Mediterranean world (and the Aegean too).

Structurally it’s quite a complicated book. It begins some years later when Ernle is crossing the Atlantic with an all male crew and it ends on that same voyage.

It’s good enough but I’m not quite clear why he frames the book in that way. Perhaps because he wrote The Journeying Moon quite a while after the first voyage took place. It’s the central part of the book, his and Janet’s explorations in their Dutch yacht Mother Goose, that I really wanted to share.

I almost chose a thrilling passage where they come near to disaster rushing down the Rhone towards a half ruined bridge with the river in spate. The pilot accompanying them is a memorable personality and their escape makes the heart beat faster. Bradford’s very good at those fleeting insights into other people’s lives and personalities – those encounters that are among the pleasures of the cruising life.

The excellence of this book is the quality of its description and observation. Our glimpse into the lives of Ernle and Janet doesn’t make a big issue of the fact they eventually part company. Her voyage continues, his returns. I’d like to know what happened next but for now it’s enough to have been ‘in the moment’ with them at this unique time in history.

Extract from Journeying Moon – first published 1958

Shortly after the war I married and tried to settle down to a life in London. Like most of my generation, though, I was infected by restlessness. Early in our lives we have been given a taste for the world of action, and too much adrenalin had gone through our systems for them to adjust easily to the routine of ‘nine to six’. 

Our palates had been spoiled for the softer nuances of contentment. The after-lunch doze with the Sunday paper, the clatter of the lawn-mower, and the distant scrape and fiddle of BBC tea-time music seemed insipid after fevered nights in leave-time ports.

Of those who failed to make the adjustment, some emigrated, some took to drink, and some climbed mountains. Others – and I was among them – attempted the return to post-war living, found it unsatisfying, and then cut out new paths for ourselves. The welfare state was designed for the generation that followed us.

London was strange and uneasy in those immediate post-war years. It had something of the same smell about it that conquered Naples had at the time when Naples was the leave centre for our Anzio troops: a little dust; much decay; and the smell of corruption. 

I remember the night-clubs thick with black-marketeers; the well-fleshed smiler who knew where you could get whisky, and whose new Bentley echoed nightly with the giggles of loose-legged girls. People never fight for the world they get. They fight for the world they remember. Perhaps that is why so many returned soldiers make poor citizens.

I had an acquaintance, a Labour MP in the post-war government. He had never dined nor dressed so well in all his life before.

‘If you don’t like it,’ he said. ‘Why didn’t you get out of it?  It’s a big world, my boy.’

You’re right, I thought, I will. Just give me time, just let me save a little money, and I’ll get going.

Four months later we left England for France.  We had been waiting for two days inside the bar at Chichester harbour while a spring gale blew itself out down the Channel. The wind was dying now and the barometer was rising. Janet took the tiller while I heaved in the anchor. The voyage had begun.

Our boatMother Goose was a ten-ton cutter. A Dutch boeier, with a draught of only two feet, she was forty years old, clinker-built of galvanized iron on iron frames. She was as tubby, as solid, and as dependable as a Dutchman’s ideal hausfrau.

Her decks were teak, her curved aerofoil leeboards (which threw great fan-like shadows on the deck) were oak, and her saloon and interior were panelled in polished mahogany. With her dark blue hull, her red sails, her curved gaff, and elaborately carved tiller – which ended in a goose’s head – she was a romantic boat. Some had their doubts about her.

‘I wouldn’t mind her on the Broads’ said an ocean-racing friend. ‘But I wouldn’t like to be out in her in any real weather.’

‘You’ll never be taking that, midear, any far way from land,’ remarked old Jack, who was coxwain of the Fowey lifeboat. ‘Why, look at them there leeboards! No, midear, you want a good keel under you when you get out to sea. Them there boats is all very well for the Dutch.’

I heard many such arguments. When questioned closely as to where I really intended to take her, I hedged or remarked casually, ‘Well we might pick a quiet day and run over to France.’I never disclosed my real intentions. Certainly, even I never realised that within the 30-ft length of Mother Goose we should make our home for two-and-a-half years.

The first time that you make a departure for a foreign coastline in your own boat is as unforgettable as first love.  There is a tension and a suppressed excitement about your actions. Even routine details like taking a pair of crossed bearings to fix your point of departure assume a strange and satisfying importance.

Outside the bar we found that the wind had died but the sea was still running lumpily up the Channel. The grey sky was touched with faint light along the edges of the clouds. I sighted along the hand-bearing compass and called out the bearings to Janet who had the chart splayed out in front of her on the saloon table.

‘One nine oh degrees – the Nab Tower.’

She repeated it back.

‘Two three oh degrees – Culver Head. One degree easterly deviation on the compass.’

Fixed. The simple ‘mystery’ of the navigator’s art now held our small swaying world of food and books and iron and wood and us, located in one pinpoint on the Channel chart. The intersected lines that marked the boat’s position marked the start of our new life. In the act of taking two bearings we had crossed our Rubicon and established for all our lives the point of no return.

The kettle feathered a wisp of steam through the open hatch, and soon we were clasping mugs of hot coffee as we sat in the cockpit and listened to the suck and swallow of the sea against the ship’s side.

The wind died away, and the sails hung empty as a sailor’s pockets. I started our small twin-cylinder diesel engine, waited an anxious moment until its first asthmatic cough had settled down to a steady snore, and then lashed the tiller while the two of us lowered the sails.

Even under power Mother Goose left a clean sweet wake. Her rounded stern settled down or rose to the sea like a bird’s blunt tail. She lifted easily over the swell, and ran down its sides with a smooth, unhurried movement.

We were twenty-four hours out from Chichester Bar when we sighted Le Havre light vessel blinking and groaning in a cold white mist. As the lights of Le Havre faded against the dawn and went out we altered course for the nearest whistle buoy, whose sigh blended with the melancholy morning. The broken buildings and the stark lines of the reconstructed city came up past the headland. Shipping thronged the fairway, and a Chinese cook carrying a vast tea-pot along the decks of a merchantman, gave us ‘Good Day’ with a flash of teeth.

Janet and I looked at each other and smiled. The damp night air had crinkled our hands, and it sparkled in our hair.

‘Made it!’

The first leg of the voyage was over. Now we could confess to each other what we had never confessed to inquisitive longshoremen or even to friends: that this was not just a casual trip to France ‘only if the weather’s fine’.  This was the end of one life and the beginning of another.  We were bound up the Seine for Paris and beyond – through the canal for Lyons, then down the Rhone to Marseilles. Our course lay eastward to the dolphin-haunted waters; to the islands of thyme and silver rock, and the high noon that leaves no shadows.

Buy The Journeying Moon at Amazon (UK).

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Ernle Bradford

Ernle Bradford (1922-1986) served in the RNVR during WW2. He married Janet Rushbury in 1948 and they left England in 1951. Bradford was a prolific author, historian and broadcaster who sailed the Mediterranean (and beyond) for thirty years. After Mother Goose he and Janet owned the pilot cutter Mischief which they sold to mountaineer Bill Tilman.


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