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Zigzagging across the Atlantic


Hitching a lift on a cruiser
John Julius Norwich Writer
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In April 1942, I was summoned by the senior house master, Mr Chit Carson, who said, 'Pack up, you're going home.' And I said, 'What do you mean? The war's still on.' And he said, 'I don't know what I mean. As you say, the war's on, everything is secret. Nobody tells anybody anything. All I've been told is I've got to put you on the train to New York tonight. So go and get packing.' So I went and he put me on the train to New York and my guardian was... had been Max Reinhardt's secretary, Kaetchen Kommer, who was one of my mother's Central European dearest friends and was my official guardian all the time I was there, met me at the station and handed me a ticket to Norfolk, Virginia. And so I went to Norfolk, Virginia and there I was met, I seem to remember, by a young naval officer who took me on board the cruiser HMS Phoebe on which I was to return to England. And what had happened, of course I now see. The only way things did happen in the war when... I mean, everything had to be scrounged and fiddled because there was no other way of doing anything. But my father, because he'd been the First Lord of the Admiralty knew a lot of sailors and the First Lord of the Admiralty had a great perk of a yacht in those days in which he was meant to travel around the world inspecting all the fleets. I mean, we had a home fleet and an American fleet and a Far Eastern fleet and a South African fleet and all these things. It was a huge navy in those days. And he'd had this Admiralty yacht on which he'd actually never gone beyond the Mediterranean and the Baltic. But the captain was a man called Peter Friend who was also a great friend of his. And I think he just met him in London one day and Peter Friend had said, 'How is your little boy?' And my father said, 'Well, we're longing to bring him home, he's in Canada.' And Peter Friend said, 'I've got to bring a cruiser back to England from American in three weeks' time, I'll give him a lift.' So this is what happened.

John Julius Norwich (1929-2018) was an English popular historian, travel writer and television personality. He was educated at Upper Canada College, Toronto, at Eton, at the University of Strasbourg and on the lower deck of the Royal Navy before taking a degree in French and Russian at New College, Oxford. He then spent twelve years in H.M. Foreign Service, with posts at the Embassies in Belgrade and Beirut and at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva. In 1964 he resigned to become a writer. He is the author of histories of Norman Sicily, the Republic of Venice, the Byzantine Empire and, most recently, 'The Popes: A History'. He also wrote on architecture, music and the history plays of Shakespeare, and presented some thirty historical documentaries on BBC Television.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: First Lord of the Admiralty, navy, yacht, cruiser

Duration: 2 minutes, 36 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018