I recently re-read The Snow Goose, Paul Gallico’s little masterpiece set in the years leading up to WWII and climaxing with the sailing dinghy setting out from Jaywick again and again and again to bring back soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, until finally it does not come back and the girl Fritha waits and waits in vain.
Paul Rhayader, an artist with a humped back, takes refuge from the world in an abandoned building between the sea nd the marshes – a building called a lighthouse in the book, but only because the American publishers believed American readers would have no idea what a Martello Tower was (and presumably no interest in finding out).
When I was young, a man who lived in one of the big houses on the left at the end of Golf Green Road just before it turns into Broadway (the biggest house, the one set right back from the road) told me Paul Gallico had stayed at his house, had gone out with him on his yacht, and walked the beaches and marshes of Jaywick and St Osyth getting the feel of the place and watching the birds. He said the “Saxon village” where Fritha lived was St Osyth, and the particular Martello Tower Gallico had in mind was the one at the end of Brooklands that is now the centrepiece of the Martello Tower Beach Caravan Camp.
When you know that, it all makes much more sense – at least it does if you come from the East coast of England! If you don’t, it might help to know that the Martello Towers were built along the East coast in the time of Napoleon. Like Hitler, though, he abandoned the idea and invaded Russia instead, where he lost half a million men. “Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it” could have been written for Hitler!
And the snow goose of the title? You’ll have to read the book to find out about that mysterious bird – and about Fritha, who is seen holding the goose on the cover of the Penguin edition.