c John Dann was born in Wales, where he learnt his schoolboy rugby. It was during his adolescence, whilst accompanying his war-widowed mother employed as a cook in a succession of country houses – he was able to observe the subtle nuances of social life from both sides of the ‘green baize door’. His first day job in the travel industry had to supplemented by moonlighting in Soho, in the drinks trade, to fund his amateur pursuits.
He is widely travelled, enjoys seeking out those interesting pensiones, historic grand hotels, learning about their fascinating histories and interesting previous guests. He is easily seduced by the lure of the sea and sailing the ocean blue. As a writer and researcher he has watched the world go by from various street cafes, and authored many articles and a few books. His interests include social and military history, a keen rugby spectator, enjoys classical music, cool jazz and all things maritime.
BOOKS:’Maud Coleno’s Daughter’: The life of Dorothy Hartman 1898-1957, published: January 2017
“Rather a nice painting, that one of Gunn’s. It is a portrait of a fish wife!”
One woman’s transformation from ingénue chorus girl to wealthy Mayfair hostess – whilst hiding some dark secrets…
‘Struck by Lightning’
Tells the story of HMS Lightning a World War Two destroyer, based on a sailors first-hand account. In her short life from commissioning in May 1941 until her loss some 654 days later, in March 1943, HMS Lightning had sailed a distance over 120,000 miles, the equivalent of more than five times around the world.
During this time she had served on eight seas and with all the aircraft carriers then in the Navy. The ship’s company of 227, mostly young sailors (average age 20 years) had protected merchant ships in the North and South Atlantic, escorted many Mediterranean convoys (including Operation Pedestal) fighting off countless air and submarine attacks, supported the Madagascar and North African landings, searched the Indian Ocean for the Japanese fleet (to bring it to battle), as well as rescuing over 1,000 sailors, airmen, soldiers, nurses, a dog and cat from the sea.
“I am very thankful to the crew of HMS Lightning, for the hospitality we were met with and the way they treated us, …after being adrift for seven days in the lifeboats… Although it was night time when they picked us up, they gave us food and hot drinks as much as we could swallow and tried in every way to make us feel comfortable, which they did with great success. They shall never be forgotten by us Norwegians” (extract from a letter by one of the survivors of ‘M/T Tankexpress’)
‘Thomas Cook’s Rugby Club’ A memoir of the illustrious travel firm’s rugger club, its players and the pioneering Easter tours to Holland, during the golden age of business-house amateur rugby, set amongst the playing fields of the London home counties – between 1910-1966. “Four years after the Sports Club was formed – around the time of Edward VII’s Coronation, Thomas Cook was reckoned to be among the ‘three most competent organisations in the world’ the other two being the Roman Catholic Church and the Prussian Army”. ‘W.G. Trend is a brilliant forward, but should remember that kicking is allowed,’ – extract from 1923/4 end of season report, in the ‘The Globe Trotter’ a Thomas Cook’s Staff Magazine; ‘Can I have my trousers back – the party’s getting rough’ – an inexplicable catchphrase used by the club’s Rhodesian player in the 1960s
Rugger Shorts’- reflections on the amateur game, (published in paperback 2017) An anthology of rugby trivia,……Did you know that schoolboys started a cap wearing tradition? And why ladies played behind closed doors? …Why almost every club was formed in a pub (of course you guested that one); …why rugby players made good soldiers, …why fans started singing anthems at internationals, …and what the Scottish RFU thought of numbered jerseys. …Was there really a ‘Sunshine Home’ for blind referees in Dublin? What international players did in their day jobs? – Not to mention some fuddling about on an epic scale. These answers, together with the kit and caboodle of the amateur game are found in this trivial anthology of rugger shorts. Available now.
A Welsh Uncle, Memories of Tom Morgan 1898 -1957
published 2018, Thomas Henry Morgan was born into a musical mining family at end of the nineteenth century. He fought as a boy soldier in the First World War. The astonishing fact emerges that more boys under eighteen (like Tom) were serving at the end of 1915, than in the entire force Wellington took to Waterloo!
Serving as a Colour Sergeant in the Second, he was captured in North Africa at the fall of Tobruk imprisoned with some top ranking generals in Castello di Vincigliata near Florence. He escaped but later captured and transported to Stalag VIIA in Bavaria where he met the actor Derek Bond. Pre-war he wrote the music to the Welsh standard ‘We’ll keep a Welcome’ and post–war sang in the chorus of Idloes Owen’s fledgling Welsh National Opera Company. Another WNO artist Mollie Hair Russell, one-time principal dancer and soprano, recalled Tom fifty years later as “a big, rugged, handsome man…great fun to work with”. He summed up his own philosophy as: “Life ain’t all yer wants but, it’s all yer ‘aves, Stick a geranium in yer ‘at and be ‘appy”.
Mr Bridgman’s Accomplice, Long Ben’s Coxswain 1660 -1722, to be published 2019, a story about a boy who became a smuggler, sailor, then a pirate, and finally a banker. Growing up in Sussex during the turbulent 17th century, John became involved in the illegal ‘owling’ trade, where he learnt his seamanship. After an ill-fated expedition in 1674 he joined Henry ‘Long Ben’ Every’s mutiny as coxswain, setting sail for the Indian Ocean in the re-named Fancy, a ship of 46 guns,…‘and bound to seek our fortunes’ as they declared.
It made Every the richest pirate in the world, and it was said, the most profitable pirate raid in history. The slippery Henry Every had disappeared. John made a fortune too, but alas on returning to England he was caught. However, he escaped the hangman, to emerge later as a partner to a London goldsmith banker. Unfortunately he became disastrously embroiled in a massive bankruptcy fraud that shook London.
Mini biographies (published as part of a Wikipedia contribution project)
Dorothy Crisp: [1906-1987] English political figure, writer, publisher,
Riccardo Fedel: [1906-1944] Italian anti-fascist & WW2 partisan leader, (edited Italian translation)
Idloes Owen: [1894-1954] Welsh composer, conductor, founder of Welsh National Opera,
Brigadier Reginald Miles: [1892-1943] New Zealand soldier WW2
Captain Guy Ruggles-Brise: [1914-2000] English WW2 commando, and High Sheriff of Essex
Brigadier Edward Todhunter: [1900-1976] English professional soldier Royal Horse Artillery WW2
John Camkin: [1922-1998] English sports commentator, businessman
Colonel Jack Reiter: [1921-1999] US Air Force WW2, lawyer and businessman,
Charles Armytage-Moore: [1880-1960] Irish aristocrat, founder partner stockbrokers Buckmaster & Moore
E H D Sewell: [1872-1947] English first-class cricketer, rugby player, sports writer
Unpublished short stories…
Places to Stay – Around the world in 50 years, a traveller’s collection
‘Jack’s War’– the longest and greatest battle of all time
‘Trooper Flynn’- who rode with the ill-fated Jameson Raid
‘A Byword in the Ship’– homage to an unknown father
‘Beerfroth and the Ice-cream Bears’ (children’s)
A further collection of short stories (words in progress)
working titles: ‘Mr Osborne’s Bull’ / ‘Captain Herbert’s Shooting Party’
‘Abbots Leigh‘ (Maude), ‘Jenner’s Tie’ (Captain Herbert’s Shooting Party), ‘Flying before the Wind’ (Lucy), ‘Mr Osborne’s Bull’ (Miranda), ‘Mrs Hatton-Jones Regrets’ (Connie), ‘There is no Why’ (Francoise), ‘Parkinson’s Moll’ (Eva), ‘The Lisbon Tram’ (Anna as Lilly Bollero), ‘A Nightingale Sang’ (Claire), ‘One for the Road’ (Anna), ‘Last train to London Bridge’ (Lydia), ‘Café Tabac’ (Denise), ‘Thirteen o’clock/Maude’s reveal’ or ‘When all the trees are Brown’…
PLACES to STAY, a photo essay collection (work in progress)
Since childhood I have always enjoyed reading about travel and adventures. The school library introduced me to John Buchan, R L Stevenson and C S Forester, I progressing to Grahame Greene and Hemingway; later Jack Kerouac and Patrick Leigh Fermor brought ‘abroad’ to life. Studying maps, rail guides such as Bradshaw’s following imaginary continental journeys, or browsing an old ‘pocket size’ Baedeker, with its content pages printed on onion skin paper, marvelling at what it must have been like taking a ‘diligence’ from Zurich to Lucerne or where Leipzig was on the map, and what a ‘pfennig’ was worth, all fed my imagination.
As soon as I could ride a bicycle, it provided the means for independent travel. During school holidays I toured the south of England, cumulating in a four day ‘road trip’ to Wales. I also hitch-hiked throughout the continent, something you could do easily in the 1950s. Travels took me through France, Belgium, and Germany – a steamer along the Rhine, then Austria, a rail journey over the Brenner Pass to Italy and finally Switzerland, staying in modest hostels along the way or sometimes sleeping rough; absorbing interesting experiences, the kindness of people, and places that linger in memory.
Inevitably to fund these adventures I joined the illustrious travel firm of Thos. Cook & Sons in London. It was there I met Maggie who would become the love of my life and travelling partner for the next fifty years. My prospective membership of the Travellers Club (too expensive anyway) was postponed indefinitely. We married young and with two young daughters were only able to travel again when our prospects improved.
The attraction of grand and famous hotels, their histories, guest personalities, and seamless service always had an appeal. We were fortunate enough to stay in many, following in the footsteps of the great and the good – or infamous. Maggie and I had separate business careers so our trips were often quick breaks over a weekend. For longer relaxation, we usually chose far-away resorts, sometimes exploring nearby hotels for lunch or dinner. It was during these expeditions, we entertained ourselves observing fellow guests, often giving them nicknames and fictitious legends, this ‘shared’ time together created lasting memories.
We flew well over 300,000 air miles – the equivalent of 12 times around the world, staying in over 100 different hotels, from the modest ‘pensiones’ to the international ‘grand dames’ – something like 330 nights away from home. We also included many cruises sailing over 22,000 nautical miles spending a further 110 nights afloat, including voyages through the Panama and Suez canals.
I kept a log and noted impressions – this collection is the result – our ‘places to stay’.