Charles Greene and the Armistice

Those who fondly remember the late David Pearce’s wonderful tours of Graham Greene’s old school will know the story of Graham Greene’s father Charles and the Armistice of November 1918, complete with David’s inimitable impersonation of Charles Greene himself. In brief, the story is of Charles Greene’s refusal as Headmaster of Berkhamsted School to grant a school holiday in celebration of the end of the war. The result was a commotion, indeed riot, involving school pupils and members of the Officer Training Corps. Charles Greene’s reaction was incandescent: seeing Bolshevism on the march, he expelled no fewer than 122 pupils – only later to calm down and reinstate 120 of them.

By way of marking the hundredth anniversary of the Armistice last November, the Independent published an excellent long article centred on these events. It was written by Patrick Cockburn, son of Claud, a pupil at Berkhamsted School at the time and participant in the events. (Claud was of course a friend of Graham Greene.) The article has much interesting detail about Claud and about the wider context of the events in Berkhamsted in 1918. To read the article, go to https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/remembrance-day-armistice-world-war-headmaster-student-uprising-graham-greene-a8621531.html

The above information appears in the February 2019 edition of A Sort of Newsletter, the quarterly publication of the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust. If you become a Friend of the Trust you will automatically receive this 20-page journal which includes articles, relevant book and film reviews, news and other items of interest. If you are interested in Graham Greene you will find it presents true value for money.

Patrick Cockburn’s article makes fascinating reading, so do follow the link. Claud Cockburn, as his son’s article mentions, accompanied him to the French occupied Rhineland  after Germany’s defeat in World War I. Still months shy of his 20th birthday, Greene wrote about this experience in two articles, ‘In the Occupied Area’ and ‘The French Peace’ and set his second novel, The Name of Action (which he later suppressed), in Trier. Originally published in the  journals Oxford Outlook and Oxford Chronicle in May and June 1924, the two articles were re-printed in the anthology of Greene’s essays, Reflections (1990), which is available in the Vintage Greene series. Professor Judith Adamson’s excellent introduction to this collection gives more background information about the Greene/Cockburn venture into what was undoubtedly dangerous territory at the time – a foretaste indeed of what became an obsession with Graham Greene in later life.

Patrick Cockburn’s article reveals much about the public persona of Charles Greene. Son Graham wrote comparatively little about his private relationship with his father. However, during the time he was compiling his autobiography, he wrote to his old school friend Peter Quennell, ‘I too didn’t properly appreciate him (Charles), really until I began to write about him. It was an odd sensation, as though we were communicating for the first time.’

One suspects that many off-spring will recognise this sentiment.