As some of you may recall, I have been searching without surcease or success for a copy of the memoirs of Admiral Sir Guy Reginald Archer Gaunt, KCMG, called The Yield of the Years; a story of adventure afloat and ashore, 1940, London, Hutchinson. Sir Guy is in my World War I spy novel, FIREBOMB, having served as the British Naval Attache and head of British counterespionage efforts in New York City from 1914 to 1918. This man fascinates me, and not simply because of his activities as a spymaster. For example, here’s what he was doing in 1899, at the age of thirty:
This is “Gaunt’s Brigade,” a troop of Samoans that he commanded in a conflict between two warring kings. The Germans backed the other side. That would be Gaunt on the horse, bearded and sunburned. The woman at the head of the column was, I think, their queen. A formidable-looking woman. They won the fight, and as a result Lieutenant Guy Gaunt was promoted to Commander. But I would like to hear the story from his own lips, as it were. There’s information about him available on the internet, but his book remains elusive.
Before he was sent to the States as a diplomat he served as Captain on six or seven warships. In 1904 he married a widow, Mrs Margaret Elizabeth Worthington, in Hong Kong. In 1918 he was made Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. (So KCMG doesn’t stand for Kindly Call Me God, after all.) Some time after the war was over he went on the retired list, took up politics, and was elected to the House of Commons as the Conservative member for the Buckrose Division of Yorkshire.
Then in February of 1925, at the age of fifty-six, he left parliament, left his wife, and ran off to Canada with the 38-year-old wife of Sir Richard Robert Cruise (eye doctor to the royal family). They lived together in Victoria, BC, on a boat. It was an episode sufficiently startling to be included in all but the strictly military biographical sketches of Gaunt. The story was written up in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, for crying out loud. I ask myself, what was it to the people of Pittsburgh ?
For that matter, what is it to me? Still I can’t help wondering about these two, how they came to run off together, how they came to part. For they did part, having wrecked each other’s lives with scandal. I thought, maybe she died, but a search of her name on the internet brought up passenger lists recording trips back and forth across the pond, on great ocean liners, the Queen Mary, the Berengaria, the Normandie, by herself as far as I could tell, all throughout the 1930s until the next war broke out. She would sail to New York in September and return to Southampton in June, regular as clockwork. The marital status box was always marked D for Divorced, the badge of a social outcast, damning as a scarlet letter. As for Sir Guy, he married yet another woman in 1932.
And I can’t get hold of the wretched man’s memoirs. I’m going to have to go to the Library of Congress and sit there and read it. Or Columbia University. They have a copy. The sole copy of the book being offered for sale, a first edition (big deal, I can’t imagine that it went into a second printing), would cost me $675 now. Last week I think they only wanted $450. Most annoying. It’s like an itch that I can’t reach to scratch.