Why We Leave Stuff out of Memoirs

You will recall that I read Admiral Sir Guy Gaunt’s memoir with a pang of disappointment. All the good spy yarns were in there, and that was great, but he left out the juicy bits.

You will doubtless also recall that I explained these omissions as the natural behavior of an officer and a gentleman.  I was imagining Captain Jack Aubrey sitting at table on HMS Surprise with his fellow officers, telling war stories. Would he talk about the women in his life? Certainly not.

But I was mistaken. Here is a bit of typescript that was pasted inside a copy of The Yield of the Years. Not my copy. Somebody else’s copy.


Interesting to note that the address on his letterhead is Tangier, the paradise he praised in the last chapter of his book without mentioning anything that was happening in his life.

So we see that Sir Guy’s second wife was typing it all up for him, and if that weren’t dampening enough, she was doing it for their daughter to read. Everything is now explained. Do I want my children to know all the deviltry I got up to in my youth? Not on your onion.

Spinning the Memoir

I finally got my hands on Admiral Sir Guy Reginald Archer Gaunt’s autobiography this week (The Yield of the Years, a story of adventures afloat and ashore). I have now read the thing cover to cover, and while I still insist that it was worth every penny I paid for it, at least to me, it pains me to report a glaring omission.

Sir Guy never mentions his wives and children.

TuliaHe mentions a few women in passing. One is Tulia, the Samoan girl who followed him into battle with Gaunt’s Brigade to put down an insurrection (or take sides in a civil war) in Samoa in 1899. Another is an unnamed wealthy New York society woman and German sympathizer, whom I recognized as Mrs. Edmee Reisinger, the beer heiress. He talks about the pony he rode on Samoa. But if he mentions putting in at Hong Kong in 1904, he says nothing about how he married a widow there, Mrs. Margaret Elizabeth Worthington, daughter of Sir Thomas Wardle (This according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography), and how their marriage ended in divorce in 1927, after he ran away to Canada with the wife of the Royal Ophthalmologist.  Nor does he ever mention the 35-year-old widow he married in 1932 (when he was 63), Sybil Victoria Joseph, née Grant White, or the two daughters they had together.

SammyHe speaks affectionately of Sammy, the pony. Later he describes in loving detail the sailing ship he bought after he left the House of Commons in 1926 and went to Canada. But, women?

The thing is, Sir Guy didn’t write his memoirs for me to read, or any other romantic-minded woman. He wrote for his friends in the Navy, who would have thought him a complete bounder if he talked about his personal life. The stories he tells are all about his school days, his military career, and his yacht, and thumping good yarns they are, the kind of stories an old admiral would tell at a dinner of brother officers.

Franz Rintelen, German spy, wrote his memoirs too (The Dark Invader). Probably he was a bounder. His enemies said so. But included among the war stories (half of them bald-faced lies) is a touching account of how he came home to his wife after long imprisonment in Atlanta and found that his marriage was dead, whereupon he sorrowfully left. Not a word of reproach for his wife. He hadn’t been home in years and years. Reports of his death had come to her again and again. It was just too much for her.

It is interesting to note that of the two World War I spy memoirs, only Rintelen’s is still in print, while Sir Guy’s is so hard to find that one has to pay hundreds of dollars for a copy. Either that or sit in the Library of Congress and read it, a task of several days. Rintelen, I think, was writing for the money, while Sir Guy was writing because his friends told him he should. His memoir is more interesting in and of itself than Sir Guy’s, which has its charms but rambles a bit and has to be picked through for historical facts.

I ask myself: What are you allowed to leave out of a memoir? Anything you want to, I guess. It’s your story. If you don’t want to admit to ever having been married, why, go ahead and leave it out. Write it any way you want to. Lie your head off. Who do you want to be? Who do you want people to think you are? Go for it. The more unknown you are, the more free you are to make up the life you always wanted.

That’s what I plan to do, if I ever get down and write my memoirs. Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow. Let’s see. First I need a few heroic deeds. And maybe a pony.

Obsessed With the Dead

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.

GuyGauntinFranceBefore 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 ?

LadyMargeryFor 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.