War book with a difference

The Cruise of Naromis. August in the Baltic 1939
By G.A.Jones

Every now and then a book pops up out of nowhere and grabs you by the throat. Not in a brash or aggressive way, but by sneaking under your skin and eyebrows and being hard to put down or ignore.

The Cruise of the Naromis is one of these. It came to light in a fairytale way when Julia Jones, the author and publisher, took a long hard look at some papers left many years before by her father George, which turned out to be an almost casual account of a motor boat trip undertaken in the very month before World War II became a reality rather than a lurking fear.

George and his four friends, all carefree and middle-class, joined the RNVSR – a sort of amateur navy for small boat freaks – and took a ‘pleasure trip’ up the Kiel Canal to the Baltic Sea, fraternizing happily with men who very shortly became England’s sworn enemies.

Along the canal through Germany, school children waved happily at them, and German-speaking young men drank with them like traditional brothers of the sea. And all the time Hitler and Churchill were making their dreadful preparations.

Julia’s father gives a peculiarly specific picture of a certain type of young man, in a certain era coming to an abrupt and catastrophic end. His companions tended towards classic English nicknames – he was ‘Honest George’ and there were also ‘Skip’ and ‘Fattie’ – and classic English attitudes. Their boat was also of that ilk: built of wood on the Norfolk Broads, with two diesel engines and a full suit of sails. Think Arthur Ransome, think Captain Flint.

Think, as they did, lovely, dreamy, flaxen-haired German damsels drinking tons of German beer and elegantly smoking cigarettes. Enough to make a young man’s heart ache or break.

Nothing much happens to them on the trip – thank God – but they take a lot of photographs, which they (perhaps disingenuously) see as pretty insignificant. Oh yes, of shipping in the Kiel Canal the week before the war breaks out. They were possibly lucky to end up alive, who knows?

But they did, thank heaven, and because of that we have Julia Jones and the rest of George’s family. Like this book, worth cherishing.

Published by Golden Duck. Isbn: 9781899262335