Books by Patrick Wright:

The Village that Died for England

First published by Jonathan Cape, 1995
Paperback edition by Vintage, 1996
Expanded and revised edition, Faber and Faber, 2002.

Extracts

1. From chapter 3, ‘Still Life in the Deserted Village’

Began learning a new song. Heard a great many discords.
Teacher’s Log, Tyneham School, 30 April 1873

THE ROAD TO Tyneham breaks off the B3070 just before East Lulworth. Long since metalled but still known as the White Way, it winds up on to a high chalk ridge that wheels round from the cliff-top heights of Flowers Barrow to form the outer rim of the Isle of Purbeck. Thomas Hardy may have imagined King Lear raging on the great expanse of heath to the north, but it is now blasted in a different sense – carved with tank battle runs, target tracks and, further east, a vast clay quarry. Blue butterflies flutter over the whale-backed down of Povington Hill, competing with red flags and the complicated bye-laws governing the administration of the range – spelt out clause by bureaucratic clause on a noticeboard.

After running north along the ridge for a few hundred yards, the road turns sharply at the all but forgotten site of the ‘Maiden’s Grave’ described by Pennie, and starts to sink down past the concrete plinth of a recently removed military checkpoint, and through a little stilly wood of oak, ash and hazel. The first prohibitions are spelt out in black and white: NO VENDORS NO HAWKERS NO CAMPERS and NO OVERNIGHT STAYS. Further on there are older signs of chipped red enamel, still ablaze with the warnings of an earlier age: DANGER. THERE ARE BOMBS AND UNEXPLODED SHELLS INSIDE. THEY CAN KILL YOU … read more »

2. From Chapter 9, ‘The Squire’s Last Stand’

SHORTLY AFTER THE Armistice of November 1918, there was amused speculation in the Tank corps Journal about possible ‘uses for tanks in peace time’: farmers might put them into service as tractors or threshing machines; they might be redeployed as trouser presses, or used by the post office to deliver its notoriously slow telegrams. Some post-war showman should suspend a tank in the air, attach seats to its rotating tracks, and charge sixpence a ride on the ‘Tank Roundabout’.

The Tank Corps had been known from the start for its ‘Esprit de Tank’, but its demobilised veterans really did make ingenious attempts to cash in on their redundant but still charismatic machines. The Tank Corps Journal published a verse tribute to Major Moffat of Thames Ditton, a veteran who had placed an advertisement in The Times, announcing his plans to set up ‘joy-ride tanks’ at a seaside resort and inviting ‘several Ex Tank Corps Officers or others with capital’ to join him in this experimental enterprise. So the tank, which in some versions is said to have been first inspired by the sight of the big wheel at Earls Court, finally proved its affinity with the vulgar exhilarations of Weymouth Sands … read more »