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Stranger than any fiction,
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This review is from: The Indomitable Beatie: Charles Hoare, C. B. Fry and the Captain's Lady (Hardcover)
It rivals Jimmy Savile as a British scandal which for decades took place semi-publicly, yet somehow got denied. The `Training Ship Mercury' advertised boarding school education and a "scientific system of character training". Schoolboys chose it and their parents paid the training fees because supposedly in charge was `Commander' C.B. Fry, the ultimate all-rounder sports hero of Edwardian Britain. British Royalty repeatedly visited and awarded honours. In truth, once boys arrived, they were shaved like convicts and subjected to a relentless regime of terror, exhaustion and pain. Ferocious public floggings followed the slightest mistake - or just the arbitrary whim of management. Boys went barefoot in all weather and had to swim in freezing water at night. Some died during `training'. All sorts of harassment routines were devised - deliberately unfair boxing matches, for instance, of the most brutal sort.
This book's author was actually a pupil on the ship, but the book covers very much more than simple description of its cruelties. It's an exploration of how such a school ship from hell could ever come into being - and it's a very strange tale indeed. The book details an earlier Victorian scandal about a wealthy married banker and his under-age mistress and how they dodge prison and trick and bribe their way to stay together. Socially ostracised, they set up this training ship as an enclave where they can forge a new life and redeem their reputations - and raise their growing family discreetly. A glitzy official husband, the famous athlete C.B. Fry, is bought to front the family (amateur sportsmen needed funding somehow!). The ship's regime starts off benign but heads towards hell once the banker dies. His woman, now Mrs Fry, then seeks to prove herself 100% in control of a masculine world through introducing a regime of systematic cruelty - helped by her dreadful daughters. She decorates the venture with Catholic sounding fantasies about the value of pain.
So it's a bizarre, unexpected story with many twists and turns. Generally it's an easy read and often most entertainingly written as it probes the outrageous things which humans can try to get away with. Among the latter is `Commander' Fry's public pose as director in swanky naval uniform, when really he was the merest of figureheads behind his fearsome, much hated wife, who truly ruled the roost.
Unaccountably, somehow the author omits to mention how Hitler Youth visitors once stayed on `Training Ship Mercury'. This occurred after C.B. Fry was asked by Hitler to help forge links with British youth movements. It would be nice to know what the German visitors thought of their experience. For, from this book's account of the `Mercury', life in Dachau, during its early years at least, would compare quite favourably.
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Initial post: 12 May 2013 06:46:19 BDT
JAMES SLOAN says:
It is many years since I read this book (then simply entitled "The Captain's Lady") but my recollectin differs markedly from Moorsman's. Mine was more of a portrait of a remarkable woman, operating in a male- and society-dominated world, and coming out unscathed, if not triumphant. The cruelty he (over, in my opinion) emphasises wa smore casual than premediated and a comment on the times, I feel, rather than on the characters (Fry seemed more unintersted than deliberatly disinterested). As a comment on Edwardian Britain it is both entertaining and valuable, but it is thwoman at the centre of it all. I thoroughly enjoyed it and have lent it (now lost!) to many of my friends, and recommended it to many, so I agree at least with the 5 stars.
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