Here comes Part Five of my serialization of The Riddle of the Sands, Erskine Childers' protean spy novel of Anglo-German intrigue a decade before the Great War. In tonight's episode, Carruthers and Davies steer the Dulcibella into port:
The sting of spray in my eyes and the Babel of noise dazed me; but Davies, with a pull on the fore-sheet, soothed the tormented little ship, and left her coolly sparring with the waves while he shortened sail and puffed his pipe. An hour later the narrow vista of Als Sound was visible, with quiet old Sonderburg sunning itself on the island shore, and the Dybbol heights towering above—the Dybbol of bloody memory; scene of the last desperate stand of the Danes in '64, ere the Prussians wrested the two fair provinces from them.
That would be the Second Schleswig War of 1864, which saw Danish Sønderborg become German Sonderburg (until the 1920 Schleswig plebiscite). Davies stays on board, but Carruthers is eager to see the town:
Here I had fascinating Sonderburg, with its broad-eaved houses of carved woodwork, each fresh with cleansing, yet reverend with age; its fair-haired Viking-like men, and rosy, plain-faced women, with their bullet foreheads and large mouths; Sonderburg still Danish to the core under its Teuton veneer. Crossing the bridge I climbed the Dybbol—dotted with memorials of that heroic defence—and thence could see the wee form and gossamer rigging of the Dulcibella on the silver ribbon of the Sound, and was reminded by the sight that there were stores to be bought. So I hurried down again to the old quarter and bargained over eggs and bread with a dear old lady, pink as a débutante, made a patriotic pretence of not understanding German, and called in her strapping son, whose few words of English, being chiefly nautical slang picked up on a British trawler, were peculiarly useless for the purpose. Davies had tea ready when I came aboard again.
In essence, Carruthers and Davies have made the same advance the Prussians did in 1864 - from Flensburg to Sønderborg - but by sea:
Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear Part Five of our adventure simply by clicking here and logging-in. Earlier episodes of The Riddle of the Sands can be found here, and previous Tales for Our Time here.
I always like the annotations to our tales provided by listeners. Sonderburg wasn't the only bit of real estate going back and forth in those days. Yesterday's map of the Frisian Islands prompted this note from Larry Gavin, a Manx member of The Mark Steyn Club:
I note Heligoland just north of the Frisians. This had been a British possession as a result of British royalty being German.
Why didn't we keep it.......like France keeps St Pierre and Miquelon?! It would have been a great thorn in the side of the EU.
Maybe we could have gone the full China and expanded its area and claimed all those shipping lanes?!
Better to be on the front foot rather than perpetually on the back foot!
Indeed, Larry. Heligoland was taken by the British in the Napoleonic Wars and they held it in order to ward off any French aggression against the German states. By 1890 they were ready to trade it to Germany for more valuable terrain. Hence the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty, which always gives me a laugh if you see it in a book index - because your first thought is: "How the hell did those two wind up going to war with each other?" In fact it was a real estate transfer: the Brits got Zanzibar, the Krauts got Heligoland.
As island colonies go, Heligoland never occupied the same place in the imperial imagination as, say, Ceylon. In some box somewhere or other I've got a bit of moldering sheet music from the Great War: "Let's Knock the Hell Out of Heligoland." Which suggests the British ceased to think of it as British pretty quickly.
Nevertheless, I'm with you, Larry. A British Heligoland would be just the ticket right now, and, in this current woeful UK Tory leadership race, I'd back the first guy who pledged to retake it. How'd you like that backstop, Angela Merkel? Let's use Heligoland to knock the hell out of the EU!
Okay, that's enough saber-rattling. If you'd like to join Larry in The Mark Steyn Club, we'd love to have you: please see here. And, if you've a chum who enjoys classic fiction, we've introduced a special Mark Steyn Gift Membership: you'll find more details here. Oh, and we also do video poetry - and an annual Steyn Club Cruise following our first two sold-out voyages.
Please join me tomorrow evening for Part Six of The Riddle of the Sands.