My copy is a 1st edition printed in 1942, by Duckworth during the second world war, a time when paper like everything else was in short supply. Although a hard back, it has not stood the tests of time well, warping and stained along its outer leaves. The cover is slightly torn and missing a piece from the back, a “bombed” book reflecting the subject matter.
As a tale it is stark, verging in places in outright propaganda, one of the reasons it was probably published at all, as the paper shortage caused by the war was by this time acute. The metaphor is obvious, England, besieged, frightened, as embattled as the castle.
The themes of the story are huge; those of grief, loss, anger, pride, patriotism, courage. But under pinning them all is the perpetual theme of all of Elizabeth’s books, her central core, that good homes, secure homes, house families.
Elizabeth had thought and prayed a great deal about the war. She was dedicated in her research and depth of reading. She understood the political and economic situations better than most people, certainly most people in her strata of society. She empathised with the plight of refugees, the disposed, a personification of which are found in the characters of Miss Brown and Mr Isaacson.
You can still visit the castle, Berry Pomeroy in Devon, high on its crag in the woods. It is reputedly one of the most haunted places in England. Elizabeth loved it so much she moved to write one of her rare poems about the place after visiting it often.
Hid deep in the heart of the woods, haunted and old,
The shell of a Castle stills stands, a story told,
Built high on a rock in the woods, frozen and cold.
Deep are the night-dark shadows under the wall,
Breathlessly whispering downwards the snowflakes fall,
Shrouding the desolate towers in a stainless pall.
Fearful within me my own heart, failing, has died,
I too in the woods am frozen, bereaved, sore tried.
Alone here…… There in the shadows, who was it sighed?
There, in the bastioned walls where the gateway stands,
Are there shadows within its shadows, weaving the strands
Back through the loom of past sorrow with pain worn hands?
Shadows weeping a world grown cold and stark with pain,
Mourning once more the lights put out, put out again,
The loveliness broken and lost, the young men slain.
Has sorrow alone lived here for a hundred years?
Is only hatred immortsl, men’s craven fears?
Only the weeping of women, their uesless tears?
Not winter only reigns here in this haunted place,
As the cold clouds part, defeated, the sunbeams lace
The dark trees with their diamond light, touch the worn face
Of the frozen stone with colour, with azure fire
Of spring-times long past,yet alive, the hot desire
Of summers never forgotten, hopes that aspire
For ever, courage unbeaten, valour aflame,
The unshaken victory of the men who name
Holy things to their strength…….Nor fear, nor hate nor shame
Is theirs…. I see the flashing of arms on the wall,
Hear the deep roar of the conflict, the thrilling call,
Of the silver trumpet sounding high on the tall
Towers of God’s immortal fortress, that he made
Against the evil out of the love of men laid
At his feet, their sweat, their blood to the last drop paid.
For this is the rock that for all time man defends,
The rock of his soul against which all evil spends
Its fury in vain in the warfare that never ends.
And these the embattled walls that the heroes trod,
Swift winged with flame, their feet with the gospel shod,
For this is the house of all life, the house of God.
Lift up, lift up ypur constant hearts, the trumpet cries,
Lift them up to the shining walls, the sun drenched skies,
For beyond the night for ever the sun will rise.