What Happened

(Part 2 of the Wake Up Series)

He was born in 1899 — just the right timing to become a teenage soldier in the Great War. This despite (or maybe because) his older brother perished in fighting in France in 1915.

Being a soldier would not have been his first choice. With a tongue-tying stammer, the young man we now know as writer Neville Shute failed to be selected for the Royal Flying Corp but, after the war, he studied aeronautical engineering and spent the 1920’s and 30’s learning, designing and understanding the shortcomings of government and aircraft industry leadership. Few engineers find a talent for creative writing and Neville kept a clear boundary between novels and his aircraft engineering — at one stage working for Barnes Wallis later of Dam-Busters’ Bouncing Bomb fame. But in 1938 he faced a personal dilemma.

It may be difficult nowadays to fully understand the constraints of a class-ridden society. Neville understood very clearly that World War II was on the horizon but he also knew that most folk had no grasp of the likely reality. ‘Being in denial’, we’d now say but back then newspapers and the radio left folks deeply uniformed.

Neville’s 1938 story was met with outraged protests — particularly from people in Southampton. Unnecessary scaremongering /project fear / no real problem / nothing to worry about / some distant problems in faraway countries with people of whom we know very little . . . his novel envisioning the aftermath of bombing raids collided with comfortable but ignorant complacency. To some this ‘who does he think he is’ writer was branded an enemy of the people. What happened to the Corbett’s later proved to be remarkably accurate.

Today that Neville Shute book is rarely mentioned — Wikipedia’s reference is just a single bibliographic line — but as a wake-up call it reminds us of the huge challenge now confronting us. Part 1 of this series cited the World War 1 recruitment poster reminding each and everyone of us that we will have to answer to our children and grandchildren. That brief blog urged communities to pull together regardless of national misguided management and party ideologies. It also referenced the long overdue need to rebalance power away from the centre and build stronger local leadership.

Neville Shute did not join protest marches. He didn’t write to The Editor. He couldn’t tweet his outrage. But he could write a story and get it published in short order. You, yes you, could use @Judi_Sutherland’s graphic thread to start conversations in your community. And the writers amongst you could interpret the impending disaster in ways that are relevant for your community.

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Link back to Wake Up, Part 1

Part 3 of the Wake Up series will focus on the challenges of obliviousness.

[picture credit: Wikipedia ]