Item of the month: First world war novel or anonymised memoir: ‘The Crown Prince’s Jewels’

The Sudan Archive recently accessioned the papers of Philip Ingleson (1892-1985) and his wife Gwen (née Fulton, 1896-1986). Philip Ingleson was Governor of Darfur from 1935 until his retirement in 1944, his period in office probably extended due to the war. Unusually, Ingleson also served as governor in Halfa (1931-1932), Berber (1932-1934) and Bahr el Ghazal provinces as well. He thus must be one of the few people to have governed in north, south and west Sudan; he began his career in the Sudan Political Service in 1919 as an Inspector in Um Kedada, Darfur.

Ingleson’s Sudan papers were accompanied by personal and official material from both before his time in Sudan and afterwards when he served in the Ministry of Production and then after the war as a Trade Commissioner and Commercial Advisor in Australia. This month we are looking at the group of his papers that relate to his military service during the First World War. This includes a novel or anonymised memoir titled, slightly mysteriously, ‘The Crown Prince’s Jewels’, an excerpt of which is illustrated here.

The text’s narrative so closely follows Ingleson’s military career and his courtship of his future wife, Gwen Fulton, that it is tempting to consider it as only a lightly anonymised account, but this may be deceptive. The author, “Gwenfil”, relates that the text was written quite late during the war and with an eye to publication. It does not appear that this ambition was in fact ever realised: there was a flood of such memoirs after and even during the war and the market may have been saturated.

First-hand contemporary descriptions of the military campaigns of the First World War are of significant historical value. The account is doubly of interest as Ingleson spent much of the war as a staff officer, and the section describing the fighting retreat of [198th Brigade] during the German 1918 Spring offensive is a useful account from this point of view. Ingleson’s immediate superior in the last months of the war was Brigade Major Anthony Eden, the future prime minister, though of course he is not identified in the text. Visits home on leave are also colourfully described, and it is during these that the romantic side of the story unfolds. The narrative is redolent of the period and with much use of slang; some dialogue is so elliptical as to be almost incomprehensible to today’s reader. Dotted throughout the text are later manuscript inscriptions made by Ingleson as he lifts the veil from some of the anonymisation he had made. Not all of these inscriptions, alas, are legible.

Displayed here is a short section describing the very end of the war as the armistice came into effect in France. Many myths are told about this war and it is good to have some description of how inconsistently the armistice came into effect across many hundreds of miles of front line, and indeed around the world.

One of the writer’s concerns throughout the novel are his career prospects – particularly in representing himself to his future wife’s family. In the novel the protagonist ‘Gwenfil’ is selected for the Indian Civil Service, a slightly more august service than the Sudan Political Service, and which served as its model. In fact it is remarkable how much Indian colonial service attitudes, precedents and legislation influenced the early British administration in Sudan. Ingleson was one of an unusual generation joining the Sudan Political Service after the war, many with years of hard modern military experience which will have been unknown to their pre-war predecessors in Sudan. Stepping back from positions of relative seniority in the British Army to the first rung of a career ladder in a small place like Um Kedada must have been hard, for them and probably their superiors as well. War-time activity in Sudan had been restricted to one small military campaign that invaded and annexed Darfur in 1916.

The text is dedicated to the author’s mother “and the C.P.J.” [Crown Prince’s Jewels]. The final chapter is titled “I find the jewels”, and ends with his reunion with his betrothed, “Then down the lighted pathway I walked into the glory of her arms, and once again for us merged in the infinite – a happy auspice for our future – time stood still.”

For more, see the P. and G. Ingleson collection summary and the Sudan Archive

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