FIRST CONTACT (1943)When America entered the war and US forces began arriving in Britain, it was inevitable that SF fans would be among the new arrivals and that they would endeavour to link up with their local counterparts, thus bringing about the very first in-person meetings between members of our two fandoms. Corporal Norman 'Gus' Willmorth - posted to a US Army base just outside Norwich, East Anglia - and a former Director of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society (see his brief contemporary self-penned resume here) would be the first American fan UK fans had ever met. Below is Gus' own account of those meetings. Additional material has been added from wartime newszine FUTURIAN WAR DIGEST, which J.Michael Rosenblum published from his Grange Terrace home in Leeds.
|From FAN SLANTS #2 (Feb '44) ed. Mel Brown (USA):|
AMBLING THRU ALBION
Part 1: CAVORTING IN COSMOS LANDI missed the Saturday dance, for I was aboard the LNER London bound (LNER - the London & North Eastern Railway - was the company that ran the east coast main line and its associated spur lines at this time.). I spent the night at the Victory Red Cross Club, and in the morning took off for Teddington, arriving there at 11:30 o'clock, and sat down with a copy of 'Science Fiction' to polish off those stories that I had not already read.
At twelve, E.Frank Parker dashed up with hand ourstretched. So for a quarter of an hour or thereabouts, we sat and gazed at one another while talking of science fiction. E. Frank is a thin character - not the skinny lathe-like type, but lacking in flesh so that the contours of his facial boss seem to show rather well. Not cadaverous but distinguishing. Shortly J. K. Aiken appeared and we retired to the local pub to discuss our affairs over a glass of bitter.
In his folder JK had the CSC issue of BEYOND in the pre-publication stage. The cover is an excellent fantasy of faces in prisms - somewhat the effect that one gets on looking into a prismic mirror except that each facet of the prism does not reflect a complete picture as does a mirror -tho faces are made up of prism angles, this by Turner, with whose excellent work in VoM and ToW and other British fan publications you are no doubt familiar. The interior has some fair illustrations as well as some of a more amateur nature. Not having read the stories - although in the future I shall be on the mailing list and have that oppurtunity - I cannot say just how they are. Contributors include Peter Hawkins, and Aiken, such is the depth of my knowledge concerning the contents. It is gigantic for a fan mag, there are some 125 to 140 pages which would make mimeographing it a tremendous task. Since there are only six copies put out per issue needless to say they are collectors items.
For myself I drew forth the latest veemail letter from Ackerman, newsy as it is and let it spread the news of doings In Shangri-La and elsewhere. The death of Merrit, folding of Unk and the excellent condition of the LASFS were discussed, and then we departed for the apartments of Parker and Aiken.
Parker was left on his corner in Teddington, and JK and I proceeded by bus to his abode in East Molesly. Aiken's nice little abode contained a very good cook, in the person of his wife, and a cat named Scram. Aiken is apparently an inveterate reader - he has several shelves filled with books, stf and otherwise, including 30 volumes of Verne, Wells, Stapledon and others. Fan and pro mags were heaped in one corner. With true English hospitality, I was quickly washed and offered tea. After a delicious dinner, we discussed you know what.
The evening passed swiftly and I soon found myself on a bus headed back to to the Parker residence. After arriving at 6 Greytiles, I was introduced to Mrs Parker and junior Parker. While Mrs Parker dashed off for tea, Frank and I discussed more stf. Parker had placed a story with a London publishing house and it should be out some time soon. Both JK and Parker have incipent plans to visit America after the war. JK is, incidentally, American born, of Cape Cod vintage, although he has resided in England since his seventh year. Parker's position with the Paint Research company is a travelling one, that may entail foreign visits after the war. This may be news but the COSMOS CLUB is a direct outgrowth of the war. When the war started the incoming stf mags became hard to get and Parker and several other members of his company found that they were all interested in stf, and so formed a group to raise funds for a mailing library. It has slowly increased by additions of outsiders and after a time meetings were held and BEYOND was instituted. Fairly recently, the club was christened the COSMOS CLUB. At the present the club is in about the same stage as the LASFS was prior to the aquiring of the club room. The club in not a very closely knit unit, distance and travelling conditions making this impossible. However the war has caused them to grow together; whereas before they hardly knew each other existed.
There was a meeting scheduled at Teddington's Shirley's where a bit of beer was to be consumed. But other than Jean Murray no one showed up. We endeavoured to visit the BFS library but as the librarian was ill, we were unsuccessful. The main topic of discussion was Jean's illustration for the story, in the next issue of BEYOND, "Spirits in the Cellar". JK informed me that the next meeting of the CSC would be October 30, followed by the annual meeting on December 11.
As I had to catch the train for London, we broke it up at ten and went to the station, just missing the train. While waiting the half hour for the next one we sat in the waiting room and talked. Upon its arrival I left for the RC.
The next day I invaded a book store and spent my last cash for the English edition of 'Sinister Barrier', 'The Devil Rides Out', and 'The Pursuit of the Houseboat'. 'The Devil Rides Out' is a 'Dr. Doolittle' type of yarn.
And so finally home to bed without a cross brace in my back this time.
Part 2: LEAVE TO LEICESTERSeptember 18, 1943, your correspondent departed for the City of Leicester and a meeting with Roy Rowland Johnson. From Thetford we boarded the train to Leicester (pronounced Lester). The train dawdled along to Peterborough where connection was made to Leicester on a train that stopped at every rabbit hole and there are considerably more rabbit holes in England than there are in Australia. On this I consider myself an authority.
Upon arriving at my destination, a littlo after eight in the evening, I stepped from the train, hailed a taxi, and reached for the address book wherin the address of R.R. Johnson was to be found. Pocket book, handkerchief and change were found.......but no address book. No number on Kimberley Road could be dragged forth.......TRAGEDY.
Dashing madly into a telophone booth, I searched the records only to find that the stork had been particularly kind to the clan Johnson. But in all those there was no Johnson on Kimberley Road. Then came the second great search, the usual hunt for a bed in a crowded English city. The expedition was a success after finding a bed that was not to be occupied, I spent the night at the YMCA. Or rather spent the night on a modified version of a park bench.
After dining at the YMCA, at eight o'clock I put in a long distance call to my top sergeant in an effort to have that worthy see if he could locate the missing address book, After two calls at the price of 3/2 my efforts were rewarded. I afterwards discovered that this particulr Johnson family had previously lived in Coventry, and had only moved here because of transportation difficulties. Arriving at the Johnson home, I was ushered in and offered a cup of tea. Roy gave me the latest 'Astounding' and went off to finish his breakfast.
The day was spent discussing science-fiction, America, music, fans and fencing, his favorite sport, and various other subjects. The Midventonn, held at Leicester because of his influence. There was an attendance of 15 and an auction was held. We looked through several fanzines, all of which have a definite Ackermanish taint (taint good neither).
In the afternoon a freind named Peter came over and by the time I arrived at the station I had as usual missed both trains to Norwich and as usual I was left in Leicester for the night. I finally found a train for London, so saying adieu I was on my way to Norwich the hard way - via London. Arrived in London at one o'clock, and changed train for Norwich.
It had been a warm and sunny day in Leicester, but when I arrived in Norwich it was as usual drizzling. And so ended another adventure in the late train life of Gus the Undaunted.
Part the Third: WANDERING IN WALESAt 5pm on the evening of October 9, I set off on my journey to Aberystwyth. Boarding the train for London - anywhere you go in England you go via London - I was on my slap-hapy way. Things were progressing well until I arrived in London. There I found that the train I was to take didn't run on Saturday. I was instructed to go to Chester, arriving there at 3.45am. After a half-hour inquiry, I found that I was stuck with it. There was no train anywhere that would get me to Aberystwyth. The only conection leading into the city was from Oswestry, and that junction was some thirty miles away - and no way to get there.
I spoke to an English sergeant and discovered that he too was going to Oswestry, having also missed his train. His case was somewhat worse than mine - he had a 36 hour pass and was supposed to be back by midnight - tsk, tsk. However, he knew of a paper van that was going our way for some 12 of the 28 miles. at six-thirty we arrived at a little hamlet where the paper truck stopped and we proceeded by hoof then via a bus that carried us 3 miles. Next a milk truck stoped at our beckoning thumb - this time we dispersed milk as we rode. Four miles out we turned off. By a pedestrian's watch it was now 7am and the train was due to leave at 7.05. However there was some consolation in the fact that the train would probably be late as it conected to a mail train, and mail trains are always late. Proceeding up the road we encountered a character standing alongside of it who was waiting for a bus that carried war workers to a certain factory in Oswestry. Eagerly we enquired about our chances for a ride and learned that since there would not be many workers this Sunday morning chances were very good. And such was so. Arriving in Oswestry, I bid the sergeant adieu and made the train with time to spare.
After getting aboard the train, a merchant marine captain offered me a spot in his first class cabin so I rode first class from there. He had served several years on the Great Lakes and had lost a ship in the southern Pacific. He was on his way home after four months at sea and was quite happy about it.
I finally arrived in Aberystwyth only an hour late and was greeted at the platform by Sydney Beach and Bob Silburn. Syd is six-one and Bob is even taller - I felt slightly outnumbered. Greetings were exchanged and we slipped away to the Beach residence where I was shown to some water and given HAM AND EGGS for breakfast. After breakfast we discussed sundry affairs while seeing the town and strolling the beach. Wales is a scenic country with its many hills. The hillsare not as large as what they have in most parts of the US but compared with other parts of Britain they are really quite outstanding. The country hill people are quite backward - most of them can speak no English - but the people are for the most part English. Both Beach and Silburn are English, understanding very little Welsh.
Standing on the end of the pier gazing over Cardigan Bay, Beach told me a story that ancient tale-tellers have been telling for centuries. Fantasy has often used a modification of this same tale. There used to be a peninsula of land closing the mouth of Cardigan Bay upon which there used to be a city, ancient and evil. As the years went by this tract of land started to sink slowly into the sea. The people caused a tremendous wall to be built to keep out the ea. However, one night a gatekeeper, who had become excessively drunken in his carousal allowed the gates to remain open and the tide rushed in wiping the ancient and evil metropolis out. Natives still claim that on a clear day the walls of the town can still be seen beneath the waves and at times the sound of bells can be heard from the inundated town. It is said that a person for whom the bell tolls is doomed to die - suddenly.
(It's quite breathtaking to read Willmorth judging Welsh-speakers backwards and labelling those of us who don't speak the language as English. Wrong in both cases - Rob.)
Next morning, after more ham and eggs Syd, (who) had to go to work dispensing petrol at a government station, promised to see me off at the station. Syd, his aunt (who was on her way to the South of England) and I all went to the staion to catch the train. I bid Syd goodbye and was on my way. I arrived at Norwich at 4.30am, just in time to rise with droopy eyes and heavy head.
Part The Ultimate: CARNELL EXPERIENCESUpon the eve of my departure for London to do some serious book hunting, there arrived at these barracks a letter from Ted Carnell informing me that he was not only back from Italy but also there was to be a slan gathering at the apartment of Frank Edward Arnold, in London, on the twentieth of November to which I was most cordially invited. In as much as this coincided with my already completed plans, I accepted as expediently as possible. Also to be present were Ken Chapman, Maurice Hugi; Sid Birchhy, Harold Chibbett, Walt Gillings, Art Williams, John Craig, and very probably Canadian fan, Bob Gibson.
Apparently there were big things doing on that date. We had to be there.
Accompanied by a GI Joe by the name of Sgt. Samuel Swartz, who evidenced some interest in the world of fandomania, I spent a little more than five hours getting into London. As the hour was ate, we did not go to the Carnell residence, but instead prepared to spend the night at the Red Cross Club, (The next day I learned that the Carnells had waited up until midnight for us). I had endeavoured to make a phone call to Ted but had met with little success. (That is exept with the girl at the switchboard, a charming miss and student of wolfology.
Saturday morning early we proceeded to go book hunting and I wound up with 17 more to add to the Wilmorth collection. Around eleven o'clock we tried looking up Arnold, but he was not at home. We then proceeded to Plumstead and the abode of Ted Carnell. When we arrived he was getting his locks clipped, seems they were beautiful upon his return from Italy. From thence until 5:00 we talked and tead. Than we returned to London where Sammy left us for the more obvious pleasures of tripping the light fantastic with the local babes. Ted and I finally found our way thru fog and blackout to the Arnold apartment.
From there things turned into a regular fan meeting. Due to the fog and the fact that several had to work, the attendance was not as large as had been hoped for. However showing up were: Irene and Ted Carnell, Frank Arnold, Sgt. Sid Birchby, Mr. and Mrs. Chibbett, Harold Kay, and myself. From six till ten there was reville - topped by a couple of mugs of beer - and the meeting broke up after a suitable exchange of fannery and stuff, myself bearing away triumphantly Arnold's copy of Thorne Smith's, 'Rain In The Doorway'.
I returned to Carnell's for the night. After looking over his collection, including an 'Astounding' original, I left for Chapman's and he for Medhurst's.
George Medhurst is a thin chap, not very healthy looking, possibly because of a recent appenductomy. George has a large book collection - 7 or 8 shelves - much of it non stf. I left at 6:00 to get the last train back to the base.
EDITORS NOTE: Gus Willmorth was formerly Director of the LASFS, now in England with the American forces. The four episodes presented here have been greatly condensed but we have not left out anything but parts of his travels.
|From VOM #30 (March '44, ed. Ackerman & Morojo):|
FIRST ALL--AMERICAN FAN CONFERENCE IN ENGLAND.
After a morning of rummaging around in Foyle's Bookshop, which is perhaps the most famous of the London Bookshops, the LASFS correspondent met Michifan Joiln Millard at the Canadian Beaver Club just off of Trafalgar Square and from thence the body of the conference retired to the streets of London looking for a spot to pass the hours of the meeting favorably. Soon tickets were purchased to the show, "Halfway to Heaven", stage counterpart of the fantasy movie, "Here Comes W. Jordon".
While waiting for the evening to fall and the opening of the next showing, we strolled along the streets dropping in at Foyle's again en route where a couple of purchases were made including a H.G. Wells' "Phoenix" for Ackerman. There was a shelf of Stapledon's "Last and First Men", wartime edition at about a buck and a half. (In as much as I have one none were bought, but as a pal of fandom am always open to suggestions).
Tea was next consumed - strange that both of us drink tea and not coffee in the traditional American manner - and after further small talk, we did go to see "Halfway to Heaven". On the whole it, was a fair show somehow managing to resemble the Hollywood version quite closely. Enclosed and accompanying this letter is a programe of the show listing acts and actors for the edification of those interested and autographed by the complete attendance of the American London conference.
After the show we retired to the underground where we split up to go to our respective service clubs to spend the night.
Next day we again met for dinner and during the course of the afternoon's discussions took in a girlie show, had fish and chips, and looked at a collection of photos of the Michifans, the Chicon, the Leeds meeting of Rosenblum and Willmorth, and the Aberystwyth gathering. There were even pictures of Forrest J. Ackerman shown, both BC & AD. And so late in the afternoon the conference broke up; Willmorth the prepare for the homeward journey and Millard to his club to get set for an evening' seeing "This is The Army".