Chesham Road in Berkhamsted has, unusually, associations with three celebrity writers. Just up the road from Graham Greene’s birthplace and Richard Mabey’s school was Beechcroft, the home of William Wymark Jacobs. He used to be a household name. From late Victorian times to the 1930s he was an extremely popular humourist, novelist and playwright; and from 1914 to 1929 he lived with Nell his wife and their five children in Berkhamsted.
Following a brief resume of Jacobs’ career, this article gives a flavour of his skills by reproducing one of his stories, a rare one, set in Berkhamsted. It’s a brilliantly composed, wry and affectionate look at billeting some of the soldiers stationed in the town while training with the Inns of Court Officers Training Corps (IOCOTC). Here is just a snippet:
Sept. 21. — Private Montease in bed all day. Cook anxious “to do her bit” rubbed his chest with home-made embrocation. Believe it is some stuff she rubs chests in hall with. Smells the same anyway.
Sept. 24. — Private Montease, complaining of slight rawness of chest, but otherwise well, returned to duty.
Oct. 5. — Cough worse again. Private Montease thinks that with care it may turn to bronchitis.
Oct. 6. — Private Montease relates uncanny experience. Woke up with feeling of suffocation to find an enormous black-currant and glycerine jujube wedged in his gullet. Never owned such a thing in his life. Seems to be unaware that he always sleeps with his mouth open.
Norman Groves, Chronicle, v.XIV, pp.8-15