…the Mock Turtle went on at last, more calmly, though still sobbing a little now and then, “we went to school in the sea…”*

*in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).

From: Noel Coward – a Biography (1995), by Philip Hoare:

(1930) Noel persuaded the navy to let them travel ‘Grey Funnel’ on the ship from Shanghai to Hong Kong. It was an environment in which he may have felt at home: his grandfather Henry Gordon Veitch had after all spent twenty years in the navy, and a great-uncle had been an admiral. Indeed in his encounters with the navy from now on can be seen Coward’s preparation for his wartime role as Captain Kinross in In Which We Serve…

In Singapore…Coward…made friends with an English touring company, the Quaints, among whom was a young John Mills, who was to become a protégé of Noel’s. Coward was persuaded to play Stanhope in their production of Journey’s End. R.C. Sherriff’s play was one of the first to deal with the still traumatic memory of the war, and William Bolitho’s influence encouraged Noel in the role… ‘I gave a sort of lachrymose, sobbing performance,’ he recalled…The critics tendered ‘polite notices’…

Certain sections of Singapore society were also displeased…The governor’s wife, Lady Clementi…alleged that Sherriff’s play was a ‘vile libel’ on the British army, and attacked Coward personally for playing Stanhope. ‘None of our soldiers ever drank in the 1914 war’, she insisted, claiming personal knowledge from her father, who had been a general. Coward turned to Amherst, who had served in the trenches, and asked if he could confirm this particular statement. ‘Never drew a sober breath’, Amherst answered. Lady Clementi visibly bristled, and lunch ended quickly.”

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