‘The Hero of Garside School’ by James Harwood Panting

This book was first published in 1907, at the height of the British Empire, when the storm-clouds which burst in the form of the Great War were already gathering. Indeed, it was only two years later – and five years before World War I started – that MI5 was set up to monitor the activity of Germans in the UK. There was, therefore, widespread concern at the time about spies. We have no information what sort of impact the book had when it first came out. It is clearly a product of its time, but it still makes a good read.

It was written for boys and its hero was a schoolboy, Paul Percival, who attended a minor public school. Throughout the vicissitudes which he faced, Paul was noble, courageous and upright, by contrast with some of his unpleasant fellow-pupils. An interesting feature is that one of his main friends, Hibberd, suffered a physical disability, and Paul became involved in protecting him when he was bullied by the baddies. Paul was clearly meant to be a model for the boys reading the book.

While much of the action is set in Garside School, the thriller theme is that a foreign power was involved in espionage, spying on the British Navy, and Paul accidentally became embroiled. It will not detract greatly from your reading of the book to know that Mr Weevil, a teacher at the School, was one of the baddies, and that the chief spy was named Israel Zuker, a name which authors would probably avoid today. In the final denouement, the spy, “with a cry that long lingered in Paul’s ears”, threw himself from a burning battleship into the sea and was drowned.

The book is fascinating in the sidelights it throws on education and family life in Edwardian England, but it is also a good story, and has now been read with enjoyment by at least four generations in the reviewer’s family.

Panting, J. Harwood (1907) The Hero of Garside School

Republished by Dodo Press (2009)

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