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It's time for the reader's Allman act with Warren Bauer. Originally broadcast over station WNYC New York and distributed by national educational radio. The reader's almanac is America's oldest continuous book program. Here now is Mr. Bauer one of the interesting things about having done this program for a number of years is that I can follow the work of writers who have individualized themselves to me over the period of two or three or more books. For example my present guest is a novelist Mary Lee subtle. She came into my can when she published the first of what came to be a trilogy of novels late in West Virginia where she was born in a book called All Beulah Land. It's full body deeply satisfying story of early days in that state. Now this was followed by Know-Nothing the second in the series and then two years or so ago the climax of that series in fight night on a sweet Saturday. Two novels had preceded this trilogy The love eaters in the kiss of kin and now has been published a book which must have been nagging at Miss Suttles minds and
plans a piece of autobiography called all the brave promises memories of an American woman as an aircraft a woman in the British service in World War 2 which is just lately been published by Della court press. This musta been an obligatory book one that had to be written but needed to be seized and the memories sorted out and shaken down or maybe aged like new wine finally made potable in this case considered the whole experience seen in perspective and highly readable. This gives me another opportunity to have Miss Mary Lee settle on this program and so call attention again to a writer who has a great deal of the some of the significant to say whether in novels or nonfiction you settle often as I was reading along through this book. I thought of your sense of timing and working on this material. Did you conceive of this material as a kind of something for an in-between book
something that was fit in between two novels perhaps or maybe a change of pace something that was secure in your memory and could be turned to any time you had a fallow period. Was there some reason for its having been turned to now or a years old go. Yes there was. It wasn't that I had it in my mind for a long time as a farm. I had it and my mind as an idea for a long time because I had always from 1945 on been distressed at the fact that war itself is never told about that the state of war is never told about. I didn't know whether I could do it or not. And also I felt some humiliation about the fact that my own experiences didn't seem to be as dramatic or as world shaking as the experiences of the people who people used to reading war stories from. And then I suddenly realized that my experience was the experience of the great majority of people
who have to do with war and that if I could speak for myself maybe I could speak for them. Now as you know it took nine years to write the trilogy and it kept nagging at me through the time. I tried several times to start it it's very painful material it wasn't easy to recall without nostalgia and without any kind of self protection but I felt it was necessary and it was especially you use the word obligatory and it certainly was obligatory to me now to write it because I could see my country becoming more and more chauvinist ache about war again. It was beginning the national psyche to me was beginning to read like those headlines that had been so untrue and so terrifying at the time. I think it takes a long time to write about what I did after the first world war. And it's taken even longer after this one. I was going to ask you some such question is what the writing of this book accomplished for
you but you said it in very large part at any rate you read it yourself or some nagging memories and you've also had something to say about war which is very important strikes me in this book. Don't you feel that that's what you were talking about. Yes you know he enforced this woman who said How do I know what I think till I see what I write. I really tried to write in to the attitude that I had about war without being completely negative about it. And I hope I've done it. It turns out I think to be an extremely and take conscription book. Yes. Let me ask you another question which is perhaps related to this kind of technique. How was all this recall accomplished Did you have diaries of the experience in the British army and you were tempted to write some of it if not all of it before and so had something started to finish some time when you could bring yourself to the job. No I had a guide. First I had an an intellectual
guide in Proust's contrails so have if you remember the beginning of that he talks about Proustian memory his kind of memory. What can turn on. What I will differentiate and call recall instead of memory memory being an intellectual thing I remember that I was in the women's AF force in the second world war. Recall is the allowing of it to come back quite cleanly I was shocked and surprised at how much came back I had no notes at all and I'm sure strangely enough that if I had written it at the time it would have been a different book and a less honest one. That's very interesting I wonder why you say that. I think it takes a long time to face one's memories. It would have been highly conceptual book. I still would have been so much a part of it that I might have been defensive. I couldn't possibly have allowed myself to remember certain of those things
especially the signal shot part until I was completely well or psychically well off it. Then I was able to go back yes. I think perhaps that this might be called a footnote to history. And of course it's also an estimate of the resourcefulness of English people. And somewhere maybe it was the blurb writer said it was a tribute to a whole generation. If that's true then I think it is. I would have to say it is a thoroughly balanced one with an notice of unlovely traits as well as courage and doggedness. That's why I react against the word tribute which your blurb writer felt called upon to you is I don't think it is quite that because tribute means honor Lloyd praise and that's not what you have in all the brave promises is it. You know I suddenly think of what they have said about the word assault a gallon she would have let go over something very worth hearing I know very well.
Why did you as you think back now why did you join the Women's Auxiliary arm of the Royal Air Force. Now that you look back on it I think you need to say that for those persons who haven't yet read your book. Well you know I thought about this again for what twenty two years I suppose. And as I started to write the book it came back to me. The reason that I joined up and I think I would think I would do it again. I think that the Second World War unlike the Cold War sense was something in which everybody had a chance to take a side which people really cared about in a way in these highly technical was full of words and people far away they haven't since this was a very immediate war. I tried to join the American wax but they wouldn't have me because
I was blind in one eye and 20 pounds underweight. So I joined the British forces because if you could at that point they'd been in a war that was 942 than they'd been it wasn't 1939 and if you could walk in you were in. Well what you have written here is a very honest report. It was good in the bad in the experience mixed as it was in reality. On the whole there were more that could be called harrowing and oppressive than you might have felt were warm and human it seems to me. But of course your relationship with the gals in no wife was warm and human right with some of them at any rate. But the way you felt about the war as a whole. Well I suppose harrowing and oppressive it was because war is always that way isn't it. I think there was some reason back then and maybe what I was trying to dig for was that reason why. A whole generation of people have someway lost the peace and
why whole generation of people have gone through years of psychic shock since not enough works of art a few too many suicides. I fatigue so deep that I think that in recalling the causes of it I may I hope be doing a service to the other people that may recall it through reading the book. Did you feel that at the time at any rate. I wonder how you feel about it now. Was the was not war for world good moral purpose at least a more defensible one than the wars we get into our in these days. I think certainly but I didn't know it until I started to write a book. That's very interesting indeed. It was a tremendous outpouring of energy into which you felt you had to take a some sort of a role. Yes and I think that the paradox is although the generation that fought it may have been exhausted for a long time. The people around them and the
generation and when I speak of generation as I'm speaking of 10 years apart the people who had no part in it seem to me to have been less alive since the war. Now you have some quite rough things to say about the British lower class people ones anyway. I remember your telling of that new wife is up the way they usually pronounced in the West. I wife c o o whose first act was to tighten discipline and instituted a packed realm and you were saying there was a little physical brutality in the punishment. But the one Anglo-Saxon torture which goes beyond physical brutality is humiliate and humiliation. Now that scene of the girl came in two hours late being drilled about the huge square was absolutely devastating to me. I felt for deeply. I must say. But aren't you dealing with a military mind here which may be different in various countries but is
equally brutal. No I'm yes I'm dealing with a brutal military mind. I can still almost not recall that five foot. Tall Girl at twilight on the parade ground I remember her as if I saw her half an hour ago without horror. You see we Americans and I say we Americans because we haven't really experienced war. We think of war in terms of turning on the television and seeing two Marines taking another one out of the jungle and you can hardly tell the difference. And that scene and the one you saw last night on The Late Show which was two Marines who were actors taking another actor out of the jungle. You know there's very little difference very little difference. The reality of one single human being put down for one single minute by a force without a
brain. But with power and with the power of unquestioned habit to me is the horror against a human being just along this line that tell the story of an 18 year old boy volunteer from Canada. The same sort of stupid and brutal treatment that he got it was like that story was like throwing a stone in the water. Somebody made a mistake and the mistake reverberated and reverberated until everybody started protecting themselves. What he did was see the girl who and I can't I still can't believe it it's twenty two years since it happened and I still have tears in my eyes when I think about that girl. He saw her. He was 18. I volunteer as I was. This was not what we had come 3000 miles to fight for. It was a horror and he wrote a letter. One of those wrote Time letters that was
probably heavily censored and this one certainly was very little understood by the people who might have got it at home trying to tell something of that cold disappointment. The letter was censored at Group Headquarters. And the boy who after all it only written a letter home to his family was called in before the commanding officer who was a squadron leader Wing Commander wait a minute. Air Commodore an air and air commodore was another name for the Angel Gabriel. At that one time and just about as human this shy boy was brought in before the air commodore who told him that he had been guilty of a crime and that crime was called quote spreading dissension in a major dominion. One boy one girl at twilight on a parade ground capable of quote spreading dissension in a major dominion.
He was got got on a technicality he had said that he'd seen a girl doing Pachter which indeed he had. What he did not explain to his family in Canada was that female pact reall was different than male Impacto doesn't this begin to sound like calf goes the castle. It certainly does. Because females did not carry were not armed. We only carried gas equipment and packs and greatcoat and so forth. We did not carry a rifle therefore the picture of male Pachter was a little bit different in the picture a female pack trail. Well the boy was frightened anyway and then the Air Commodore which is King's Regulations gave him his choice between taking his punishment or a court martial. Now a court martial to an aircraft one second class is a thing of as great Terra as an Air Commodore is. They don't realize and nobody tells you that it's the troops protection against this kind of thing.
What the boys should have done was accept a court martial. But he was too terrified to do it so he accepted his punishment. His punishment was twenty eight days at Charly detention barracks and I'm sure somewhere somebody's listening to me when I say the word Charlie detention barracks gets the same kind of chill. It was a room or a place whether it was as bad as it was made out there was an investigation into it later. I don't know but it was a thing that struck Tara. Into Toops who were in danger of going that made me feel cold as I read I must say what I did. I don't want to leave the impression to your listeners that this is a bitterly complaining account of military experience alone. There are tales in all the brave promises which are stirring and rousing or amusing in a quiet way or howlingly funny. I remember one small bit which is characteristic of Miss subtle skill and subject matter. She speaks of the C o at
the Air Station where she was who decided to do something for the morale of the weft cooks and took them for a ride flying them around the county. They all got sick and no Mary Lee I'll leave the punchline to you since it's yours. I'll try to remember that I think it was. It served them right. They'd spent all of their time making us say That's it. And I'm sure that I'll never forget that harrowing experience of bringing down the machines caught in an impenetrable fog at the airbase was fuel running low but still circling. Many of the planes were talked down but the climax of that story is too horrible to tell on the air. But just the experience of your talking them down or trying to which was a lot much more a lot more difficult in those days than it is now I know. Oh yeah Bradley that is makes makes quite a story. Can I ask you a question yes. Did you get from that chapter
that this whole sense of discipline and training without training are allowing the ability to think for oneself. Yes I did. Oh good because this is really I mean the horrifying ending happened to be a true ending to it but it was that quality of people being out there it was like it was like the 18 year old Adam and people who are not thinking for themselves I'm sure that the Air Commodore had somebody above him that he was having knowledge just to have all the time. I promised the son that somewhat funny story and I would like to ask you if you recall that story which you printed as an international misunderstanding. Well before why don't I. Is it possible to read it is need. Ok fine I have time. By the way all of this book is true. Now read it.
There was one Russian attached to the station. No one quite knew why he was there. He wandered around looking lonely in his brown uniform his red color almost invisible on his shorts neck like one sad eyed leftover from an Asiatic horde. One evening he asked me to go for a walk. We walked on and on he half as tall and twice as wide as I was. We walked silently over three or four miles of fields as if it were a job. The Puritan from the East had met the Puritan from the west and we stopped through the pretty fields on a good utilitarian route march for two. Finally we stopped at a stile to rest. I want you he said as one pig wants no other. My dear young men I said I am not a pig. I left him there by the star wondering at the West and marched back alone to the station. Very good story.
And then on the last page of your book The scene where you were on your way to the American Office of War Information to London to the cocktail parties and the conferences and the frenetic turmoil of people who had names and thought they were running the juggernaut of war which was only spending itself toward its own death like a great tiring unleaded beast just plain writing in there I must say. And then you saw your friend Viv and she said What did she say. He said I had to get some in. We'd better translate that last I prayed for this it was what the troops called out to civilians it meant only a dirty civilian get some time in another words join up the hole and it with this it was it was a creed to catch. It was all she wanted things she couldn't tell me. I thought that she wanted them to share of the troubles and difficulties and all that. Well they were having their own troubles and difficulties. And then you close your book by saying I never saw any of them again. But
you have had them I think much in mine since writing this book. It may be when the book is published in London. I think you told me that it is going to be that some of them will see it and remember as you have done you think that might happen. Would you be delighted if it would would you like to see them again. Well I think that there will be a hundred girls who remember themselves as if all of the names have been scrambled in this book. And it left me free to say things that I couldn't have said otherwise I'm sure. 50 a half year old school think they went hollow over water. It's wonderful to make up English place names. By the way I was going to do almost anything you want it's like something that is place name. Yes I think this will happen I've had some experience of it already by people from England who. Or in England who have read the book and what it makes them remember is not my war but their war and the more they can remember their own and become free of
it. A man wrote to me and he said I have peace of mind about that time for the first time since the war. The more they can remember their own war and become free of it the more service I have done by this book. I suspect that some twenty years after war is probably a very good time to write it in a little bit like Stephen Crane maybe or further away. It's so funny because Stephen Crane remember the Civil War as a very small child didn't he. Yes he was supposed to have done so he lived through that part of it in any rate but he couldn't have experienced it at all except to imagine natively that he did certainly. This is the reason that I think that the generation over 40 in England and maybe here. Have something to gain from this book and the generation under 25 or 6 suddenly are able to read it because it's the deepest early childhood memory is one of the question I think I must ask you for our listeners all the brave promises is that ironic
Atong title. Oh yes do you remember where it came in the book. Yes I do. And I just wanted you to say Oh certainly it's ironic because I had gone three thousand miles thinking that I was fighting for democracy and I'm not being cynical at this point because indeed I was and I hope I still am because what I found out was that these these fights are in. I think I called it the country of the mind. They aren't in any special place. And when I saw a UEFA office get up in the sex lecture which starts out to be funny and ends up to me at that point a horrifying remark about American negroes I felt that there had been no use in leaving home. And I have felt often since that the real lesson I learned was there was a never a. Well thank you Mary Lee settled for this chance to talk with you again after a book of yours has been published. The book we have been talking about is all the brave promises published by Della
court press a book recalling the writer's experiences of the woman's I'm going to air force in 1902 in England. And next Monday I will be back with another interview with an author of a significant book of our time. Until then good reading to you. You heard Warren Bauer and author Mary Lee settle as they discuss the book all of the brave promises. This was another program in the series the reader's almanac on our next program Mr. Bauer's guest will be Shane Stevens author of godown dead the reader's almanac is produced by Warren Bauer and is originally broadcast by station WNYC in New York. The programs are made available to this station by national educational radio. This is the national educational radio network.
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Reader's almanac
May Lee Settle
Producing Organization
WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program focuses on author Mary Lee Settle.
Series Description
A literature series featuring interviews with authors, poets, and others in the literary world.
Media type
Host: Bower, Warren
Interviewee: Settle, Mary Lee
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-28-8 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:24:50
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Chicago: “Reader's almanac; May Lee Settle,” 1967-07-28, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 25, 2024,
MLA: “Reader's almanac; May Lee Settle.” 1967-07-28. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 25, 2024. <>.
APA: Reader's almanac; May Lee Settle. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from