In May 1993, I received in the mail a book catalogue from a Connecticut bookseller. These have mostly gone the way of the Dodo Bird by 2023. Not a bad thing, because they are an expensive marketing and selling tool. Electronic marketing and selling processes are much cheaper and quicker.
Going through the catalogue, I spotted a manuscript of WW II poetry, titled Maple Leaf Down: The Continental Journal of Alexander McKee, by Alexander McKee. Now – doesn’t that sound Canadian to you? It sure did to me, and so I took a flyer on the item for $75 United States of America dollars. I couldn’t research online. Google was founded in 1998.
It turns out that the author was English. At first, I was disappointed but not for too long.
Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the author. Wikipedia was founded in 2001.
“Alexander Paul Charrier McKee OBE (1918 – 1992) was a British journalist, military historian, and diver who published nearly thirty books. In the Second World War, McKee served in the British Army and wrote war poetry. After the War he served with the British Army on the Rhine (BAOR). He wrote articles for the BAOR newspaper Polar Bear News and became a writer and producer for the British Forces Network in Germany.”
“After demobilization, McKee became the editor of Conveyor magazine and wrote plays for BBC radio. In between researching and writing books, McKee took up sub-aqua diving with the Southsea Branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club. His projects got the branch voted the most interesting in the United Kingdom three years running. Next, he drove forward the discussed but unauctioned project to search for King Henry VIII's flagship Mary Rose. From about 1965 onwards, he was concentrating most of his efforts on the Mary Rose project. For finding the Mary Rose, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.”
Looking at the titles of his books they focused mostly on WW II and diving. This book was not listed. None of them look like works of poetry. Notably, though, one of his books was titled Vimy Ridge.
I have included photos of the two-page title poem. It is an interesting poem but no mention of Canadians, nor in the listing of poems. I have read many of them, they are good, but no Canadians. But the Theatre of War about which he writes, including in the poem, is the Canadian Theatre of War. This coupled with the fact he wrote a book called Vimy Ridge indicates to me that much of his wartime experiences were linked to those of the Canadian Army.
I would think that most of his poems were included in the British military newspapers, magazines and journals published between 1944 and 1951. Note that the second last poem in the contents was handwritten, although the poem itself is typed. So, I would guess that the manuscript was mailed in the September/October 1951 time frame.
You cannot make out and dates on the envelope including in the postal indicia. (I think someone wrote his name on the envelope, later). But it is interesting that he sent it to The Hand and Flower Press, which was one of the many British private presses operating at the time. As I have mentioned in previous musings, private presses tend to focus on famous authors, titles or illustrators.
I have checked online and there are no copies of this book, period. I doubt that it ever got published. So that makes this item special, and why it sits in my personal library.
But the real reason my quirky self could not part with this little treasure is evident from the Customs Declaration Form, pasted on the back of the envelope.