Katharine Garvin

Katharine Garvin, the daughter of James Garvin and Christina Garvin, was born. During the First World War, her father was editor of the Observer. In 1948 Garvin wrote a biography of her father, J. L. Garvin: A Memoir.

Primary Sources

(1) Katharine Garvin was only 12 when the First World War began.

My father had no illusions about the character of Wilhelm II; and the Kaiser had, reading through or hearing of English periodicals, recognised him as an adversary under one of his political pseudonyms. Garvin had preached that war was inevitable, and that the possible outcome of German conquest and domination would be disastrous to European development.

(2) Katharine's brother, Gerard Garvin, had just won a scholarship to Christ Church, but instead chose to join the South Lancashire Regiment in 1914.

My brother was to have gone to Christ Church, where he had won a scholarship. He could have gone there without reproach, for he was very young. He wanted to go to war. My father was trying to get a commission for him in the Irish Guards, but the boy grew tired of waiting, and enlisted with his friends, in the South Lancashire Regiment.

My father said long afterwards that he died a thousand deaths for those in the trenches, including his own son. I have no doubt it was true, but he stayed awake night after night, groaning in his half-wakefulness, and evidently living through unimaginable scenes of the battlefield.

(3) Gerald Garvin was killed on 23rd July, 1916 during the Battle of the Somme.

My brother was killed on July 23rd, 1916, at Bazentin-le-Petit in the Battle of the Somme. The story that I tell is only a story, and I cannot vouch for the facts. Week after week in the Observer, my father thundered for parents to let their sons go. It was honour with him that his own should not be sheltered. My brother was wanted on the staff, and was in fact called to a staff appointment a short time before he was killed. But his best friend in the army, Stewart McClinton, was killed shortly afterwards, and he went back to the trenches. He was under no illusions about what was waiting for him, and very shortly afterwards he was killed, as, from his last letter, he expected to be. "If I die," he wrote, "I couldn't die for a better cause."

The loss of of a son, an only son, is something that no other person can assess. I do not think that anyone, anyone at all, could fully know what that loss meant to my father, and increasingly as he grew older. Only the millions of other fathers who suffered in the same way can realise it. It was always in Garvin's heart; but he could seldom speak of it. At the time of his loss, he was both burdened and sustained by the need for giving comfort to my mother.

As a family, we went through the war keeping the even atmosphere of home life. My father wrote more fiercely, but not more assiduously than before. He put all he had into the cause of the Allies. My mother went to help in canteens; she spent much of her time arguing with tradesman, and making the best of the rations. Many of my parents' young friends were killed; and the relations come to my father for comfort.

(4) Katherine Garvin's house in London was damaged during an Zeppelin air raid.

In London, there were air raids, and the noise of the anti-aircraft outside our house. I shall never forget how wonderfully my mother pulled the family together during the raids, starting at once to make tea and scramble eggs so that the raids were converted into a midnight treat.

In the spring of 1918, one of the worst raids - it was the last raid on London - smashed every window in our house. After that, father took a house at Otford, in Kent. He doubtless had his reasons, but I cannot forget the grudge I felt against him because of the shame I felt before my schoolfellows in appearing to run away from bombs. Besides, I had been going to be Joan of Arc in the school play, the best part I had ever had.

(5) Katharine Garvin's mother died shortly after the Armistice.

We heard of the Armistice the day before it was made public. On Armistice Day itself, she and I went alone to London. I remember her crying and crying through all the rejoicing, and saying: "It is too late for me."

Nearly three months later, she died, in her sleep, after a bad attack of the influenza that had overrun England after the war. She was a war casualty. The doctor had been in the morning, and had said she was better. But at some time in the late afternoon of Christmas Eve, the eve of her forty-third birthday, her heart gave up, and she went.

My father found her as she lay in bed. It was a more terrible thing for him than he had left to her. He was totally incapable of dealing with a large family, house and kitchen; and he felt his loss more and more. Year after year, I saw him break into uncontrollable tears when he mentioned my mother. The grief become more intense with the years, and not less. It was alarming to see him cry, but I learned from it that the more manly, the larger the man, the more he can let his tears flow without false shame.