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A ghastly thing.

Updated: May 20


In the making of this series, I have to make some difficult decisions about which episodes not to make. They are decisions based on time and budget, but I find it difficult to let some journal entries go.

The journal entry for May 7th is different to the bulk of his diary writing. It is very long and clearly written over several days – perhaps even weeks, and it is a recap of the events of the previous eight months. He details his army life and spends time writing about the personalities he was working alongside, his feelings about the war, his unexpected enjoyment of practicing marching drills - I think he drew satisfaction from the precision of unison movement (I trained as a dancer, so I might be projecting), and his shock at not having time to himself – to write and to think.

In the middle of that journal entry, he tells the following story, which I think represents a really key moment in his life. Have look and see what you think.

May 7 1940. At Bletchley. Extract.

"At Christmas we were nearly all given a week’s leave, which was most welcome. I spent part of it in London, and then went down to Farnham to be there over Christmas itself. Max went down with me on the train. He, being an officer, travelled in first class, while I went in the third, of course. It was rather comic. Diana and Charlie were also at the Grange with David and Amanda. Thus, when we sat at lunch on Christmas Day, there were three of us in uniform. It was a strange Christmas. I think it gave Father a good deal of pleasure to have us all there in uniform - in fact, I think that my having joined the army was the first thing I had done for years that had pleased Father.

During the Christmas week it was impossible for me not to think many times of the holiday I might, and should have been spending with Sorina. Whenever I have had any leave, I have felt more than ever how much I miss of the married life that should be mine, and have often felt an unearthly loneliness.


During that week’s leave I also wrote to Alere A'Beckett Terrell. I had seen much of her during the summer of 1939. She had been living in London for a number of months with her children; later the Judge also came back from Malaya and joined them.

Alere was a good deal on her own in London before the Judge joined her. I was also left on my own for a long period, during which I saw a good deal of Alere, and to the instinctive sympathy which I believed had always existed between us, was added the bond of loneliness. It was, perhaps, natural that during our many long talks together, we spoke with a certain intimacy about our private lives, which we might not have done in other circumstances. We knew that we could trust each other completely.

It was on the one such occasion, as we sat talking late into the night that Alere said to me, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, although in connection with the matter which we had been discussing: “There is something I know, and have known for two years or more, which I do not know whether I should tell you or not - although I think it might help you a great deal to know”. Those may not have been her exact words, but what she said was to that effect. I could not imagine what this great secret might be, which she had kept from me for so long and naturally begged her to tell me. She made me promise never to let anyone know that she had told me, saying that the judge, who also knew this thing, would be furious if he thought that she had told me. I became increasingly curious. At length she told me - and I think it was the most startling thing I have ever been told in my life.

I have been greatly tempted to record what it was that Alere told me in this diary, for it would be by far the most astonishing thing but I have ever written here. More than that, if it was true, also one of the most ghastly things imaginable, I realized immediately that if indeed it were true, it completely explains so much that I had been unable to understand in my life in recent years - it suddenly explains so many things that had been and that still remain such a mystery to me, things which are of the closest possible concern to me.

Yet, if it were true, it meant almost that the bottom had fallen right out of my whole private world. Nothing has ever shaken me so much in my whole life as this thing that Alere told me. It completely took my breath away. Had I suddenly been told that I was an illegitimate child, or that I was suffering from insanity, or some other hereditary defect of that nature, it could scarcely have been a greater shock to me.

But, however great the temptation to write fully just what Alere told me, something warns me not to do so and that it might have very dangerous consequences to reveal it. If I were to die tomorrow, there is no knowing into whose hands my diaries might fall. If I were the only person concerned in this secret, it would not matter, but I alone am not concerned - far from it. That is perhaps one of the greatest obstacles with which one is confronted in keeping a diary of such a personal nature as mine; that although the most important moments in one’s life are so often those in which one is not involved alone, one may reveal one’s own innermost self to whatever extent one chooses, and for a personal records such as this to have any value or object, I consider it important to do so to the greatest extent that one has the courage to, ignoring the likelihood of being charged with exhibitionism - but, in instances involving any other person as well as oneself, it seems to me that there are limits beyond which one is not entitled to go without being guilty of betrayal. I have often been conscious of this problem in the past, and it is a very difficult problem. Although I am well aware that, my nature being what it is, love has played a dominant part in my life, I do not believe I have ever written of the supreme moments of love whenever some other person was concerned as well as myself. I have never considered it possible to do so, nor permissible; Indeed, for these reasons, I do not think I have ever desire to do so, lest I should betray anyone who has had trust in me and whose gift to me I have cherished so deeply. Reticence is little in fashion today, and it may well be that such reticence as I have shown is due to a certain smugness and priggishness in my nature; not that I care much if this is so, for I am entitled to my faults as much as anyone else. In so far as I myself alone am concerned, I think that I can claim to have written the truth in my diaries, to the extent that my nature and my vanity have permitted or inclined me to do so, but I know well enough that it is nothing like the whole truth. There has been much that I have not wished to reveal, nor have I seen any necessity to do so. I do not look upon this diary as a private confessional, nor see any point in turning it into a catalogue of one’s sins, although I do not imagine that, with the exception of murder, there is any one of the 10 Commandments which I have not broken at one time or another. I even suspect that there may be degrees and kinds of murder that one commits, other than that of taking a man’s physical life. I suppose most people who keep a diary do so mainly because they find it a medium for self-expression, which is in itself a confession of inability to express oneself fully in normal life, and partly from mere habit. When I first started keeping a diary at Charterhouse, I think I did so because there were many things that I wanted to say, but knew no one to whom I could say those things. To a great extent that is still the case, though no longer wholly so, for I have found a few friends to whom I can talk fully - when I am with them, which is not often. But if, in more recent years, I have had some other conscious object, apart from making notes of things that I consider may be useful to me, it has been to give an accurate impression of one life at its various stages and ages, and have one person’s search for some understanding of this life.


All this is a digression. I shall not record the secret that Alere told me. One day I may do so, if I should ever learn for certain that it is true. That is the most difficult part - there are reasons why those who could tell me, would never do so. The person most involved would inevitably deny it. Naturally, I questioned Alere most carefully regarding the source of her information and it seemed to be indisputable. At first, when Alere told me this thing, I felt convinced that it must be true, because it seemed to explain so many things - yet as time went on, it seems so fantastic that I grew to think that it can scarcely be true, but merely a suspicion. To this day I do not know and cannot know. The suspicion must always remain with me, sometimes increasing, sometimes decreasing. It is an incredibly difficult situation, when it is a matter of such vital importance to me. It may be that I shall never know the truth.

Although I found a certain fascination in realizing that Alere had kept this secret for so long any yet had, at last, told it to me, I am not sure whether it would not have been better for me not to have known it - I am really not sure. It is such a ghastly thing and I cannot know whether it is true or not."


I think I know what the secret is. What do you think?


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