George Orwell Always in the News: Number 5

Figures Close To The Target

In March 2015, The Telegraph published a tribute by Jake Kerridge to Lionel Davidson, the thriller writer whose work is being re-discovered. Born in 1922, ‘During the Second World War Davidson served in submarines in the Pacific; he claimed to have been one of only two Jews in the submarine service.’

This will not surprise anyone who has read Orwell’s essay ‘Antisemitism in Britain’, which was first published in Contemporary Jewish Record in April 1945:

‘…thirty years ago … In theory a Jew suffered from no legal disabilities, but in effect he was debarred from certain professions. He would probably not have been accepted as an officer in the navy, for instance, nor in what is called a “smart” regiment in the army.’

Although he was writing for a specialist publication Orwell offered no official or academic sources for his claims at the time, but Davidson’s recollection supplies that detail mainly because after the war Davidson ‘became preoccupied with his Jewish heritage – many of his relatives had been killed in the Holocaust – and, in 1968, moved his family to Israel. Such was his eminence that the government provided him with an office in Jaffa’, so he would have had time to think about the people with whom he served. He had met only one other Jew in the RN submarine service. If he served as an AB rather than an officer then his experience proves Orwell’s claim absolutely and is another example of Orwell’s ability to make a statement that can be proved true independently. Even at its weakest (‘probably not’), it shows that Orwell realised that the Royal Navy had this tendency.

There are letters showing Orwell kept in touch with men in the Army and (I think) Air Force, but none to seamen come to mind. So, now he is proved right, how did he know? Who or what was the source of Orwell’s information? Can anyone help?



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