Sunday, 16 January 2011

Dark Journey 1937

The character Geoffrey Firmin, the Consul in Lowry's Under The Volcano was a Lieutenant-Commander of the Q-Ship S.S. Samaritan during WW 1. In the novel, Firmin is haunted by his involvement in the deaths of a captured German U-Boat crew by placing them in the furnace of the Samaritan. There is no documentary evidence that this event occurred in the war.

I have been researching the possible source of Lowry's fictional event. Ronald Binns and Chris Ackerley suggest:

Ronald Binns [MLN 8, 6] has tracked down the probable historical source of the Samaritan incident: the so-called "Baralong incident" of 19 August 1915, after the capture of the British ship, the Nicosian, by the German submarine U-27. A British Q-ship, the Baralong, appeared flying the American flag, let fall its false sides, and sank the submarine. The master, Lieutenant-Commander Godfrey Herbert (whose name and rank is similar to Geoffrey's), ordered his crew to give no quarter, and twelve German sailors were shot. There was no court-martial, nor any suggestion of officers being put in the furnace, but the incident aroused great resentment among the Germans. As well as tracing the historical source of Lowry’s Q-ship episode, Binns has suggested [MLN 7, 20] a cinematic source, the movie Dark Journey (1937), produced by Alexander Korda and starring Conrad Veidt with Vivien Leigh. Russell Lowry [MLN 8, 7] dates Lowry's visit to a Q-ship in Liverpool docks as 1919 or 1920; the Lowry brothers saw a dummy run of the Q-ship drill, dropping the false bulkheads, exposing a gun, and firing a blank round. Chris Ackerley's Companion to Under The Volcano

You can view the film Dark Journey on the Internet Archive or here:

Cast & Crew
Victor Saville: Director
Conrad Veidt as [Baron Karl] Von Marwitz
Vivien Leigh as Madeleine [Goddard]
Joan Gardner as Lupita
Anthony Bushell as Bob Carter
Ursula Jeans as Gertrude
Margery Pickard as Colette
Eliot Makeham as Anatole [Bergen]
Austin Trevor as Dr. Muller
Sam Livesay as Schaffer
Edmund Willard as Chief of German intelligence
Charles Carson as Head of fifth bureau


In the spring of 1918, Swiss modiste Madeleine Goddard returns to Stockholm after an excursion to Paris to buy dresses. Madeleine, who is a spy for the Nazis, then visits her German contacts and gives them the information she has gathered on Allied troop movements. Madeleine's information is cleverly sewn into the gowns she transports, and the Germans believe that she is one of their top spies. Unknown to them, Madeleine is actually a French double agent, and so she resolves to learn the identity of the new German secret service section leader who is being stationed in Stockholm. While Madeleine confers with her confederates, two German citizens cross the border into Switzerland. One is Dr. Muller, who is to reorganize the spy network of which Madeleine is a part, and the other is Baron Karl Von Marwitz, a deserter from the German Navy. While at a nightclub with her frequent escort, English secret service agent Bob Carter, Madeleine exposes the trick behind Von Marwitz's game of predicting what a girl will say after he kisses her. Intrigued by Madeleine's beauty and cool demeanor, Von Marwitz visits her shop the next day in the company of Lupita, a Brazilian socialite. Von Marwitz quickly tires of the temperamental Lupita and begins asking Madeleine to go out with him. When she continually refuses his requests, he begins to buy all of the stock in her shop until finally she gives in. Madeleine gives her German contacts information about an Allied counter-offensive, then begins seeing Von Marwitz. Despite their different nationalities, the couple quickly fall in love, much to the dismay of Bob, who returns to Stockholm after a brief journey to London to investigate Madeleine's trustworthiness. On the night Von Marwitz proposes to her, Madeleine's faithful porter and co-conspirator, Anatole Bergen, is murdered. Shaken by Anatole's death, Madeleine confers with Muller and the others, who tell her that the information she provided proved disastrous for the German Army. Muller orders her to go to Paris immediately and determine whether her French contacts are to be trusted. After a difficult journey, Madeleine reaches Paris, where she is secretly greeted by a French official and given the medal militaire for her service to her country. Upon her return to Stockholm, Madeleine deduces that Von Marwitz is the German secret service leader, and he reveals his knowledge that she is actually a French spy. The lovers are glad to be rid of the lies between them, but acknowledge with heavy hearts that their dream of a life together can never be realized. Madeleine rushes to Bob, who promises to help her escape from Stockholm and the Germans, while Von Marwitz is simultaneously planning her capture. The next day, Bob engineers Madeleine's arrest by the Swedish police, thereby foiling Von Marwitz's plan to apprehend her quietly. Madeleine is deported, but once the boat she is on has sailed out of Swedish jurisdiction, it is stopped by a German submarine. Von Marwitz boards and arrests Madeleine for being a French spy, but his plans are once again foiled by Bob's cunning plans. Disguised as a tramp steamer, a British destroyer enters the scene and engages the submarine in battle. The Germans are defeated, Madeleine is rescued and Von Marwitz is captured. Madeleine is assured that Von Marwitz will not be shot, but will instead be detained until the end of the war, and with the hope of a future together, the lovers wave goodbye as Von Marwitz is taken aboard the destroyer. TCM

The above movie is a feasible source but Lowry read considerably during his youth devouring sea stories. After WW1, there was a considerable literature around Q-Ships which I have been researching hoping to turn up the source of the fictional S.S. Samaritan. There was also a movie called Q-Ships made in in 1928 by Geoffrey Barkas and Michael Barringer. I will return to the subject in subsequent posts.

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