Big Bold Men – and their Teddy Bears: The General

Daphne du Maurier

The tale of how Major Frederick Browning met and courted Daphne du Maurier seems to belong to one of the novelist’s less likely plots.

The Major had read Du Maurier’s first novel, The Loving Spirit.  Inspired by her description of the coastline of Cornwall, and also dreaming of possibly meeting the novelist herself, he visited the county to go sailing.

He did indeed met her, and she liked what she saw.  But as the months passed they both baulked for one reason or another at marrying. In the end it was she who proposed to him. The church they wed in was the very one where an important fictional marriage had taken place as part of the story told in “The Loving Spirit”. And that fictional marriage had been based on a real one. So a real marriage inspired a fictional one which inspired a real one.

The Army and the Battle of Arnhem

As with all career soldiers, Browning’s postings took him away often.  As WWII advanced, he rose to be a General. He believed in air power and formed the First Airborne Division. This served in Tunisia, Sicily, Italy and Normandy. He was in command of the First Allied Airborne Army at Arnhem.

Browning’s  decisions and contributions before and during the Battle of Arnhem are still being debated among enthusiasts of military history. Some claim much of the defeat was his fault. Yet, it was he who had warned Montgomery, to no avail, that Operation Market Garden was reaching for  “a bridge too far”.

The Boys

The General ended his hastily scribbled letters home to his wife, son and daughters with “kisses from the Boys”.  The “Boys” were his childhood bears who travelled everywhere with him, packed in a briefcase.

This material is from my reading of “Daphne du Maurier, A Daughter’s Memoir, by Flavia Leng.

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