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A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY (2012)

 by Sean Walmsley

 I was surfing the web a few months ago, looking for paintings by my grandfather Ulric Walmsley, and a reference to him showed up in an article written in the British Medical Journal in 1981. Sufficiently intrigued why Ulric should appear in a prestigious medical journal, I downloaded the article, written by one Dermot McCracken, FRCP, a medical officer from the University of Leeds Health Service.

 The piece was entitled, Reading for Pleasure: Known by your bookshelves. In it, Dr. McCracken described a number of other people’s bookshelves that interested him greatly. And one of these was “Autobiography in fiction.”

 Here’s what he wrote:

“I am very fond of the Yorkshire coast in the region of Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby and also of the small ports in Cornwall. One of my favourite authors whom I have reread many times is Leo Walmsley, who has written about both. His books seem to be much less well known than they deserve. One should start with Three Fevers probably his best book and a description of the life of fishermen in Robin Hood’s Bay (“Bramblewick”) in the days when it was a working fishing village, albeit the end of those days. Foreigners is a description of his childhood in Robin Hood’s Bay, where his father was a painter (of doubtful ability I guess) who painted local scenes for the visitors. Many years ago we were visiting my son at school for the day and took him out to lunch. On the wall was a small painting of a Yorkshire coble drawn up on a beach and signed Ulric B Walmsley. I am sure it was by Leo’s father, and it still grieves me that I did not ask whether they would sell it. It was of no value as a painting, and I wanted it purely for sentimental reasons but thought at the time that the price would be high if I were seen to be keen, and in those days of school fees money was short. I have never seen a painting by him before or since. Although Three Fevers is fictional, the characters are real. Love in the Sun is an autobiographical book about his conversion of derelict property near Fowey in his days of poverty. He dealt with a chandlers at Bodinnick and some years ago when there I asked a local exactly where Walmsley’s house was. He called “Charlie” to a passing man, and to my amazement this was a character from the book. It added a spice to the day. Love in the Sun was the first of a trilogy and the third was Happy Ending about his occupation of Castle Druid in Wales. It was disappointing to learn that by the time this was published his wife had left him. Leo Walmsley later married the daughter of Nathaniel Gubbins, who conversed with his own Tum in a famous column in a Sunday newspaper.”

 

Calling my grandfather a painter “of doubtful ability” seemed to me to be a little hasty, especially based on a single painting. But when I mentioned this to Marilyn, your esteemed Journal editor, she pointed out that the painting Dr McCracken saw was in fact painted by my uncle Ulric Bertram, who most likely wasn’t as accomplished an artist as Ulric J. Walmsley!

 So immediately I set out to inform Dr McCracken of the error of his ways, and to introduce him to the more-than-able painter Ulric J. Walmsley. After many hours and false leads (there are quite a number of Dr. McCrackens in the north of England, it turns out), I finally came upon this note on a website:

 

Dr Dermot McCracken, FRCP, died 22nd August 2008

The following obituary was published on the University of Leeds website:

 We are very sorry to have to let members know that Dr Dermot McCracken, former Medical Officer in the University Health Service, died on 22nd August 2008, in his ninetieth year.

 

So sadly, Dermot departed this mortal coil having shared with us--in a medical journal, of all things!--his love of my father’s writings, but never having experienced the admiration we all share for the artistic talent of my grandfather. However, he would have been delighted to learn that Leo--through the Walmsley Society’s efforts-- has achieved the recognition he deserved!

 

Sean Walmsley

Saratoga Springs, February 2012