This webpage presents the Abstract for an article published in the Journal of Tolkien Research in October 2020. It illuminates the hitherto-unreported duties of Lt J R R Tolkien as a Signals Officer in the Holderness Peninsula in the East Riding of Yorkshire from April 1917 to April 1918. The complete Tolkien and the Zeppelins can be accessed by this link.

A reviewer wrote: 'engrossing' 'sensational' 'significantly broadens our view of Tolkien's service'. The complete review appears below.




There are other pages on this site:
Tolkien at Buckland Hall; Searching for the Truth
Tolkien at Buckland Hall; The Discovery
Tolkien at Buckland Hall; The Genesis of The Lord of the Rings
Tolkien at Buckland Hall; Botanic Memories
Tolkien at Buckland Hall; The Wines of Jerez
The Last Will and Testament of Mabel Tolkien
The Gallant Edith Bratt - J R R Tolkien's Inspiration




To devotees of Tolkien, the trench fever that led to his repatriation from the Western Front in November 1916, was a fortuitous circumstance that saved an extraordinary intellect from annihilation in the mud and blood of French or Belgian fields. His return is widely seen as an escape to the peace and quiet of treatment and convalescence in England. Yet his posting to Holderness, in April 1917, placed him in the alarms and excursions of another front line.
This article examines the background to Tolkien's military duties in the East Riding of Yorkshire from April 1917. The night bombing raids on England by Zeppelins had a significant effect on his service as a Signals Officer in the Holderness Peninsula. The airborne threat to this strategic region had fundamentally altered the defence arrangements in which he came to play a part until March 1918. The creation of the world's first air-raid early warning system is explained in detail. The vital part that Post Offices played in this network is presented.
His attachment to the Headquarters of the Humber Garrison is shown to have been a return to active service as Officer Commanding a Royal Engineers outpost in the Post Office in Roos. Medical records show this to have been after 1st June 1917. The Zeppelin raids he experienced whilst a patient in the Brooklands Officers' Hospital are detailed together with the corresponding diary entries of Margaret Strickland-Constable. His duties as a Signals Officer instructor with the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers, a training battalion, are illustrated.
His attachment to the 9th Battalion Royal Defence Corps during the winter of 1917-1918 was to a unit that needed a battle-experienced Signals Officer to supervise essential, often coded, communication in a focus of the war at the crucial approaches to the Humber Estuary.
Finally, the possible reason for the absence of this military detail from the records is suggested.

Author: Sqn Ldr 'Seamus' Hamill-Keays

JTR Review of MS 1195
Tolkien and the Zeppelins
October 2, 2020

This essay was an engrossing read, despite (or perhaps because of) its massive detail, and
I heartily recommend its publication. Even if it lacks a significance to Tolkien’s writing (and the author accounts for this lack admirably on p. 24), it is significant to Tolkien studies because it significantly broadens our view of Tolkien’s service at the Humber Garrison at such a crucial time in his life (think of the twin nexus [it’s an uninflected plural; I looked it up] of his relationship with Edith—this was where she danced—and his first writing of his legendarium—the two biggest elements of his life, one could argue). I must admit that I had been one of those readers of Tolkien who treated his posting at Humber as if it were light duty for an invalided officer. The scrupulously documented picture that emerges from this sensational article gives us a different picture, a fuller picture, a picture more likely to be closer to the truth than our previous composite. And if there are any details that might still be contested (as is inevitable), this essay offers clear warrant for every claim.
Particularly impressive is the essayist’s triangulation of all available resources in the absence of direct accounts; the diary of the nurse at the outpost, the military regulations of the time (as much as corporals complain about military bureaucratic paperwork, historians rejoice in it), all contribute to the scenario.
It might be objected that the history of the Zeppelin warfare in the region before Tolkien’s stationing there, and the heavy technical detail about Zeppelins overburdens the Tolkien-oriented reader who is waiting for the Tolkien connection that comes later. I would disagree, and I would consider the essay’s structure just right: the detail pays off later, and Ithink on the contrary that front-loading the more sensational aspect of this material—a reassessment of the nature of Tolkien’s service at Roos—while it is probably the way I would have presented it—would not have been as striking as this essay’s admirable restraint and academic humility in holding those observations until the conclusion. The title “Tolkien and the Zeppelins”—appropriately terse—is enough to signal to the reader that the Tolkien stuff is coming.
I lost track of the number of times that this essay subtly corrects previous biographical claims simply by bringing military records to bear (see particularly footnotes 10, 12, 27, and 38).
The more precise dating of Tolkien’s attachment to the garrison (p. 12), and of his rank (acting vs. substantial lieutenant) are not the least of these small touches that enhance this essay. Both John Garth and Hammond/Scull will have to consider seriously some slight revisions in future editions of their work because of this article. The tone is deftly academic throughout the essay, though for me such a colloquial proverb as “you do not keep a dog and bark yourself” (p. 16) is worth the entire essay. I cannot think of a submission to The Journal of Tolkien Research in recent years which has, despite a narrow focus, offered so much to Tolkien scholarship (and biography is an important part of the scholarship even if it never touches on the writing—though I doubt not that Tolkienists will be mining this essay for insight on the flying mounts of the Nazgûl in Lord of the Rings). I recommend its publication in The Journal of Tolkien Research.