Friday, February 22, 2019

Harrison Dale

Harrison Dale (b. London, 10 February 1898; d. County Mayo, Ireland, 19 March 1988)

from the cover of Bus by the Brook (1964)
Between 1926 and 1933 six books appeared in England under the byline "Harrison Dale." In several reference sources, these books have been erroneously attributed to an American author and academic, Harrison Clifford Dale (1885-1969). A directory of writers from the early 1930s notes that "Harrison Dale" was the pen name of an author and journalist born in London in February 1898.

The first of the six published books was autobiographical, Vanishing Trails: Ten Years of a Wanderers Life (1926), in which the author described being the wireless operator on a steamer ship sunk in May 1918 by a U-86 submarine, from which three men were taken by the Germans as prisoners of war.  From these details, research reveals that this was the British steamer Medora, sunk on 2 May 1918, and the radio operator who was captured was one Maurice James McGrath. Other sources have confirmed his identity as "Harrison Dale."

Maurice James McGrath was the second child of Patrick McGrath (1862-1918), who was Irish-born but worked in London as a Constable with the Metropolitan Police, and his wife (born in England of Irish immigrants) Mary Mulligan (1866-?). Their first child was a daughter, Mary Isabella McGrath (1894-1971), who emigrated to Australia at the age of eighteen.

Maurice was educated at Bishop Eton, Wavertree (near Liverpool), and at the Marconi Radio School. After he qualified as a Wireless Officer, he joined the Merchant Navy. His father was a great lover of books, and passed that love onto Maurice, often reading to him stories of the "creepy" variety. After a torpedo struck his steamer ship, he spent a month as a prisoner in a submarine before being interred in Brandenburg Camp. He gradually lost his hearing until he went completely deaf.  In 1924, facing his loss, he settled in London, having sailed on the seas for seven years.

In 1925, Maurice McGrath married Blanche Edith R. Axton (1900-1938); they had one daughter. His first autobiography Vanishing Trails appeared in March 1926.  This was followed by another work of nonfiction on Ireland, published in October 1927.  Next came four anthologies, Great Ghost Stories (London: Herbert Jenkins, [October] 1930), The Marryat Book: Scenes from the Works of Captain Marryat (1930), More Great Ghost Stories (London: Herbert Jenkins, [November] 1932), and Where Away? Famous Stories of the Sea: The Boys' Book of Sea Stories (1933). He also published stories and articles in newspapers and journals, like The Nineteenth Century and After, Fortnightly, T.P.'s Weekly, Irish Independent, Manchester Guardian, and various other periodicals. 

The two anthologies of ghost stories are McGrath's most significant contribution to the field of supernatural literature. The first book contains fifteen stories, the second twelve. The first contains a wide-ranging twenty-four page introduction on "The Art of the Ghost Story," while the second contains another eleven pages on "Anthologists and Other Ghouls." These introductions exhibit McGrath's particular knowledge of the genre, as he mentions familiar works along with some much lesser-known writings like Ferelith by Lord Kilmarnock. He calls Bulwer-Lytton and J. Sheridan Le Fanu "the two great masters of the ghost story during the Dickens period" and shows a familiarity with many stories published in periodicals. In his introduction to the second volume, McGrath admits that he doesn't believe in ghosts, and that he isn't much interested in the "true ghost story." He notes that for both anthologies he has selected a number of tales that have not been previously reprinted but he feels that all of the tales selected are worth reading.

Where Away? contains twelve stories (authors include A. Conan Doyle, Captain Marryat, and W. Clark Russell, among others) but has no introduction at all, and a surprising omission from the contents is anything by William Hope Hodgson, whose first-rate sea stories, often horrific, with a large number of them classics of weird fiction, would be likely to have been favorites of the editor if he knew them.

He reworked his autobiography into a new book, The Last Landfall as by Desmond Malone, published in 1936.  It was the first (and only) of his books to achieve an American edition.  In fact, it was more successful in the U.S. than in England, for there was a book club edition published by the Book League of America.

After the Second World War, McGrath moved to western Ireland to explore his family's roots. He married Gertrude [later known as "Jill"] O'Kane (1914-1977) in Mayo, Ireland, in 1949; they had three daughters.  His final book was a third autobiography, detailing his life after he came to Ireland.  It was published as Bus by the Brook (1964) under a pen name slightly altered from his real name, Morrow MacRath.  He died at the age of ninety.

*Thanks to Shirley Burns and Geraldine Gahan for their generous help.

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