Westerns for the troops

The 1920s and 1930s are often thought of as the Golden Age of crime fiction. When Britain went into the Second World War at the end of the 1930s, crime novels were enormously popular and much in demand amongst the services. Not surprisingly the Services Editions, produced for the armed forces, contain a high proportion of crime novels, mostly by British writers, although with a dash of American influence.

But the 1920s and 1930s had also seen growing popularity for westerns, a much less home-grown product – although arguably the country house settings of many British murder mysteries of the period were just as alien to the average British soldier as the Arizona desert.

Collectors of Penguin Books will know that wartime crime novels are the most difficult to find – it’s presumed because they were so avidly read that they fell to pieces. But in the Services Editions there is little doubt that Westerns are the most difficult to find – and again we can only presume that that’s because of their popularity.

Collins was the most prolific publisher of paperback westerns before the war and so was in the best position to offer them in Services Editions, and there’s a review of the thirty-five or so Collins Westerns on this post.

But they were far from the only publisher responding to the evident demand for westerns from the troops. The other main series of Services Editions, from Guild Books, included around ten to a dozen westerns, possibly more, as given their rarity, westerns may well account for several of the missing books in the series, for which no copy has been recorded.

In the Guild Books series, westerns shared a category with crime, mysteries and thrillers, all in red covers, but were identified as westerns in the bottom right corner, if it wasn’t already clear from the title. Many of the separate publishers who contributed books to the series didn’t publish westerns, but George Harrap, Cassell & Co. and Robert Hale were among those who did. There was also at least one western from Collins, although it’s slightly odd that they should have contributed books to the Guild series alongside their own series of Services Editions.

I don’t think that any of the individual titles are much remembered today, if indeed many westerns are. Authors such as George B. Rodney and James B. Hendryx are barely household names in their own households, and several of the author names, such as the unlikely sounding Bliss Lomax and Amos Moore, are pseudonyms anyway.

There is though one western story in another series of Services Editions that does claim a sort of lasting fame. The Hodder & Stoughton Services Yellow Jackets series has at least four westerns in it, including ‘Bar 20’ by Clarence E. Mulford. By 1944 when it appeared, this was already a classic of the genre – first published in 1906, and the first of a series of novels by Mulford to feature Hopalong Cassidy.

So far as I know, there are no westerns in other series of Services Editions, but there is at least one amongst the Hutchinson ‘Free Victory Gift’ books. Copies of ‘Feud at Silver Bend’ by J.E. Grinstead were given a celebratory new wrapper and included in the million books given by Hutchinsons to be distributed to troops.

Posted on July 13, 2020, in Vintage Paperbacks and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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