John Eric Langdon-Davies (1897 - 1971), British author and journalist. He was a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War and the Russo-Finnish war. As a result of his experiences in Spain, he founded the Foster Parents' Scheme for refugee children in Spain, now called Plan International. He was awarded the MBE for services to the British Home Guard. Author of books on military, scientific, historical and Spanish and Catalan subjects.
Born in Eshowe, Zululand (South Africa) on 18 March 1897, he came to England at the age of six and attended Yardley Park Prep school and Tonbridge School. His first published work was an article entitled "The Hermit Crab", which appeared on the young people's page of The Lady in 1910. In 1917 he published The Dream Splendid, a book of poetry inspired by the beauty of nature. According to one critic, it showed "all the young poet's faults"; to another, "Mr Langdon-Davies's verse owes nothing to the transient excitements of the hour",referring to the fact that it was not influenced by war fever. The Times Literary Supplement said it was "the outcome of a brooding imagination intensely affected by open-air influences....and expressing itself with a real sense of style". When called up in 1917 he refused to wear uniform. This resulted in a short term in prison before being given a medical discharge. He intended to continue his academic career at St John's College, Oxford, but one of his three scholarships was removed as a result of his military record. Another, tenable only to single men, was removed when he married Constance Scott in 1918. The resulting economic situation forced him to abandon his university career, which ended with a diploma in anthropology and history.
In 1919 Langdon-Davies wrote Militarism in Education, published by Headley Brothers, a study of the effect of the militaristic and nationalistic content of various educational systems. He stresses the importance of environment and early influences in the education of the young, compared with heredity. During this period he was moving between London, Oxford, Berkshire, Southampton, and Ireland, where he got to know leading figures in the political world.
He also made his first visit to Catalonia, after which, in 1921, he and Connie, with their two small sons, settled for more than two years in the Pyrenean village of Ripoll, where he met groups of left-wing intellectuals and nationalists. Here, reading a lot of poetry and much influenced by Arthur Waley's translations of A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems, he wrote a small book of verse, Man on Mountain, which was printed in Ripoll and published by Birrell and Garnett in 1922. Since the letter "w" is more widely used in English than in Catalan, the local printer was obliged to send to Barcelona for extra supplies. The new "w"s, however, turned out to be marginally larger than the originals, so that a slight discrepancy appears on most pages, making the book a collectors' item. He returned to London and spent another period travelling extensively, this time between England, the USA and Catalonia. The Daily News sent him to Barcelona in 1923 to report on the coup by Primo de Rivera, which he evaluated as comparable to the Irish question.
In 1924 he began a series of lecture tours in the USA, speaking to women's associations and universities on history, literature and his own work. He also spent a year living in New York between 1925 and 1926, during which time he wrote The New Age of Faith, published by The Viking Press, N.Y. 1925, second ed. January '26. In it he heartily attacks the pseudo-scientists whose books were so popular in the USA at the time, provoking a number of counter-attacks which pointed out that Langdon-Davies himself was not a professional scientist. But the majority of the 60 or more published reviewers were in agreement with John Bakeless, who wrote, "....rarely has popular science been written with such spicy impertinence, such gay insouciance, or with so much intelligence and such scrupulous regard for facts....". He then moved to Sant Feliu de Guíxols, on the Catalan coast, where he stayed from 1926 to 1928 and wrote Dancing Catalans, a study of the significance of the Catalan national dance, the sardana. Twenty years later the Catalan writer Josep Pla said that it was the best book ever published on the sardana: "With the exception of the poetry of Joan Maragall, there is nothing in our language comparable with this essay". A Short History of Women, published in New York, had also appeared in 1927. In it Langdon-Davies traces the development of the idea of Woman from the primitive taboo, the Christian fear, worship of fertility, etc, which was now to be reshaped by the new knowledge. Virginia Woolf comments on some of the author's ideas in A Room of One's Own. In 1929 he settled in Devonshire (England), but three years later (1932) he moved back to the USA. He returned to England again in 1935 and lived at Clapham Common.
In May 1936 he went to Spain to report on the May Day celebrations in Madrid for the News Chronicle, who sent him out again in August that same year to cover the Civil War. On this second trip he travelled by motorbike with his sixteen-year-old son Robin, whom he left with the "Revolutionary Committee" in Puigcerdà for safe keeping. The following year he wrote Behind the Spanish Barricades.
In the early 1960s John Langdon-Davies created the "Jackdaw" series of history learning aids for school children, published by Jonathan Cape. Titles include: