Saturday, 4 March 2017

Alfred Batson – Soldier, Journalist, Author

Starting a new series of biographical articles about some authors who appeared in Short Stories magazine. I intend to review an issue of Short Stories where these authors had appearances, and in the process of reviewing the magazine, also took the time to unearth some biographical info about them. 

The first author in this series is Alfred Batson, who turned out to be quite an interesting character. He started appearing in pulp magazines in the early 1930s and continued till the early 1940s.
Alfred Batson (1899-1977) - Soldier, Journalist, Author

Alfred Byron Batson was born on 24 July, 1899 in Vancouver, British Columbia. He was the son of Cadwallader Batson, a ship’s chandler and Susanna Helena Batson, the last of three children. His sister died in 1908 in Newton, Massachussets – so his family must have moved there early in life. Possibly his mother separated from her husband, and moved back to Boston to be with relatives.
He seems to have separated from his family early, though, showing up in the 1910 census as a boarder in Middlesex, Massachussets. In World War 1, he served in the Canadian Army, joining the Canadian Expeditionary Force in September 1918 and got discharged on March 12th, 1919, leaving with the rank of corporal in the No. 7 Engineer Depot.

In 1920 he shows up in Brooklyn, this time working as a clerk in a Wall Street broker’s office. Batson had this to say about his early life in a letter to Adventure magazine:

I always considered the first thrill of my life an episode which happened many years ago when as a small boy I was taken to church by my mother. We arrived late and as the church was crowded were shown to a pew occupied only by an imposing, middle aged man whose large nose held me spellbound. He found hymns for my mother; he did not mind my dusty shoes on his impeccable morning attire; he was the soul of courtesy and more worshippers watched the scene than gave attention to the sermon. Time came for the offering, and he left us to go about his duties. When passing our pew with a filled plate he slipped, fell, and the money rolled in every direction. The least disturbed person in the entire congregation, he scrambled down to retrieve it. I gave off a shriek of delight before being muffled. On leaving the church my mother told me his name. I like to recall his kindness to a small boy.
How many Adventure readers have seen J. P. Morgan on his knees picking up coins?
At 15, I commenced an apprenticeship in life with the Canadian Army (that’s an exaggeration, or at least unrecorded), at 20, Wall Street, then newspaper work and the other side of the picture as a sand-hog on the Hudson River Vehicular Tunnel. The “bends” cut short that career.

Batson never held a job for any extended period of time, as far as I can see. The pattern seems to have been take a job, get some money and embark on an adventure. His next trip was as a soldier of fortune in Nicaragua.

…the plight of a man named Sacasa, the sight of a quiet little boat, unobtrusive and suspiciously deserted, lured me to the land of manana and a man named Sandino helped unload our cargo on a moonlit beach. The life of a wandering soldier of fortune with its mud, squalor, infrequent meals, stripped the curtain from the glamor so vividly described from the arm chair security of Richard Harding Davis’ steam-heated flat. (Oh I know, he got around, but always with a boiled shirt handy.)
But more probably my exodus from those parts was due to a steely-eyed, square-jawed Colonel of American Marines who thumped the table and bellowed, “Beat it. ” I did— overland with $1. 88 in the kick at the start and no place to spend it. Tela, San Pedro Sula, Puerto Cortez, Puerto Barrios, then bad feet and eventually Guatemala City. Some articles for a newspaper and I had the first decent meal in weeks, shed my beard, watched the art of Luis Freg at the bull-ring. Overland again, Antigua, Escuintla, then north to the Mexican border at Ayutla, and Paddy Flynn, king of Tropical Tramps. Machine guns broke up the wading of that river but two miles up the bank we made it. Then the long, long, Theuantepec desert, bandits who proved to be the finest guys on the whole trip, San Geronimo, Puebla, Mexico City. Out again to the Hill of the Bells, eventually Monterey and Neuvo Laredo—three borders crossed sans passport, nine months afoot. …

He documented these experiences in a book titled “Vagabond’s Paradise”, which was published in 1931. Batson left for China as a newspaper correspondent, right when China was in the middle of the civil war between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China.

Six months of writing advertising for a permanent wave outfit, then hitch-hiking to Frisco, an ordinary on a Dollar Boat and a jump at Shanghai. Newspaper work again for three long, happy years, through the Gorges and fired on by pirates, up the Tsin-Pu to write the withdrawal of the Japanese from Tsinanfu, pictures from a window in Stein’s hotel. A Jap Colonel, two days in a guard house, wires to the British Minister, and I was free. The Provisional Court and that warrant for Chiang Kai-shek for being “a notorious gentleman. ” T. V. Soong and the unprinted story of Sun Yat Sen’s march from Canton to immortality and the “treasury” of the Republic of China a rattan suitcase swung from a saddle. The “Christian” General, Liau Si Amau (The Old Small Cat) most feared and successful of kidnappers, his execution and the way he sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” enroute to the Kiangsu Prison with me on the tailboard of the jail van. George Gilbert, blue-eyed chief of detectives, and the tales that could not be printed, the rivalry between the British and French Intelligence Bureaus with the U. S. a poor third and the Japs eating up misinformation and delighted to get it.

In 1933, Batson published a novel, African Intrigue, based on a story told to him by an ex-German spy in Shanghai. His writing career for the pulps took off in this period, and he wrote stories for Argosy, Adventure and Short Stories – with the majority of the work split between Argosy and Short Stories. Many of his stories were set in the China that he had visited.

African Intrigue was picked up by Walter Wanger as a vehicle for Henry Fonda in 1936, but nothing came of it. He left for another South American trip the same year. 

In 1940 he was back in Beverly Hills working as a script writer and 1941 saw the release of a serial he co-wrote, Jungle Girl, based on a novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. In 1942, he enlisted in the US Army in World War 2. His work for the pulp magazines seems to have ended at this time.

He married Marjorie W. Day in 1951, and took up residence in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. In his later years, he became an expert on military decorations and numismatics, publishing articles on the subject. He died on September 7, 1977 in Valley Forge and was buried in Canada.

1 comment:

  1. This series of biographical articles is a great idea and I hope you continue it. We need more information about these forgotten writers.