Small Craft

Late 19th & Early 20th Century British Yachting

The Sailors: Amateur British & Irish Yachtsmen Before World War One

Percy F. Westerman, 1876–1959

Drawn from the Collecting Books and Magazines pages about John and Percy Westerman:

Percy Francis Westerman was born in Portsmouth in 1876 and died 22 February 1959. Between those two dates he wrote at least 174 books, most of them about adventures on land, sea and in the air. Amongst his series heroes were Standish of the Air Police, Cadet Alan Carr of the Merchant Navy , and Lieutenant John Cloche. During the First World War Percy Westerman it was believed served in the Navy and in the Royal Flying Corps. The Second World War saw him "do his bit" as a member of the Dorset Home Guard.

In a letter from Major John F.C. Westerman to the County Librarian (Dated 17 March, 1978) he states that his father was the founder of Redcliff Yacht Club and that he lived on a converted Thames barge. He was always a keen yachtsman and spent part of his honeymoon in 1900 sailing in the Solent. In 1918 he was commissioned in the R.A.F. as instructor of navigation at the then No.1 Marine Training Depot at the Sandbanks Hotel. His bad eyesight had kept him out of the forces until that time.

Percy's writing career began as a result of a sixpenny bet with his wife that he could write something better than the story he was reading to his son (John) whilst that other future young author was confined to bed with chicken-pox. Percy won his bet when his first book A Lad of Grit was published in 1907. He later signed a life-time contract with Blackie, the publishers. John comments that his father had a frame on the bulkhead of his barge, where the majority of his near 200 books were written, announcing that he was "Blackie's Bondman". During the 1939–45 War, still aboard the barge, he commanded a Company of the Home Guard.

In his early days his prodigious output kept several publishers ticking over at once: Pearsons, A.C. Black, Nisbet, Jarrolds, Pilgrim Press, Chapman and Hall, Partridge, the Religious Trust Society, Oxford University Press, Seeley, and Ward Lock. However, starting with his first book he maintained a career-long relationship with Blackie. Eventually all the other publishers fell away and from 1929 onwards all his creations seem to be channeled through the Blackie publishing house, ending with Mistaken Identity in 1959.

If his publishers were many then his illustrators were legion. At least 43 can be identified from the long list of his books! Some lasted over 20–30 years and some illustrated only one book. The three whose names occur the most often are E.S. Hodgson, who illustrated some of the very first and who was still going in 1933, W. Edward Wigfull and Rowland Hilder. It is fascinating to find that Terence Cuneo, responsible for illustrations for Biggles in the Jungle, also illustrated some of Percy F.Westerman's mid-career efforts.

Recently Westerman has enjoyed something of a resurgence amongst collectors and fans. Nigel Gossop's The Westerman Yarns site is an excellent resource—they've even hosted a small convention!