Readers of a ‘certain age’ may well have read one or more of the books written between the 1930s and the 1980s by ‘thriller writers’. One of the most popular of that period was Hammond Innes and for a while he lived in Aldbourne.
Ralph Hammond Innes was born in Sussex in 1913. After education, he began work in 1931 as a journalist. His first book was published in 1937 and three more followed quickly. In WWII, he served in the Royal Artillery, rising to the rank of Major. Even during the war, three more books were published. One of these, ‘Attack Alarm’, was based on his own experience as an anti-aircraft gunner during the Battle of Britain. This set the pattern of his books which were often based on his own ‘hands on’ experiences or research and it was his insight and attention to real life detail which made his books so popular. Often, his ‘heroes’ were just ordinary men suddenly thrust into by chance into extreme situations and in hostile environments. For reasons unknown, Hammond lived in Aldbourne for just a few years during and just after the war ended. A resident in the village, Tony Gilligan, was friendly with Hammond and Tony used to relate that Hammond said that ‘he went to war via a Barnes coach and came back on one’.
Hammond lived at ‘Little Thatch’, a cottage in The Butts. The cottage no longer exists. The copyright of his novel ‘Dead or Alive’ was registered to that address in May 1946. In October 1946 he signed a postcard to a ‘fan’ using the Little Thatch address. That card has recently been offered for auction via the internet. Another of his books ‘Air Bridge’, published in 1951 has a direct link to the Aldbourne area. It tells the tale of another unsuspecting ‘hero’ caught up in the ‘real life ‘Berlin Airlift of 1948/49. A lot of the book’s action is based at Membury airfield (disused after WWII) and mentions Baydon and Ramsbury but sadly not Aldbourne! Soit seems likely that he was still living in Aldbourne in the late 1940s. However, it is not known when he left the village. Several of his post-war books were made into successful films, in particular ‘Campbell’s Kingdom’ and the ‘Wreck of the Mary Deare’. In total he wrote over 30 novels. Hammond became an experienced sailor and at his death in 1998, he left the bulk of his estate to ‘The Association of Sea Training Organisations’ . Hammond Innes, thriller writer and sailor, once lived in our village.