Robert Keable, a chaplain to the SANLC during the First World War, was a popular novelist in the 1920s. Simon Keable-Elliott is posting regular articles about his life and times which build on his book Utterly Immoral.

Robert Keable and the tragedy of the SS Mendi

Robert Keable and the tragedy of the SS Mendi

August 04, 2022

In my book Utterly Immoral I write about Robert Keable’s experiences during the First World War working as a chaplain for the South African Native Labour Contingent. Almost 100,000 black labourers volunteered to serve with the SANLC in France with the first unit of 1,479 labourers arriving Le Havre in November 1916. Robert Keable, as a parish priest then working in Leribe in Basutoland, (now Lesotho), helped recruit men for the SANLC before volunteering himself.

As I explain in my book…

Robert Keable and SANLC's Christmas 1917

Robert Keable and SANLC's Christmas 1917

August 02, 2022

In Utterly Immoral I cover Robert Keable’s time in France during the First World War with the South African Native Labour Contingent. He only spent only one Christmas in France during the War. He was based in Le Havre with the SALNC who were kept in a closed compound, which they were usually banned from leaving except for work. Robert wrote about the experience in his book Standing By. He begins by describing, with undisguised bitterness, how Christmas was celebrated in France:

For thr…

Relatives of Robert Keable, Part 2

Relatives of Robert Keable, Part 2

August 01, 2022

Well, that was interesting. Three weeks ago (see Relatives of Robert Keable, Part 1, July 13th, 2022) I detailed my plan to track down relatives of Robert Keable. Although most of my ancestors seem to have changed their surnames (lots of daughters taking their husband’s name) I decided to begin with everyone called Keable. From the BT website I found the addresses of fifty living in England and on Facebook there were another fifty. So I contacted 100 Keables out of the blue, either via Fa…

Why Utterly immoral?

Why Utterly immoral?

July 24, 2022

Utterly Immoral

The title of my book title comes from a book review by F Scott Fitzgerald. He wrote:

There is a recent piece of trash entitled Simon Called Peter which seems to me utterly immoral

Fitzgerald had made this comment in his review of Sherwood Anderson’s Of Many Marriages in The New York Herald in March 1923. By then the ‘recent piece of trash’ would have been known to nearly everyone who read his review since Simon Called Peter sold more copies in America …

Robert Keable's The Great Galilean

Robert Keable's The Great Galilean

July 22, 2022

Robert Keable’s most famous book is Simon Called Peter and I concentrate on that novel in Utterly Immoral. However, he did write a number of other books which are worth reading, including The Great Galilean.

The Great Galilean was written in September and October 1927 and a was very different book from the seven novels Robert Keable had written over the previous seven years. One can't help thinking this was a book he wanted to get written before he died. He was ill when he wr…

Robert Keable and Frank Stimson

Robert Keable and Frank Stimson

July 22, 2022

As part of the research for Utterly Immoral, my book on Robert Keable, I visited Tahiti in 2016. One of the aims of the trip was to try and meet the children of anyone who would have known Robert Keable back in the 1920s, when he lived on the island. As I have detailed in my post of July 2nd, 2022, I did manage to meet the son of Charles Nordhoff and the daughter of James Norman Hall, the novelists who most famously wrote the Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy. However, I had a list of other people w…

Jingoes' account of the SANLC

Jingoes' account of the SANLC

July 21, 2022

In my book Utterly Immoral I cover Robert Keable’s time in France as a chaplain with the South African Native Labour Contingent. The SANLC was one of the labour corps paid for by the British Government to provide support labour during the First World War. Volunteers from India, China, Egypt, southern Africa, and other parts of the British Empire travelled to France. The men Robert Keable accompanied were based in Le Havre where they unloaded the ships delivering the supplies needed by an …

Relatives of Robert Keable, Part 1

Relatives of Robert Keable, Part 1

July 13, 2022

Whilst writing my book, Utterly Immoral about Robert Keable and his scandalous novel Simon Called Peter, I concentrated my research on the author himself and his closest friends and relatives. What I have not done, until now, is to try to find his other relations, the children and grandchildren and possibly even great grandchildren of his cousins.

If anyone reading this believes they are related to Robert Keable, however tangentially, I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to use my…

Robert Keable's son

Robert Keable's son

July 10, 2022

My father, Tony Keable-Elliott, was the first person Dr Hugh Cecil was keen to talk to, when he began to research the life of Robert Keable for a chapter in his book, The Flower of Battle. There were two reasons for this. First he wanted to find out what Tony knew and, second to ask permission to write about Tony's father. For Hugh Cecil, Tony’s permission was essential and I am sure he would not have continued with his research without it.

I can fully understan…

Croydon described in Robert Keable's Lighten Our Darkness

Croydon described in Robert Keable's Lighten Our Darkness

July 09, 2022

In my book, Utterly Immoral, I cover the places Robert Keable lived in his extraordinary life, from Croydon to Tahiti via Cambridge, Bradford, Zanzibar, Basutoland, Le Havre and Dunstable. Robert Keable was actually born in Clapham and only moved to Croydon when he was about 10. He remained very fond of Croydon and wrote about it in his novel Peradventure. (see post on June 25th)  

Robert Keable also referred to Croydon in his novel Lighten Our Darkness (published as Anne Decides in Ame…

Robert Keable as chaplain with the SANLC

Robert Keable as chaplain with the SANLC

July 08, 2022

In my book, Utterly Immoral, I look at Robert Keable’s time as a chaplain to the South African Native Contingent, a group of black labourers who volunteered to travel to France to support the war effort during the First World War. I cover the efforts he made to recruit for the contingent, his experience in France and the appalling treatment the black labourers suffered. And I also look at the affair he had with a 19-year-old lorry driver.

But how did he see his role as a chaplain?

R…

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