My great-uncle Walter Scott worked for the Guardian as a foreign affairs subeditor from 1916 to his retirement in 1963 aged 88 (The changing art of the subeditor: ‘You had to read the type upside down’, 2 August). He was due to retire in 1939, just as war broke out, and younger men in the office enlisted.
A small team under the leadership of EA Montague vowed to continue printing and distributing the paper throughout the war, even if the country came under enemy occupation. On 9 July 1940, Walter received a memo saying that in the event of an invasion of Britain, he would be notified by a secret code. The message would read: “Private and confidential, not for publication – sortie 03.30 hours.” If he received this, Walter was instructed to immediately notify all war correspondents around the world, as their lives would be endangered.
A particular friend of Walter’s was James Bone (London editor of the Manchester Guardian, 1912-45). He frequently invited Walter for weekends at his country cottage, Abbots Holt, in Tilford, Surrey. At his retirement dinner, Bone made a speech paying tribute to the people he worked with and said “… and the great Walter, who has carried so much of the London end on his shoulders. He has borne with me so patiently for so long and I fear I have not benefited as I should from his kindly admonitions.” The last note from James to Walter, dated 6 September 1959, asks: “[Do you] “like the Guardian’s new name? It’s the penalty that Manchester had to pay the world!”
Walter’s services were needed as he was the go-to person for knowledge of foreign affairs. The management were concerned for his wellbeing and sent the following note: “KAS [the office manager] says that he is quite content so long as we tell Walter Scott in writing that he has complete freedom to stay away in bad weather or whenever he feels slightly below par.”
Walter’s command and memory of foreign affairs meant he was consulted long into his retirement; he was their Wikipedia.