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The Secret Of The Old Lighthouse.


The Secret Of The Old Lighthouse.

By John G Rowe (Author of "The Death Flash"; "Spies of the Secret Police"). Not dated but War Economy Standard; about 1940.

This is another Boys' Own story with good guys, bad guys and piracy. Our heroes are Dick Rowlands, son of the local doctor, and Fred Colesworth, son of the Vicar of Seaby, Northumberland. They are friends who live close to each other and are at home from Cambridge after taking their degrees.

One dark night they go fishing with Tom Strongitharm, an old weather beaten local fisherman, and their small boat is wrecked by some floating debris but they are close to the old redundant Trinity House "Swiftrace" Lighthouse, at a distance of two miles from the shore. They are able to swim to it to seek refuge. At first the American millionaire owner, James B Kippen, and his surly assistants, refuse them admittance. A storm is brewing and he begrudgingly lets them spend the night there. The two youths ask too many penetrating questions and the next morning one of Kippen's assistants starts to take them back to the shore when they spot the source of their collision the previous night. It appears to be a raft of a type used by smugglers and after more searching questions from our intelligent two, the pilot deliberately explodes the motor launch in an attempt to murder and silence our heroes.

Back they swim for a second time into the clutches of the villainous Kippen and as they overhear the thugs' plan to ensure that they never leave the lighthouse alive, our intrepid three run up all the steps to the old lantern room hotly pursued. Once they realise that they are trapped, and not inclined to throw themselves 90 feet into the sea, they quickly decide to use the old metal shaft, which housed the counter balance to the lens turning gear, as a fireman's pole. They slide quickly to the bottom, escape through the open doors, and row rapidly to the shore as harsh words are hurled at them for partially discovering a yet unknown secret. Of course they tell the Police and Coast Guard, who investigate the matter but feel that there is no case to answer.

The story moves on, and the two soon to be graduates blot their copy book in my estimation. Fred scales down a cliff face with a rope; sabotaged by the villains, to see an eagles nest whilst Dick and Tom act as anchor men. He pops the two baby eagles into his specially prepared leather pouches and empties his six chamber revolver into the two parent eagles as they try to prevent him. As anticipated the rope breaks; Fred miraculously swings on to the eyrie's ledge and discovers that it is a cave that turns into a tunnel that leads to an underground cavern with an entrance to the sea. In the water of the cavern is a submarine and the markings indicate that it is not British. On board is Kippen.

Fred hides as Kippen and his henchmen pass and head towards the eyrie's nest. But all of a sudden they open a secret door, disguised as a boulder, and go down another tunnel. Fred follows and finds himself on the beach, and returns to Dick and Tom at the top of the cliff who appear not to be mourning his loss.

With the three now reunited they re-enter the concealed entrance to the tunnel on the beach. Surprisingly the villains, hiding and waiting, overcome them and when they revive they find that they have been moved to a different tunnel. In complete darkness and aided only by their confidence, they explore the tunnel and decide that it is a mine working from the old Whitley colliery which runs out to sea for over two miles. As they fumble their way along they reach a cavern with long ladders reaching high to the vaulted ceiling where there appears to be light, but not daylight, leaking through the gaps of an iron trap door.

I think that you have guessed by now that we are under the old lighthouse and the trap door connects us to it. Hotly pursued by Kippen and his thugs and whilst exchanging revolver shots they climb the ladders and enter a sealed chamber only to be confronted by more henchmen who over power and manacle them. They are forced into diving gear and as the compartment is flooded they are led aboard the submerged submarine and remain on board whilst they sail to the Thames estuary with a view to sinking the liner Sardanapalus to steal £ 250,000 of gold bullion en route for New York, regardless of the potential loss of lives.

Our heroes manage to nudge the steering gear just in time for the torpedo to miss the liner; they return to the lighthouse, still as prisoners, and on entering it meet two waiting thugs who immediately change sides and become allies. More fighting takes place and they lock the doors on their pursuers and race to the lantern. Kippen then demolishes one side of the lighthouse with the submarine torpedo whilst Dick sinks it with a pom pom gun miraculously hidden in the lantern room.

A Royal Navy cruiser arrives; all villains are caught and eventually jailed. Our three heroes are headline news and each personally receive a Victoria Cross medal from the His Majesty the King at the Albert Hall. The Lighthouse is blown up because it is unsafe and the caverns and tunnels flooded. Don't ask me what happened to those two abandoned eaglets, each in a small leather pouch, and left in a shoulder bag somewhere near their nest as I presume that they are still there for they are never mentioned again.

Overall the book is hilarious and if I did not know better I would have thought that Ian Fleming poached all this material for his James Bond books. It would probably make the basis for a very similar film, if it has not already done so. You can have fun working out which lighthouses the author knew, as I guess that Seaby is really Seaton, which is close to Whitley Bay; and now think of a lighthouse 2 miles off shore and swap them around.

It is a difficult book to get hold off due the scarcity of printing materials at the time; if you do come across it, then I can guarantee you a real over the top adventure.