Roald Dahl's reflections on August

Posted by
Tilly Burn, Archive Assistant at the Roald Dahl Museum
Posted on
10:00am, 12th August
August chapter of Roald Dahl's My Year

We take a look at the August chapter of My Year and find out about Roald Dahl the adventurer.

The August entry from Roald Dahl’s My Year is a wonderfully wandering stream-of-conciousness trip through his favourite memories of August. Here he tells us the tale of a 16-year-old Roald’s first solo holiday, a trip to Marseille in Southern France.

Roald didn’t plan much of it out, he just decided to hop on a train.

I had a vague idea that I simply wanted to get to the semi-tropical South of France and see the Mediterranean.

Roald’s trip to Marseille was certainly an adventure, and it all very nearly went perfectly. Unfortunately, he had not quite brought enough money, and he realised on the journey home that he was going to be stranded in Dover unless he borrowed a few shillings. Luckily, someone was willing to help him out:

He cocked his head to one side and looked at me with the tiny twinkling wrinkles of a smile around the corners of his eyes. He took out this wallet and handed me a crisp brown ten-shilling note. “Here you are,” he said. “Keep it. It’s a present. I’ve got several more in here.’ A small gesture, you may say, but it was one that has stuck very clearly in my memory for nearly sixty years.

Perhaps this gentleman was the inspiration for the old man in James and the Giant Peach who helped James have an adventure of his very own by giving him the mysterious crocodile tongues…

Roald’s adventuring spirit then took him to Newfoundland, aged 17, with the Public Schools’ Explorers Society, where he trekked across the forest and lakes of Northern Canada.

Roald Dahl copyright the Roald Dahl Story Company

Above: Roald Dahl aged 17 in Newfoundland, copyright the Roald Dahl Story Company

It was a very difficult trek, and it took about 21 days. The boys had to trap their own food and eat pemmican, thin strips of pounded meat mixed with fat and berries. The group had to experiment even more with their food rations, and Roald mentions in Boy: Tales of Childhood that they were all so hungry that they ate “boiled lichen and reindeer moss”!  

Photo by Roald Dahl - expedition to Newfoundland. Copyright the Roald Dahl Story Company

Above: a photo by Roald Dahl of his expedition to Newfoundland. Copyright the Roald Dahl Story Company.

His drive to explore interesting places didn’t disappear, and when Roald was an adult he was sent to work in Eastern Africa, first in Kenya and then Tanzania. This was a dream come true for Roald, and he worked there for a year before joining the RAF in WWII.

Roald’s time adventuring left lots of great memories, and definitely influenced his books. Animals he encountered in Africa like giraffes, monkeys, crocodiles and fantastically plumed birds can be found throughout his children’s books, with snakes, planes and tales of war featuring in some of his adult stories. The disgusterous food he had to eat in Newfoundland surely formed the basis of some of the food he invented for his characters to eat – a snozzcumber can’t be as bad as a piece of lichen, surely?

Summer is a perfect time to do some adventuring of your own, and you can find out a bit more about Roald’s (and James’s’!) adventures at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre. We’re celebrating our peachy summer with all things James and the Giant Peach!

Go on a My Year walk