His Majesty's Yankees

Stephen Osborne

When I heard on the radio last month that Thomas Raddall had died, I was shocked and embarrassed instead of saddened because ever since discovering his books ten years ago I had thought of him as a real old-timer who must already have died. I came upon his books (His Majesty's Yankees in particular, and then Roger Sudden, and then the rest) by accident, in a used bookstore, and when I began to read them knew for certain that all my teachers had betrayed me. These were books I should have read when I was young, along with Dickens and Captain Hornblower and the Hardy Boys. For here was a whole imagination that I could understand to be Canadian, or a species of Canadian, and for the first time in my life I was offered a way of thinking about the Fourteen Colonies unscreened by the pink British maps on the classroom wall, or the Blue Yankee armies in the movies down at the Paramount matinee every second Saturday. Because I had never heard of him then (and hadn't since) I had presumed Thomas Raddall not only to be dead, but to have been while he lived a kind of freak to whom no one had ever paid any attention. Certainly no one I knew had ever heard of him. So when I learned of his death I read his autobiography and discovered in it the plain story of an unplain man who in his prime had been recognized and whose books had once been bestsellers (two won G-Gs)—in fact for decades he was honoured as a great Canadian writer. Why he isn't still one is a mystery left for us to ponder.

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Stephen Osborne

Stephen Osborne is a co-founder and contributing publisher of Geist. He is the award-winning writer of Ice & Fire: Dispatches from the New World and dozens of shorter works, many of which can be read at


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