Arthur Mills Perce Stratton (1911 – 3 September 1975) was an American author and traveller. He was a playwright, a novelist, an OSS agent, a teacher in Turkey, and an assistant college professor in the US, before working for the CIA for about ten years and becoming a travel writer and biographer.
While serving with the American Field Service as a wartime ambulance driver, he was twice awarded the Croix de guerre for bravery under fire, the first time on the Western Front, the second in the Libyan Desert.
Early life[edit | edit source]
Stratton was born in Brunswick, Maine, the son of Arthur Mills Stratton (1868–1916), a native of Portsea Island, Portsmouth, England, a music hall performer known as 'Arthur Rudd', by his marriage to Frances Cora Perce, which took place on 16 October 1902 in Kimberley, in what was then the Cape Colony. His mother, a soprano, who had been born in Baltimore in 1873, lived until 1954. Stratton's father was said to be of a family "impeccably Church and Army", while his mother was described as "American as can be, which means English, Scottish, French and New York State Dutch". Stratton's mother, the daughter of Colonel LeGrand W. Perce, a lawyer practising at the Chicago Bar, was one of six children and was described as "One of the most promising young singers of Chicago... Miss Perce has a pure, even soprano voice, of great range, clear, sweet quality and of more than usual power."
Life and career[edit | edit source]
He was in France on the outbreak of the Second World War and joined the American Field Service as a volunteer. In 1940, as an ambulance driver in France, he was the first foreign volunteer to be decorated by the French Army during the war. The annual Report of the President of Bowdoin referred to the incident:
A Bowdoin graduate in the class of 1935, Mr. Arthur M. Stratton, was the first American to be decorated by the French government with the Croix de Guerre with Palms for bravery under fire... while serving with the American ambulance units on the Western Front.
He was to receive the Croix de guerre twice. In late April 1942, while serving with the Free French Forces in the Eighth Army commanded by Montgomery, he was very severely wounded, more than ten times, while trying to evacuate wounded soldiers from the trap laid by the German Army at Bir Hakeim in the Libyan Desert and was incapacitated from further duty. His act was seen as a feat of exceptional courage and he received his second medal. Free France magazine reported that "A. M. P. Stratton of Brunswick, Maine was wounded in the right leg and left arm while attempting to salvage a partially demolished ambulance." The Columbia alumni news noted that "ARTHUR M. STRATTON, '42AM (Bowdoin)... was wounded at Bir Hacheim and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palms by the Free French."
The first ambulance ran into a storm of lead. The driver, George Tichenor, was killed instantly by a machine gun burst. His best friend, Arthur Stratton, like him a hero of the AFS in France, was in the ambulance behind Tichenor. Stratton's car, too, was struck by a machine gun burst and the steering mechanism destroyed. He hailed a truck and continued the perilous journey under tow. But he had advanced only a few hundred feet when a shell struck the front of his ambulance. Stratton, wounded in 11 places by machine gun fragments, helplessly watched his loaded ambulance destroyed by flames... Nothing is "out of bounds" to a bold AFS man.
In November 1942, Stratton returned to Bowdoin College to recover from his wounds. After his recovery, he was recruited as an agent of the Office of Strategic Services and moved to Turkey, where he taught English at Robert College in İstanbul.
In 1948, he was back in Brunswick as an assistant professor of English at Bowdoin College, based at 234 Maine Street. The same year, he published a novel called Lord Love Us. This was edited for Scribners by Burroughs Mitchell, a contemporary at Bowdoin.
Stratton then worked for the Central Intelligence Agency for some ten years. In the course of this work, he travelled widely, returning to Turkey often and also living in India, Indochina, and Madagascar.
His first major book was One Man's India (1955), while Madagascar was to inspire his second travel book, The Great Red Island (1964), a history of the country presented in the form of a biography weaving back and forth between the past and the present.
Stratton paid his second and last visit to Madagascar in 1958. His editor, Mitchell, later wrote of his travelling "to unlikely places like Madagascar, increasing his odd store of erudition". In 1964, he was living in Athens.
Reviewing his The Great Red Island in 1965, The Times said of him
Every now and then a figure stands out from the interminable ranks of travel writers. Arthur Stratton is such a one. Mr Stratton takes his time, at points too long a time, over bringing off his effects. An accomplished raconteur, rightly sure that he can hold his audience with the compelling magnetism of the Ancient Mariner, he does rather take advantage of his charm. Temptation to put in irrelevant facts (such as Louis XIV dying of gangrene) is not resisted.
In its review of The Great Red Island, The Spectator drew attention to Stratton's description of a south-eastern stretch of the island as "Almost as lovely as the Attic coast" and noted that "Mr Stratton celebrates Madagascar. A New Englander who, as a volunteer with the Free French, first saw the name Madagascar on a can of singe doing duty for corned beef at Bir Hakeim in 1942... Mr Stratton has a baroque turn of style that offers in the first few pages words like 'struthious,' 'rhipidistian', and 'xerophytic'.
In 1973, a donation Stratton made to Bowdoin College was noted in the President's annual report. He died on 3 September 1975. In his memory, Barbara Stratton Bolling and Deborah S. Booker presented a collection of prints to the University of Missouri's Museum of Art and Archaeology, including work from Ethiopia, a lithographic portrait by Edvard Munch of the composer Frederick Delius, and comic art by Honoré Daumier.
In 1945, Stratton's sister Barbara had married Richard Walker Bolling, later a Democratic Congressman from Kansas City, Missouri, and chairman of the United States House Committee on Rules. Barbara Stratton had four children, one with Bolling and three by a previous marriage.
Major publications[edit | edit source]
- Arthur Stratton (1955) (in English). One Man's India. W.W. Norton & Company, New York City. 
- Arthur Stratton (1964) (in English). The Great Red Island: A biography of Madagascar. MacMillan & Co.. 
- Arthur Stratton (1972) (in English). Sinan: Biography of One of the World's Greatest Architects and a Portrait of the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire ISBN 0-333-02901-1. Macmillan Publishers. 
Other publications[edit | edit source]
- Arthur Stratton, Brush Fire; a play in 3 acts (1936)
- Arthur Stratton, See While the City Sleeps. My next play ; a play in 3 acts (1936)
- Arthur Mills Stratton, 'The Battle for the Sands: Ambulance at Bit Hacheim', in The Atlantic November 1942 issue (vol. 170, no. 5)
- A. M. P. Stratton, Lord Love Us (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948, a novel)
- Stories in Edwin Seaver (ed.), Cross section 1948: a collection of new American writing (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1948)
- Arthur Mills Stratton, 'A Letter-Box at Ephesus', in Cross section: a collection of new American writing volume 4 (1969)
Quotations[edit | edit source]
- "Radama was a conqueror. He was a drunkard. Andrianampoinimerina, the Prince Worthy of the Highland People Under the Sun, made his son into an alcoholic and, in effect, cut the young man's throat."
- "Madagascar's great luxury is space, luminous, beautiful emptiness, mile after mile of grassland, brush, and woodland, broken by craggy mountains."
- "Of lemurs, Madagascar has almost the monopoly; this charming primate family branched off the main stem of the tree too soon — before the monkeys, before the apes, before the Hominidae."
- " 'So am I American', she said, speaking educated, cultivated French; and, having surprised me, coolly added 'Central American, from Martinique' ".
Footnotes[edit | edit source]
- Mark J. Warner, at familyorigins.com/users/w/a/r/Mark-J-Warner/ : "ARTHUR MILLS STRATTON was born on 21 JUN 1868 in PORTSEA ISLAND, PORTSMOUTH, HANTS. He died in 1916. He was a music hall performer, known as 'Arthur Rudd'. Parents: JOHN STRATTON and ELIZA LYDIA STYLES. He was married to FRANCES CORA PERCE on 16 OCT 1902 in KIMBERLY, SOUTH AFRICA... FRANCES CORA PERCE was born on 14 SEP 1873 in BALTIMORE, U.S.A. She died about 1954. She was a singer. She was married to ARTHUR MILLS STRATTON on 16 OCT 1902 in KIMBERLY, SOUTH AFRICA. Children were: ARTHUR MILLS STRATTON, BARBARA STRATTON... JOHN STRATTON Parents: CALEB STRATTON and ARABELLA HEWES. He was married to ELIZA LYDIA STYLES on 10 MAR 1868 in PORTSMOUTH, HANTS. Children were: ARTHUR MILLS STRATTON... CALEB STRATTON was born on 25 JUN 1809. He was buried on 22 JAN 1845 in PRINCES RISBOROUGH, BUCKS. He was married to ARABELLA HEWES on 22 JUN 1836 in PRINCES RISBOROUGH, BUCKS. Children were: JOHN STRATTON, ARTHUR STRATTON, CAROLINE STRATTON, CAROLINE STRATTON."
- From thumbnail biography of Stratton on dust cover of The Great Red Island (1964) Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; name "madagascar" defined multiple times with different content
- Florence Ffrench, Music and musicians in Chicago (1979), p. 169: "One of the most promising young singers of Chicago is Miss Frances Cora Perce, daughter of Col. LeGrand W. Perce, one of the prominent members of the Chicago bar. Miss Perce has a pure, even soprano voice, of great range, clear, sweet quality and of more than usual power. Her voice is under perfect control..."
- Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Memorials of Deceased Companions of the Commandery of the State of Illinois (1912), p. 645: "Colonel and Mrs. Perce are the parents of six children, namely: Sarah Cornelia, Hyde Wallace, Frances Cora, Mary Elizabeth, Ethel and Le Grand W."
- Herbert Ross Brown, Sills of Bowdoin: the life of Kenneth Charles Morton Sills, 1879-1954 (1964), p. 333: "Undergraduates were impressed by the personal sacrifice of one young alumnus, Arthur Mills Stratton '35, who returned to the campus in November to recuperate from severe wounds suffered while driving an ambulance in France."
- John Freely, A History of Robert College: The American College for Girls and Bogazici University, vol. 2 (2000), p. 76: "Last Friday we obtained a new teacher of English, Mr. Arthur M. P. Stratton of Bowdoin College, Columbia University Graduate School, and the American Field Service in the Middle East".
- Bowdoin College, Report of the President (1940), p. 17
- Bowdoin College, Catalogue of Bowdoin College and the Medical School of Maine (1948), p. 29 online
- Roll of Honour American Field Service 1939–1945 at ourstory.info
- George Rock, The History of the American Field Service, 1920-1955 (1956), p. 612, extract online at ourstory.info
- Lt. John N. Hobbs (1942-07-26). "Field Service Has Rendezvous With Death, Yet Life Is Its Aim" (in English). The American Field Service. http://www.ourstory.info/library/4-ww2/Hobbs/texts/text1.html.
- Free French Press and Information Service, Free France vols. 1-2 (1942), p. 33
- Free French Press and Information Service, Free France, vols 1-2 (New York, 1942), p. 33 online
- Columbia alumni news, vols. 33-35, p. 192
- Arnold Gingrich, Coronet, vol. 15 (1943), p. 39
- Burroughs Mitchell, The Education of an Editor (1980), p. 11: "The Bowdoin of my time could not compete with the class of 1825, which was the class of both Longfellow and Hawthorne, but several writers did emerge from among us. Lawrence Hall, who joined the Bowdoin English Department, was one; and Arthur Stratton, three of whose books I later edited at Scribners. In World War II, Stratton, an ambulance driver in France, was the first American to receive the Croix de Guerre; he was later wounded at Bir Hakeim, in North Africa. He served in the OSS and then, for about ten years, in the CIA, which took him to Indochina, to India, and to unlikely places like Madagascar, increasing his odd store of erudition."
- Lord Love Us at openlibrary.org
- High-geared Girl; LORD LOVE US at nytimes.com
- Marvin H. Harper, One Man's India by Arthur Stratton, Review in Middle East Journal, vol. 10, no. 1 (Winter, 1956), pp. 92-93
- A 237-word sentence appears on page 3 of The Great Red Island (1964) as follows: "On May Day, in 1958, the fifty thousand, more or less, French men, women and children then resident in Madagascar — the colonials, the businessmen, the functionaries, the servicemen, and the évolués and the assimilés, who are the Malagasy, or the Chinese or the Indians, of Madagascar sufficiently cultivated and civilized in the French manner to be given French citizenship by French authorities — made it worthwhile for the florists of Tananarive, the Malagasy capital, with the assistance of Air France and the air arm of the Messageries Maritimes, TAI, both of which great private companies are underwritten and partly owned by the French government of France, to fly down from Paris tubs full of fresh lily-of-the-valley, roots and all, lifted from the black loam of the vernal woods and spring gardens of France — 5,460 air miles and 24 hours elapsed time away (by Super-Constellation, half that time by Caravelle) — to sell in Madagascar in the Austral fall, at 250 francs CFA (Colonies françaises africaines), or at 500 old French francs (5 new), the brin — and that word means the root, the tender leaves, the stem, the opened white flower bells, and the unopened green buds, perhaps a dozen blooms in all — of the fragrant, delicate, heart-stirring muguet that will not grow in Madagascar, not in the cool highlands, nor in the hot coastal lowlands, neither out of doors nor in fresh greenhouses."
- American Foreign Service Association, Foreign service journal, vol. 42 (1965), p. 38
- 'Pleasure of Islands', in The Times, April 22, 1965 (Issue 56302), page 15, column D
- The Spectator, vol. 214 (1965), p. 606
- Stratton starts the text of his book by reciting the Basmala.
- Bowdoin College, Report of the President (1973), p. 62
- Frances C. Locher, Ann Evory, eds., Contemporary Authors, vols. 53-56 (1976), p. 539: "STRATTON, Arthur M. 1910(?)-1975: 1910(?) — September 3, 1975; American educator, and author of fiction and nonfiction"
- University of Missouri Museum of Art and Archaeology, Muse, issues 13-17 (1979), pp. 4, 9 & 11
- Three Centuries of Comic Art at maa.missouri.edu
- Lawrence O. Christensen, Dictionary of Missouri biography, p. 95 online
- One Man's India at antiqbook.co.uk
- Sinan: Biography of One of the World's Greatest Architects and a Portrait of the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire at biography-clarebooks.co.uk
- Library of Congress, Catalog of copyright entries, Part 1, Volumes 9-10 (1937), p. 281
- Library of Congress, ibid., p. 354
- Quoted in Robert Smith Thompson, Pledge to destiny: Charles de Gaulle and the rise of the free French (1974), chapter 20
- This story begins: "I used to wake up when the moon was full, remembering that girl standing in the moonlight in the open door of the dark little railroad station in Asia Minor... Then, wide awake, I'd have to follow her as she ran out of the shadowy waiting room and down the white dry road in search of her husband."
- The Great Red Island, p. 161
- Quoted in Georges M. Halpern, Peter Weverka, The Healing Trail: Essential Oils of Madagascar (2003) p. 143 online
- The Great Red Island, p. 3
- The Great Red Island, p. 231