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DAN BILLANY – HULL’S LOST HERO

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Dan BillanyDan Billany was born in 1913 into a poor family living down Devon Street in Hull. Dan left Selby Street School aged 14 with no qualifications whatsoever and took a job as first an errand boy, then an electrical apprenticeship which involved attending night-classes and during this time he discovered his love of studying. Through working at Hull College of Commerce and the Hull Technical College he matriculated and eventually won a place at the University College of Hull to study for a degree in English.

There were struggles over money, but he won through, got his degree, and began teaching. His methods were very modern for the times but the children loved him and he insisted they called him ‘Dan’ and not Mr Billany. Then came World War II and Dan joined the army. As an officer in the East Yorkshire Regiment he fought at Gazala in the western desert, was captured by Rommel’s troops and spent from June 1942 to September 1943 as a PoW in Italy.

And all this time he was writing. His ambition was to be a writer and during his lifetime he had two books published: a thriller The Opera House Murders (1940) and The Magic Door, a book for boys, in 1943. Both books were published to great acclaim and no less a person than TS Eliot of Faber’s urged him to produce follow-up novels to The Opera House Murders. But it was the war and life in PoW camps which brought out Dan Billany’s best work. The Cage, written jointly with a fellow prisoner during his captivity and The Trap, a fictionalised account of Dan’s own earlier years. The Trap has been described as one of the best books to come out of WWII.

Dan never saw the success of his last two books. After the capitulation of Italy in September 1943 he was on the run in the Italian countryside, carrying his manuscripts with him. After the war, the manuscripts were posted to his father and subsequently published, but of Dan, nothing further was heard.


Bookshelf
  • Dan Billany: writer, soldier and teacher, 1913 – 1944 (presumed dead).
  • Dan Billany, Hull’s Lost Hero, by Valerie A Reeves and Valerie Showan, publ. by Kingston Press, Hull City Libraries, 1999.
  • Hero, a play by Barrie Wheatley of the Northern Theatre, Hull, based on the above book, performed both locally and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 2001. Published by Kingston Press.

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