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Daddy replies in the famous Duffers telegram (SA1):
BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON'T DROWN
Susan says that he added the won't drown to comfort Mother. Mother later leaves a note in John's tent If not duffers won't drown and he says to himself Daddy knows we aren;'t duffers (SA5):
John says that Daddy thinks we shall none of us get drowned, and that if any of us do get drowned it’s a good riddance (SA1). He is particularly keen not to let Daddy down.
Hugh Brogan comments: John’s father’s telegram is famous. John’s comment is enormously significant: ‘Daddy knows we aren’t duffers’. It was something that the boy Arthur could never have said to himself with any confidence; yet how much he wanted to! Now, in fiction, all could be arranged. (LAR p.313).
When John tells Mother about the night sailing, she says Don't you think that was very nearly like being duffers. John replies Yes it was, rather. But you see it was war and it was our only chance .... (SA23). Later when they are leaving the island Mother says Their father seems to think they are not duffers, but sometimes I am not so sure. John said Mother! and she laughed (SA31).
It has been suggested that Ernest Altounyan whose children were, in part, the models for the Walker family was noted for his pithily worded telegrams and this one is typical of his style (CFT). Roger Wardale comments in Nancy Blackett: Under Sail with Arthur Ransome that the telegram is in his style (NBUS p.66).
In the Japanese version, the telegram reads "Duffers (noroma:ノロマ) who would drown, if not duffers, will not drown."
Duffer: One who is clumsy or incompetent.