The Altounyans were an Anglo-Armenian family who lived in Syria, but visited their maternal grandparents the Collingwoods at Lanehead on Coniston. The father, Ernest Altounyan, was the son of an Armenian father and an Irish mother and had been educated in England at Rugby, Ransome's own school. He then studied medicine before returning to his father's hospital in Aleppo to work as a doctor. He had married Dora Collingwood, who had been a friend of Arthur Ransome's, Ransome had previously proposed to both her and her sister Barbara.
They had five children, Taqui, Susie, Mavis, known as Titty, Roger and Brigit. In 1928 - 1929, while the Altounyans were on holiday with the Collingwoods, Ransome helped Ernest to teach them to sail on the boats they purchased; Swallow and Mavis.
In return, the Altounyans gave him a pair of red Turkish slippers on his birthday. Ransome was touched by the gift and when he wrote Swallows and Amazons, he named most of the Walker family after the Altounyans. He also dedicated the book: To the six for whom it was written in exchange for a pair of slippers though Evegenia left the dedication out of later editions.
He gave some of the Altounyans' character traits to the fictional children which later led to conflict between the Ransomes and the Altounyans when people started identifying the Walkers too closely with their Altounyan originals. Both Ransome and his wife resented this as a slur on his creativity. In 1958 he demanded that Cape suppress the original dedication of Swallows and Amazons To the six for whom it was written, in exchange for a pair of slippers (TLE pp348, 362).
In 1932 the Ransomes visited the Altounyans in Syria, bringing with them a small dinghy. Ransome wrote much of Peter Duck during their stay in Aleppo.
Taqui Altounyan wrote two memoirs of Syria, In Aleppo Once (1969) and Chimes from a Wooden Bell (c1990).
- Dora Collingwood
- Taqui Altounyan (1917-2001)
- Susan Altounyan
- Mavis Guzelian (1920-1998)
- Roger Altounyan (1922-1987)
- Brigit Sanders (1926-1999)