portsmouth poetry 

From A Borrowed Biro

The Lost Poets

Bertram Andrews                       Robert H Beckh

Rupert Brooke

The First World War is unique in the enormous amount of poetry written during and about it.


The terms "war poets" and "war poetry" are associated almost exclusively with WW1


Leslie Coulson     

Hedd Wyn

Tom Kettle

Hamish Mann

Isaac Rosenberg

Robert Sterling

Patrick Shaw-Stewart

Robert Vernede

T P Cameron Wilson
Jeffrey Day  

W N Hodgson

Francis Ledwidge

Wilfred Owen

Alan Seeger

Will Streets

Edward Tennant

Gilbert Waterhouse

Julian Grenfell

Cyril Morton Horne

Ewart Mackintosh

Nowell Oxland



We have been unable to find an image.





Louis B Solomon

Charles Sorley

Edward Thomas

Arthur Graeme West

We have identified over 80 published war poets. Almost all of these were serving men


In addition countless thousands of ordinary 'rank and file' soldiers and sailors whose work has never been published wrote poetry to their wives, sweethearts, mothers and families


These 28 published poets died during the war. Some of them, like Hedd Wyn, Edward Thomas and Francis Ledwidge would have gone on to literary greatness had they lived. Some, like Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke, achieved it in death


These are the 'Lost Poets'


What explains this incredible  outpouring of poetry in just 4 bitter years?


Possibly, the early C20th saw an unprecedented number of talented poets who sadly happened to coincide with the Great War.


What is more likely is that it was the nature of war that stimulated so many to write and with such eloquence.


The thousands of ordinary men who wrote from the misery and horror of the trenches is testament both to the indomitable strength of the human spirit . That they chose poetry as the means to express their hopes and feelings is evidence of the redemptive power of poetry summed up half a century later by President J F Kennedy --


“When power leads man to arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of this existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.”

What is the nature of 'war poetry'?

It is easy to take the lazy view that the war poets were either jingoistic or anti-war. We need to remember that the prevailing myth at home at the time was of stirring japes fighting the Bosche; a fantasy that imaged the war was if it were a giant cricket match with guns. The truth was screened from mass perception especially as the death toll rose. None of the war poets, both those who died and those who survived, took an anti war stance but they were opposed to this fantasy. Their purpose was to honour the sacrifice not by over sentimentalising it but by facing its enormity and horror. “My subject is war and the pity of war,” wrote Wilfred Owen “The poetry is in the pity”. Occasionally there is anger as well, that righteous indignation that screams from much of Sassoon's poetry and led this decorated war hero to challenge the incompetence of the military high command.


A few of them, like Brooke, took a patriotic pro-war approach or wrote to polish over the dreadful realities of the trenches, Somme, Gallipoli, Verdun, Paaschendaele and Jutland. They are the first eleven listed here.


Some started out with an idealised view but changed confronted with the truth their poetry becoming more realistic and often dark and bitter - the next six listed.


The last nine embody what has become synonymous with the war poets. A recognition of the scale, tragedy and futility of the dying even though served with pride and fought for righteous reasons.


Of the hundreds of published war poems, none is better known than the “Ode To Remembrance” though almost no one knows who wrote it!

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."


It was written by a man who had not fought while on holiday on the coast of Cornwall a few weeks after the war began following the first major casualties but long before the true carnage. It is not an ode but the fourth verse of a poem entitled “For The Fallen”. It was chosen by the Royal British Legion for Remembrance services and given a new title. Its author, Lawrence Binyon was too old to enlist though he did serve later in a non combat role. He died aged 74 in 1943.


There follows biographies and poems by the poets who gave their lives in the great War, plus links to other sites. They are arranged in the categories listed above and by poetic impact.


BIOGRAPHIES

1. Patriotic and romanticised 

Rupert Brooke

1887 - 1915


Educated at Rugby School and King’s College, Cambridge; Brooke was typical of a new wave of literary talent which emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century – talented, progressive and inspiring -- he was a poet, scholar, dramatist, literary critic, travel writer and political activist. His friends included leading figures of his generation including W B Yeats, Churchill and Virginia Woolf with whom he went 'skinny-dipping' in a moonlit pool while at Cambridge. He was,  for a while, part of the legendary "Bloomsbury Group" until the end of a long term relationship with Katherine ('Ka') Cox led to paranoia and breakdown. Possessing Byronic good looks, W B Yeats described him as the “handsomest man in England”


Brooke was bi-sexual, uncertain of and probably uncomfortable with his 

Statue of Brooke in Rugby                                         sexuality. When war was declared, he  

                                                                                   was drawn to it with the same fervour that led thousands of young men and boys to sign up for the “great adventure” as if it were all a merry party. He wrote home that ‘It’s all great fun’, of his disgust with the objections raised and of the country’s need for a “blood letting”.


Brooke joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1914 but never fought. He served several months in the naval base in Portsmouth and went from there to the Front in France but to observe not fight. In 1915 he set sail for Gallipoli. With almost poetic irony he died on St. George's Day 1915 at the age of 27 before he reached the slaughter at the Dardanelles from an infected mosquito bite on a French hospital ship off the Greek island of Skyros. 

His friend, the composer William Denis Browne, wrote of his death - 

"I sat with Rupert. At 4 o’clock he became weaker, and at 4.46 he died, with the sun shining all round his cabin, and the cool sea-breeze blowing through the door and the shaded windows. No one could have wished for a quieter or a calmer end than in that lovely bay, shielded by the mountains and fragrant with sage and thyme." 


He was buried in an olive grove on Skyros chosen by Browne and Patrick Shaw-Stewart another poet listed here who would die in 1917.


In 1985, Brooke was among 16 First World War poets commemorated on a slate monument in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey. When a permanent memorial was erected the wooden cross marking his grave was re-sited to the family plot in Rugby and later given to Rugby school. The first stanza of his poem 'The Dead' is inscribed on the Royal Naval Division Memorial in London 

Brooke was already a published poet by the time he enlisted but became widely known with the publication of his collection of five sonnets, "1914 & Other Poems" shortly before his death. The last of these, "The Soldier" (Also known as "The Soldier 1914") is his most famous poem and one of the best known of WW1. It was quoted by the Times Literary Supplement and read from the pulpit of St Paul's Cathedral on Easter Sunday. 


It is suitably patriotic and sentimental for the time and situation. It has none of the anger or sadness that came from other poets as the war progressed. it is impossible to know what  sort of poetry Brooke would have written had he lived to see the horrors of Gallipoli! 


The Soldier


IF I should die, think only this of me:

That there's some corner of a   

                                foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust 

                                   concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made 

                                         aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her 

                                ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by the 

                                 suns of home.


And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the 

                    thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as 

                                         her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and 

                                      gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English 

                                                heaven.


LINK

The Rupert Brooke Society     www.rupertbrooke.com

"Into Battle" is Grenfell's best known poem. It equalled Brooke's "The Soldier" in popularity during the early part of the war.

Into Battle

The naked earth is warm with Spring,
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun's gaze glorying,
And quivers in the sunny breeze;
And life is Colour and Warmth and Light,
And a striving evermore for these;
And he is dead who will not fight,
And who dies fighting has increase.

The fighting man shall from the sun
Take warmth, and life from glowing earth;
Speed with the light-foot winds to run
And with the trees to newer birth;
And find, when fighting shall be done,
Great rest, and fulness after dearth.

All the bright company of Heaven
Hold him in their bright comradeship,
The Dog star, and the Sisters Seven,
Orion's belt and sworded hip:

The woodland trees that stand together,
They stand to him each one a friend;
They gently speak in the windy weather;
They guide to valley and ridges end.

The kestrel hovering by day,
And the little owls that call by night,
Bid him be swift and keen as they,
As keen of ear, as swift of sight.

The blackbird sings to him: "Brother, brother,
If this be the last song you shall sing,
Sing well, for you may not sing another;
Brother, sing."

In dreary doubtful waiting hours,
Before the brazen frenzy starts,
The horses show him nobler powers; —
O patient eyes, courageous hearts!

And when the burning moment breaks,
And all things else are out of mind,
And only joy of battle takes
Him by the throat and makes him blind,
Through joy and blindness he shall know,
Not caring much to know, that still
Nor lead nor steel shall reach him, so
That it be not the Destined Will.

The thundering line of battle stands,
And in the air Death moans and sings;
But Day shall clasp him with strong hands,
And Night shall fold him in soft wings.


Julian Henry Francis Grenfell DSO 

1888 – 1915


Julian Grenfell was typical of the Victorian officer class from background to stiff upper lip. Born in St James's Square, London, educated at Eton (where he was good friends with fellow officer-poet Patrick Shaw-Stewart also listed here). and at Balliol College Oxford where he bullied Phillip Sassoon (brother of Siegfried).


He joined the army in 1910 and was awarded a Distinguished Service Order in 1914 for bringing vital reconnaissance information from behind enemy lines.


Grenfell’s attitude to war was a world away from the likes of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. It is best understood from a letter in 1914 - 


I adore war. ... It is like a big picnic ….. I have never been more well or more happy. ... It just suits my stolid health and stolid nerves and barbaric disposition. The fighting-excitement vitalizes everything, every sight and action. One loves one's fellow man so much more when one is bent on killing him." 


It should be remembered that unlike most war poets who enlisted when war was declared Grenfell was a professional soldier. That and his background explain his very different attitude to war.


On 13 May 1915  a shell landed a few yards away and shrapnel from it hit him in the head. He died of his wounds 13 days later with his mother, father and sister at his bedside. He was 27 years old and was buried at the Boulogne Eastern Cemetery. The Times published his most famous poem “Into Battle” the day after his death. Two months later his bother Billy was also killed in action less than a mile away from where Julian had been wounded.


Julian Grenfell is one of the 16 Great War poets commemorated in Poets Corner Westminster Abbey.


Two School friends - W N Hodgson & Nowell Oxland

W.N. Hodgson

1883-1916


William Noel Hodgson was educated at Durham School (where he was friends with Nowell Oxland also listed here) and Christ Church College, Oxford. He volunteered for the British army on the outbreak of the First World War and served in the 9th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, landing at Le Havre in July 1915. He was awarded the Military Cross after the Battle of Loos and later promoted to Lieutenant.    

                          

He was killed on the 1st of July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. His posthumous volume "Verse and Prose in Peace and War" was published in 1916, but he is probably best remembered today for his poem ‘Before Action’ which is believed to have been written two days before he died.

Into Action 


By all the glories of the day
And the cool evening’s benison
By that last sunset touch that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,
By beauty lavishly outpoured
And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived
Make me a soldier, Lord.

By all of all man’s hopes and fears
And all the wonders poets sing,
The laughter of unclouded years,
And every sad and lovely thing;
By the romantic ages stored
With high endeavour that was his,
By all his mad catastrophes
Make me a man, O Lord.

I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword
Must say good-bye to all of this; –
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.


Hodgson's name on the WW1 Memorial in Berwick Parish Church & Frontispiece of  his collected poems        


Nowell Oxland

1891-1915


The son of a Cumbrian vicar,  Nowell Oxland attended Durham School, where he was friends with fellow poet William Hodgson also listed         Green Hill Cemetery, Suvla Bay, Turkey          here. He read History at Worcester College, Oxford. He was a keen Rugby player and captain of his local team.


He was commissioned as 2nd lieutenant in the 6th Battalion Border Regiment in August 1914 and sailed for Gallipoli in The Empress of Britain on July 1915. 

Oxland took part in the landings at Suvla Bay on 6 August 1915 and  was killed in action three days later. 


He is buried in the Green Hill Cemetery at Suvla Bay. 


His best-known poem, Outward Bound, was written while on the way to Gallipoli  and published in The Times in August 1915 after his death. His collection “Poems and Stories” was published in 1916.


There is a memorial to Oxland at his father’s former church in Alston – St Augustine’s featuring two painted panels depicting portraits of Oxland as Saint Michael and Saint George.

Extract from Outward Bound


Though the high Gods smith and slay us,
Though we come not whence we go,
As the host of Menelaus
Came there many years ago;
Yet the self-same wind shall bear us
From the same departing place
Out across the Gulf of Saros
And the peaks of Samothrace;

We shall pass in summer weather,
We shall come at eventide,
When the fells stand up together
And all quiet things abide;
Mixed with cloud and wind and river,
Sun-distilled in dew and rain,
One with Cumberland for ever
We shall go not forth again.

The carnage of Suvla bay is the subject of Eric Bogle's fine song "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" 


Here is one of the best versions available on You Tube

www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFCekeoSTwg

Part of "No Man's Land" written shortly before his death


"Then, silent, we press with a noiseless tread
Thro’ no man’s land, but the sightless dead;
Aye, muffle your footsteps, well ye may,
For the mouldering corpses here decay
Whom no man owns but the King abhorred,
Grim Pluto, Stygia’s over-lord.


Oh breathe a prayer for the sightless Dead
Who have bitten the dust ‘neath the biting lead
Of the pitiless hail of the Maxim’s fire,
‘Neath the wash of shell in the well trod mire.
Ah well! But we’ve, too, got a job to be done,
For we’ve come to the wire of our friend, the Hun.
“Now, keep well down, lads; can you see any gap?” 


On 8 August 1916 Beckh read his Battalion orders "A Patrol will leave tonight to examine gap in German wire at C15 b 8.2’"

He wrote "No Man's Land in response to it.


Ewart Alan Mackintosh

1893-1917


Mackintosh was probably named after William Ewart Gladstone who was a friend of his grandfather. Born in in Brighton of Scottish descent, he studied at Brighton College, St Paul’s School, London and Christ Church, Oxford, where he joined the Officers’ Training Corps. He was initially rejected for military service for poor eyesight but later accepted by the Seaforth Highlanders and commissioned as a second lieutenant on 31 December 1914. He was wounded in 1915 and awarded  the Military Cross in 1916. He was killed on the second day of the Battle of Cambrai on 21 November 1917. He was buried in the Orival Wood Cemetery near Flesquieres in  northern France.


His poem ‘Ghosts of War’ has been compared to the finest of Brooke’s work and lines form another ‘A Creed’ were used on the Scottish American war memorial in Edinburgh, installed in 1927.


If it be life that waits I shall live for ever unconquered.
If death I shall die at last strong in my pride and free

Robert H. Beckh

1894-1916


Born on New Years Day 1894 in Great Hamwell, Hertfordshire, he  

                 Cabaret Rouge Cemetery                        read Classics at Jesus College, Cambridge before enlisting as a private in the Royal Fusiliers (Public School Battalion) in 1914  as he felt that the best training for an officer was through the ranks. He was sent to France in March 1916 his Battalion located to trenches near Betrancourt.

 

He was shot leading a four-man patrol on the German lines on the night of 15 August 1916. He was initially buried in a German military cemetery with two other British soldiers but his body was lost in transit when the British authorities moved the bodies to Cabaret Rouge Cemetery in Souchez, France, He is memorialized on a gravestone in the Cemetery.

 

 A collection of Beckh’s poems "Swallows in Storm and Sunlight", was published posthumously by Chapman and Hall in 1917




Ghosts of War 1917  


When you and I are buried
With grasses over head,
The memory of our fights will stand
Above this bare and tortured land,
We knew ere we were dead.

Though grasses grow on Vimy,
And poppies at Messines,
And in High Wood the children play,
The craters and the graves will stay
To show what things have been.

Though all be quiet in day-time,
The night shall bring a change,
And peasants walking home shall see
Shell-torn meadow and riven tree,
And their own fields grown strange.

They shall hear live men crying,
They shall see dead men lie,
Shall hear the rattling Maxims fire,
And see by broken twists of wire
Gold flares light up the sky.

And in their new-built houses
The frightened folk will see
Pale bombers coming down the street,
And hear the flurry of charging feet,
And the crash of Victory.

This is our Earth baptized
With the red wine of War.
Horror and courage hand in hand
Shall brood upon the stricken land
In silence evermore.





Bertram Andrews 1895 - 1917


Born in 1895, Andrews attended Bancrofts School in Woodford Green, London between 1906 and 1913. He had a passion for English and was a regular contributor of reviews and poems to the school’s newspaper. On the outbreak of war he joined the 16th Battalion (Public Schools) Middlesex Regiment as a private soldier. His battalion was sent to France in November 1915 and he saw service in the line


He was returned to the UK for officer training in Ayr where he fell in love with a local girl, Annie Knox. He was appointed Second Lieutenant in the Royal Sussex Regiment, 13th Battalion (the South Downs Battalion) in August 1916. 


In July 1917 Andrews was attached to the Signal section of his battalion in the Ypres sector where the Third Battle of Ypres or Paaschendaele was scheduled to start in the area of Pilckem Ridge. Andrews was required to lead troops close to the initial advance to ensure telephone and other communication links were laid. The advance began at 0350 hours on 31 July and Andrews was struck down in the earliest stages of the battle when a shell burst whilst he was leading his troops across No Man’s Land. Badly wounded, he was evacuated to the Casualty Clearing Station and died shortly after he was admitted. He is buried in Dozinghem Military Cemetery.


In 2015 the Old Bancroftians Association was contacted by a lady in Scotland who had discovered a book of poems in the belongings of her late aunt, Annie Knox. Bertram Andrews who left them with Annie on his return to the Front. The Old Bancroftians arranged for the poems to be transcribed and published on their website. 


For copyright reasons we are unable to reproduce any of the poems in this collection which can be viewed in the Old Bancroftians website

INK

The Bancroftian Network          http://bancroftians.net


Will Streets 1886 - 1916


John William Streets is one of the few working class poets in the list. The eldest of twelve children, born in 1886 in Whitwell, Derbyshire. A bright and talented boy he was offered a place at grammar school but chose to work as a miner in the local pit mine from the age of 14 to 28 to help support his family.  He continued his studies with the help of a mentor, John Mills.


On the outbreak of war Will Streets enlisted in the Sheffield City (Pals) Battalion. He spent 15 months training with the battalion near Salisbury and during this time wrote a number of poems. In December 1915 he was sent to the Suez Canal in Egypt and, after two months, moved to the Western Front in France.


In 1916 the found time to write poems and ideas in a pocket book (some of  which he sent home to his parents) whilst preparing for the Battle of the Somme. He was in the second wave of men sent over the top on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916. He was wounded and  making his way back to the first aid post when he returned to help an injured comrade and disappeared.


Listed as missing, Will Street’s body lay in No Man’s Land for 10 months until it was body was recovered and identified. He is buried at Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps. His poems were posthumously published in 1917 under the title "The Undying Splendour"


Gallipoli


Upon the margin of a rugged shore
There is a spot now barren, desolate,
A place of graves, sodden with human gore
That Time will hallow, Memory consecrate.

There lie the ashes of the mighty dead,
The youth who lit with flame Obscurity,
Fought true for Freedom, won thro' rain of lead
Undying fame, their immortality.

The stranger wand'ring when the war is over,
The ploughman there driving his coulter deep,
The husbandman who golden harvests reap-
From hill and ravine, from each plain and cover
Will hear a shout, see phantoms on the marge,
See men again making a deathless charge. 


Will Streets wrote of his poems


"They were inspired while I was in the trenches, where I have been so busy I have had little time to polish them. I have tried to picture some thoughts that pass through a man’s brain when he dies. I may not see the end of the poems, but hope to live to do so. We soldiers have our views of life to express, though the boom of death is in our ears. We try to convey something of what we feel in this great conflict to those who think of us, and sometimes, alas! mourn our loss. We desire to let them know that in the midst of our keenest sadness for the joy of life we leave behind, we go to meet death grim-lipped, clear-eyed, and resolute-hearted"


Ypres 


Thou, Ypres, that once wert queen of Flanders plains,
What art thou now?—a tumbled heap of dust,
With scarce a wall that stands, nor iron where rust
Has not for many a moon more heavy lain.

The Cloth Hall and Cathedral, once thy pride,
That showed a ceiling lined by master hand,
Or raised a tower that lauded all the land,
Now lie a mass of ruins side by side.

And little mounds of earth, which at their head
Bear little wooden crosses, tell the tale
Of those who fought for thee and passed the veil,
Of many a myriad of heroic dead.

Those tree stumps shattered out afar,
Shell-torn on shell-torn ground, once formed a glade
Where feathered songsters their sweet music made,
Nor dreamt would war their fervent beauty mar.

And overhead, where those same birds of song
Made fleeting melody with every breath,
Now soar aloft machines that token death,
The while they guide the speeding shell along.

And where he once a lofty solace raised,
Or to some humble cottage gave birth,
Now, like a skulking rodent ‘neath the earth,
Man builds himself a tunnelled burrow mazed.


Louis B. Solomon

1896 - 1918


Solomon was born in Oakland California USA to British parents who

returned to England when he was a child.  Educated at Dulwich College, he left school at 15 to become a motor mechanic. He was commissioned into the Royal Fusiliers but transferred to the Royal Flying Corps with whom he served at the Western Front. He was killed in April 1918 and buried in Outtersteene Communal Cemetery Extension, Bailleul, France.His poems were published posthumously in 1919 by The Fountains Press under the title "Wooden Crosses and Other Poems". 

WE HAVE BEEN UNABLE TO LOCATE A PHOTOGRAPH OF LOUIS B SOLOMON


LINK
http://forgottenpoetsofww1.blogspot.com

T.P. Cameron Wilson

1888-1918


Theodore Percival Cameron Wilson a poet and novelist. He was born in Devon the son and grandson of a vicar. His grandfather was also a novelist, his younger brother an actor and his sister also a poet. 


Known as "Jim" he had a questionable education, left Oxford without a degree and became a teacher 


Although T.P. Cameron Wilson left a substantial body of work, he is best known for one poem "Magpies in Picardy" which was published in the Westminster Gazette in 1916 one month after he reached the Western Front. . He was not of a military nature but enlisted in August 1914 and was commissioned in the Sherwood Foresters.  He was horrified by what he saw at the Front  and although he served on 'staff' and met Haig became increasingly depressed.  

He was promoted to captain and returned to the front and was killed at Hermies in France on 23 March 1918. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial to the Missing and on the lychgate at Little Eaton church in Derbyshire. 

His collected poems were published by his friend and former pupil Nigel Monro in 1919 under the title "Magpies in Picardy"

Magpies in Picardy 


The magpies in Picardy
Are more than I can tell.
They flicker down the dusty roads
And cast a magic spell
On the men who march through Picardy,
Through Picardy to hell.

(The blackbird flies with panic,
The swallow goes with light,
The finches move like ladies,
The owl floats by at night;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as artists might.)

A magpie in Picardy
Told me secret things—
Of the music in white feathers,
And the sunlight that sings
And dances in deep shadows—
He told me with his wings.

(The hawk is cruel and rigid,
He watches from a height;
The rook is slow and sombre,
The robin loves to fight;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as lovers might.)

He told me that in Picardy,
An age ago or more,
While all his fathers still were eggs,
These dusty highways bore
Brown, singing soldiers marching out
Through Picardy to war.

He said that still through chaos
Works on the ancient plan,
And two things have altered not
Since first the world began—
The beauty of the wild green earth
And the bravery of man.

(For the sparrow flies unthinking
And quarrels in his flight;
The heron trails his legs behind,
The lark goes out of sight;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as poets might.)

This touching poem was written by Vernede to his wife


To C.H.V. 

 

What shall I bring to you, wife of mine?
When I come back from the war?
A ribbon your dear brown hair to twine?
A shawl from a Berlin store?
Say, should I choose you some Prussian hack
When the Uhlans we overwhelm?
Shall I bring you a Potsdam goblet back
And the crest from a prince’s helm?

Little you’d care what I laid at your feet.
Ribbon or crest or shawl—
What if I bring you nothing, sweet,
Nor maybe come home at all?
Ah, but you’ll know, Brave Heart, you’ll know
Two things I’ll have kept to send:
Mine honour for which you bade me go
And my love–my love to the end.


Robert Vernède

1875-1917


Robert Ernest Vernède was born in London and educated at St Paul’s School and St John’s College, Oxford. After graduating he wrote novels and short stories. 


In 1914, though four years over the official age , he enlisted as a second lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion Rifle Brigade. He was wounded in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. After returning to the front he died after being wounded by machine gun fire while leading an advance at Havrincourt. 


He was buried at Le Bucquiere Communal Cemetery Extension.


His patriotic poem "The Call"  was published in The Times on 19 August 1914. By 1916, when he had actually experienced war, he was writing home to his wife in a very different vein

"I suppose I have just found out what it can be like. We have been heavily shelled for about two hours, and one sat there with intervals of seconds, it seemed, not knowing where the next would come … I still think it’s right that war should be damnable, but I wish everybody could have an idea of how beastly it can be" 

[6 February 1916]



2. Embittered 

Gilbert Waterhouse 

1883-1916


Born n Kent, Gilbert Waterhouse was an architect and later a poet. 


He enlisted as a private in the 8th Battalion Royal Fusiliers in September 1914 and applied for a commission the following year becoming a second lieutenant to the 3rd Battalion Essex Regiment. 


Posted to France,  was hospitalised in 1916 with a septic arm. On return to his unit, he was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. He was initially posted as ‘wounded and missing’ and his death was not formally announced until March 1917. 


In July 1917 he was buried in the Serre Road No. 2 cemetery.


A sonnet ‘Coming in splendour thro’ the golden gate’ was published in The English Review in October 1915 and a volume of poetry, "Rail-Head and Other Poems" was published posthumously in December 1916

The Casualty Clearing Station (1916)

 

A bowl of daffodils,
A crimson-quilted bed,
Sheets and pillows white as snow—
White and gold and red—
And sisters moving to and fro,
With soft and silent tread.


So all my spirit fills
With pleasure infinite,
And all the feathered wings of rest
Seem flocking from the radiant West
To bear we thro’ the night.


See, how they close me in,
They, and the sisters’ arms.
One eye is closed, the other lid
Is watching how my spirit slid
Toward some red-roofed farms,
And having crept beneath them slept


Secure from war’s alarms.


West's best known poem exemplifies the frustration and bitterness many soldier poets came to feel confronted by the realities of the war compared to the image that was popular back home. Here is the opening verse


God! How I hate you, you young cheerful men,
Whose pious poetry blossoms on your graves

As soon as you are in them, nurtured up
By the salt of your corruption, and the tears
Of mothers, local vicars, college deans,
And flanked by prefaces and photographs
From all you minor poet friends—the fools—
Who paint their sentimental elegies
Where sure, no angel treads; and, living, share
The dead’s brief immortality

Oh Christ!


To think that one could spread the ductile wax
Of his fluid youth to Oxford’s glowing fires
And take her seal so ill! Hark how one chants—
“Oh happy to have lived these epic days”—
“These epic days”! And he’d been to France,
And seen the trenches, glimpsed the huddled dead
In the periscope, hung in the rusting wire:
Choked by their sickley fœtor, day and night
Blown down his throat: stumbled through ruined hear this
Proved all that muddy brown monotony,
Where blood’s the only coloured thing. Perhaps
Had seen a man killed, a sentry shot at night,
Hunched as he fell, his feet on the firing-step,
His neck against the back slope of the trench,
And the rest doubled up between, his head
Smashed like and egg-shell, and the warm grey brain
Spattered all bloody on the parados:
Had flashed a torch on his face, and known his friend,
Shot, breathing hardly, in ten minutes—gone!
Yet still God’s in His heaven, all is right
In the best possible of worlds. The woe,
Even His scaled eyes must see, is partial, only
A seeming woe, we cannot understand.
God loves us, God looks down on this out strife
And smiles in pity, blows a pipe at times
And calls some warriors home. We do not die,
God would not let us, He is too “intense,”
Too “passionate,” a whole day sorrows He
Because a grass-blade dies. How rare life is!
On earth, the love and fellowship of men,


Arthur Graeme West

1891-1917


Arthur Graeme West's book chillingly titles The Diary of a Dead Officer published in 1919 covers the period from his enlistment in the army in 1915 to his death. It contains 10 poems alongside letters and diaries. 


Born in Norfolk and educated at Blundell’s School, he joined the Officer Training Corps at Balliol College, Oxford. where  Having been rejected for a commission because of poor eyesight, he enlisted as a private with the Public Schools Battalion in January 1915. 


He saw repeated action France in 1915 and was accepted for an officer training course in 1916. His diary described four months bullying and being ordered about by stupid NCO's that did more to turn him against war than the trenches had done!


While on leave in 1916 he wrote his most famous poem "God! How I hate you, you young cheerful men!". It attacks the empty patriotism and religious sentiment typical of 'soldier poetry' popular at the time. 


A second lieutenant in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, he returned to France and was killed by a sniper near Bapaume on 3 April 1917.

Men sternly banded: banded for what end?
Banded to maim and kill their fellow men—
For even Huns are men. In heaven above
A genial umpire, a good judge of sport,
Won’t let us hurt each other! Let’s rejoice
God keeps us faithful, pens us still in fold.
Ah, what a faith is ours (almost, it seems,
Large as a mustard-seed)—we trust and trust,
Nothing can shake us! Ah, how good God is
To suffer us to be born just now, when youth
That else would rust, can slake his blade in gore,
Where very God Himself does seem to walk
The bloody fields of Flanders He so loves!

Patrick Shaw Stewart

1888-1917


Shaw-Stewart was talented high achiever matching academic brilliance, with a determination to succeed. He came first in the scholarship at Eton in 1901, and won a second in 1905 and a further three at Oxford where he was awarded a double first and elected a fellow of All Souls College. Instead he accepted a post at Barings Bank where he became its youngest managing director at the age of 24! 


A year later, he enlisted as a Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve in September 1914, joining the Hood Battalion in November. He sailed to the Dardanelles with his friend Rupert Brooke and William Denis Browne commanding the firing party at Brookes funeral on the island of Skyros.


Having survived the Gallipoli he was promoted to lieutenant commander and put in temporary command of the Hood Battalion in France in May 1917. He was killed near Cambrai on 30 December 1917 and is buried at Metz-en-Couture in the British extension to the communal cemetery.


His reputation as a war poet rests on two poems, ‘Achilles in the Trench’, one of the best-known WW1 poems written while he was waiting to be sent to fight at Gallipoli and ‘I saw a man this morning’ which was found after his death.


I saw a man this morning”

 

I saw a man this morning

     Who did not wish to die

I ask, and cannot answer,

     If otherwise wish I.

 

Fair broke the day this morning

     Against the Dardanelles;

The breeze blew soft, the morn's cheeks

     Were cold as cold sea-shells.

 

But other shells are waiting

     Across the Aegean sea,

Shrapnel and high explosive,

     Shells and hells for me.

 

O hell of ships and cities,

     Hell of men like me,

Fatal second Helen,

     Why must I follow thee?

 

Achilles came to Troyland

     And I to Chersonese:

He turned from wrath to battle,

     And I from three days' peace.

 

Was it so hard, Achilles,

     So very hard to die?

Thou knewest and I know not—

     So much the happier I.

 

I will go back this morning

     From Imbros over the sea;

Stand in the trench, Achilles,

     Flame-capped, and shout for me.



When you see millions of the mouthless dead


When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know

It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, “They are dead.” Then add thereto,
“yet many a better one has died before.”
Then, scanning all the overcrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all this for evermore


Charles Hamilton Sorley

1895-1915


The son of a university professor, Charles Sorley was born in Aberdeen in 1895 and was educated at Marlborough College and University College, Oxford. At Malborough  he was a keen cross-country runner, a theme whose imagery occurs frequently in his poetry. He was spending a year in Germany when war was declared and was interned at Trier, released after one night and told to leave the country. He returned home and immediately enlisted in the Suffolk Regiment, arriving in France in May 1915. He was promoted to captain three months later. 


Sorley was killed by a sniper at the Battle of Loos on 13 October 1915. He has no known grave and commemorated on the Commonwealth War Graves Committee Loos Memorial.


His poems, 37 of them complete, were found in his kit following his death and were published as ‘Marlborough and Other Poems’ in 1916, it was an instant success. His Collected Letters, edited by his parents, were published in 1919.


In his book “Goodbye To All That” Robert Graves described Sorley as "one of the three poets of importance killed during the war". (The other two being Isaac Rosenberg and Wilfred Owen) The Poet Laureate John Masefield believed his death to be the greatest loss of all the poets killed during the war.


Sorley was among 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in 1985 in Westminster Abbey’s Poets Corner.


I hate the growing tendency to think that every man drops overboard his individuality between Folkestone and Boulogne, and becomes on landing either ‘Tommy’ with a character like a nice big fighting pet bear and an incurable yearning and whining for mouth-organs and cheap cigarettes: or the Young Officer with a face like a hero and a silly habit of giggling in the face of death.”


Robert W. Sterling

1893-1915


Born in Glasgow and educated at Sedbergh School and Pembroke College, Oxford, Robert Sterling won the Newdigate Prize for poetry in 1914 shortly before enlisting in the Royal Scots Fusiliers. His Battalion fought in the trenches at St. Eloi in Ypres. A close friend arrived unexpectedly at Sterling’s billet and was killed ten days later. Sterling wrote

“I think I should go mad if I didn’t still cherish some faith in the justice of things, and a vague but confident belief that death cannot end great friendships.”


Re-joining his battalion after hospitalisation with influenza, Sterling took part in the Second Battle of Ypres which began on 14th April 1915. He was killed by a grenade on 23rd April 1915. 


A collection of Sterling’s poems was printed by Oxford University Press in February, 1916


Lines Written in the Trenches

I

AH! Hate like this would freeze our human tears,

And stab the morning star:

Not it, not it commands and mourns and bears

The storm and bitter glory of red war.

II

To J. H. S. M., killed in action, March 13, 1915.

O BROTHER, I have sung no dirge for thee:

Nor for all time to come

Can song reveal my grief's infinity:

The menace of thy silence made me dumb.


WHO MADE THE LAW?


Who made the Law that men should die in meadows?

Who spake the word that blood should splash in lanes?
Who gave it forth that gardens should be bone-yards?
Who spread the hills with flesh, and blood, and brains?
Who made the Law?


Who made the Law that Death should stalk the village?
Who spake the word to kill among the sheaves,
Who gave it forth that death should lurk in hedgerows,
Who flung the dead among the fallen leaves?
Who made the Law?


Those who return shall find that peace endures,
Find old things old, and know the things they knew,
Walk in the garden, slumber by the fireside,
Share the peace of dawn, and dream amid the dew
Those who return.


Those who return shall till the ancient pastures,
Clean-hearted men shall guide the plough-horse reins,
Some shall grow apples and flowers in the valleys,
Some shall go courting in summer down the lanes –
THOSE WHO RETURN.


But who made the Law? the Trees shall whisper to him:
“See, see the blood – the splashes on our bark!”
Walking the meadows, he shall hear bones crackle,
And fleshless mouths shall gibber in silent lanes at dark.
Who made the Law?


Who made the Law? At noon upon the hillside
His ears shall hear a moan, his cheeks shall feel a breath,
And all along the valleys, past gardens, crofts, and  homesteads,
HE who made the Law,
He who made the Law, He who made the Law shall walk along with Death


Leslie Coulson

1889 – 1916


Born in Kilburn, London, son of a columnist for The Sunday Chronicle who had worked his way out of East End poverty. Leslie (and his brother) attended boarding school in Norfolk, before becoming a reporter on the Evening News and then the Standard


He joined the Royal Fusiliers in 1914 and left the UK on Christmas Eve for Malta then Egypt (where he was hospitalised) and Gallipoli before arriving at the Western Front in 1916.


His collected poems, edited by his father, were published posthumously in 1917 and sold 10,000 copies in the first year. 


The best known of the poems is "Who Made the Law?" At the beginning his poems had gentle pastoral themes but this changed as he experienced the realities of war. From Gallipoli onward he began to question the generosity of nature and his later poems are dark with anger and humanity. “Who Made The Law” starts as a political statement but ends accusing God of betraying the human race which uses the earlier rural imagery as a contrast to the horror of war and its waste of life.

When night falls dark we creep
In silence to our dead.
We dig a few feet deep
And leave them there to sleep
But blood at night is red,
Yea, even at night,
And a dead mans face is white. And I dry my hands, that are also trained to kill,
And I look at the stars for the stars are beautiful still.


During the battle for the Transloy Ridges during the Somme, Coulson was shot in the chest and died the following day at Grove Town casualty clearing station. He is buried at the CWGC Grove Town Cemetery in Meaulte. 


The manuscript of Who Made the Law? was discovered amongst his possessions. It was written in September 1916.

3. The Pity of War

Hamish Mann

1896 - 1917


Alexander James ‘Hamish’ Mann had written since his teens but it was the experience of the trenches which developed his poetry.


Born in Broughty Ferry, Scotland, he was educated at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh then, owing to illness, by private tuition. 


When the war started Hamish volunteered at Craigleith Military Hospital but in July 1915 he was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant in the 8th Battalion Black Watch. He was sent to La Comté, near Bethune France in August 1916 and took part in the Battle of the Somme and the 1st Battle of the Scarpe. 


Whilst leading his platoon during the advance at Arras in April 1917, he was seriously wounded by a shell and died the following day just five days after his 21st birthday!


At Craigleith Military Hospital Hamish had edited and contributed to the Craigleith Chronicle and several other publications under the pseudonym Lucas Cappe. He wrote over two dozen poems during his time in France. His parents published a collection of his pre-war and war poems under the title "A Subaltern’s Musings" in 1918.


Though some confront the horrors of war and some are humorous, Hamish Mann's war poems mainly question the nature of war and the lielihood of his own survival. They are disarmingly matter-of-fact and, had he lived, he might well have become a great poet.


Weep Not For Me 

 

Let memories of me be brave and true:
I would not like to think the Life I gave
Had brought you woe. Be proud, not bent
With gloom, as though some frightful shame had spent
Its fury on your house.
I die …. What then?
I am but one ‘mongst countless finer men.


The Shell Hole 10 September 1916 
 

In the Shell Hole he lies, this German soldier of a year                                                             ago;

But he is not as then, accoutred, well, and eager for                                                         the foe
He hoped so soon, so utterly, to crush. His muddy   

                                                            skull
Lies near the mangled remnants of his corpse – war’s                                              furies thus annul
The pomp and pageantry that were its own. White                                                         rigid bones
Gape through the nauseous chaos of his clothes; the                                                     cruel stones

Hold fast the letter he was wont to clasp close to his                                               am’rous breast.

Here, ‘neath the stark, keen stars, where is no peace,                                          no joy, nor any rest,
He lies. There, to the right, his boot, gashed by the  

                                  great shell’s fiendish whim,
Retains – O horrid spectacle! – the fleshless stump   

                                             that was his limb!
Vile rats and mice, and flies and lice and ghastly things                                            that carrion know

Have made a travesty of Death of him who lived a                                                           year ago.

The Mad Soldier 

 

I dropp’d here three weeks ago, yes – I know,
And it’s bitter cold at night, since the fight –
I could tell you if I chose – no one knows
Excep’ me and four or five, what ain’t alive.
I can see them all asleep, three men deep,
And they’re nowhere near a fire – but our wire
Has ’em fast as fast can be. Can’t you see
When the flare goes up? Ssh! boys; what’s that noise?
Do you know what these rats eat? Body-meat!
After you’ve been down a week, an’ your cheek
Gets as pale as life, and night seems as white
As the day, only the rats and their brats
Seem more hungry when the day’s gone away –
An’ they look big as bulls, an’ they pulls
Till you almost sort o’ shout – but the drought
What you hadn’t felt before makes you sore.
And at times you even think of a drink . . .
There’s a leg across my thighs – if my eyes
Weren’t too sore, I’d like to see who it be,
Wonder if I’d know the bloke if I woke?
Woke? By damn, I’m not asleep – there’s a heap
Of us wond’ring why the hell we’re not well . . .
Leastways I am – since I came it’s the same
With the others – they don’t know what I do,
Or they wouldn’t gape and grin. – It’s a sin
To say that Hell is hot – ’cause it’s not:
Mind you, I know very well we’re in hell. –
In a twisted hump we lie – heaping high,
Yes! an’ higher every day. – Oh I say
This chap’s heavy on my thighs – damn his eyes.


Edward Tennant

1897-1916


Edward Wyndham Tennant was  the son of Baron Glenconner (also Edward Tennant) a Liberal politician and Pamela Wyndham, a writer. Nicknamed ‘Bim’  (or 'Bimbo'), he was educated at Winchester College, where he started to write poetry. At 17 he left school to live with a family in Germany and learn the language in preparation for the Diplomatic Service. 


When war broke out he joined the Grenadier Guards training in Bovington Camp, near Marlow in August 1915 . Later that month he was selected to go  to France, despite though Brigade Orders that no one should leave England before nineteen years of age.


He was killed by a sniper during the Battle of the Somme on 22nd September, 1916.


The poem "The Mad Soldier" was written three months before his death


Isaac Rosenberg

1890 - 1918


Isaac Rosenberg was brought up in Stepney a poor district of the East End of London with a large Jewish community. He attended Baker Street Board School where a good conduct award enabled him to take classes at the Arts and Crafts School in Stepney Green.


He  left school, at fourteen to start an apprenticeship with Carl Hentschel, a Fleet Street engraver. He became interested in both poetry and visual art and attended evening classes at Birkbeck College while saving to study art.  He left his apprenticeship in 1911 to study for two years at the Slade School of Fine Art where he studied alongside Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash (famous for his drawings of life in the trenches) and Dora Carrington.  


He exhibited work at the Whitechapel Art Gallery 1914 before ill health led him to travel to South Africa. Encouraged by Laurence Binyon, he had began writing poetry and had a pamphlet of ten poems published in 1912. When the war broke out he wrote a poem "On Receiving News of the War"  before returning home where he published a second volume. 


While many wrote of 'noble sacrifice', Rosenberg was critical rom the outset. In a letter he wrote, "I never joined the army for patriotic reasons. Nothing can justify war. I suppose we must all fight to get the trouble over."


However, unable to find permanent employment, Rosenberg enlisted in the army in October 1915 joining the 12th Bantam Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment. (A 'bantam' battalion was one composed of men of short height.) He continued to write poems from the Western Front, two were published by Poetry Magazine in late 1916. 


After several bouts of ill health and a failed attempt to join a Jewish regiment in Mesopotamia, he was transferred to the King's Own Royal Regiment (KORL) and joined the 'Spring Offensive' on the Western Front in March 1918. A week later he sent home his last poem from the war. Having just finished night patrol he was killed either by a sniper or in close combat.


Rosenberg and five KORL comrades were buried in a mass grave. In 1926, the unidentified remains of the six soldiers were individually re-interred at Bailleul Road East Cemetery, Saint-Laurent-Blangy. , His gravestone is marked with his name and the words, "Buried near this spot", as well as – "Artist and Poet". 


Rosenberg's "Poems from the Trenches" are recognized as some of the most outstanding poetry written during World War 1. Self portraits hand in both the National Portrait and Tate Britain galleries. Paul Fussell in "The Great War and Modern Memory" says Rosenberg's "Break of Day in the Trenches" as "the greatest poem of the war." . Rosenberg is one of the 16 WW1 poets memorialised on the stone in Poet's Corner Westminster Abbey.

Break of Day in the Trenches  

The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver—what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe—
Just a little white with the dust.

The Moles


I’ve been in a trench for fifteen days,
I’m choked for the want of air;
It’s harvest time where my mother stays,
And I’m wishing that I was there.

I’ve ceased to count in the scheme of things,
My courage has waned and set;
It’s trysting-time where the mavis sings
And I’m wishing I could forget.

With straightened shoulders and hearts that sang
“For Freedom and Liberty!”
That was the battle-cry that sang
From the men-that-we-used-to-be.

We’ve learnt the law of shot and shell,
We’ve learnt the law of steel;
But the Law of the Trench is a cultured Hell
For it stifles the power to feel.

Death we have ventured many times
Nor flinched at the sacrifice,
But if this be the debt of our youthful crimes –
Lord God we have paid the price!

We’re growing inanimate: Bit by bit
We’re getting inert – decayed;
The score of our sins was boldly writ
But Mother of God – we’ve paid!

And this is our Fate: When the Gods are kind
Our existence shall simply cease –
A sniper’s bullet – a trench that’s mined! –
God-speed, and a quick release!


Cyril Morton Horne

1886-1916


Like Tom Kettle and Francis Ledwidge, Cyril Morton Hall was an Irishman who chose to fight. Born in Dublin, he was a writer, poet and musical comedy performer appearing at the Prince of Wales Theatre, London and on Broadway New York.  He was married to fellow actor Marie Ditzen.


He had been in the army and been on the personal staffs of Kitchener in India [he commanded a unit of Sikhs in WW1] and the King before going on the stage. In January 1915 Horne sailed from the USA to join his old regiment and was commissioned as Captain in the 7th Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers. During these the final year of his life he wrote a number of verses sent to his wife in America.


The preface to Songs of the Shrapnel Shell and Other Verses, published posthumously in 1916,  says many of the poems were written in the trenches, between attacks with shells “shrieking overhead, [and] mines and countermines exploding underneath"  He lived  for more than a year half-underground, like the moles in one of his poems,  with little hope of getting out alive. He wrote often scribbled in pencil upon scraps of paper, and sent them to the wife he had left behind.


Horne took over command of ‘A’ Company as one of the few officers to survive the first day of the Battle of Loos (25 September 1915) unharmed. He was killed on 27th January 1916 in Mazingarbe in France whilst trying to rescue a wounded soldier lying in front of the trench.  A shrapnel shell exploded overhead, killing both men.


Jeffery Day DSC

1886-1918


Miles Jeffery Day was born in Huntingdonshire and educated at Repton School before receiving a commission as a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Air Service at the age of 18 in 1915. 


He gained a reputation as a skilled and daring flyer and was promoted to flight lieutenant a year later and spent time as a test pilot before going into operational service.


He was rapidly promoted becoming a Flight Commander and joined  No. 13 Squadron RNAS in December 191.  He was awarded the DSC “for great skill and bravery as a fighting pilot” but was already dead when the award was announced in February 1918.

He was shot down by six German aircraft which he attacked single-handed, out at sea. 


His commanding officer wrote in his published poems that

He hit the enemy and they hit his machine, which burst into flames; but, not a bit flurried, he nose-dived, flattened out, and landed perfectly on the water. He climbed out of his machine and waved his fellow-pilots back to their base; being in aeroplanes they could not assist him” 


Despite an immediate air sea search, no trace was found of him or his aircraft.


Initially Day wrote humorous verses but had begun writing serious poems, encouraged by his friend the poet Edward Hilton Young. Only three were published during his lifetime including “To My Brother”. A collection of his poems – Poems and Rhymes – was published posthumously in 1919.

Extract from 'To My Brother'


At first, when unaccustomed to death’s sting,
I thought that, should you die, each sweetest thing,
each thing of any merit on this earth,
would perish also, beauty, love, and mirth:
and that the world, despoiled and God-forsaken,
its glories gone, its greater treasures taken,
would sink into a slough of apathy
and there remain into eternity,
a mournful-minded, soul-destroying place
wherein there would be seen no smiling face,
where all desire to love and live would cease,
and death would be the only way to peace.
And when one day the aching blow did fall
for many days I did not live at all,
but, dazed and halting, made my endless way
painfully though a tangled growth of grey
and clinging thorns, dismal, towards belief,
and uncontrollable, heart-racking grief.
It could not be! – that one so fair and strong,
so honest-minded, and so void of wrong,
that one who made such splendid use of life,
whose smile could soothe the bitterness of strife
and make a cold, hard nature warm and soft
(who used to smile so frankly and so oft)
should die, and leave our spirits numb and breaking,
grief-stifled, and yet empty, sick, and breaking.


'To My Brother' was Day's response to  the death of his elder brother, Dennis Ivor Day, who was shot by a sniper at Vermelles on 25 September 1915 and died from his wounds on 7 October 1915.

In Memoriam (Easter 1915)


The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again. 


Rain


Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into this solitude.
Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon:
But here I pray that none whom once I loved
Is dying to-night or lying still awake
Solitary, listening to the rain,
Either in pain or thus in sympathy
Helpless among the living and the dead,
Like a cold water among broken reeds,
Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff,
Like me who have no love which this wild rain
Has not dissolved except the love of death, 

If love it be towards what is perfect and
Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint. 


Aspens


All day and night, save winter, every weather,
Above the inn, the smithy, and the shop,
The aspens at the cross-roads talk together
Of rain, until their last leaves fall from the top.

Out of the blacksmith’s cavern comes the ringing
Of hammer, shoe, and anvil; out of the inn
The clink, the hum, the roar, the random singing –
The sounds that for these fifty years have been.

The whisper of the aspens is not drowned,
And over lightless pane and footless road,
Empty as sky, with every other sound
Not ceasing, calls their ghosts from their abode,

A silent smithy, a silent inn, nor fails
In the bare moonlight or the thick-furred gloom,
In tempest or the night of nightingales,
To turn the cross-roads to a ghostly room.

And it would be the same were no house near.
Over all sorts of weather, men, and times,
Aspens must shake their leaves and men may hear
But need not listen, more than to my rhymes.

Whatever wind blows, while they and I have leaves
We cannot other than an aspen be
That ceaselessly, unreasonably grieves,
Or so men think who like a different tree.


Edward Thomas

1878 – 1917


Philip Edward Thomas was an essayist, novelist and poet. He was educated at Battersea Grammar School, St Paul’s School and Lincoln College Oxford. A fellow pupil at St Paul’s remembered him as serious and reserved, always with small animals and snakes in his pockets which he released inside his desk during school hours.


Thomas married his wife Helen while an undergraduate and worked as a book reviewer, reviewing up to 15 books every week.  


He was a widely published poet, author, literary critic and biographer by the time the war began, famous for writing about the countryside which has led to the popular misconception of him as an 'English' poet when in fact he was Welsh. He published a successful novel in 1913, The Happy-Go-Lucky Morgans .


He was a close friend of Welsh poet  W H Davies and was almost entirely responsible for his success as another close friend, the American poet Robert Frost, was responsible for his. Though Thomas thought poetry the highest form of literature, he did not become a poet until the end of 1914 (and then under a pseudonym 'Edward Eastway').  Thomas was living at Steep in Hampshire (his children were attending Beadales School) and Frost encouraged him to write poetry. Frost's best known poem "The Road Not Taken" was inspired by their walks around Steep together and Thomas's indecision about whether to write poetry.


Edward Thomas joined the Artists’ Rifles in July 1915 later taking a commission in the Royal Artillery before going to France in early 1917. Asked by his friend the poet Eleanor Farjeon why he had joined up Thomas picked up some earth and crumbled it in his hand and  replied ‘Literally, for this.’


Promoted first to corporal then to 2nd lieutenant, Thomas was killed in action on Easter Monday, 1917 soon after arriving at Arras. To spare his wife, she was told his death was bloodless resulting from the shock impact of a shell blast but a letter from his commanding officer found in the USA many years later confirmed he had been shot through the chest. 


Thomas is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Agny, France.


Edward Thomas is commonly thought of as a 'war poet' but few of his poems deal directly with his war experiences. He is also widely thought of as an 'English Poet' because of his subject matter and having been born in London. However, his parents were both Welsh and Welsh speakers and Thomas wrote about Wales, was proud of his Welsh heritage and thought of himself as a Welsh poet. Many of his poems were written in "Cynghanedd" the 600 year old  (in 1914) traditional Welsh Bardic poetry ("The downs will lose the sun, white alyssum / Lose the bees’ hum") "Aspens", regarded as a an innovating poems, was written whilst on leave in 1915 and is an example of a Cynghanedd influenced poem.


Thomas would undoubtedly have gone on to be one of the greatest C20th poets. Ted Hughes considered him to be one of the founders of modern poetry and the "father of us all" His poetry may well have influenced the Cynghanedd styling of Dylan Thomas's poetry.


Edward Thomas is also one of the 16 poets on the Westminster Abbey memorial in Poets Corner.  There is a memorial window to him in Steep Church and a study centre dedicated to his work in Petersfield Museum.


His widow Helen published two autobiographical accounts of her life with Edward Thomas. According to their daughter Myfanwy, her mother wrote them as a form of therapy to rid herself of the deep depression she suffered after his death.

LINK
Petersfield Museum     www.petersfieldmuseum.co.uk/collection/edward-thomas
The Old Courthouse, St Peter’s Road, Petersfield GU32 3HX · 01730 262601

Post Traumatic Shock Disorder

A  NOTE

Nowadays, we are well informed about PTSD; how it manifests itself and how devastating it is, an invisible disability. Other wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, have brought us face to face with the mental price we expect service personnel to pay. During world war one, it was different. "Shell Shock", as it was known, was little understood. Many were labelled cowards or malingerers. Most suffered in silence both during and in the decades after 1918. Yet we now know that countless thousands suffered. Their distinctive faces stare out many war photographs, the  "5 Mile Stare" as it was known!  By the time the war ended 80,000 had been treated for it, but modern estimates suggest the number of sufferers could have been as high as 325,000 and given the unending horror of the trenches it is easy to cast doubt on whether this estimate is realistic. A  sympathetic, curative response began in WW1 in a few hospitals staffed by more empathetic and intelligent doctors. Netley military hospital near Southampton and Portsmouth's St James (briefly) treated men with shell shock. Films were shown of the success achieved at Netley but the hospital isolated PTSD sufferers hiding them away in an annex and recent analysis has proven that these films, meant for release in cinemas, were faked demonstrating that the hospital was more concerned in getting the men back to the Front than in responding to their suffering. One notable exception was the work of W H Rivers at Craiglockart Military Hospital at Edinburgh. A polymath psychiatrist influenced by Freud, Rivers and his staff revolutionised the treatment of their patients though there were disagreements as to whether physical exercise rather than 'therapies' was the most effective approach. Famously, two of Rivers patients were the poets Siegfried Sassoon (sent there through the timely intervention  of powerful friends following his famous challenge to the military "donkeys") and Wilfred Sassoon who had suffered a mental breakdown at the front. Owen's doctor encouraged him to write as a therapeutic activity in which Sassoon helped him (Owen had achieved little success with his poetry and was intent on giving up writing). The work of Rivers and his team started a slow (sadly too slow) change in the approach to mental health and combat which is still being progressed today. A letter to his sister from Craiglockart is an insight to the trauma of shell shock and the horror that caused it -


"You know it was not the Bosche that worked me up, nor the explosives, but it was living so long by poor old Cock Robin (as we used to call 2/Lt Gaukroger), who lay not only near by, but in various places around and about, if you understand. I hope you don’t!"


 In 1930 the "Mental Treatment Act" introduced out patient treatment rather than incarceration in an 'asylum' and marks the first positive step to a more enlightened and realistic treatment of the devastating impact of PTSD. Today, like Wilfred Owen, many ex-service personnel find poetry, creative writing, performance poetry and art help them adjust to and resolve the trauma.


At Craiglockart, Wilfred Owen met Siegfried Sassoon who encouraged him to persevere with his poetry, mentored and helped him hone his art. "Anthem For Doomed Youth is known to be one of the poems Sassoon influenced. 

LINK
BBC   "Did Craiglockart hospital revolutionise mental health care?"
                                                                                     www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z9g7fg8

At Craiglockart, Wilfred Owen met Siegfried Sassoon who encouraged him to persevere with his poetry, mentored and helped him hone his art. One of his best known poems "Anthem For Doomed Youth is known to have been reshaped through Sassoon's advice and guidance. 

Anthem For Doomed Youth


What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds

1914


War broke: and now the Winter of the world
With perishing great darkness closes in.
The foul tornado, centred at Berlin,
Is over all the width of Europe whirled,
Rending the sails of progress. Rent or furled
Are all Art's ensigns. Verse wails. Now begin
Famines of thought and feeling. Love's wine's thin.
The grain of human Autumn rots, down-hurled.

For after Spring had bloomed in early Greece,
And Summer blazed her glory out with Rome,
An Autumn softly fell, a harvest home,
A slow grand age, and rich with all increase.
But now, for us, wild Winter, and the need
Of sowings for new Spring, and blood for seed.

The Next War


"War's a joke for me and you,
Wile we know such dreams are true."
- Siegfried Sassoon

Out there, we've walked quite friendly up to 

                                                Death,-
Sat down and eaten with him, cool and bland,-
Pardoned his spilling mess-tins in our hand.
We've sniffed the green thick odour of his 

                                               breath,-
Our eyes wept, but our courage didn't writhe.
He's spat at us with bullets and he's coughed
Shrapnel. We chorussed when he sang aloft,
We whistled while he shaved us with his scythe.

Oh, Death was never enemy of ours!
We laughed at him, we leagued with him, old 

                                                  chum.
No soldier's paid to kick against His powers.
We laughed, -knowing that better men would 

                                                  come,
And greater wars: when each proud fighter 

                                                  brags
He wars on Death, for lives; not men, for flags.

Wilfred Owen

1893 - 1918


Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was born in Oswestry, his family eventually moving to Shrewsbury. 


His family were evangelical Anglicans and initially Owen shared their faith with an ambition to enter the clergy.  His mother, to whom he was very close, detested smoking, drinking and the theatre and approved of poetry, watercolours and clergymen. 


He had a modest lower middle class upbringing and was educated at Birkenhead Institute, Shrewsbury Technical School and finally as a pupil-teacher in Wyle Coop School, Shrewsbury where he won a place at London University. Unable to afford the place without a scholarship, he worked as a lay assistant to a vicar near Reading and studied part-time at the university . 


During the early years of the war he lived in France teaching English and only returned to England in 1915 having first considered joining the French Army.


In October 1915, he enlisted in the Artists Rifles training in Essex before being  commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment. At the Front, he fell into a shell hole and suffered concussion and was later he was blown up by a trench mortar and unconscious for several days before being found. He was diagnosed as suffering from neurasthenia or shell shock and sent to Craiglockart where his  encounter with Sassoon would change his life.

 

Owen might have stayed on home-duty indefinitely but returned to active service in France in July 1918 seeing it his duty to add his voice to that of Sassoon telling the horrific realities of the war. Sassoon was vehemently opposed to the idea and Owen did not inform him until he was in France. A month later, he stormed an enemy post, possibly emulating Sassoon, and was awarded the Military Cross although his citation came after he was dead.


Wilfred Owen was killed one week almost to the hour before the Armistice. He was posthumously promoted to Lieutenant. The telegram announcing his death reached his mother shortly after the local church bells started to announce the end of the war. He is buried in Owen is buried at Ors Communal Cemetery, in northern France. The inscription on his gravestone, chosen by his mother, is based on a quote from his poetry: "Shall life renew these bodies? Of a truth all death will he annul"


Heavily influenced by Shelley and Keats, he is one of the greatest war poets. He was the first to experiment extensively with pararhyme and assonance. The influence of his mentor is now largely forgotten and Owen has eclipsed Sassoon as the most famous poet of the great war!


Though now often used to help veterans recover from PTSD, Owen was the first serviceman to be encouraged to use poetry as therapy. This and the advice given by his mentor at the time shaped and improved his poetry making it distinctive by softening Sassoon's realism and anger with the romanticism he absorbed from Keats and Shelley.


Although only five of his poems were  published before his death, Owen's posthumous success is due to the patronage of Sassoon, Edmund Blunden and Edith Sitwell. Sassoon, whom Owen idolised, also introduced him to prominent writer's of the day including H G Wells, Arnold Bennett, Robert Graves and Oscar Wilde's close friend Robbie Ross. 


There are memorials to Owen in Shrewsbury, Birkenhead, Oswestry, Ors and Gailly. He is among the 16 listed on the memorial in Westminster Abbey which bears his famous quote "My subject is war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity"

LINKS
Wilfred Owen Association    www.wilfredowen.org.uk
Harry Ransom Centre, University of Texas    www.hrc.utexas.edu

Two Poets at Paaschendaele

Though they never met, two talented war poets died within a few hours of each other on the first day of the Battle of Paaschendaele (31 July 1917). Both came from poor working class backgrounds. Both wrote about the countryside of their homeland (one Eire one Wales). Both need not have fought. Both had strong reasons not to enlist but did so for the noblest of reasons. They are buried in the same cemetery.

Francis Ledwidge

1887-1917


WW1 was a political and moral dilemma for men in Ireland. For many, to fight for the British was to fight for the cause of the country who had enslaved them. Many were torn between their loyalty to Ireland and what they saw as a righteous fight. Ledwidge was such a man; a brilliant ‘farmer poet’ like his Welsh counterpart Hedd Wyn.


Francis Edward Ledwidge, known as "the poet of the blackbirds", was born into poverty, eighth of nine children. He left school at thirteen but continued educate himself working as a labourer, miner and shop assistant. He was a trade union activist and he was sacked for organising a strike against mining conditions in 1910. He was a patriot and nationalist. 


A keen poet, his poems were published in the Drogheda Independent newspaper when he was only 14. He would write on anything that came to hand, even gates and fence posts. At 25, he sent copies of his work to the writer Lord Dunsany who became his patron and found him a wider audience. 


Initially, Ledwidge was opposed to Irish involvement in the war but eventually enlisted in Lord Dunsany’s regiment on 14 October 1914 against the advice of his patron who offered him a salary so that he might concentrate on writing. It has been said that he enlisted following rejection by his sweetheart but Ledwidge stated that it was his conviction that to fight for Irish emancipation meant he had to fight for freedom. 


He was rapidly promoted to lance corporal and survived the huge losses sustained by his company at Gallipoli. Recovering from a back injury, his first book of poetry, "Songs of the Fields", was published in 1915. In May 1916  he was court-martialled and demoted for being drunk in uniform after the failure of the Easter Rising.. His rank was reinstated when he returned to the Front in January 1917. He was killed by a bomb while road-laying on July 31st 1917 the first day of Paaschendaele (the Third Battle of Ypres)  the same day as Hedd Wyn and is buried in the same cemetery, Artillery Wood Military Cemetery in Boezinge.


A second volume of his poetry, "Songs of Peace", was in preparation when he was killed and Lord Dunsany arranged for a third volume, "Last Songs", to be published after the war.


Ledwidge faded from the Irish school curriculum but has recently been revived. A memorial on the spot where he died was  erected in 1998


His childhood home in Slane, County Meath is now a Ledwidge museum

Lament For The Poets 1916


I heard the Poor Old Woman say:
"At break of day the fowler came,
And took my blackbirds from their songs
Who loved me well thro' shame and blame

No more from lovely distances
Their songs shall bless me mile by mile,
Nor to white Ashbourne call me down
To wear my crown another while.

With bended flowers the angels mark
For the skylark the place they lie,
From there its little family
Shall dip their wings first in the sky.

And when the first suprise of flight
Sweet songs excite, from the far dawn
Shall there come blackbirds loud with love,
Sweet echoes of the singers gone.

But in the lovely hush of eve
Weeping I grieve the silent bills"
I heard the Poor Old Woman say
In Derry of the little hills. 

Francis Ledwidge Memorial on the spot where he died

Hedd Wyn was really a Romantic or pastoral poet. He wrote only a few war poems but these are powerful enough to earn him a place among the great 'war poets' 


The Hero (Yr Arwr) was written during a short leave before Paaschendaele. According to Gerald Williams,

"It was a wet year in 1917. He came back for fourteen days leave and wrote the poem, Yr Arwr, on the table by the fire. As it was such a wet year, he stayed for another seven days. This extra seven days made him a deserter. So the  military police came to fetch him from the hayfield and took him to the jail at Blaenau.  From there he travelled to... the war in Belgium. Because he left in such a hurry he forgot the poem on the table, so he wrote it again on the journey. So there are two copies: one in Aberystwyth and one in Bangor"

Videos on You Tube


BBC 
Welsh Poet Hedd Wynn Death At Passchendael

www.youtube.com/watchv=6VUPV_fJJR8&feature=youtu.be


Interview with Gerald Williams features children reading from 'Rhyfel'

www.youtube.com/watch?=z5T5En3wkd4


Among the winning poems sent from the Front is this elegy to war entitled simply “Rhyfel” (War). The Cynghanedd is discernible in the Welsh original but lost in translation

Rhyfel


Gwae fi fy myw mewn oes mor ddreng,
A Duw ar drai ar orwel pell;
O'i ôl mae dyn, yn deyrn a gwreng,
Yn codi ei awdurdod hell.

Pan deimlodd fyned ymaith Dduw
Cyfododd gledd i ladd ei frawd;
Mae sŵn yr ymladd ar ein clyw,
A'i gysgod ar fythynnod tlawd.

Mae'r hen delynau genid gynt,
Ynghrog ar gangau'r helyg draw,
A gwaedd y bechgyn lond y gwynt,
A'u gwaed yn gymysg efo'r glaw

This translation is by the Welsh poet Gillian Clarke

Bitter to live in times like these.
While God declines beyond the seas;
Instead, man, king or peasantry,
Raises his gross authority. 


When he thinks God has gone away
Man takes up his sword to slay
His brother; we can hear death's roar.
It shadows the hovels of the poor. 


Like the old songs they left behind,

We hung our harps in the willows again.
Ballads of boys blow on the wind,
Their blood is mingled with the rain.


Hedd Wyn

1887 - 1917


Wales lost two of her finest modern poets in WW1, Hedd Wyn and Edward Thomas. 


Ellis Humphrey Evans wrote under the bardic pseudonym 'Hedd' Wyn (Pronounced 'Heth') meaning "beautiful peace" referencing both his religious pacifism and the morning mist of the hills of his home Trawsfynydd near Blaenau Ffestiniog in Snowdonia.  Like Robert Burns he was a "farmer poet". Despite limited formal education he became a well known and respected poet winning competitions in various Eistedfoddau. 


Evans was the eldest of eleven children born to a farming family, an unlikely prospect to become both a nationally recognised poet and hero. He is evidence of the depth to which poetry and song are the soul of Wales. At fourteen he started working on the family farm as a shepherd but had started writing poetry at the age of eleven.  


Welsh his first language, he wrote 'Cynghanedd' and 'Englynion' or 'Englyn', centuries old poetic traditions of Wales. Cynghanedd was already 600 hundred years old dating from the 13th century.  It was the 'bardic' poetry of the Eisteddfod. Complex and beautiful, the name means 'harmony' reflecting the musical way in which the poetry achieves its unique effect. Individual lines contain consonant harmony and internal rhyme. Consonant harmony is where two or more words in a line have the same or similar sounding consonants. Alliteration is an obvious example. Rhyme is common in poetry but is usually "end rhyme" where the word at the end of a line rhymes with that of one of the lines that follow. In Cynghanedd, two or more words within a single line rhyme with each other. This format is complicated and along with the metre and line structure of Cynghanedd make composing it difficult but the result worth the effort. The poetry has an intensity, impact and musicality that is profound and unique. In addition to countless Welsh bards, Edward Thomas (listed here) and the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins both wrote Cynhanedd poems, Hopkins learned Welsh just so he could write it. There is evidence of Cynghanedd in the poetry of Dylan Thomas though the how and why is subject to debate. Despite the long Welsh tradition of his poetry, Hedd Wyn was widely read and, like Wilfred Owen, heavily influenced by the Romantic poet Percy Shelley. 


Hedd Wyn  took part in numerous competitions winning his first bardic chair (Cadair y Bardd) at the age of 20  and four further chairs at the local eisteddfodau. He wrote his first poem for the National Eisteddfod of Wales in 1913 and took second place in 1916.  


The war divided Welsh non-conformists  in the same way it had split the Irish. Traditionally, they were opposed to war on grounds of faith and WW1 led to a bitter clash between those who backed military action and those who adopted a pacifist stance . Evans and his family took the radical pacifist view. Farming was a vital industry excusing men from enlisting.  As the eldest son of a farming family, he was exempt from military service after conscription was introduced in 1916 but the law required that, where a family had more than one son, one of them must join up. Despite his exemption and disregarding his Christian beliefs, Evans volunteered to enlist to prevent his younger brother from being conscripted. In the wake of Mametz Wood during the Somme in which the 38th Royal Welch Fusiliers were slaughtered by German machine guns, his self-sacrifice and his poetry made him a national hero. 


After training and, ironically, a period in which his unit were put to vital agricultural work, Hedd Wyn was sent to the Western Front preparing for the 3rd Battle of Ypres (Paaschendaele) in 1917. From there, he completed a series of poems which he submitted to the national Eisteddfod. Following initial resistance from his (English) commanding officer, under another pseudonym “Fleur Des Lys”, Hedd Wyn posted them just days before Paaschendaele began. 


Sent ‘over the top’ on the 31st of July 1917, during the Battle of Pilkem Ridge the first day of Paaschendaele; Hedd Wyn was hit in the stomach by a shell and died in a casualty clearing station a few hours later. He was 30 years old.


The results of the annual bardic competition were announced at the Eisteddfod in Birkenhead in front of the Prime Minister David Lloyd George who had reluctantly endorsed Paaschendaele. The winning name was read out several times inviting the new Bard to come forward until the Arch Druid announced that he had been killed six weeks earlier. A black cloth was draped over the bardic chair carved for the ceremony. It was carried like that to the Evans farm and has remained there to this day. 


With bitter irony, the chair was carved by Eugeen Vanfleteren a Flemish craftsman who had fled from Belgium on the outbreak of war and settled in Birkenhead. 


Ellis Humphrey Evans was buried in the Artillery Wood Cemetery with his Irish counterpart Francis Ledwidge. Following a petition, the IWGC  added the words 'Y Prifardd Hedd Wyn' ("The Chief Bard, Hedd Wyn"). 


Until recently a nephew of the poet, Gerald Williams, lived in the family cottage maintaining it in its original condition. The cottage was renovated to become the National Centre for Hedd Wyn and includes the bronze statue honouring the poet which was unveiled by his mother in 1923 which bears an Englyn written by Hedd Wyn in memory of a fallen friend Tommy Morris. 

His sacrifice was not in vain, his face
In our minds will remain,
Although he left a bloodstain
On Germany's iron fist of pain.





WW1 Postcard commemorating Hedd Wyn

LINKS

National Museum of Wales
Welsh bard falls in the battle fields of Flanders    https://museum.wales

You Tube  "Hedd Wyn" (Film)  www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8JdhAUJFt0

Thomas (‘Tom’) Michael Kettle 

1880 – 1916


Irish economist, journalist, barrister, journalist, writer, poet, soldier and Home Rule MP and close friend of James Joyce. 


 Kettle was a leading figure in Irish party politics, and the movement for Home Rule; a gifted speaker, a sharp intellectual and noted wit. His death was seen as a loss to Ireland's political and intellectual life, G K Chesterton called him  the greatest example of that greatness of spirit which was so ill rewarded on both sides of the channel …. He was a wit, a scholar, an orator, a man ambitious in all the arts of peace; and he fell fighting the barbarians because he was too good a European to use the barbarians against England, as England a hundred years before has used the barbarians against Ireland"


Born in Dublin, the seventh of twelve children, he excelled at school and university with a reputation as a wit, debater, sportsman and in foreign languages after which he qualified as a barrister but devoted his time to political journalism. 


Initially declining offers to stand for parliament, he  won the East Tyrone seat and became renowned as an amusing and often caustic speaker, progressively committed to Irish

independence and pro-European stance saying,. “My only counsel to Ireland is, that to become deeply Irish, she must become European."


Kettle became the first Professor of National Economics at UCD whilst still working as an MP. In 909 he married Mary Sheehy, a fellow graduate and suffragist (note not Suffragette) who had been the muse of the adolescent James Joyce and is the model for the lead female character in Joyce's story  'Araby' and Miss Ivors in 'The Dead' in his collection "The Dubliners" from the same collection


Unlike others of his class, he supported the 1913 Dublin Strike, publishing articles about the terrible living and working conditions of the Dublin poor, and worked to negotiate a settlement between workers and employers. 


He was in Belgium purchasing arms for the Irish Volunteers when war broke out becoming a war correspondent witnessing the mistreatment of Belgian civilians which led him to return home and accept a commission in the army.


Tom Kettle was killed in action with 'B' Company of the 9th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers during a ‘tempest of fire’ on 9 September 1916, during the Somme Offensive. Surviving an initial blow, he was struck again and killed outright. He was 36 years old. He was buried ion the battlefield by the Welsh Guards and the grave was subsequently lost. His name is on the monumental gateway for the Somme missing at Thiepval.


The following tribute to him appeared in the French journal L'Opinion at the time of his death

All parties bowed in sorrow over his grave, for in the last analysis they were all Irish, and they knew that in losing him, whether he was friend or enemy, they had lost a true son of Ireland. A son of Ireland? He was more. He was Ireland! He had fought for all the aspirations of his race, for Independence, for Home Rule, for the Celtic Renaissance, for a United Ireland, for the eternal Cause of Humanity . . . He died, a hero in the uniform of a British soldier, because he knew that the faults of a period or of a man should not prevail against the cause of right or liberty.”


A bronze bust of Kettle in Dublin's Sr Stephen's Green was too controversial for an official unveiling.  A stone tablet commemorates him in the 'Island of Ireland Peace Park at Messines, Belgium. He is listed on the bronze plaque commemorating the 26 Irish barristers killed in the Great War in the Dublin Four Courts on Panel 1 of the Parliamentary War Memorial in Westminster Hall. 

Tom and Mary Kettle had one child, a daughter, Elisabeth ("Betty"), who was born in 1913 and just three years old when he died. Realising that his chances of surviving the Somme were minimal he became concerned that his daughter would think he had abandoned her and wrote his best known poem, a sonnet entitled “To My Daughter Betty, the Gift of God”. He posted it home four days before he was killed. It is one of the most moving poems to come out of the horrors of World War 1.


To My Daughter Betty, the Gift of God 


In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown
To beauty proud as was your Mother’s prime.
In that desired, delayed, incredible time,
You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,
And the dear heart that was your baby throne,
To die with death. And oh! they’ll give you rhyme
And reason: some will call the thing sublime,
And some decry it in a knowing tone.
So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,
And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,
Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
But for a dream, born in a herdsmen shed,
And for the secret Scripture of the poor.

Just as the line “Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor” confronts the criticism of Irishmen who fought in WW1; a less well known poem (ignored even by his biographer) “Reason In Rhyme” addresses the issue of the war and what should it should lead to. A call for tolerance and European unity it was said by his friend Robert Lynd to be “his testament to England as his call to Europeanism is his testament to Ireland.” [You may draw your own 'Brexit' conclusions!]


Reason in Rhyme


"Bond from the toil of bate we may not cease:
Free we are to be your friend.
And when you make your banquet, and we come,
soldier with equal soldier must we sit
Closing a battle, not forgetting it.
With not a name to hide
This mate and mother of valiant "rebels" dead
Must come with all her history on her head.
We keep the past for pride:
No deepest peace shall strike our poets dumb
No rawest squad of all Death’s volunteers
No rudest man who died
To tear your flag down in the bitter years
But shall have praise and three times thrice again
When at that table men shall drink with men’.


We conclude this tribute to the Lost Poets with these two by Tom Kettle. They are perhaps the best expression of why many chose to fight when, like him, they might easily not have done and the best statement of the outcome that would properly honour the sacrifices of the Great War 

LINKS
A Century Back - Writing the Great War, Day by Day
www.acenturyback.com

The War Poetry Website                              Imperial War Musuem
www.warpoetry.co.uk                                  www.iwm.org.uk

Forgotten Poets of the First World War         War Poets Association
forgottenpoetsofww1.blogspot.com          http://www.warpoets.org

Poetry Foundation                                       Scottish Poetry Library
www.poetryfoundation.org                         www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk

War Poets Blog                                           Poem Hunter
war-poets.blogspot.com                            www.poemhunter.com

Poet's Corner [Note - poetry blog unconnected with Westminster Abbey]
poems.theotherpages.org

Westminster Abbey                                     No Glory in War
www.westminster-abbey.org                      http://noglory.org