Posts Tagged ‘edward thomas’

Eleanor Farjeon

Written by W Lawrance on February 13th, 2013. Posted in Featured Poems, Poetry Articles

Eleanor_Farjeon_1
Eleanor Farjeon was born in London on 13th February 1881, the third child of writer Benjamin Farjeon and his wife Margaret (Maggie) Jefferson, who was the daughter of the American actor Joseph Jefferson. Just a few months after Eleanor’s birth, in the summer of 1881, her older brother Charles died, aged just one. Eleanor, known to her family as Nellie, remained especially close to her oldest brother, Harry, even after the arrival of two more brothers, Joe in 1883 and Herbert four years later.

By the age of six, Eleanor had already begun writing and her father would advise her on every aspect of the art, encouraging her as she learned. Shortly before her eighth birthday, however, it was discovered that Eleanor’s eyesight was extremely poor. A pair of spectacles were provided and upon wearing them, Eleanor was most surprised to discover that there were patterns on the wallpaper! Her father scoured bookshops for books with larger print and, if this proved impossible, he would read aloud to her himself, determined that her love of literature would not be spoiled by her impaired vision.

Eleanor was educated entirely at home by governesses, while her brothers attended local day schools and she was devastated when Harry left home to attend the Royal Academy of Music in 1894. During their childhood the Farjeons often attended the theatre – an atmosphere which charmed Eleanor and, due to their parents’ connections, they would often be invited backstage to meet the performers, such as Henry Irving, Helen Terry and Sarah Bernhardt.

In 1898, Eleanor’s father became ill. He was able to continue with his writing for the next few years, but the family’s finances were affected. In July 1903, Benjamin died, leaving the family not only inconsolable, but also suffering economically. They moved to a smaller house and sold some books and furniture to make ends meet. Initially, Harry was the only wage-earner in the house, in his position as Professor of Harmony at the Royal Academy of Music. Herbert went on to become a lyricist and writer, while Joe wrote plays and novels. Eleanor also wrote stories and poems, many of which reflected her ideals of love, loyalty and romance – sentiments which she always tempered with practicality.

In November 1912, Eleanor met Edward Thomas and a close friendship was formed almost immediately. For Eleanor, this friendship blossomed into love, but she remained silent about her feelings, knowing that Edward was married with three children. She believed that if she revealed her love, Thomas would feel duty bound to end their friendship and, besides, it was not in her nature to wilfully hurt another person. She encouraged Thomas in his writing and, in January 1915, she began typing out his poems in preparation for sending them off to potential publishers.

When Thomas enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles in July 1915, Eleanor sensed that he had ended his own torment and was happy with his decision. She spent a few days with the Thomas family prior to his departure for France in January 1917. Although Eleanor knew that her own behaviour throughout had been irreproachable, she also deeply regretted the fact that Thomas was leaving, unaware of her true feelings for him.

On 9th April 1917, Thomas was killed. Despite her own devastation, Eleanor responded immediately to his widow, Helen’s request that she should join the Thomas family at their Hampshire home. Eleanor was able to offer comfort to the grieving Helen and practical support around the house and with the children. In later years, Eleanor made no secret of her love for Edward Thomas but, to him, it remained forever unconfessed and unrequited.

After the war, Eleanor became involved with an English teacher named George Earle. Again, when they first met, he was married and Eleanor kept her feelings to herself. However, once his marriage broke down, she felt free to declare her love for him. They were never married but shared a close and lasting relationship until his death in November 1949. By this time, two of Eleanor’s brothers had also died: Herbert in 1945 and her beloved Harry three years later.

Following Earle’s death, Eleanor threw herself into the production of her play, The Silver Curlew, which was being produced by The Arts Theatre. While there, she met the actor Denys Blakelock and the two formed a friendship which would end only with Eleanor’s death.

Eleanor continued to write, her books mainly aimed at children and in 1955 her story, The Little Bookroom, won the Hans Andersen Award and The Carnegie Medal. Her inspiration was her own happy childhood and her fond memories of nursery games with Harry. Later in the same year, Joe also died and in losing this last link with childhood, Eleanor turned more and more to her faith in God and her friendship with Blakelock.

She remained active and continued writing until she was 84 years old, when ill health forced her to give up. One of the last things she wrote before her death on 5th June 1965, was the foreword to a new collection of Edward Thomas’s poems. Among her many literary achievements, Eleanor also wrote the words to the hymn Morning Has Broken and the Children’s Book Circle created the Eleanor Farjeon Award in her memory.

Eleanor’s remembrances of her happy childhood and loving family, her ideals of love and romance are written down for everyone to read and enjoy. As a person, she was full of joy, understanding, tolerance and compassion, with a unique ability to enhance the lives of everyone she met.

Sources:
Scars Upon My Heart by Catherine Reilly
Portrait of a Family by Eleanor Farjeon
Portrait of a Farjeon by Denys Blakelock

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Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

Written by W Lawrance on October 2nd, 2011. Posted in Featured Poems, Poetry Articles

Wilfrid Wilson GibsonWilfrid Wilson Gibson was born on 2nd October 1878 at Hexham in Northumberland, one of the nine children of John Pattison Gibson and his wife Elizabeth Judith (née Walton). Wilfrid Gibson’s father was a pharmacist by profession, but was also a part-time writer and historian and while his upbringing was by no means affluent, it was happy. Following a less than remarkable education, Gibson decided to become a professional poet, although his early works were rather unsuccessful and unrealistic studies of ancient legends. He found greater success when he turned his hand to writing about the plight of the poor, working classes. These poems were realistic and the style that he developed would form the basis for his war poetry, proving that a poet does not necessarily have to experience his subject in order to write about it convincingly.

As well as poetry, Gibson went on to write several plays between 1907 and 1912, at which point, he moved south to London, where Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry, editors of the literary magazine, Rhythm, introduced him to other poets, such as Ezra Pound. More importantly, Gibson was also introduced to the patron of the arts, Edward Marsh and, through him, met Rupert Brooke with whom he became great friends.

Although Gibson’s poems were widely read, he was struggling financially, so Marsh helped him by paying him to assist with the editing of Rhythm, as well as publishing several of Gibson’s poems in his new anthology, Georgians. In November 1912, Gibson moved into the bedsit above Harold Monro’s Poetry Bookshop in Bloomsbury, enabling him to meet with even more literary figures, including Robert Frost. Before long, Gibson had also fallen in love, with Monro’s secretary, Geraldine Townshend and the couple were married on 9th December 1913 in Geraldine’s home town, Dublin.

They settled in the English countryside at Dymock in Gloucestershire and here, as well as being visited by Marsh and Brooke, the Gibsons also played host to Frost and his friend Edward Thomas. The “Dymock Group” was soon formed, holding regular meetings and launching a quarterly magazine entitled New Numbers, of which Gibson was the editor.

When the First World War was declared, the Dymock Group broke up, as Brooke enlisted and Frost returned to his native America. Gibson was rejected four times by the recruiting authorities, on account of his poor eyesight, but began writing war poetry, based on letters received from the front and newspaper accounts of battles.

In April 1915 came the dreadful news that Rupert Brooke was dead. Gibson was deeply affected by the death of his dear friend and, along with others, worked to have Brooke’s poetry recognised and praised. Brooke, in turn, made Gibson (together with Lascelles Abercrombie and Walter de la Mare) his literary legatee. This generous gesture ensured that, for Gibson, financial worries were a thing of the past.

In 1917, Gibson embarked on a popular poetry-reading tour of America, focusing on Brooke’s work and, when he returned, he successfully managed to enlist in the army. His poor eyesight meant he would never be sent to the front, but he worked initially as a driver with the Army Service Corps, before transferring to a job as a clerk to a medical officer. He never saw active service overseas and after his demobilisation in 1919 Gibson returned to private life. He and Geraldine had three children: Jocelyn, Michael and Audrey and he continued to write poetry until the 1950s. Gibson died on 26th May 1962, aged eighty-three.

Gibson’s war poetry represents the story of the ordinary soldier and displays his talent for capturing the essence of the working man. He writes so realistically that many critics and anthologists were – and are – convinced that he was a “soldier-poet” writing with first-hand experience of the front-line. Unlike many of the real “soldier-poets”, however, the war did not intrude into Gibson’s life in quite the same way: he did not have the same personal experiences of witnessing at first hand the death of a comrade, or having to kill a fellow human being. Yet the truth and realism shine through in his poetry, as though he had been there, with an authenticity that can be both breath-taking and heart-breaking.

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Edward Thomas

Written by W Lawrance on August 26th, 2011. Posted in Literary Connections

Edward Thomas Literary Connections Poster

To download a printable version of this literary connection, showing the links between Edward Thomas, Ivor Gurney, Edmund Blunden, Siegfried Sassoon, and Rupert Brooke, please click on the link below.

 

The Trooper Inn

Written by W Lawrance on July 13th, 2011. Posted in A treat at…, Places of Interest

The Trooper Inn, SteepWhile visiting the village of Steep and its surrounding walks and hills, we decided to stop for lunch at The Trooper Inn, at Froxfield.

Reputedly over 400 years old, this quaint village pub used to be situated on the main route to London and at the beginning of the First World War was used as a recruiting centre for troops.

Unfortunately, the windy and slightly inclement weather prevented us from enjoying the substantial beer garden, so we sat inside amid the many pictures and artefacts and chose from an eclectic and unusual menu. My daughter and I both selected baked fillet of cod with sauteed new potatoes and courgettes in a lemon and dill sauce, which was delicious, light, and perfectly cooked. My husband chose The Trooper Speciality Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder in a rich honey and mint gravy with a medley of roasted summer vegetables. Again, this was tasty and flavourful. Our son, however, chose the unexpected winner of the day in Mr Morgan’s Homemade Cumberland Sausages with crushed new potatoes and an apple, blue cheese and sage sauce. The sausages were temptingly meaty, but the best bit by far, was the crushed new potatoes and sauce on which they sat. This was a rich and mouthwateringly delectable accompaniment and it took all of his prowess to fight the rest of us off and savour it for himself!

All the food on offer is cooked to order, so service is not quick, but is well worth the wait, being of restaurant standard.

We certainly had a thoroughly enjoyable lunch and would be happy to return to The Trooper Inn again.

THE TROOPER INN

Froxfield, Hampshire, GU32 1BD
Telephone: 01730 827293
Website: www.trooperinn.com

Edward Thomas

Written by W Lawrance on July 11th, 2011. Posted in Featured Poems, Poetry Articles

Edward ThomasPERSPECTIVES OF POETRY

Edward Thomas enlisted and fought because he loved his country, in every way – even though he knew, prophetically, that going overseas would almost certainly cost him his life. He gave up his future happiness with his wife, Helen, and their children, for his England and a way of life which he cherished and treasured above all else, knowing that his loss would cost them dearly, but hoping that his country would appreciate his and their sacrifice. When the time came, he left Helen and his children with just a little under £1000 in his will, made – prudently – ten days before he enlisted. The War Office, in its benevolence, reclaimed just over 7 shillings of this from Helen Thomas, five months after her husband’s death, upon discovering that he had been overpaid. Not, perhaps, the actions of the grateful nation for which he’d anticipated he would be giving his life.

So, how does that nation perceive Edward Thomas and his poetry today…?

Edward Thomas’s 144 poems were written over a relatively short period of time, beginning in December 1914 with Up in the Wind and ending, just a little over two years later on January 13th 1917, with Last Poem (The Sorrow of True Love). In between there lies a vast array of poems which demonstrate Thomas’s growing talent, as well as his frequent problems and mood-swings.

Today, many students are required to study his poetry, focusing mainly on one or two central pieces. However, from September 2011, Edward Thomas’s work will become a core focus on a main A-Level syllabus in the UK, despite the fact that relatively little is known about this poet, or his work, compared with the likes of Wilfred Owen, who (for good or bad) seems to have become the mainstay of First World War literature in schools. The lack of readily available information about Edward Thomas has led, in my opinion, to some fundamental errors on the part of the examining board, in the selection of the poems to be studied. There seems to me to be no thread within the collection; no theme or relationship to speak of. Then, dealing with the poems individually, for example, the inclusion of the poem No one so much as you (which should, by the way, also be listed by its alternative title of [M.E.T]), is an interesting and valuable choice, but should surely be studied in conjunction with Thomas’s I may come near loving you or  [P.E.T.], which is not included in the selection. The fact that these two poems were written within days of each other and are addressed to Thomas’s mother and father (respectively) means that students would be given the fascinating opportunity to study Thomas’s markedly different feelings towards his parents, as expressed in these two pieces – if the selectors on the examining board had shown sufficient wisdom (or knowledge) to include them both.

This omission demonstrates perfectly the importance of an in-depth grasp and understanding of the poet(s) involved. The same could be said of the many “blogs” which are now appearing all over the internet, claiming to offer analysis of poetry, some by supposed “experts”, but occasionally by teachers of English. However, these can often be seen to be giving erroneous studies, which merely show how little research the “bloggers” have really done. The study of war poetry requires a thorough understanding of the background of the poet; a knowledge of his or her life and experiences, so as to really comprehend why the poem may have been written at the time and in the style that it was. In his poem Melancholy, for example, Thomas never actually mentions the war, although its presence may be assumed, provided that the reader understands the poet’s position at the time he was writing the piece. In the case of war poetry, it is not enough to simply look at a poem and understand (or think you have understood) the words themselves.

So, returning to Thomas’s poem No one so much as you or [M.E.T.], it is interesting to know that, within a few weeks of writing this, Thomas had also composed poems to his wife Helen and his three children, showing that his frame of mind was clearly focused around his family in the early months of 1916. This was a period of time when Thomas was arguing with his father over his decision (at that time) not to apply for a commission. Meanwhile, his father was also being quite critical of Thomas’s poetry and his decision to become a writer in the first place, which Thomas found offensive. Being as Thomas was staying with his parents, this might well have caused an uneasy atmosphere in the house and this knowledge may provide an explanation as to why Thomas’s mind was so focused on his family, and especially his parents – that February.

From a student’s perspective, one of the most confusing things about Edward Thomas’s poetry is that most of his works have an ulterior motive, purpose or meaning which is secondary to the obvious. Unfortunately, without a really sound knowledge of the poet, above and beyond his fairly well-known biography, the whole significance of the poems can so easily be lost.

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Steep

Written by W Lawrance on July 8th, 2011. Posted in Places of Interest, War Memorials

Steep War MemorialThe memorial at Steep is quiet and unobtrusive, set back from the road on a quiet turning. It consists of a stone built, roofed tower structure with a simple engraved plaque, containing the names of 54 men of Steep, including the poet Edward Thomas, who gave their lives during the First World War. Of these names, there are several “repeats”, that is to say, names that appear more than once, and of these although others may be distantly related, two have been discovered to come from the same direct family. These are:

Frederick and William EADE
Frederick Eade was born in 1886, and like his brother William, who was six years younger, worked before the war as a domestic gardener, living with their parents at 53 Rushes Road, Petersfield. Both brothers joined the 14th Hampshire Regiment and went to fight at the front. William, the younger of the two was the first to die, on 3rd September 1916 and he is buried at the Ancre British Cemetery at Beaumont-Hamel. His older brother, Frederick died on 11th December 1916 at Wimereux, near Boulogne (which probably means he died from wounds inflicted on the battlefield, Wimereux being the site of a major First World War hospital).

Alan and Arthur HEALEY
Alan Healey was born in 1888, the son of William Healey and his wife Martha, who lived at “Mabledon” Tilmore Gardens, Petersfield. He was married to Elizabeth Jane Healey and they lived together at 34 Greenway Cottages, Tiverton, Devon. When the First World War was declared, Alan Healey enlisted as a private with the 10th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment and, following his training, was sent to Gallipoli, where he arrived on 5th August 1915. Five days later, he was killed in action and is commemorated on the Helles Memorial. Alan’s younger brother, Arthur Wilfred Healey was born on 21st October 1898 and was only seventeen years old when he enlisted in the 14th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. He was sent to France on 5th March 1916 where he saw action on the Somme and at Passchendaele the following year, rising through the ranks to become a sergeant. Despite still only being nineteen years old, Arthur was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant on 26th February 1918 and was transferred to the 1st Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment. He was killed in action during the Second Battles of the Somme on 1st September 1918 and is buried at Beaulencourt British Cemetery, Ligny-Thilloy, near Bapaume.

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Steep

Written by W Lawrance on July 7th, 2011. Posted in A visit to…, Places of Interest

View from Shoulder of Mutton Hill, Steep.Taking the Edward Thomas walk in the area immediately surrounding the village of Steep, near Petersfield in Hampshire, it is quite easy to see why the poet fell in love with this corner of England. He was renowned for temporarily absconding from the family home, in order to soak up the atmosphere in the countryside.

Although the weather prevented us from completing the entire walk, the parts that we did see were spectacular. The Edward Thomas memorial stone on Shoulder of Mutton Hill is well worth the steep descent from Cockshott Lane, affording as it does, a magnificent view of the South Downs, and the glimpses of the houses in which Thomas lived during his short residence in this village offer an insight into his lifestyle. The walk also takes in the village memorial and All Saint’s Church.

ALL SAINT’S CHURCH, STEEP

The church of All Saint’s in Steep dates back to the 12th century, although there are many later additions. It originally came under the curacy of East Meon in the Winchester diocese until 1867 when Steep became a parish in its own right and then in 1927 it fell under the diocese of Portsmouth.

Inside this small but beautiful church there are several memorials to local people including a war memorial plaque on the north wall, which includes the names of those connected to the village who fell during the First World War, including Edward Thomas. There is also a window in the South Wall, designed and engraved by Laurence Whistler in 1978 to mark the centenary of Thomas’s birth. There were originally two windows (the second one showing an engraving of Thomas’s poem The New House), but this was shattered in 2010 as an act of vandalism, during a break-in.

All Saint's Church, SteepCEMETERY

Like many small villages in Great Britain, Steep has its fair share of war dead to commemorate. Within the graveyard of All Saint’s Church there are six graves from the First World War, all of which are listed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The men interred all died on English soil for various reasons, while in the service of their country. These are their stories (with additional research, where available):

William George APPLEBEE
(14.10.1901 – 29.10.1918)
William was the second of four children of Henry and Martha (née Gregory) who lived at Tigwell Farm, East Meon, Petersfield, Hampshire. William enlisted in the Royal Navy at Portsmouth as a “Boy, Second Class” on 11th September, serving aboard HMS Impregnable. He died of emphysema on 29th October 1918 at Plymouth in Devon.

Adam BOGLE
(1848 – 3.3.1915)
A native of Glasgow, Adam Bogle was a career soldier, joining the Royal Engineers in 1868 at the age of 20. He rose through the ranks, becoming a Lieutenant by 1879, Captain by 1881 and a Major ten years later. He married Ethel Glossop in 1882 and they lived at a house called “Collyers” at Petersfield in Hampshire. When Major Bogle died, he left his wife the substantial sum of £26,000 (probably worth nearly £2m today).

William Thomas REED
(1900 – 18.10.1918)
The second of the three children of John and Emma (née Mills), who lived at Island Farm in Steep, Hampshire. William was an Ordinary Seaman aboard HMS Vivid.

David Ewan McCONNEL
(15.4.1900 – 7.12.1918)
Born in Queensland, Australia, the son of teacher David Rose McConnel and Mary Emma (née Jordan). The family including David’s older brother, moved to the USA in 1910, where David attended the Palo Alto Elementary School, before they relocated to Switzerland and then to England, arriving in Hampshire in 1914. David attended Bedales School near Steep, where he became head boy. He joined the Royal Flying Corps (later the Royal Air Force) in March 1918, earning his wings on December 7th. Later that day, he was tasked with delivering an aircraft and was killed while landing in foggy conditions.

Charles Ernest LILLEYWHITE
(1877 – 14.12.1915)
Charles was the youngest of the seven children of gamekeeper William Lilleywhite and his wife Charlotte. He grew up at Thursley in Surrey, but after his marriage to Elizabeth Mansell in June 1902, moved to Gardners Farm, Steep near Petersfield, where he too worked as a gamekeeper. Charles and Elizabeth had two children, Harold and Barbara before Charles enlisted in the Hampshire Regiment, despite being officially too old. Charles died in England on December 14th 1915.

Oswald HORSLEY MC and Bar
(14.2.1893 – 19.8.1918)
Oswald was the second son and middle child of Sir Victor Alexander Haden Horsley and his wife Eldred (née Bramwell). Sir Victor Horsley, a physician, was the son of John Callcott Horsley RA, artist and the designer of the first Christmas card, as well as the nephew by marriage of Isambard Kingdom Brunel; his wife, Eldred was the daughter of Sir Frederick Bramwell, a civil servant and mechanical engineer. At the beginning of the First World War, Sir Victor, keen to serve his country, volunteered as a surgeon and was sent as a Colonel and Director of Surgery to the British Army Medical Service in Egypt. From here, he was sent on to Mesopotamia, where he died on 16th July 1916 of heatstroke. Oswald, meanwhile, began his war service on 3rd August 1914 when he joined the Artist’s Rifles, being awarded a commission with the Gordon Highlanders. He served at the front throughout 1915-1916, and was awarded his first MC in October 1916, the citation for which read as follows: “For conspicuous gallantry in action. He led the first line of the advance, capturing and consolidating his objective. Though wounded and put into a shell-hole, he continued to direct operations and refused to be moved back till the position was safe.” During his time at the front he was wounded three times, the third time being so severe that he was no longer able to continue serving with the infantry, so he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in August 1917. Once Oswald had earned his wings, that December, he remained on the Western Front for the next six months, undertaking many dangerous sorties, as a result of which he earned a second Military Cross, which was gazetted on 22nd June 1918 and read as follows: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He has brought down completely out of control three hostile machines, and of two others which he engaged one he fought to within a distance of 200 feet from the ground, forcing it to land, the second spinning down to the ground out of control, he being unable to observe it crash owing to the presence of other hostile machines. He has carried out accurate and valuable reconnaissances, and has set a magnificent example of determined gallantry and skill whilst leading low-flying and bombing patrols.” By now promoted to Captain, Horsley was placed on the relatively safe “home establishment” in July 1918, where he was killed in a crash on August 19th, together with his observer, caused by mechanical failure.

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The Red Sweet Wine of Youth – The Brave and Brief Lives of the War Poets

Written by W Lawrance on June 23rd, 2011. Posted in Books, Reviews

Cover: The Red Sweet Wine of Youthby Nicholas Murray

Published by: Little, Brown

Cover Price: £25.00

All references given below refer to the hardback edition.

Before reviewing this book, I thought I would read the opinions of others and, upon doing so, discovered it had been almost universally praised as “an excellent book”, “a fine account of poetic sensibility of the period”, “a fabulous book” and “an important study”, with the only criticisms being that it does not include enough actual poetry analysis (although it doesn’t promise this); there is a mis-spelling of Lascelles Abercrombie (which, indeed, there is on page 23); and that the poetry is not set out properly where a quotation begins mid-way through a line. With these minor foibles and thoughts in mind, I sat down expecting a treat of interesting portraits and experiences of twelve war poets.

Within seven pages, I started to wonder: for it is here that Mr Murray includes Wilfred Owen’s famous Preface to his collection of poetry which was published posthumously. This immediately rang alarm bells, as it is quoted in the unaltered version, which Owen himself amended. What, I wondered, could have been Mr Murray’s source for this quotation? Turning to the “Notes” at the back of the book, I found it to be Poems by Wilfred Owen (1921), Introduction by Siegfried Sassoon, p.vi. Unfortunately, although I have an extensive collection, I am not lucky enough to number this title amongst my own books and cannot immediately verify this quotation. I can say, however, that in the manuscript, which is widely reproduced, Owen changed the Preface, making various crossings out, which are not represented in Mr Murray’s quoted version. It seemed a little strange, therefore, that Mr Murray should use a form of this Preface which is not in use anywhere else and which Owen amended before his death.

Undeterred by this confusion, I continued reading until page 40, when I happened upon an account of Julian Grenfell being dispatched to France in August 1914. This I knew to be inaccurate, as Grenfell was serving in India at the time. He sailed for England on 25th August, and did not embark for France until October 6th. Interestingly a correct account is given of these events (albeit loosely) a little later in the book, and then contradicted again in the “Military Chronology” at the rear, which states that Grenfell not only went to France in August 1914, but was also awarded his D.S.O. during the same month, when he actually earned his medal in November. Other mistakes surrounding Grenfell include Mr Murray’s assertion that Julian was the second son of Baron and Lady Desborough, when he was in fact their first-born child, arriving on 30th March 1888, 13 months after Willie and Ettie Grenfell were married. At the time of Julian’s birth, Willie Grenfell was not Baron Desborough, as Mr Murray implies, since this title was only conferred upon him in 1905.

The first chapter includes other errors, such as a comment that John Masefield was much too old to fight, at the age of thirty-four. In fact, Masefield was thirty-six in 1914 (his date of birth is acknowledged as 1st June 1878 by the John Masefield Society) and he did serve as an orderly in a British Red Cross hospital in France, being (according to The Winter of the World by Dominic Hibberd and John Onions) not fit for military service. Edward Thomas, another poet featured later in this book, was three months older than Masefield, but at no point does Mr Murray seem to consider him as being too old to fight, making this seem rather an unnecessary comment.

While I’m on the subject of Edward Thomas, who shares a chapter with Ivor Gurney and Edmund Blunden, I must, once again object to a misquoted poem. In Thomas’s In Memoriam (Easter 1915) – from which, by the way, the second part of the title is missing – Mr Murray misquotes the final line. In this same chapter, we are also told about Edmund Blunden’s enlistment in August 1915, although this is contradicted in the “Military Chronology” when his enlistment date is given as August 1914. We’re then informed that Blunden, at the age of seventeen, was transferred from Victoria to Etaples. This is clearly wrong as Blunden was nineteen when he embarked for France in spring 1916, having been born in November 1896.

Siegfried Sassoon, who became a close friend and mentor of Blunden’s, barely warrants a mention here, although Mr Murray does allow Sassoon an entire chapter to himself (in which Blunden isn’t mentioned at all), describing at length his life before, during and after the war. He tells us, for example that Sassoon’s father left the family home when his son was seven years old: he was, in fact not yet five. He also describes David Thomas and Sassoon as “lovers”, which by modern-day interpretation implies a physical relationship, of which there is no evidence. (Mr Murray uses this phrase misleadingly again later in the book, while alluding to the relationship between Vera Brittain and Roland Leighton). In one passage on page 116, he describes Sassoon’s July medical board and the orders he received to go to Craiglockhart. This is such a direct copy of the words of Rupert Hart-Davis from Sassoon’s 1915-1918 diaries, that it really ought to be in quotes – but it isn’t. A little later, Mr Murray tells us that Sassoon threw his medal into the River Mersey, when, according to both Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and Max Egremont’s excellent biography of the poet, it was only the medal ribbon that Sassoon jettisoned.

I could go on (and on), as these are just some of the examples of the many errors and inaccuracies to be found in this disappointing book. I must say, however, that I found one of the most infuriating comments made by Mr Murray to be a note in which he corrects an evident error made by Ivor Gurney! The words “glass houses” and “stones” spring to mind, especially when one bears in mind the hugely underrated genius that was Ivor Gurney: to pick him up, so crassly, on such a minor matter, when this book is so littered with errors and inaccuracies is, frankly, unbelievable.

Mr Murray’s bibliography is extensive: listing over two hundred books on this subject. It seems a shame to me that he did not refer to them more closely. Just to give one example (of many): Nicholas Mosley’s worthy biography of Julian Grenfell, from which Mr Murray quotes freely, ought to have at least helped him acknowledge the order in which the Grenfell children were born. Some might argue that these are only “details”, but such “details” are important and help to make sense, for example, of Ettie Grenfell’s attitude to her son’s memory. Julian was her first-born son; he was the heir to the title and Ettie had plans for him and his future. His death dealt her an enormous blow, as did that of her second son, Billy. In the years that followed, she manipulated the manner in which each of her sons would be remembered.

Another bone of contention for me within this book, has to be the sheer amount of quotations that are included in the text. By way of a random experiment, I chose a page – by allowing the book to fall open – and counted the number of words written by Mr Murray, as opposed to those quoted. In this instance, over three quarters of the page consisted of quotations, much in blocks of text, with little original writing by the author. This example, I am afraid to say, is not untypical. While it is very interesting to read diary extracts, letters and memoirs, the choices made by the author are selective, to prove a point and none really offer any new insights into the poets themselves. Mr Murray acknowledges the usefulness of the many biographies written by others about the lives of the poets and, there are times when this book feels as though it is made up of the workings of many authors, edited together by Mr Murray.

The subtitle of the book has also given me pause for thought, being – I believe – somewhat misleading. “The Brave and Brief Lives of the War Poets” had suggested to me that I would be reading about poets who had died during or immediately after the First World War, making for some unusual choices. I was, therefore, rather surprised to find Sassoon, Graves, Blunden and Jones listed on the Contents page, all of whom lived to a ripe old age. This strikes me as a strange use of the word “brief” and also as somewhat of a waste, when there are poets whose lives fit the bill perfectly and whose poetry is almost unheard of, or generally ignored today and which would benefit from being brought to the public eye. Mr Murray could have chosen from, for example, Francis Ledwidge, T. M. Kettle, John William Streets, William Noel Hodgson, Robert Ernest Vernede or E. A. Mackintosh, all of whom died in the First World War, had fascinating lives and wrote glorious poetry.

I am sure that some people will think I am being a little (or a lot) too picky; focusing too much on factual accuracy. However, in a book like this, if the author isn’t going to be troubled with factual accuracy, he or she may as well write a novel. This is the type of book which may well be read by students, teachers and those with a general interest in the topic, all of whom will hope – like me – to glean some new information on this theme. The readers of this book have a right to expect that the subjects will be treated with respect: properly and thoroughly researched; that quotations will be accurate and that – at the very least – the text will not confusingly contradict itself. More importantly than that, however, is the debt that is owed to the poets themselves. Considering what these brave men went through to bring us their poetry – their legacy – the least they deserve is that those who are writing about them bother to get it right.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

In order to verify the inaccuracies contained within this book, I have referred to the following texts:

Violets from Oversea by Tonie and Valmai Holt
Siegfried Sassoon – A Biography by Max Egremont
Siegfried Sassoon Diaries 1915-1918 edited and introduced by Rupert Hart-Davis
Siegfried Sassoon: The Making of a War Poet: A Biography 1886-1918 by Jean Moorcroft Wilson
Siegfried’s Journey by Siegfried Sassoon
The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston by Siegfried Sassoon
The Poems of Wilfred Owen edited and with a memoir by Edmund Blunden
Wilfred Owen: The Last Year by Dominic Hibberd
The Collected Poems of Edward Thomas edited by R. George Thomas
Julian Grenfell by Nicholas Mosley
Stars in a Dark Night: The Letters from Ivor Gurney to the Chapman Family by Anthony Boden
Undertones of War by Edmund Blunden
Edmund Blunden – A Biography by Barry Webb
Anthem for Doomed Youth by Jon Stallworthy
Robert Graves – The Assault Heroic 1895-1926 by Richard Perceval Graves
Robert Graves – The Years with Laura 1926-1940 by Richard Perceval Graves
Robert Graves and the White Goddess 1940-1985 by Richard Perceval Graves
The Winter of the World: Poems of the Great War edited by Dominic Hibberd and John Onions

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