Sunday, 1 March 2015


Rupert Brooke (1887 - 1915) - British

Rupert was born on 3rd August 1887 in Rugby, Warwickshire, England.  His parents were William Parker Brooke and his wife Ruth Mary, nee Cotterill.  Rupert's father was a teacher at Rugby School, one of the oldest independent boarding schools for boys in England, which was founded in 1567.

Rupert was educated at Hillbrow School and Rugby, winning a scholarship to Cambridge, where he was a President of the University's Fabian Society.

He became acquainted with members of the Bloomsbury Group of writers - Virginia Woof, Vita Sackville-West and was one of the Dymock poets.

After his relationship with Katherine Laird Cox ended, Rupert toured America and wrote articles for the "Westminster Gazette".

In 1915, The Times Literary Supplement published some of Rupert's poems and his collection "1914 and Other Poems" was published in May of that year.  He also went to poetry reading events at Harold Munro's The Poetry Bookshop to read out some of his poems.

Civil Servant Edward Marsh, who was secretary to Winston Churchill for many years, told Churchill who was then First Lord of the Admiralty of the British Government about Rupert Brooke. 

Rupert was commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a Sub-Lieutenant, joining the Hood Battalion, 2nd Brigade, R.N. Division.  He took part in the Royal Naval Division's expedition to Antwerp in Belgium.  

Rupert's Division set sail from Avonmouth near Bristol for Gallipoli in the Union-Castle Line ship "Grantully Castle" which had been converted for use as a troopship. Among the ships escorting the flotilla of over 200 ships heading for Gallipoli was the Dreadnought Battleship "The Prince George". 

The ships put into Cairo in Egypt, where Rupert became seriously ill with a fever and dysentery.  An initial landing at Gallipoli was postponed and the ships were diverted to islands in the Aegean Sea.  When the "Grantully Castle" arrived in the Aegean, the anchorage at Lemnos was already already full of ships, so Rupert's ship put into Trebouki Bay off the Island of Skyros.  Skyros is to the east of the mainland of Greece and is one of the Sporades Archipelago in the Aegean Sea (sporades being Greek for "those scattered").   Rupert and the other members of the Hood Battalion went ashore on Skyros for manoeuvres.  They were resting in a small olive grove about 300 metres above sea level, when Rupert was stung on the face" by "a little grey fly" and his health, already impaired, deteriorated rapidly.

According to her log, the French Naval Hospital Ship " 'Duguay-Trouin' was at anchor in the bay at Trebouki Bay, having taken on coal in Alexandria", when Rupert Brooke was transferred to her by cutter from the "Grantully Castle".

Rupert was described as "…a Lieutenant on General Hamilton's staff".  The Log continues "Wireless messages come in.  General Hamilton and Winston Churchill are worrying."   

In spite of the efforts of "the whole medical staff mobilised for the single patient" (as there were no wounded for them to treat at that stage, Rupert died on 23rd April England has lost her greatest poet".

Arrangements had to be made speedily for Rupert's burial as orders had come through to proceed to the Dardanelles. Rupert had commented upon the tranquility and beauty of the Olive Grove in which the troops had rested during manoeuvres so it seemed the ideal place to bury him.

The log of the "Duguay-Trouin" described the funeral as follows:  "The coffin is placed on the poop and covered with the English flag.  Sixteen palms decorate improvised chapel. The officers of the "Duguay-Trouin" lay on the coffin a bunch of wild flowers stolen from the bees of the Island and with the French colours" (red, white and blue) "At the foot of the coffin stands a sailor presenting arms.  Lieutenant Arthur Asquith (1883 - 1939 - one of the sons of Herbert Henry Asquith, the British Prime Minister in the early days of the War) , who has not left his friend for a moment, is at the side of the bier with some other English officers.  A brief twilight. Then night falls."

As there was "no time to engrave a brass plate, the Lieutenant calls for a soldering iron.  Then, by the light of the lamps which are like a wreath of watch lights, he scars on the oak plank itself these letters


A sharp whistle is heard. The ship's company lines up with bared heads to pay the last honours. A launch takes the boat which carried the coffin in tow.  Other boats pull off from the (other British) warships ("Campus" "Prince George" and "Prince Edward"). There are many of them."

"Some olive trees in a more fertile hollow.  At their foot a grave has been dug."

William Denis Browne, the composer, critic and pianist (who was known as Denis) was one of Rupert's friends and was also at Rupert's side when he died.  Denis, commissioned into the Royal Naval Division at the same time as Rupert, was killed in Gallipoli on 4th June 1915.  Another friend present was Forgotten Poet Patrick Shaw-Stewart, who played an important role in Rupert's funeral being in charge of the firing party and was himself killed on the Western Front in December 1917.  Other members of the Hood Battalion group "Latin Club", as the Rupert Brooke circle was called, who were present at Rupert's funeral, were Charles Lister (son or Lord Ribblesdale), who died after being wounded at Gallipoli in August 1915,  Bernard Freyberg, VC (1889 - 1963) who transferred to the British Army - Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment - in May 1916, and Frederick Septimus Kelly*, Australian/British musician/composer, who was wounded twice at Gallipoli and killed on the Western Front in November 1916.

After the First World War, Stanley Casson was working as Deputy Director at the British School of Archaeology in Athens when he was approached by a friend at the British Legation regarding the placing of a tomb over the grave of Rupert Brooke.   Rupert's mother had commissioned a specially sculpted marble grave in memory of her son.  Casson was the ideal person, with his knowledge of Greek sculpture, to organise and supervise the transport and construction of the two and a half tons of marble and iron railings that you will see if you visit Brooke's grave today.

The logistics of the operation were quite remarkable and are detailed in a book called "Steady Drummer" written by Stanley Casson and published in 1935 by G. Bell of London.   Lady MacLellan has kindly sent me a copy of the section concerning the grave of Rupert Brooke.  Casson had to hire a boat to transport the marble, then get to the island himself.  Once there, he had to build a small jetty for the unloading of the seven or so crates containing the marble.  Once on land, there was the problem of getting the crates up the hill to the site of the grave via the only road which, at that time was a rough goat track.

Nothing daunted, Casson cut wooden rollers from pine trees and began to level the track by removing outcrops of rock on the path.   That alone took over a week.   Then the crates had to be pushed up the track and Casson mentioned how much he admired and respected the architects of Stonehenge.  During the evenings, Casson spent time with his hosts the local shepherds and goatherds on the island who offered him hospitality and shelter in their shack.   After a supper of bread and milk, they would sit round an open fire, talking about the war with the shepherds, some of whom had served in a Greek Division sent to Odessa with other Allied troops.

Returning briefly to Athens to fetch some tools to complete the task, Casson enlisted the help of the author Norman Douglas who had just arrived there.  The pair returned to Skyros and oversaw the completion of the laying of marble tomb over Brooke's grave.  Finally, Casson had the tomb consecrated by the head of the local monastery of St. George.

Casson reflected sadly: "I wondered what Brooke would have thought to see this strange assembly. I came away sadly to think that here was still another of my generation accounted for.  It was a lonely world now for men of my age." 

Casson arranged to have the original wooden crosses that had marked Rupert's grave on Skyros sent back to the Brooke family in Rugby, where they were put on the family burial plot.  By 2008 the crosses had weathered and were replaced.  The originals are now at Rugby School.

Rupert Brooke's WW1 poetry collections were: "Collected Poems" published by Lane, New York, 1915;  "Collected Poems with a memoir by Edward Marsh", published by Sidgwick & Jackson, 1918 and "Collected Poems" published by the Medici Society in 1919.

*While at Gallipoli, Frederick Septimus Kelly, who was awarded the DSC, wrote his "Elegy for a String Orchestra "In Memoriam Rupert Brooke" written by J. Perdriel-Vaisieres and translated by Vincent O'Sullivan and published in English as "Rupert Brooke's Death and Burial" by W.A. Bradley, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1917.

With thanks to Dave Lomas of the War Poets Association Facebook Group

to Lady Jennifer MacLellan, daughter of Stanley Casson

and to Vivien Whelpton, writer, lecturer and tour guide with Battle Honours Ltd.