Monday, 11 April 2016

Robert Nichols (1893 - 1944) - British writer, poet, playwright "The" Soldier Poet of WW1

Ask anyone in the 21st Century who was THE soldier poet of the First World War and they will probably reply Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sasoon, Robert Graves or perhaps Rupert Brooke but I doubt very much that they will reply ‘Robert Nichols’.  Yet Robert was the Soldier Poet of the War during the 1914 – 1919 period.

Robert Malise Bowyer Nichols was born on the Isle of Wight on 6th September 1893.  His parents were John Bowyer Buchanan Nichols and his wife, Catherine Louisa, nee Bouverie-Pusey.  Robert’s father was a member of the British aristocracy, descended from John Nichols the antiquarian, who was himself an artist, poet and writer.  The Nichols family had a house in Ealing, London and a country seat called Lawford Hall in Manningtree, Essex.  Robert had a younger brother Philip.

Robert was educated at Winchester School before going up to Trinity College, Oxford.   He joined the Royal Field Artillery during WW1 as a 2nd Lieutenant and saw service at the Battle of Loos and on The Somme.

Invalided home to Britain suffering from shell shock, Robert then went to work for the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Information.   He also gave public readings of his war poetry to large audiences in Britain and toured the United States of America giving poetry readings.  

In 1917, Cecil Roberts, the writer, poet and First World War correspondent, met Robert Nichols in The Poetry Bookshop that opened in London in 1913 and was run by Harold Munro.   Cecil described Robert Nichols as "vivacious, good-looking, tall, slim and intense" and "much in demand in the West End of London" as "an emotional and  histrionic reader of his own verses".   The Poet Sir Edmund Gosse described Robert Nichols as "feline" and compared his work to that of Keats and Shelley, whereas Wilfred Owen apparently called him "self-centred and 'vaniteux'".

Robert married Norah Madeline Denny on 11th July 1922 at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London.  He had his portrait painted by Rothenstein and Augustus John.

From 1921 until 1924, Robert lectured at the University of Tokyo in Japan and while there he translated Japanese poetry into English.  He moved to Hollywood in 1924, began writing plays for the film industry and was adviser to Douglas Fairbanks.  Robert returned to the UK in 1926.  

Robert Nichols died in Cambridge in 1944 and was buried in Essex.

Robert’s WW1 poetry collections, some of which are available to read as downloads on Archive, were:

‘Invocation: war poems and others’, published by Elkin Matthews in 1915
‘Ardours and Endurances’, published by Chatto & Windus in 1917
‘Aurelia, and other poems’, published by Chatton & Windus in 1922

and his poems were featured in twenty-four First World War Poetry Anthologies.

Robert Nichols also published  ‘Selected poems’ in 1932, Benn - Augustan Books of Poetry and
‘Such was my singing:  a selection from poems written between the years 1915 and 1940’ which was published by Collins in 1942.

Sources:  Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) and Cecil Roberts “The Years of Promise” (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1968)

Cecil Roberts "The Years of Promise" published in 1968 by Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., London.

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