Monday, 30 March 2015

Julian Grenfell, DSO (1888 - 1915) - British

Yvon Davis you are amazing! Thank you so much. Yvon sends me information about forgotten poets of the First World War and has just found this link about Julian Grenfell "Via twitter @pgmhilferink: An Irishman’s Diary about war poet Julian Grenfell ‪#‎WW1‬ via @IrishTimes"

Julian Grenfell was born in London on 30th March in 1888.  He was named after his maternal Grandfather, Julian Fane, British Diplomat and poet who was a member of the Cambridge debating group "The Apostles".  Julian's parents were William Grenfell, who later became Baron Desborough, and his wife Ethel Priscilla Grenfell, nee Fane.  He was their eldest son  and was educated at Eton College and Balliol College, Oxford, where  he was a contemporary of Philip Sassoon, Siegfried's cousin.  

Julian joined the Army in 1910 and at the outbreak of WW1 was in the Royal Dragoon Guards.  He was awarded the DSO in 1914 and was mentioned twice in Dispatches.

When Julian was wounded near the Ypres-Menin Road on 13th May 1915, he held the rank of Captain. He died of his wounds in hospital in Boulogne, France on 26th May 1915 and was buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France - Plot II, Row A, Grave 18.

Julian's most famous poem "Into Battle" was published in "The Times" newspaper of London the day following his death.

"Into Battle" was published as a one-off broadside for presentation to his mother by the Medici Society.   His poem was published in 34 WW1 anthologies and Julian Grenfell is one of the poets featured in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey, London.

“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.

Additional information from Catherine W. Reilly "English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography" (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1978)

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Belgian Forgotten Poets of WW1

How fitting as today is the anniversary of Wilfred Owen's birth that Yvon Davis has sent me a wonderful gift - details of a Belgian forgotten poet of WW1.   Many thanks indeed Yvon.   Find out more here

And here is a link to a very interesting article written by Michael Morpurgo (author of the book "War Horse") about his Grandfather, Belgian poet Emile Cammaerts -

Cammaerts wrote a preface to the poetry anthology edited by R.M. Ingersley (Russell Markand) under the title "The Glory of Belgium: A Tribute and a Chronicle", published in 1915 by Erskine Macdonald and sold in aid of the Belgian Repatriation Fund.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Another forgotten WW1 soldier poet

I was pleased to discover on Facebook yesterday another forgotten poet of the First World War - Leonard Comer Wall, who was born in West Kirby on the Wirral Peninsula (see map) in 1896. I am sure I don't have to tell you all that Wilfred Owen was brought up on the Wirral Peninsula in the north west of England, or that he was educated at the Birkenhead Institute in Birkenhead.  Incidentally, the 1917 Eistedfodd was held in Birkenhead when Forgotten WW1 Poet Hedd Wyn was posthumously crowned Bard - but that is another story...

Leonard's birth was registered 4th quarter. His parents were Charles C. Wall, a grocer, and his wife Kate, nee Earle, who was from Newfoundland.  Kate Earle was educated at a boarding school for young ladies in West Kirby on the Wirral Peninsula in the UK. 

Educated at Clifton Academy in Bristol, Leonard joined the Army in WW1. He was killed on 9th June 1917 and is buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium. He is commemorated on West Kirby Civic Memorial and at St. Bridget's Church in West Kirby (near where I used to live).
I wonder if Leonard Comer Wall was related to First World War poet 2nd Lieutenant Arthur Geoffrey Nelson Wall (see the post about Geoffrey further down this weblog on 30th October 2014) who was born in Liscard, birth registered June 1897, Birkenhead, Wirral.  He was the son of Arthur E. Wall and his wife Mary.  

In 1901, Geoffrey's family lived at 7 Denton Drive, Liscard, Wallasey. They emigrated to Australia when Geoffrey was ten but he came back during WW1 at the end of his first year at university, enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps and was killed in a flying accident on 6th August 1917 in Netheravon, Wiltshire. He is commemorated in Wallasey (Frankby) Cemetery on the Wirral Peninsula.

There is still a great deal of research to do - more poems by Leonard Comer Wall and a photograph of him, etc.   If anyone has any information or is related to either of the two poets, please get in touch.

Further information about Leonard Comer Wall can be viewed here

The map of the Wirral Peninsula is by kind permission of Dean Johnson of The Wilfred Owen Story, Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, UK - the museum dedicated to the memory of Wilfred Owen.


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.  When his death was announced:  “Everybody is silent. Then a voice says: “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.

JOHN McCRAE (1872 – 1918) – CANADIAN

John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” is perhaps the best known of all the poems written during the First World War and was the inspiration behind the use of the poppy for remembrance.  American WW1 poet Moina Belle Michael was inspired by John McCrae’s poem to write her own poem in November 1918 and vowed she would from then on always wear a poppy.

John McCrae was born in Guelph, Ontario, Canada on 30th November 1872. His parents were David McCrae, a woollen manufacturer, and his wife Janet, nee Simpson Eckford.  The McCrae’s ancestors had emigrated to Canada from Scotland.

Educated at the Guelph Collegiate Institute, John began writing poetry at an early age and also demonstrated considerable talent as an artist.  He went on to study medicine at the University of Toronto and qualified as a physician.  John travelled to Britain with his father in 1886 and in that year he joined the Highland Cadet Corps in Canada, eventually going on an Artillery Officer’s training course.

John was a member of the Royal Canadian Artillery as an artillery officer during the Boer War, travelling to South Africa. While there, he met the British poet Rudyard Kipling who was visiting British troops. In John’s opinion Kipling was “the high priest of it all”.

In 1907, John travelled to England to attend the XVII International Medical Congress by which time he had gained a reputation as a doctor and teacher of medicine.   He also travelled to France, visiting Paris and Carcassonne.   John met the poet W.B. Yeats in Montreal in 1903.

During the First World War, John was both artillery officer with the rank of Major and medical officer (Brigade Surgeon). He travelled to Britain with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in October 1914.   After training on Salisbury Plan and inspection by King George V and Kitchener on 4th February 1915, John’s Regiment left for the Western Front. 

In stark contrast to the dry, dusty conditions they had encountered in South Africa during the Boer War, John and his fellow medics were horrified to discover that Belgian farmers used copious quantities of manure on their soil.  This meant the soil had a large nitrate, potash and bacterial content, causing terrible problems if wounds were not cleaned fast.

John was second in command of the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery.   By 23rd April 1915, the guns were in place on the west bank of the Ypres – Yser Canal, just north of the town of Ypres.

The death and burial of his friend and fellow Artillery officer Alexis Helmer, who was killed by a shell on 2ndMay 1915, inspired John to write his famous poem about the poppies he saw growing in the makeshift graveyard. 

There are many versions of when and where the poem was written but the most plausible in my view is that of his fellow officers at the time, writing in the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery War Diary – Sergeant-Major Cyril Allinson, Captain Lawrence Cosgrave and Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Morrison.  According to their account, it would seem that the poem was written on or near the fire step of the Dressing Station dug out where John was based at the time. From there he had a clear view of the little cemetery in which his friend lay with the poppies growing wild among the crosses.  When the guns paused, it was possible to hear birds singing.

John sent his poem to “The Spectator” but it was returned to him. “In Flanders Fields” was first published anonymously in “Punch” Magazine on 8th December 1915. 
John McCrae, Western Front, WW1

On 29th May 1915, John received orders to transfer from the Artillery Brigade to become Lieutenant-Colonel in charge of No. 3 Canadian General Hospital at Dannes-Camiers on the north French coast. The hospital was staffed by personnel from Canada’s McGill University and was housed in tents donated to the War Office by an Indian Prince.

John was taken ill with Pneumonia and, transferred to No. 14 British General Hospital in Wimereux.  But, spite of careful nursing from two nurses who volunteered to nurse him 24/7 and expert medical care, he died on 28th January 1918.  John McCrae’s grave is in Wimereux Communal Cemetery, France.

After the War, the grave of Alexis Helmer proved impossible to find and he is now commemorated on Panel 10 of the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, dedicated to the Missing of the Ypres Salient.

There is a museum in Guelph dedicated to the memory of John McCrae – McCrae House, 108 Water Street, Guelph, Ontario, ON N1G 1A6, Canada –

Source:  “A Crown of Life:  The World of John McCrae” by Dianne Graves, published by Spellmount Ltd., Staplehurst, Kent in 1997.

Susan Raby-Dunne from Canada has researched the story of John’s horse and written a truly wonderful book called “Bonfire the Chestnut Gentleman”.  To find out more about the book please see and