Saturday, 24 December 2016

John Still (1880 – 1941) – British archaeologist and writer

John Still was born in Lambeth in 1880. His father, also called John Still, was an Anglican priest and his mother was Anna Elizabeth Still, nee Nutrill.  Educated at Winchester College, Still went to Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was then called) as a tea planter in 1879.   John married Winifred Mary Evans.
He served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the East Yorkshire Regiment during the First World War and was taken prisoner of war during the Gallipoli Campaign.

In the Foreword to his First World War poetry collection “Poems in Captivity”, which he dedicated to his wife, John explains how he came to write poetry during the three years he spent in captivity in Turkey:
“… each one of us was driven to seek inside himself some alleviation of the daily dullness, many of us there found things we had not suspected to exist. For, to find distraction, we were thrown back more upon our own creative powers, and were helped less by our surroundings than ever is the case in normal life.

Some found the wit to write plays, and others the talent to play them. Some discovered the power to draw ; and one at least found much music in his mental storehouse. Some developed into expert carpenters, and others, less profitably, into hardly less expert splitters of hairs ! Some found in others a depth of kindness more durable I think than the depths of hate this war has generated. I found these verses …”

 In 1939, John went to live in Africa and he died in South Africa in 1941.

 John Still’s poem “Christmas Day” is on page 66 of the collection:

 "CHRISTMAS DAY", written on Christmas Day 1916 

YEARS ago. Years ago.
Three years ago on Christmas day,
Out in a forest far away,
The monkeys watched me down below,
And saw me hide in the waving grass
While the elephant herd went trampling past.
Oh, the great wild herd that Christmas day !
And I as wild and free as they,
As free as the winds that blow.

Christmas day. Christmas day.
Across the yard with footsteps slow
The sentries pace the mud below ;
The wind is cold, the sky is grey ;
Christmas day in a prison camp,
With freedom dead as a burnt-out lamp.
The lions eat and the lions rage,
Three steps and a turn in a narrow cage,
And I am as free as they.

Rich and poor. Rich and poor.
Poor as a sparrow or rich as a king,
This world can offer but one good thing,
And my heart is sick to be free once more.
For the sun may shine in a sapphire sky,
But give me freedom or let me die :
Free and fresh is the forest breeze
Whose spirit rides on the tossing trees,
And the waves break free on the shore.

 AFION KARA HISSAR, 25.xii.i9i6.

“Poems in Captivity” was published by John Lane, The Bodley Head, London in 1919.  This is now available on Archive as a free down-load

John Still also wrote “A prisoner in Turkey” which was also published by The Bodley Head, as well as a book about his life in Ceylon and "Jungle Tide" about his discoveries in Ceylon.

Sources:  Find my Past, Catherine W. Reilly "English Poetry of the First World War A Bibliography" published by St. Martin's Press, New York, 1978  (p. 305), Wikipedia and Archive.

Friday, 23 December 2016

List Update

With thanks to someone called 'In the Know' who kindly pointed out to me that Hilary Douglas Clark Pepler is not a female but a male poet.  The name of course in English can be either masculine or feminine - I have a cousin Hilary, a cousin Elliott both female and a neighbour called Cameron who, unlike Cameron Diaz, is male.

Harry Douglas Clark Pepler was born in Eastbourne. During WW1 he worked for London County Council.

Under the pen-name H.D.C.P., Hilary published the following WW1 poetry collections:

"God and the dragon: rhymes" (Douglas Pepler, Ditchling, 1917) and

"Pertinent and impertinent: an assortment of verse" (St. Dominic's P., Ditchling, 1926).

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

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Geoffrey Bache Smith (1894 – 1916) – British Poet

Geoffrey was born in Staffordshire on 18th October 1894. He attended King Edward’s School,
Birmingham at the same time as J.R.R. Tolkien, where they founded the literary “Tea Club and Barovian Society” (TCBS). 
Geoffrey was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the 19th (Service) Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers.  Wounded by shrapnel on 29th November 1916, Geoffrey died on 3rd December 1916 and was buried in Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery, Saulty, France.  

The WW1 poetry collection of Geoffrey Bache Smith – “A Spring Harvesst” – was published in 1918 by Erskine Macdonald, London.  One of his poems was included in “The Valiant Muse:  an anthology of poems by poets killed in the World War”, edited by Frederic W. Ziv and published in 1936 by Putnam, New York.  You can read more of Geoffrey’s poems on Project Gutenberg


-  Afterwards, when
The old Gods' hate
On the riven earth
No more is poured:

When weapons of war
Are all outworn
What shall become
Of the race of men?
One shall go forth
In the likeness of a child:
Under sere skies
Of a grey dawning: 

One shall go forth
In the likeness of a child,
And desolate places
Shall spring and blossom:

One shall go forth
In the likeness of a child:
And men shall sing
And greatly rejoice:
All men shall sing
For the love that is in them,
And he shall behold it
And sing also.

With thanks to Skip Downing for additional information 

Monday, 21 November 2016

Sydney Hale (1891 – 1915) - British

I am very grateful indeed to all the wonderful people who help me with my commemorative exhibition project about the First World War.  The following comes from Maria and is about her Great Uncle, Sydney.  Maria does not as yet have a photograph of Sydney but has a photo of one of his brothers - Harold - which is reproduced here by kind permission of Maria.  
The following information about Sydney Hale has been
researched by Maria Coates who is Sydney Hale's Great Niece and  co- written by Maria Coates and Carol Switzer of the Facebook Group

Sydney Hale was born on 12th January 1891 in Stockbridge, Hampshire England. He was the fourth born son of Stafford Henry Hale, a plumber and his wife Elizabeth Hale, nee Baverstock, who lived at Prospect Place.   Sydney had the following siblings:  Frederick, Alick, Elsie, Ethel, Percy, Harold and Annie Ada.  He attended St Peter’s Church, High Street, Stockbridge, where both his Parents and Grandparents were married.  In 1911 the Census states that he was employed as a Footman living in Chelsea London.   Sydney wrote a poem for his sister Annie in her autograph album:

 A Diplomatic Dialogue

 What are you looking for, my pretty maid?
I’m seeking the suffrage, sir, she said.

What is your following, my pretty maid?
Something like yours, kind sir, she said.

Are you a Radical, my pretty maid?
Not by a long shot, sir, she said.

Then I cannot help you, my pretty maid.
Wait till I axes you, sir, she said.

A clever parody on an English folk song.  Parodies were a popular form of verse in the early 1900s when most people wrote poetry and/or recited it at family gatherings, etc.  There was no radio or television back then and ordinary folk made their own entertainment.

Right:  Annie Ada Hale, one of Sydney's sisters, for whom he wrote the verse.   Annie Ada was Maria's Grandmother.

When war broke out, Sydney, aged 23 years, enlisted in the Army at Southwark, Surrey, England. Rifleman Sydney Hale 7297 joined the 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade (C Company), which became part of the 41st Brigade 14th Light Division. The Battalion formed at Winchester in September 1914 and trained at both Aldershot and Grayshot in Hampshire.

From the 29th June 1915 the Battalion were in the front line trenches in the Hooge area of the Western Front. Two companies took over trenches at Railway wood, the other two at the GHQ line. Nine days in the frontline resulted in high casualties for them by the time they were relieved on the 8th July 1915.

For the next two weeks the Battalion performed various duties in and around Ypres until the evening of the 29th July 1915, when they were ordered to take over the Hooge frontline trenches once more. In a few short hours the lives of so many men would tragically change forever as the Battle of Hooge was about to commence.

We do not know with absolute certainty exactly where Rifleman Sydney Hale, of C Company, was located at 03.15am on the 30th July 1915.  We do know that his Company was split into three platoons. Two Platoons were located in trenches G4 and G5 which were in the centre of the frontline and only a few metres from the German lines. The third platoon was located in trench G7, a few short metres to the rear of G5. We also know that this was the exact time when the Germans first turned on their Flamethrowers and that these trenches were subjected to intense bombardment.

The fighting became confused and machine guns were soon out of action. Despite gallant fighting from both A and C companies of the Battalion the Germans had managed to push through the centre of the frontline, resulting in C Company being totally overrun by the advancing German troops. After unsuccessful counter attacks the remaining Battalion managed to hold on to the communication trenches and frontline of Zouave wood, until being relieved in the early hours of 31st July 1915. The Battalion had fought valiantly throughout the day and night without water or rations. Casualties were extremely high and costly and consequently C Company of the 8th Rifle Brigade ceased to exist.

Sydney is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in France, as well as in his hometown on Stockbridge's War Memorial and at St Peters Church. He is also commemorated in Winchester where the Battalion was first formed, in an Encased Book of Remembrance inside Winchester Cathedral. 


Sunday, 20 November 2016

Walter Butler Palmer (1868 - 1932) - American

A poem posted on a WW1 commemorative Facebook Page sent me off on a search for the writer. "Dear Ancestor" was written by American poet Walter Butler Palmer (1868 - 1932).

During the First World War, Palmer bred horses for the U.S. Cavalry and was based at Spartanburg, SC. His poetry collection "Heart Throbs and Hoofbeats" was published in California in 1922 and is available to read here

Find out more and read the poem "Dear Ancestor"

Monday, 14 November 2016

John William Streets (1886 - 1916) - British

One of the poets included in the Somme Poets exhibition and book is John William Streets, who was known as Will.

John William Streets was born in Whitwell, Derbyshire on 24th March 1886, the eldest of ten children born to William Streets and his wife Clara, nee Wilcox.  

When the First World War broke out, John William Streets joined the 12th York and Lancashire Regiment and attained the rank of Sergeant.

From the Western Front, Streets wrote to his publisher Galloway Kyle about 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 I 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.”

Streets' Battalion fought on the first day of the Somme - 1st July 1916. Streets was wounded and made his way back to the British lines for treatment. He was seen going to help another wounded man but he then disappeared.  His body lay in No Man's Land until 1917, when the fighting moved back across the area.  On 1st May 1917 the body of John William Streets was identified and he was officially recorded as “Killed”.   He was buried in Euston Road Cemetery at Colincamps on the Somme in France.  The village of Colincamps is about eleven miles north of Albert.
John William Streets’ poetry collection ‘Undying Splendour’ was published by Erskine Macdonald in 1917 and is available as a free download on Archive so that you can read his work:

Streets’ poems were also included in nine First World War Poetry Anthologies.
Some of his poems were written while he was in training at Hurdcott Camp which was situated between Compton Chamberlayne and Fovant in Wiltshire, UK.


Catherine W. Reilly’s ‘Bibliography of English Poetry of the First World War’ (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978)

David Harrop read out one of Streets's poems at a Remembrance Service in Manchester on 13th November 2016.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

H.H. Munro - "Saki" (1870 - 1916) - British writer

Best remembered for the short stories he wrote under the pen-name “Saki”, Hector Hugh Munro was born in Akyab in Burma, where his father, Charles August Munro, was in the Indian Imperial Police Force, on 18th December 1870.  Hector’s mother was Mary Frances nee Mercer, who died in 1872.    When he returned to Britain, Charles took his family to live in north Devon.

Educated at Pencarwick School in Exmouth, privately at home by governesses and at Bedford School, Hector travelled with his father to France and Germany before joining the Burmese Mounted Police.  The climate in Burma did not suite Hector, so after a year of ill health, he returned to Britain and worked as a journalist and writer.

With come difficulty because he was over age, Hector joined the 2nd King Edward’s Horse Regiment as a Trooper in the First World War and applied to go to the front.  He turned down a commission and refused to take safe jobs behind the lines.   He was transferred to the 22nd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers and killed in action on 13-14th November 1916 at Beaumont-Hamel.   H.H. Munro is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial in France.

His final book “The Toys of Peace and other papers” by H.H. Munro was published by John Lane, The Bodley Head, London, 1919, with a portrait and a memoir by his friend Rothay Reynolds, who wrote a poem to Saki.

"Yon rising Moon that looks for us again,
How oft hereafter will she wax and wane;
How oft thereafter, rising, look for us!
Through this same Garden - and for one in vain.
"And when like her, O Saki, you shall pass
Among the Guests, star-scattered on the grass,
And in your joyous errand reach the spot
Where I made one - turn down an empty glass."

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

John Louis Crommelin-Brown (1888 - 1953) - British poet and cricketer

Born in Delhi, India on 20th October 1888, John Louis Crommelin-Brown was educated at Winchester College in Hampshire before going on to Trinity College, Cambridge.   While at Cambridge, he wrote lyrics for Footlights.

During the First World War John was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery and became a Lieutenant in January 1916.   

After the war, John taught at Repton School in Derbyshire and played professional cricket for Worcestershire.  He died at Minehead in Somerset on 11th September 1953. 

John's WW1 poetry collection 'Dies Heroica War Poems 1914 - 1918"', published by Hodder and Stoughton, London in 1918, is available as a free down-load on Archive:

With thanks to Michael Bully for finding this forgotten WW1 poet.  Michael has a weblog dedicated to the sea poetry of WW1 which you can see here

Sources:  Wikipedia 

An evening to commemorate the life and work of Isaac Rosenberg, 27th November 2016, London WC1E

Monday, 31 October 2016

Barry Eric Odell Pain (1864 – 1928) – British journalist, author and poet

Born in Cambridge on 28th September 1864, Barry’s parents were John Odell Pain and his wife Maria, nee Pain.  Barry had the following siblings: Herbert, b. 1857, Allison, b. 1859, Aubrey, b. 1863, Edgar, b. 1867, Edith Maud, b. 1869 and Arthur, b. 1871.  The family lived in Sidney Street, St. Andrew the Great, Cambridge.

Barry was educated at Sedbergh School then Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he was a regular contributor to “The Granta”, a Cambridge under graduates’ literary magazine.  “The Granta” was founded in 1889 by a group of Cambridge students and named after the river that runs through Cambridge.  It was brought up-to-date as a literary magazine in 1979 and is now published quarterly.

In June 1892, Barry married Amelia Nina A. Lehman, a cousin of Forgotten Poet Rudolf Chambers Lehmann who was also a Justice of the Peace and a Liberal MP. Barry and Amelia had two children – Nancy Erica, b. 1893 and Eva Amelia, b. 1897.  In 1911, Barry and his family were living in Marylebone in London. 

Barry joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and served as a Chief Petty Officer during the First World War.

He had poetry, short stories and non-fiction published between 1891 and 1921 and his war poems were included in 12 WW1 poetry anthologies.

Barry died in Bushey, Hertfordshire on 5th May 1928.


Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978)

Martin Stephen, Ed. “Poems of the First World War ‘Never such Innocence’ (Everyman, J.M. Dent, London, 1993

Find my Past, Free BMD and Pendulum.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

"Gardens Behind the Lines, 1914 - 1918" by Anne Powell

In “Gardens Behind the Lines, 1914 – 1918 Gardens Found and Made on the Western and Eastern Fronts”, Anne Powell skilfully weaves extracts from eye-witness accounts with poems written by poets who survived the conflict, as well as poets who were killed - Richard Aldington, Rupert Brooke, Edmund Blunden, Leslie Coulson, Geoffrey Dearmer, Robert Graves, Ivor Gurney, Francis Ledwidge, Siegfried Sassoon, Geoffrey Bache Smith, John William Streets, Edward Wyndham Tennant and Edward Thomas and from a letter by Osbert Sitwell.  You will also find quotes from diaries and letters home written by women doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, and so on during WW1. 

In the Afterword is a detailed description of how the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was set up along with the well-tended cemeteries, remembrance gardens and memorials that we now find when visiting the Western Front in Belgium and France.  Did you know that my favourite gardener, Gertrude Jekyll was involved in the planning of some of the gardens in cemeteries on the Western Front? (p. 38).

Anne has also included brief biographies of all those from whose work she quotes in the book, as well as comprehensive notes.  From cover to cover this is a wonderful book – the back covers have a full list of the titles available in Jean Moorcroft Wilson’s War Poets Series.  I urge you to read it.

Here is an extract:  The Hon. Edward Wyndham Tennant, known as “Bim” (1897 - 1916) – British poet

“On the second day of the Battle of Loos the eighteen year old Edward Wyndham (Bim) Tennant arrived with the 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards behind the front lines at Vermelles. Despite a Brigadeorder that no-one under the age of nineteen should be sent to the trenches, Bim was in and out of the
trenches over the next weeks. After leave in November he rejoined the Battalion in billets in the small town of Laventie, where he continued to return after days spent in trenches between Chapigny and Winchester Road. From the billets, in the early weeks of 1916, he wrote his nostalgic poem

 “Home thoughts in Laventie”:

Green gardens in Laventie!
Soldiers only know the street,
Where the mud is churned and splashed about
By battle-wending feet;
And yet beside one stricken house there is a glimpse of grass,
Look for it when you pass.

Beyond the church whose pitted spire
Seems balanced on a strand
Of swaying stone and tottering brick
Two roofless ruins stand,
And here behind the wreckage where the back wall should have been
We found a garden green.

The grass was never trodden on,
The little path of gravel
Was overgrown with celandine,
No other folk did travel
Along its weedy surface, but the nimble-footed mouse
Running from house to house.

So all among the vivid blades
Of soft and tender grass
We lay, nor heard the limber wheels
That pass and ever pass,
In noisy continuity, until their stony rattle
Seems in itself a battle.

At length we rose up from this ease 
Of tranquil happy mind,
And searched the garden’s little length
A fresh pleasaunce to find;
And there, some yellow daffodils and jasmine hanging high
Did rest the tired eye.

The fairest and most fragrant
Of the many sweets we found
Was a little bush of Daphne flower,
Upon a grassy mound,
And so thick were the blossoms set, and so divine the scent
That we were well content.

Hungry for Spring I bent my head,
The perfume fanned my face,”

Extract from “Gardens Behind the Lines 1914 – 1918 – Gardens Found and Made on the Western and Eastern Fronts” by Anne Powell, (Cecil Woolf, London 2015) in “The War Poets” Series, Edited by Jean Moorcroft Wilson and published in 2015 by Cecil Woolf, London. ISBN No. 978-1-907286-44-5, price £9.00

Portrait of The Hon. Edward Wyndham Tennant by John Singer Sargent.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Gustav Sack (1885 - 1916) - German writer, poet, lyricist and playwright

Gustav Sack was born on 28th October 1885 in Wesel, a city in North-Rhine Westphalia, near the border with Holland.   His father was a schoolmaster.  He was educated at the Grammar School in Wesel, where he became interested in English literature.  He went on to study at the universities of Greifswald, Műnster and Halle.

Sack married Paula Harbeck in 1914.  In Switzerland when war broke out, Sack returned to Germany and was called up as he was a Lieutenant in the Reserves.   He served on The Western Front on The Somme, which had a profound effect on him and during that time he wrote about the insanity of war.

Accused of misconduct and insubordination, Sack spent some time in a psychiatric hospital, after which he and his wife moved to Munich.  When he was passed as fit to return to military duties, Sack was sent to the Eastern Front in Romania in November 1916 where he was killed on 5th December 1916 at Finta Mare near Bucharest.

After the war, Sack's widow published some of his work under the title "Die Drei Reiter/Gesammelte Werken" in Berlin in 1920.

Gustav Sack is one of the poets featured in the Songs of the Somme Exhibition at The Wilfred Owen Story Museum in Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, UK.


Im Englischen Garten (Translation:  In an English Garden)
Als ich aus meiner Stammtaberne
mich gestern fortgemacht,
hing in die spöttisch stille Gartennacht
der Mond herab gleich einer leuchtenden Papierlaterne.
Mit einem Sichelschwert, krumm wie die Hülse der Luzerne,
hat ungehört die Nacht
unter dem Rasen einen Schnitt gemacht
und läßt die Erde stürzen in die sammetschwarze Ferne;
und singend hält sie in den weichen Händen
dies Rund von wulstigen Schattenwänden,
in dem ich wie von einer tönereichen Schale
getragen viele tausend tausend Male
an Leonor gedacht,
in dieser braunen spöttisch stillen Gartennacht.

Sack noticed the moon as he left his local one evening - looking like a paper lantern, shaped like a scythe, casting a shadow that looks like a cut in the lawn.  It would be interesting to find out where he found an English Garden, though we know from Anne Powell's book "Gardens Behind the Lines, 1914 - 1918 Gardens Found and Made on the Western and Eastern Fronts (Cecil Woolf, London, 2015) that there were many such gardens lovingly created in the desolation of the First World War.  

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Commemorating the First World War

This is what my commemorative exhibition project is all about.  One of my contacts has just sent me this message:

"As part of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's 'Living Memory' Project, I took a party of students to a local cemetery. The students found the eight soldiers who died at home of their wounds from the Somme Offensive, 'lit' a candle for them, and they all selected a poem to read from your Forgotten Poets website so that more soldiers were remembered by them.  I took some photographs - see left."

That is really wonderful - thank you all so much.

I do hope other groups will copy and that young people all over the UK will remember the fallen of the First World War in their local cemeteries.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

William Maunsell Scanlan, MC, MM (1886 - 1917) - Canadian Poet

William was born in Bluevale, Huron County, Ontario, Canada on 8th July 1886, where his maternal grandparents lived..  His father was The Rev. Dr. Scanlan and his Great-Grandfather was Michael Scanlan, a High Sheriff of Limerick in Ireland. 

When WW1 broke out, William was working as the City Editor of the newspaper “Regina Leader” in Saskatchewan, Canada.  He enlisted in September 1914, joined the Fifth Canadian Battalion of the First Canadian Division and was posted to the Western Front in France, probably travelling via Britain.

As well as having poems published in “Canada in Khaki”, William co-edited “A Christmas Garland from the Front: Fifth Canadian Battalion: First Canadian Division, BEF, France and Belgium, which was published by G. Pulman & Sons, London, 1915.   He was also involved in the Canadian Corps Entertainment Party from 1915 until 1916, entertaining the troops.  Awarded the Military Medal for conspicuous gallantry and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, William was also awarded the Military Cross.

Wounded in the fighting on Vimy Ridge on 9th April 1917 and died the following day from his wounds.  He was buried in Barlin Communal Cemetery Extension, Pas-de-Calais, France.

"Relief Night" was written by Scanlan and published in the 1917 edition of “Canada in Khaki” magazine

Dark as Hades, wind and rain
(Oh the Fifth is relieving to-night!)
Struggling along through old Mud Lane.
By the flickering glow of a pale flare light.

Ruined walls where the chateau stood
(Oh, the Fifth is relieving to-night!)
Shadowy forms in Plugstreet Wood
Haunting the scenes of a bygone fight.

Trudging down the Messines road
(It always rains when the Fifth goes in!)
Stagg'ring along with your heavy load,
Slipping and sprawling --it's dark as sin!

Whine of bullets and burst of shell
("Duck your 'nappers' and on you go!")
For we've got to go in and do our spell,
It's front line trenches this trip, you know!

Dark as Hades, wind and rain
(Weary men in their dug-outs seated).
Sentries their eyes through the darkness strain
"Tines! Pip Emma, relief completed!"

"The Thin Red Line" by H. Piffard

“Canada in Khaki” magazine was published in Toronto by the Musson Book Company and by the Canadian War Records Office. The aim of the publication was to illustrate Canadians' actions during the First World War and to raise money for the Canadian War Memorial Fund.  The magazine was published annually from 1917–1919 in three volumes. WW1 artists John Byam Liston Shaw, Harold H. Piffard, among others contributed illustrations. 

Harold Hume Piffard (10 August 1867 – 17 January 1938) was a British artist and illustrator, and one of the first British aviators.

Limber stuck in the mud on the
way to the Front, WW1

Note: pip (“P”) + emma (“M”) = p.m.  - a WW1 Royal Flying Corps signal

Imperial War Museum

"Canada in Khaki"

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Charles Walter Blackall (1876 - 1918) – British poet, writer, actor, soldier

Born in St. Albans , Hertfordshire, UK in 1876, Charles's parents were Major Robert Blackall, an Irish land-owner, and his wife Mary Emily, nee Gifford.  Charles had two brothers – Edward b. 1872 and Algernon b. 1880. The family lived in Elham, Folkestone, Kent in 1881.

Charles joined the Army - The Buffs Regiment - in 1900 (3rd Battalion) and served during the Boer War.  In 1904, he war promoted to the rank of Captain.

In 1910, Charles married Alice Evelyn Feutrell Briscoe in Chelsea, London.  They lived in Bouverie Road, Folkestone, Kent and at Coolamber Manor, Co. Longford, Ireland and had two children.

Charles and his wife were actors. They travelled to New York in September 1912, to perform 'The Whip' in the Manhattan Opera House.

Promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in December 1915, Charles was sent to command the South Staffordshire Regiment on the Western Front.  Mentioned twice in Despatched, he was killed leading his men on 25th March 1918.   He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial in France, Bay 2.

One of Charles’s poems was included in the WW1 Anthology “From the front:  trench poetry.” Edited by Lieutenant Clarence Edward Andrews and published in New York by Appleton in 1918 - 220 pages, the royalties of which were donated to the British Red Cross.
And his own WW1 collection “Songs from the trenches” was published by The Bodley Head, London in 1915.  (Catherine Reilly, p. 57).   This is available to read as a free down-load on Archive:

NOTE:  The British Army Regiment “The Buffs” were the infantry regiment The Royal East Kent Regiment, formed in 1572 and previously known as the 3rd Regiment of Foot.  They recruited men from East Kent and were based at Canterbury.

“The Song of the Trench”  December, 1914 

This is the song of the blooming trench: 
It's sung by us and it's sung by the French ; 
It's probably sung by the German Huns ; 
But it isn't all beer, and skittles, and buns. 
It's a song of water, and mud and slime, 
And keeping your eyes skinned all the time. 
Though the putrid "bully" may kick up a stench, 
Remember, you've got to stick to your trench — 
Yes, stick like glue to your trench. 

You dig while it's dark, and you work while it's light, 
And then there's the "listening post" at night. 
Though you're soaked to the skin and chilled to the bone; 
Though your hands are like ice, and your feet like stone; 
Though your watch is long, and your rest is brief. 
And you pray like hell for the next relief; 
Though the wind may howl, and the rain may drench, 
Remember, you've got to stick to your trench- 
Yes, stick like mud to your trench. 

Perhaps a bullet may find its mark. 
And then there's a funeral after dark; 
And you say, as you lay him beneath the sod, 
A sportsman's soul has gone to his God. 
Behind the trench, in the open ground. 
There's a little cross and a little mound; 
And if at your heart-strings you feel a wrench, 
Remember, he died for his blooming trench — 
Yes, he died like a man for his trench. 

There's a rush and a dash, and they're at your wire. 
And you open the hell of a rapid fire; 
The Maxims rattle, the rifles flash, 
And the bombs explode with a sickening crash. 
You give them lead, and you give them steel. 
Till at last they waver, and turn, and reel. 
You've done your job — there was never a blench 
You've given them hell, and you've saved your trench ; 
By God, you've stuck to your trench ! 

The daylight breaks on the rain-soaked plain 
(For some it will never break again), 
And you thank your God, as you're "standing to," 
You'd your bayonet clean, and your bolt worked true. 
For your comrade's rifle had jammed and stuck. 
And he's lying there, with his brains in the muck. 
So love your gun — as you haven't a wench — 
And she'll save your life in the blooming trench — 
Yes, save your life in the trench. 

Capt. C. W. Blackall


Find my Past;  Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) and

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Maurice Bertrand (1881 - 1914) - French Poet, Playwright, Dramatist

With grateful thanks to Pierre Virey for sending me Maurice’s biography.

Maurice Bertrand was born in Paris on 30th August 1881.  He began his literary career at the age of twenty at the “Revue mondaine”.  After military service, he married and went to live in penury in Brazil.  His wife left him and one of his daughters died at the age of seven.   Maurice wrote poetry which was published in “Dlrilège des Poètes du Verbe”.  When he returned to France, he sent his work to the monthly publication “L’Audace Littéraire” which later became “Comme il vous plaira”.  Maurice also used the pen-name Yves-le-Hâleur.

Maurice joined the 346th Regiment of the French Army in September 1914 and fought in the Battles of the Ardennes and in Lorraine.  He was killed at Colincamps, Somme on 7th October 1914 at the age of thirty-three.

Sources: “The Lost Voices of World War 1” compiled by Tim Cross and published by Bloomsbury, London in 1988 and "Anthologie des Ecrivains morts à la guerre 1914 - 1918" (Association des Ecrivains Combattants, Amiens, 1924 -26, 5 volumes), edited by Thierry Sandre.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Dimcho Debelyanov (1887 - 1916) - Bulgarian Poet

With thanks to Pierre Virey for bringing Dimcho to my attention and for translating one of his poems into French.

Bulgaria joined the First World War on 14th October 1915, aligning with the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, declaring war on Serbia.

Dimcho was born on 28th March 1887 in Koprivshtitsa in Bulgaria.  His parents were wealthy.  The family moved to Plovdiv then to Sofia.   Dimcho started submitting his poems to literary publications in 1906.   He tried his hand at several different jobs, working as a clerk and a freelance journalist before joining the Bulgarian Army in 1912.  He fought in the Balkan Wars.

On his discharge from the Army, Dimcho joined the Post Office but was not happy in his work and went back to the Army.   He was killed near Gorno Karadjovo on 2nd October 1916, fighting against an Irish Regiment.   In 1931 his body was returned to Koprivshtitsa for re-burial in 1931.

Dimcho’s works were published in 365 publications in three languages.


 Behind me, the years run away from me one by one
And I run onwards, ever onwards, and up above
The sun burns the dismal desert my life has become
While I pursue the spectre of love

No crown of laurels encircles my brow
On my cheeks sweat mixes with blood now
My eyes mist over as with a fog of pain
While my soul seeks a happier terrain.

I am overcome with terror and fear:  the time is nigh
When I must grasp the edge of a bottomless pit
But my fingers have lost their strength and grip
And with a scream I am thrown back into the shadow-filled night.

Sources:  Wikipedia.  The statue of a grieving mother on Dimcho's grave is by the sculptor Ivan Lazarov (1890 - 1952).

Friday, 23 September 2016

Claude Quayle Lewis Penrose, MC and Bar (1894 - 1918) – British poet and artist

Claude Penrose was mentioned in Dispatches twice

Claude was born in Florida in America on 10th August 1893.  His parents were Henry Hugh “Harry” Penrose, a civil engineer and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, nee Lewis, who came from Kinsale in Ireland. Mary was a successful novelist who wrote under the name of Mrs. H.H. Penrose.  

The family went to live in England in 1897.   Claude was educated at the United Services College, a private school for the sons of military officers which was in Westward Ho! In Devon, before going on to the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich.

In 1911, the family lived at ‘Deepcut Bungalow’, Frimley Green, Surrey.  Claude was commissioned into the Royal Garrison Artillery as a 2nd Lieutenant on 13th July 1913.

Posted to the Western Front and slightly wounded during the first days of The Somme Offensive in July 1916, Claude wrote a poem about his impressions of the first day of the first Battle of the Somme.  In September 1916, he was awarded the Military Cross for actions during an attack on the village of Combles on 15th September 1916.

In October 1917, Claude was promoted to the rank of Major and given command of the 245th Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery.  During the Battle of Arras in March 1918, Claude won a Bar to his Military Cross.  He was mortally wounded on 31st July 1918 while rescuing his wounded Subaltern.   He died at the 2nd Canadian Casualty Clearing Station at 5.30 p.m. on 1st August 1918 and was buried in Esquelbecq Military Cemetery, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France.  He is commemorated on the War Memorial – Heroes’ Column – at St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, Ireland.

After his death, Claude’s mother had his poems and some of his art work published under the title “Poems; with a biographical preface” by Harrison in 1919 (274 pages). 

Sources:  Information kindly supplied by Claude’s relative and

Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) p. 251.

“On The Somme” by Claude Quayle Lewis Penrose, MC and Bar

Who heard the thunder of the great guns firing?

Who watched the line where the great shells roared?

Who drove the foemen back, and followed his retiring

When we threw him out of Pommiers, to the glory of the Lord?

Englishmen and Scotsmen, in the grey fog of morning

Watched the dim, black clouds that reeked, and strove to break the gloom;

And Irishmen that stood with them, impatient for the warning,

When the thundering around them would cease and give them room

Room to move forward as the grey mist lifted,

Quietly and swiftly – the white steel bare;

Happy, swift and quiet, as the fog still drifted,

They moved along the tortured slope and met the foemen there.

Stalwart men and wonderful, brave beyond believing –

Little time to mourn for friends that dropped without a word!

(Wait until the work is done, and then give way to grieving) –

So they hummed the latest rag-time to the glory of the Lord.

All across the No Man’s Land, and through the ruined wiring,

Each officer that led them, with a walking-cane for sword,

Cared not a button though the foeman went on firing

While they dribbled over footballs to the glory of the Lord.

And when the brought their captives back, hungry and downhearted,

They called him “Fritz” and slapped their backs, and, all with one accord

They shared with them what food they’d left from when the long day started

And gave them smokes and bully to the glory of the Lord.

NOTE: Pommiers is a town near Montaubon in the Somme, Picardie, France.

Bully Beef was a type of ‘corned beef’ introduced by the British Army during the Boer War. It was given in tins as rations to soldiers and could be made into a hot meal or eaten straight from the tin.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Edward Wyndham Tennant - 'Bim' - (1897 - 1916) - British - killed in action on 22nd September 1916

The Hon. Edward Wyndham Tennant (known to his family as 'Bim') was born on 1st July 1897 in Stockton House, near Warminster, Wiltshire, UK.  His father was Edward Priaux Tennant, Liberal Member of Parliament for Salisbury from 1906 (created Lord Glenconner in 1911) and his mother was Pamela Tennant, daughter of the Hon Percy Scawen Wyndham. His aunt, his father’s sister, was Margot Asquith, second wife of the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, father of Raymond Asquith.  Edward's younger brothers were Stephen Tennant, and David Tennant, the founder of the Gargoyle Club.  

Educated initially at West Downs School in Winchester, Edward began writing poetry at an early age.  He went on to study at Winchester College school and had planned a career in the British Diplomatic Service but instead joined the Grenadier Guards when WW1 broke out.

Edward was killed a week after his friend Raymond Asquith by a German sniper on 22nd September 1916.  He was buried in Guillemont Road Communal Cemetery near Raymond Asquith.

Edward's WW1 poems were published under the title "Worple Flit and other poems" in 1916.

After her son's death, Pamela Adelaide Genevieve Tennant, nee Wyndham, who was also a writer, published "Edward Tennant: a memoir" which is available to read free of charge on

“A Bas La Gloire!” October 1915 by Edward Tennant

The powers that be in solemn conclave sate
And dealt out honour from a large tureen,
And those unhonour’d said ’twas rather flat,
Not half so sparkling as it should have been.
Those honour’d silently pass’d round the hat,
Then let themselves be freely heard and seen.

And all this time there were a lot of men
Who were in France and couldn’t get away
To be awarded honours. Now and then
They died, so others came and had to stay
Till they died too, and every field and fen
Was heavy with the dead from day to day.

But there were other men who didn’t die
Although they were in France – these sat in cars,
And whizzed about with red-band caps, awry,
Exuding brandy and the best cigars.
With bands and tabs of red, they could defy
The many missiles of explosive Mars.

But one there was who used to serve in bars
And for his pretty wit much fame had god:
Though really not so fit to serve in wars,
They made him a staff-colonel on the spot,
And threw a knighthood in as well, because
He really had done such an awful lot.

Up fluttered eyebrows (incomes fluttered down)
His erstwhile yeomanry stood all aghast,
This Juggernaut, devourer of renown,
Was he their fellow-mug in days long past?
In France he went by train from town to town,
Men thought his zenith had been reached at last.

To this the Powers That Be replied, “Oh no!”
And they discovered (else my mem’ry fails)
That he had gone by train some months ago
From Paris with dispatches to Marseilles!
“See here,” they cried, “a well-earned D.S.O.
Because you did not drop them ‘neath the rails.”

So now from spur to plume he is a star,
Of all an Englishman should strive to be,
His one-time patrons hail him from afar
As “Peerless warrior,” “battle-scarred K.G.”
And murmur as he passes in his car,
“For this and thy mercies, glory be!”

But all this time the war goes on the same,
And good men go, we lose our friends and kith,
The men who sing knee-deep in boosted fame
Prove that “rewarded courage” is a myth:
I could sum up by mentioning a name:
A pseudonym will do, we’ll call him Smith.

American artist John Singer Sargent’s portrait of British WW1 soldier poet Edward Wyndham Tennant