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.