Friday, 9 February 2018

Nowell Oxland (1890 - 1915) – British

Following a post by Dr Connie Ruzich, an American resercher and former UK Fulbright Scholar, on
her website Behind their Lines*, I had to revisit the post I wrote about Nowell Oxland.
With thanks to Keith Wren for finding Nowell and to Catherine Avak for additional information.

Nowell Oxland was a poet born in Devon on 21st December 1890.  He was the son of William Oxland, a Church of England minister and a former vicar of St. Augustine’s parish church Alston, Cumberland, and his wife Caroline Amy Oxland,  nee Cole.   Nowell's siblings were: Dora M. (b. 1876), Campbell W. (b. 1877) and Collette (b.1879).

The Reverend Oxland was a naval chaplain appointed by the Greenwich Hospital, Lords of the Manor of Alston Moor. In 1883 he was one of a group of officers on the training ship H.M.S. Boadicea. In 1893 he was chaplain and naval instructor on H.M.S. Ganges, a training ship for boys at Flushing, then in 1902 he was appointed Vicar to Alston.

Educated at Durham School and Worcester College, Oxford, Nowell was a keen rugby player and was Captain of his college Rugby Football team. He was elected Secretary of the Lovelace Club in Trinity Term 1914. 

In September 1914, Nowell was commissioned into the 6th Border Regiment and sailed for Gallipoli in June 1915.  Lieutenant Nowell Oxland was killed at Suvla Bay on 9th August 1915 and was buried in Green Hill Cemetery, Sulva Bay, Gallipoli.

In St. Augustine’s Church in Alston there is a portrait on either side of the altar depicting a knight in armour, each with a halo, each with the face of Nowell Oxland. In one he is St. George, having slain the dragon, and the other he is St. Alban, Britain’s soldier-saint.

Nowell in unform
Nowell's poem “Outward Bound “, written while Nowell was on night-guard on board the troop transport ship sailing down the River Mersey from Liverpool, bound for Gallipoli, on 30th June 1915.    The poem originally bore the Latin inscription: “O terque quarterque beati” (Thrice and four times blessed), and the word “harbour” in the fourth verse read “Mersey.”

"Outward Bound" was sent to “The Times” newspaper by a family friend – Amy Hawthorn, a schoolmistress in Alson.  She knew about his literary skills.  His poem “The Secret of the Hills” was published in “The Saturday Review” on 24th March 1914.  Nowell entrusted Amy with his “Poems and Stories” manuscripts.  In 1920 Amy had Nowell’s 18 poems and 7 stories published as ‘Poems and Stories’ for private circulation – “Poems and Stories”; Author, Nowell Oxland ; Publisher, Mawson Swan and Morgan, Limited, 1919 ; Length, 86 pages.

There’s a waterfall I’m leaving
Running down the rocks in foam,
There’s a pool for which I’m grieving
Near the water-ouzel’s home;
And it’s there that I’d be lying,
With the heather close at hand,
And the curlews faintly crying
‘Mid the wastes of Cumberland.

While the midnight watch is winging
Thoughts of other days arise,
I can hear the river singing
Like the saints in Paradise;
I can see the water winking
Like the merry eyes of Pan,
And the slow half-pounder sinking
By the bridge’s granite span.

Ah! to win them back and clamber
Braced anew with winds I love,
From the river’s stainless amber
To the morning mist above,
See through cloud-rifts rent asunder,
Like a painted scroll unfurled,
Ridge and hollow rolling under
To the fringes of the world.

Now the weary guard are sleeping,
Now the great propellers churn,
Now the harbour lights are creeping
Into emptiness astern,
While the sentry wakes and watches
Plunging triangles of light
Where the water leaps and catches
At our escort in the night.

Great their happiness who, seeing
Still with unbenighted eyes
Kin of theirs who gave them being,
Sun and earth that made them wise,
Die and feel their embers quicken
Year by year in summer time
When the cotton grasses thicken
On the hills they used to climb.

Shall we also be as they be,
Mingled with our mother clay
Or return no more it may be?
Who has knowledge who shall say?
Yet we hope that from that bosom
Of our shaggy father Pan,
When the earth breaks into blossom
Richer from the dust of man,

Though the high gods smite and slay us,
Though we come not whence we go,
As the host of Menelaus
Came there many years ago;
Yet the self-same wind shall bear us
From the same departing place
Out across the Gulf of Saros
And the peaks of Samothrace:

We shall pass in summer weather,
We shall come at eventide,
Where the fells stand up together
And all quiet things abide;
Mixed with cloud and wind and river
Sun distilled in dew and rain
One with Cumberland for ever,
We shall go not forth again.

My latest research led to the discovery of two marvellous books about Nowell and his friend from school and Oxford, and fellow Yuletide birthday boy – William Noel Hodgson (about whom I wrote on 4th January 2020) :

“Before Action: William Noel Hodgdon and the 9th Devons, A Story of the Great War”
by Charlotte Zeepvat (Pen & Sword, Barnsley, Yorkshire, UK, 2014)

“The Final Whistle: The Great War in Fifteen Players” by Stephen Cooper (History Press Ltd., Cheltenham UK, 2013)  

A tribute to the pivotal role Rugby played in the Great War by following the poignant stories of fifteen men who played for Rosslyn Park, London. They came from diverse backgrounds, with players from Australia, Ceylon, Columbia, Ireland and South Africa, but they were united by their love of the game and their courage in the face of war. 

I contacted the Vicar of the church of St. Augustine of Canterbury’s Church in Alston, who said:
“There are portraits of Oxland on either side of the High Altar, depicted as St Alban and St George: there are excellent photos here

The portraits are very well executed, and complement the central reredos, but sadly I can find no record of who the artist was.”

Sources:  Find my Past and