Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Victor Burny (1893 - 1918) – Belgian poet

Born in Grammont, Belgium on 7th November 1893, Victor was educated at the Institut Saint-Louis in Brusells.  He volunteered to join the Belgian Army in WW1.  He died of pneumonia on 30th October 1918 in an ambulance in Calais, France, on the way to hospital for treatment.

Victor contributed to:
 "L'envol", "L'essor", "Les feuillets intimes” and it seems he wrote poems in French and Flemish.

The following poem by Victor Burny was written at Dixmude, Belgium in 1915:


Dominant les pres verts de son pays flamand,
L’observateur est là, posté dans la pénombre,
Scutant l’éclair lointain qui surgin et qui sombre
Sur le ciel tern et gris, à chaque éclatement.

Il surveille le tir et parle sourdement,
Ses ongles sont crispé dans la chaux des décombres,
Et ses yeux grands ouverts, comme des miroirs sombres
Sur un logis ruiné sont dardés fixement.

A sa voix, les canons aux soudaines rafales,
Secouant le terrain de décharges brutales,
Ont concentré leur feu, là-bas, à l’horizon.

Et l’humble observateur – ô cruelle ironie –
Doroge posément l’angoissante agonie
Des derniers pans de murs de sa vieille maison.


The Observer

Scanning the green meadows of his Flemish homeland,
The observer is there, on duty in the gloomy light,
Watching the distant flash that threatens
The gray sky as each shell bursts.

He watches each salvo and speaks quietly,
His nails dig into the limestone rubble,
And his eyes, wide open, like dark mirrors,
Stare fixedly at the ruins of a house.

At his command, the guns with sudden bursts,
Make the earth tremble with their brutal discharges,
Concentrating their fire over there on the horizon.

And the humble observer - oh cruel irony -
Watches in agonised silence
As the last sections of walls of his old former home crumble.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

"A Service Rendered" - a Collection of Poems written during WW1: Review

First published on Female War Poets weblog in 2014 – before this weblog was started. 

The First World War was the first ‘total’ war, involving men, women and children and affecting every country of the globe.  It is probably for that reason that World War One, which was also known as The Great War or The War to end all Wars, has been written about more than any other conflict.   As I began to research women who wrote poetry during WW1, I thought it was highly probable that there were still unpublished poems hidden away in attics, drawers and suitcases waiting to be heard.   This book proves me right.

William Murray Kilburn, born in Alva, Clackmannanshire, Scotland in 1887, lost his sight after he fell into a canal containing toxic waste.  William’s niece, Mae Murray McClymont, has collected together a remarkable tribute to her uncle in an anthology of the poems he wrote during the First World War.  According to family members, William used to walk to the local railway station and chat to wounded soldiers returning from the War.   The conversations he had inspired him to write poems, which Mae suggests, were his way of contributing to the war effort.  William died in 1942, at the age of fifty-four.

In the anthology of William’s poems called “A Service Rendered”, Mae McClymont has gathered together sixty-eight of the WW1 poems written by her uncle, covering pretty much every aspect of the War from the sea and the early days, through to the Balkans, Egypt, Galipoli and Cambrai.  There are poems dedicated to individuals as well as to regiments such as the Royal Scots Greys, the 42nd Royal Highlanders, Irish Troopers, the Argylls, the Gordons, troopships, gun horses, mules, the Seaforths and more.

William's poems would be remarkable enough if we did not know that the writer was blind. During the course of my research, I discovered that such poems were often published in pamphlet form and sold to raise funds for the war effort – perhaps this was the case with William’s poems?   Mae tells us that William's poems were published in the North-East Lanark Gazette.

Mae, who lives in Scotland, worked in the health service as a radiographer.  With a deep and enduring interest in poetry, she was unaware that her uncle William had written poetry until cousins in Canada brought them to her attention.    She searched for the poems in the library's microfiche records and found them, though the records were black, smudged and difficult to read.   Mae persevered and spent two winters typing up her uncle's poems.    The results is “A Service Rendered”, an anthology of WW1 poems written by William Murray Kilburn throughout the 1914 – 1919 years, edited and published by Mae Murray McClymont in 2013. The anthology is available from maemcclymont@gmail.com   The price is £6.95 with £2 postage and packing in the UK - £8.95.   Profits from the book are aid of Guide Dogs for the Blind.

With interests that range from literature, paintings,  music, and more recently, astronomy, Mae has travelled quite a bit, mainly in Europe, Canada and North America.

Mae mentions that her uncle also wrote other poems – we hope she will collect those together too for this is a wonderful collection – for any serious student of the poetry of the First World War "A Service Rendered" is definitely is a must-read.

To hear one of William's poems please click on the link:

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Gerrit Engelke (1890 – 1918) – German

Born in Hannover, Gerrit studied art and then went to live in Denmark.  

When the First World War broke out, Gerrit returned to Germany and joined the German Army in October 1914. He was awarded the Iron Cross and was wounded in 1917. 

On 11th October 1918, Gerrit was wounded again, taken prisoner of war by the British and died in a British Field Hospital near Cambrai on 13th October 1918.

An den Tod (Trans: To Death)

Mich aber schone, Tod,
Mir dampft noch Jugend blutstromrot, –
Noch hab ich nicht mein Werk erfüllt,
Noch ist die Zukunft dunstverhüllt –
Drum schone mich, Tod.
Wenn später einst, Tod,
Mein Leben verlebt ist, verloht
Ins Werk – wenn das müde Herz sich neigt,
Wenn die Welt mir schweigt, –
Dann trage mich fort, Tod.

Author AC Benus has kindly translated that poem for us:

Addressed to Death

Death, treat me with some care,
For my youth's a blood-red affair –
Much work remains still unfulfilled
In hazy times I've yet to build –
Then please Death, take care. 

If later you'd care,
A life lived in work and despair,
Against which a weary heart might lean,
Take when the world's serene –
For then Death, I won't care. 

AC Benus is author of this book about another German WW1 poet “The Thousandth Regiment: A Translation of and Commentary on Hans Ehrenbaum-Degele’s War Poems” by AC Benus (AC Benus, San Francisco, 2020). Along with Hans's story, the book includes original poems as well as translations.    ISBN: 978-1657220584

Review: “Poets & Pals of Picardy - A Weekend on The Somme” by Mary Ellen Freeman, Edited by Ted Smith, published by Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 1999

Having been researching the poetry of the First World War for the past six years, I was very pleased to discover quite a few poets in this book that I had not previously heard of. Primary schoolteacher/musician Mary Ellen has written a detailed account of a pilgrimage she made one weekend to battlegrounds and cemeteries of The Somme in France in 1982.  Mary Ellen’s Grandfather was with the Royal Field Artillery during the First World War – as was my Grandfather.  But this book is not just about some of the poets involved in the Somme Offensive, also included are stories about and by the soldiers who fell and extracts from prose written by those who were there.  I also discovered a WW1 artist I had not yet come across.

The book follows Mary Ellen’s emotional journey to the Western Front in France from Albert to The Ancre, setting the scene for her pilgrimage from the very first page, where her journey begins in Dover.  Throughout, Mary Ellen includes short quotations from some of her all-time favourite poems, as well as poems written at the time of the conflict.  The style of the book has the feel of a conversation with an old friend, as Mary Ellen shares her innermost thoughts and feeelings with the reader.  Eighteen poems in their entirety (including one by WW1 Female Poet/VAD nurse Vera Britain) are included at the back and the book also has an interesting bibliography and an in-depth index. 

With photographs, maps and poems, this is definitely a book you will want to take with you if you are planning a visit to the cemeteries of the Western Front. It is beautifully written and easy to read and full of interesting anecdotes, as well as extracts from poems. 

In his Note on pages xi – xii, the book’s Editor, the late Ted Smith, raises a very interesting question – “Why poetry?”  I think the answer lies in the fact that there were relatively few distractions in the early part of the 20th Century.  There were no computers, and of course, no Internet, no radio or television broadcasts and most people did not have telephones in their homes.  Magazines and newspapers such as “The Daily Mail”, to which the poet Jessie Pope was a regular contributor, published poems on a regular basis. We know that newspapers and magazines were made available to those at the Front.  Poetry was taught in schools and people learnt poems too – my Mother, who was born in 1910, often used to quote from poems she learnt at primary school.  People copied out poems into exercise books – I have seen quite a few notebooks like that – and they read or recited poems at family gatherings. 

In London, The Times newspaper “estimated that it received around a hundred poems a day in August 1914, the vast majority in patriotic/romantic vein. According to one estimate, no fewer than 50,000 war poems were written in Germany every day in the same month. A bibliography of British war poetry, nearly all of it patriotic, lists over 3,000 volumes…” From Niall Ferguson "The Pity of War," p. 229 (Basic Books, 1998).

Here is another example of the popularity of poetry at the time of WW1 - on Friday, 12th June 1914, poet, writer and journalist Cecil Roberts, who worked for the “Liverpool Post” during WW1, hired the Bechstein Hall in Wigmore Street, London W1 for an evening reciting poems he had written.  Tickets were on sale from ten shillings and sixpence (which represents the buying power of about £115 in today’s money) down to two shillings (about £20 today), and the event was a sell-out and a great success.  Like the British Royal Family, the Bechstein Hall had a name change during the First World War and it became the Wigmore Hall.

For further information about “Poets and Pals of Picardy” and other wonderful books, please see the Pen & Sword website: https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/

Lucy London, September 2018

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Jocelyn Alexander (1852 - 1918) – British poet

Robert Jocelyn Alexander was born on 11th June 1852 in Termonamongan County Tyrone, Ireland.  His father was the Right Reverend William Alexander, Bishop of Armagh, who later became the Most Reverend Sir William Alexander, Protestant Primate of All Ireland. Jocelyn’s mother was Cecil Frances Alexander (nee Humphreys) who wrote two of my favourite hymns – “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and “Once in Royal David’s City”. Jocelyn was their eldest son.  His siblings were Eleanor Jane, who also became a poet, b. 1857, Cecil John Francis, born in 1859, and Dorothea Agnes, born in 1861.  Their mother died in 1895.

Educated at Winchester College, Jocelyn went on to study at Brasenose College, Oxford where he won the Newdigate Prize in 1874.  Jocelyn became a school inspector.  In 1876, he married Alice Rachel Humphreys.

Jocelyn, who was 66 when he was killed while travelling to Britain from Ireland on the RMS “Leinster” on 10th October 1918, was buried in Plot A of the Derry City Cemetery.


The Newdigate Prize - a poetry prize founded in 1805 by Sir Roger Newdigate and awarded at the University of Oxford. The award is given annually for the best student poem of up to 300 lines on a given subject.