Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Robert William Service (1874 – 1958) – British-born Canadian Poet

“… a people’s poet” Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph of Sept. 16, 1958

Robert William Service was born on 16th January 1874 at 4 Christian Road in Preston, Lancashire, UK. His parents were Robert Service, a banker, originally from Scotland, and his wife Sarah Emily Service, nee Parker.   Robert’s siblings were John Alexander, b. 1875, Thomas H., b. 1877, Joseph W., b. 1879, Peter H., b. 1881, Agnes A., b. 1884, Jane E., b. 1886, Janet I., b. 1889, Fred I., b. 1892 and Albert N., b. 1894.

Robert and his brother John were sent to live with their three aunts and their paternal grandfather in Kilwinning, Scotland. The boys were reunited with their parents in Glasgow and Robert was educated at Hillhead High School, after which he began work at the Commercial Bank of Scotland.  Robert began writing poetry at an early ag.

When he was 21, Robert went to Vancouver in Canada and he travelled around North America for a while doing odd jobs and writing. He also visited Mexico.

Robert’s poems about the Boer War were published in “The Colonist” in 1900. It seems that at that time his brother John may have been in the British Army and taken prisoner of war at the same time as Winston Churchill.

During the Balkan Wars, Robert was a war correspondent for “The Toronto Star” and in 1913 he went to live in France, settling in Paris on the West Bank of the River Seine. He married Germaine Bourgoin and the couple settled in Brittany in France.

When war broke out in 1914, Robert tried to enlist in the British Army but was turned down because he had Varicose Veins. He was a friend of John Buchan, who suggested Robert join the Officers Training Corps (OTC) scheme and apply for a commission but Robert did not want to be an officer. Instead, he joined the Ambulance Corps of the American Red Cross as a Stretcher Bearer and served on the Western Front. While recuperating in Paris after an illness, Robert wrote and published “Rhymes of a Red Cross Man”, which he dedicated to his brother, Lieutenant Albert Service, who served with the Canadian Infantry on the Western Front and was killed in action in August 1916.

During the Second World War, Robert and his family narrowly escaped being arrested by the Nazis because of Robert’s satirical verses about Adolf Hitler and they went to live in Canada. After the war, the family returned to France and in 1947 went to live in Monaco.

Robert died in Lacieux, Brittany, on 11th September 1958 and was buried in the local cemetery.

Robert’s WW1 poetry collection “Rhymes of a Red Cross Man” was published in Toronto by William Briggs in 1916.

Robert Service is remembered on a blue plaque on Christian Road in Preston, near to the house in which he was born.

Photos:  Robert Service in the uniform of the American Red Cross , 1915.  Plaque in Preston, Lancashire, UK

“The Lark”

From wrath-red dawn to wrath-red dawn,
The guns have brayed without abate;
And now the sick sun looks upon
The bleared, blood-boltered fields of hate
As if it loathed to rise again.
How strange the hush! Yet sudden, hark!
From yon down-trodden gold of grain,
The leaping rapture of a lark.

A fusillade of melody,
That sprays us from yon trench of sky;
A new amazing enemy
We cannot silence though we try;
A battery on radiant wings,
That from yon gap of golden fleece
Hurls at us hopes of such strange things
As joy and home and love and peace.

Pure heart of song! do you not know
That we are making earth a hell?
Or is it that you try to show
Life still is joy and all is well?
Brave little wings! Ah, not in vain
You beat into that bit of blue:
Lo! we who pant in war's red rain
Lift shining eyes, see Heaven too

From "Rhymes of a Red Cross Man"

With thanks to Geoff Harrison for finding this link to some of Robert’s work: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/315/pg315.txt

Saturday, 27 April 2019

John Eugene Crombie (1896 – 1917) – British soldier poet

Born in London on 30th April 1896, Eugene’s parents were John William Crombie, MP, of Balgownie Lodge, Aberdeen, and his wife, Minna Crombie, nee Wilson, daughter of the Rt Hon. Eugene Wason, MP for Clackmannan and Kinross.   Eugene had a sister.  He was educated at Summer Fields School and Winchester College, where he joined the Officers’ Training Corps (OTC).

Due to go up to Christ Church College at Oxford University when war broke out, Eugene was commissioned into the 4th Gordon Highlanders Regiment in September 1914.  He was posted to the Western Front in February 1915 and wounded on 23rd April 1915.   After recuperation in Britain, Eugene returned to the Western Front and was wounded again.   After several operations and a period of convalescence, he went back to the Reserve Regiment as a Training Officer.  Eugene returned to the Western Front in November 1916 and was promoted to the rank of Captain in December of that year.

Eugene died on 23rd April 1917 at a Casualty Clearing Station, of wounds received during the Battle of Arras.  He was buried in Duisans British Cemetery, Etrun, France, Grave Reference IV. A. 22.

“The Dream-path”

Walking my dream-paved road on the Hill of Desire
I saw beneath me the City of Quiet Delight;
The warming rays from each home-welcoming fire
Wove a pattern of gold on the velvet curtain of night.

The scent from the hill's rank grass put desire in my soul
To attain to the City below in the Valley of Hope,
But my grey path led beyond the horizon's roll.
Binding my feet in the web of a dream-made rope.

Reluctant, I followed the path, where I knew was Pain,
The distance glared with a furnace glow in the sky.
And the voice of the sea and the splashing of tropic rain
Were the hiss of the steam from untaught Machinery.

My dream-path led through the Furnace, and Pain, and Fire—
I could not stay nor turn from the road in flight—
But I knew it would lead me back past the Hill of Desire
To the warm hearth-stones in the City of Quiet Delight.

Eugene Crombie’s poems were included in three WW1 poetry anthologies. The above poem was from “Soldier Poets: Songs of the Fighting Men”, edited by Galloway Kyle (Erskine Macdonald, London, 1917).


Friday, 26 April 2019

The Hon. Maurice Baring, OBE (1874 – 1945) – British soldier, poet, writer, journalist and playwright - Pen-name M.B.

Maurice Baring was born on 27th April 1874 in Mayfair, London, UK. He was the eighth child and fifth son of Edward Charles Baring, First Baron Pevelstoke, a member of the famous Baring banking family, and his wife, Louisa Emily, nee Bulteel.

Maurice was educated at Eton College and Trinity College, Cambridge. He was badly wounded during the Second Boer War, in which he served from 1899 to 1900 with the 4th Hussars as a Lieutenant. After that, Maurice began a career in the diplomatic service, where he worked from 1897 until 1904. Maurice then became a foreign correspondent, travelled extensively and covered the Russo-Japanese War (1903 – 1905) as a war correspondent for the “Morning Post”, along with Lord Brooke, Reuters’ correspondent, Monsieur de la Salle of the French agency Agence Havas and Mr Hamilton of the “Manchester Guardian”. He was foreign correspondent for “The Times” during the Balkan War (1912 – 1913).

During the First World War, Maurice served initially in the Intelligence Corps as a Major and then as a Staff Officer. He was attached to the Royal Flying Corps Headquarters in France and worked as assistant to David Henderson, leader of British military aviation during WW1, and Hugh Trenchard, Commander of the Royal Flying Corps in France and ‘father of the RAF’.

Maurice was made an Honorary Wing Commander, RAF in 1918. He was mentioned in Despatches, awarded an OBE in 1919 and became a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur in 1935.

During the Second World War, Maurice lived in Brighton, Sussex. He died on 14th December 1945.

Maurice Baring’s WW1 collections were: “Sonnets” (P. Chiswick, 1914), “Poems:1914 – 1919” (Martin Seker Ltd., London, 1918 and 1920) and
“The R.F.C. Alphabet” (Ballantyne, Hanson, 1915) and his WW1-related poems were published in nine WW1 anthologies.

“August, 1918”
(In a French Village.)

I hear the tinkling of the cattle bell,
In the broad stillness of the afternoon;
High in the cloudless haze the harvest moon
Is pallid as the phantom of a shell.
A girl is drawing water from a well,
I hear the clatter of her wooden shoon;
Two mothers to their sleeping babies croon,
And the hot village feels the drowsy spell.
Sleep, child, the Angel of Death his wings has spread;
His engines scour the land, the sea, the sky;
And all the weapons of Hell’s armoury
Are ready for the blood that is their bread;
And many a thousand men to-night must die,
So many that they will not count the Dead.

From “Poems: 1914-1919” (Martin Seker Ltd., London, 1920)

Some of Baring’s publications are available on Archive or Gutengerg as free downloads: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/52236/52236-0.tx



“English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” Catherine W. Reilly (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978)
“Poems: 1914 – 1919” (Martin Seker Ltd., London, 1920)
“What I saw in Russia” Maurice Baring (Thomas Nelson & Son, London, 1913)
“Cambridge Poets of the Great War: An Anthology” Michael Copp (Associated University Presses, London, 2001)

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Thomas Ewart Mitton (1897 – 1917) – British Soldier Poet

Thomas was born on 26th April 1897 in King’s Norton, Worcestershire. His parents were Thomas Evans Mitton, an engineer and engine manufacturer, and his wife Mabel, nee Tolkien.  Mabel’s brother, Arthur Rueul Tolkien, was J.R.R. Tolkien’s father. Thomas had a sister, Hilda Mary, born in 1883, a sister Ethel Grace, born in 1882, and a brother Eric John, born in 1888.

Thomas was educated at Wintersloe preparatory school then went as a Foundation Scholar to King Edward’s School (KES) in January 1911, the same year that his cousin J.R.R. Tolkien was leaving the school to go up to Oxford University.   While at KES, Thomas joined the Officers’ Training Corps (OTC).

In 1911 the Mitton family lived in Yardley, Warwickshire,Thomas was a pupil at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, and his brother Eric was working for his father’s engineering company.

Thomas joined the Royal Engineers and was killed in an accident while repairing telephone wires on 24th December 1917.  He was buried in Dunhallow A.D.S. (Advanced Dressing Station) Cemetery, near Ypres, Flanders, Belgium.

Thomas is also commemorated at the Baptist Church in Oxford Road (now the Calvary Church of God in Christ), Moseley, B13 9EJ, at St Mary’s Church, Handsworth, St Agnes Church in Moseley and at King Edward School in Edgbaston. His name is also inscribed on the Roll of Honour at Birmingham’s Hall of Memory

Thomas’s WW1 collection “Poems”was published by Cornish, Birmingham in 1918.


Far beyond the reeking battle,
Where all human factions cease,
Her bright eyes bedimmed with weeping
Stands the gentle form of Peace.
And she calls to toiling mortals
Children see ye grieve me sore,
Drive me from your happy homesteads
Stain your hands with lusts of War.
To the weeping maid they answer,
Lady, hear us when we plead,
For we turn from thee with sorrow
Turn to break a tyrant’s greed.
And we vow that good shall follow
From our strife and warfare vile,
And thy reign shall be fairer
Though we leave thee for a while.

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


Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Edward Hilton Young, First Baron Kennet, GBE, DSO, DSC and Bar, PC (1879 - 1960) – British politician, economist, writer and poet

Edward Hilton Young was one of three boys born to Sir George Young, Third Baronet Young of Formosa Place, Berkshire, and his wife, Alice Eacy, nee Kennedy. Hilton’s brothers were George (1872 - 1952) and Geoffrey Winthrop (1876 - 1958). Geoffrey Winthrop Young also became a writer and published poetry.

The boys had a sister who died in her early teens. The family lived in Cookham, Berkshire and had a house in London, near Sloane Square.

Educated briefly at Marlborough, Hilton went to Eton College before going up to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was President of the Cambridge Union. He then read law and was called to the Bar in 1904. In 1908 Hilton became Assistant Editor of “The Economist” and in 1910 Editor of “The Morning Post”.

Hilton joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and was commissioned as an officer in September 1914. He served aboard several Royal Naval vessels, including HMS “Iron Duke”, HMS “Aurora”, HMS “Centaur” and HMS “Vindictive”, gaining the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

In February 1915, Hilton was elected Liberal MP for Norwich in a By-election.

Hilton was wounded while serving aboard HMS “Vindictive” during the Zeebrugge Raid which took place on 23rd April 1918. The aim of the Raid was to try to block the entrance to the Belgian harbour, which was being used as a base for German U-boats. As a result of his wound, Hilton had to have an arm amputated. After his recovery, he volunteered for active service and commanded an armoured train near Archangel during the Russian Campaign.

Zeebrugge Memorial, Seacombe Ferry Terminal, Seacombe, Wirral, UK

After the war, in 1921 Hilton became Financial Secretary to the Treasury of the British Government and served as a Minister several times. His book “System of National Finance” was in use until the 1950s.

In 1922, Hilton married Kathleen Scott, who was the widow of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, who died during an expedition to the Antarctic in 1912, and he became step-father to Peter Scott, the naturalist. Hilton and Kathleen had a son, Wayland, who was born in 1923. In 1926 Hilton joined the Conservative Party and he was elected MP for Sevenoaks in Kent in 1929. The title First Baron Kennet was bestowed on Hilton in 1935.

Hilton died on 11th July 1960, when the title then passed on to his son, Wayland, who became the Second Baron Kennet.

Edward Hilton Young’s WW1 poetry collections were: “A Muse at Sea: Verses”, was published by Sidgwick & Jackson, London in 1919 and “A Muse at Sea, and Others” published by Sidgwick & Jackson in 1935. His poems were included in six WW1 anthologies and in Michael Copp’s Anthology “Cambridge War Poets” published by Associated University Presses, London, 2001.

Sources: “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” by Catherine W. Reilly (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) and “A Great Task of Happiness: The Life of Kathleen Scott” by Hilton’s Granddaughter Louisa Young (Macmillan, London, 1995).

Hilton's poem ‘At The Gate’ was written aboard HMS “Vindictive” en route for Zeebrugge on 23rd April 1918.

“At the Gate”

” It is all over; all my travelling
in changing, curious time ; and I
of every vital thing that life can bring
have only left, to die.

I have no hope, no fear for my distress.
There is no man on earth so free.
Hope cannot vex one that is futureless ;
fear ends in certainty.

No hope, no fear, no triumph, no regret,
but darkness of the gathering shades.
What have I left to hold for comfort yet,
now that the daylight fades ?

I will think of all good things that I have known,
of everything that I loved best.
I will take all their beauty for my own
to be my strength and rest.

Stand by me now, all tranquil memories !
the firelit ceiling’s shadow-press
a waking child has watched in ecstasies
of drowsy happiness.

The long, wet orchard grass, the swift mill-race,
the shining blossom on the bough,
the lads that came there for a bathing-place,
dear lads ! stand by me now !

And one high verge of upland ; when the night
was falling on the fields beneath,
thence could the poised spirit take its flight
far beyond time and death.

The time is come : and last, to be my guide
through this dim ending of the way,
I take the hero-soul of one who,died,
and, living, lit the day.

O friend I loved, I raise in thoughts of thee
the heart that beat at one with thine.
There is a sound of guns upon the sea ;
now, Miles, thy hand in mine ”

Monday, 22 April 2019

Harry Amoss (1880 – 1965) – Canadian Poet

Harry Amoss was the pen name of Harold Edwin Amoss, who was born on 22nd April 1890 in Corinth,Ontario, Canada. His parents were James Amoss, a teacher, and his wife, Annie, nee Hockey.  Like his father, Harry also studied to become a teacher.

In 1911, Harry married Janet mary Ellen Anderson.

During the First World War, Harry served with the 73rd Battery of the Canadian Field Artillery and his brother, Francis Xavier Amoss, who was awarded the Military Cross, also served with the Canadian forces in France.

After the war, Harry returned to Canada and to teaching.  He died in February 1965.
A dedication Harry wrote in one of his books.

 Here is a passage from Harry’s poem "Passchendaele 1917":

… war has stripped illusions Buddha-wise
Has tossed the tinsel on the winds astrew,
And with gaunt fingers rent the robes of pride
Till life in naked worth confronts the eyes

Harry's WW1 poetry collection was “Prayer of the Good Trouper and Other Poems” (Ryerson, Toronto, 1933).

Source: Who's Who Among North American Authors - Vol IV 1929-1930, compiled by Alberta Lawrence (Golden Syndicate Publishing Co., Los Angeles, 1929)

From http://www.flanderstoday.eu/living/canada-flanders-offers-solemn-tribute-countrys-role-first-world-war

“By the end of the war, some 619,000 Canadians had enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force for service overseas. This was an enormous contribution from a country with a population of just under 8 million in 1914. Approximately 7% of the total population of Canada was in uniform at some point during the conflict, and hundreds of thousands of additional Canadians worked on the home front in support of the war effort.

While initially consisting mostly of white British-born Canadians, the Canadian Expeditionary Force also included other cultural groups: aboriginals of the First Nations, black Canadians and Americans, and even West Indians from the island of Bermuda.”

Easter Monday 1917 - Arras - A Black Day for Poetry

Great Uncle James was killed during the Battle of Arras on the Western Front on Easter Monday 1917.  On that day the following poets were also killed during the same battle –

Edward Thomas (Artists Rifles and Royal Garrison Artillery),
Robert Ernest (R.E.) Vernède (Rifle Brigade),
Canadian poet William Maunsell Scanlan MC, MM (5th Canadian Bn., First Canadian Division) and Walter Lightowler Wilkinson (Princess Louise’s 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders). 

Alexander James Mann (8th Bn. Black Watch) was wounded during the advance and died the following day.

The poet William Henry Littlejohn (Middlesex Regiment) was killed the following day.

Two poets wrote about the loss of their friends - W.H. Davies “Killed in Action (Edward Thomas)” from “Raptures, 1918 and Eleanor Farjeon “Easter Monday (In Memoriam E.T.”

W.H. Davies “Killed in Action (Edward Thomas)”

Happy the man whose home is still
In Nature's green and peaceful ways;
To wake and hear the birds so loud,
That scream for joy to see the sun
Is shouldering past a sullen cloud.

And we have known those days, when we
Would wait to hear the cuckoo first;
When you and I, with thoughtful mind,
Would help a bird to hide her nest,
For fear of other hands less kind.

But thou, my friend, art lying dead:
War, with its hell-born childishness,
Has claimed thy life, with many more:
The man that loved this England well,
And never left it once before.

Eleanor Farjeon “Easter Monday (In Memoriam E.T.”

In the last letter that I had from France
You thanked me for the silver Easter egg
Which I had hidden in the box of apples
You liked to munch beyond all other fruit.
You found the egg the Monday before Easter,
And said, ‘I will praise Easter Monday now –
It was such a lovely morning’. Then you spoke
Of the coming battle and said, ‘This is the eve.
Good-bye. And may I have a letter soon.’

That Easter Monday was a day for praise,
It was such a lovely morning. In our garden
We sowed our earliest seeds, and in the orchard
The apple-bud was ripe. It was the eve.
There are three letters that you will not get.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Gilbert Frankau (1884 – 1952) – British Poet and Writer

Gilbert Frankau was born in London on 21st April 1884.  His parents were Arthur Frankau, a cigar manufacturer, and his wife, Julia, nee Davis, who was a poetr, writer and journalist.  Julia wrote using the pen-name “Frank Danby”.

Gilber’s siblings were Ronald, who became a comedian, Joan, who became a Cambridge Don and married historian Henry S. Bennett, and Jack.  Educated at Eton College, when he left school, Gilbert went to work for the family cigar firm, learning about the business in Germany and becoming Managing Director in 1904, after the death of his father.

Gilbert volunteered and was commissioned into the 9th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment on 6th October 1914 and transferred to the Royal Field Artillery in March 1915. He fought at the Battles of Loos and Ypres and during the Somme Offensive.  Gilbert then became a Staff Captain and was assigned to special duties on the Italian Front.

Jack and Ronald Frankau also joined the Army in WW1.  Jack was killed leading his men during the Third Battle of Gaza in November 1917.

Gilbert was invalided out of the Army on 22nd February 1918 and, as the family firm had failed during WW1, he became a writer.

In August 1939, Gilbert was commissioned into the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in which he served until February 1941, when he transferred to the Home Guard.

Gilbert died in Hove, East Sussex, UK on 4th November 1952.

Gilbert Frankau's WW1 poetry collections were:
“The guns: poems” (Chatto & Windus, London, 1916)
“A song of the Guns” (Houghton, Mifflin, Boston, 1916)
“The City of Fear, and other poems” (Chatto & Windus, London, 1917)
“The Judgment of Valhalla: poems” (Chatton & Windus, London 1918)
“One of them: a novelette in verse” (Hutchinson, London 1918)
“The Other Side, and other poems” (Knopf, New York, 1918).

“A Song of the Guns” from “A song of the Guns” (Houghton, Mifflin, Boston, 1916)

These are our masters, the slim
Grim muzzles that irk in the pit;
That chafe for the rushing of wheels,
For the teams plunging madly to bit
As the gunners wing down to unkey,
For the trails sweeping half-circle-right,
For the six breech-blocks clashing as one
To a target viewed clear on the sight--
Gray masses the shells search and tear
Into fragments that bunch as they run--
For the hour of the red battle-harvest,
The dream of the slaves of the gun!
We have bartered our souls to the guns;
Every fibre of body and brain
Have we trained to them, chained to them. Serfs?
Aye! but proud of the weight of our chain,
Of our backs that are bowed to their workings,
To hide them and guard and disguise,
Of our ears that are deafened with service,
Of hands that are scarred, and of eyes
Grown hawklike with marking their prey,
Of wings that are slashed as with swords
When we hover, the turn of a blade
From the death that is sweet to our lords.

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

Photo:  Battery of British Royal Field Artillery 18 pounder field guns moving up: Battle of Le Cateau on 26th August 1914 in the First World War

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Review of modern Poetry Anthology by American military personnel “In Love… & War The Anthology of Poet Warriors” (2019, Dead Reckoning Collective)

“…Bitter is the flavor
Of a face without a clock”

from “Responsibility” by Tyler James Carroll (p. 29)

American Veteran and poet, writer and journalist Luke Ryan put a post on Facebook about this anthology and a WW1 anthology that reached him on the same day.  Luke said he was “struck at some of the similarities” between the poems written 100 years ago and those written recently by military personnel. As I have been researching WW1 poetry in depth since 2012, I just had to get a copy of “In Love… & War.”

Luke was right - I found the poems profoundly moving and thought-provoking.  I was pleased to see that poems by both men and women military personnel have been included.  I learnt a lot too – as a Brit who has never visited the USA, there were mentions of flora and fauna I had never heard of.  And I was reminded that what we call “The Last Post” is called  “Taps” in America.  More importantly, the book is a reminder of how vital it is to have a programme of aid for veterans of conflict.

There are three sections – “Preludes & Prologues”, “In Love & War” and “Epilogues & Epitaphs" and some fantastic illustrations by Justin Craine. But I don’t want to give too much away because I really want you to read this book.

To my mind this anthology highlights and continues the legacy of war poets such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and the many others who fought during the First World War.  It surely demonstrates that, far from being dead, poetry is alive and well and still fulfilling the emotional needs of both reader and writer. That would have pleased the British war poet A.E. Houseman, who  gave a lecture in 1933 affirming that “poetry should appeal to emotions rather than to the intellect”.

One hundred percent of the profits from the sales of this book go to
GallantFew, a veteran-run charity in America, whose mission is to facilitate a
peaceful, successful transition from military service to a civilian life
filled with hope and purpose.  Rather like Combat Stress in the UK.

For further information and to purchase a copy of the anthology please go to https://deadreckoningco.com/

Photograph:  Luke Ryan with both the poetry anthologies.  Luke has a poetry collection due out soon - I can't wait to read it.

Lucy London, April 2019

Monday, 15 April 2019

Charles John Beech Masefield, MC (1882 – 1917) – British Poet

Charles John Beech Masefiled was born on 15th April 1882 in Cheadle, Staffordshire.  His parents were John Richard Beech Masefield, a solicitor, and his wife, Susan Masefield, nee Blagg.  Charles was a cousin of the poet John Masefield, who served with the Red Cross in France during WW1,

Educated at Repton School before becoming an articled clerk in the family’s law firm, Charles went on to qualify as a solicitor.

In 1910, Charles married Muriel Agnes Bussell.

Commissioned into the 5th Battalion, The Prince of Wales North Staffordshire Regiment as a Second Lieutenant, Charles was posted to France in March 1915 and served during the Somme Offensive in 1916.  He was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry while leading his men during a raid at Cité sur Laurent, near Lens, France, on 14th June 1917. Wounded at Lens on 1st July 1917, Charles was taken prisoner of war by the Germans and died the following day.

Charles was buried in Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, Souchez, France.  He is also commemorated on a family headstone in Cheadle Cemetery, Staffordshire.

The WW1 poetry collections of Charles John Beech Masefield were:

“Dislikes: some modern satired” (Fifield, 1914) and “Poems” (Blackwell, Oxford, 1919). His poems were included in three WW1 poetry anthologies.

"Sailing for Flanders"

To need any more the skies or man to importune
For us departing to-day with spirits at peace,
Now that the inner warfares, that tire men, cease
For us the chosen of God's lot, the spoilt darlings of Fortune.

Against the beasts in men let loose from their cages
We go forth with a lightened and proud heart,
We who are the men summoned to a high part,
To be known of the envious youth of unborn ages.

We have feared old Death, but now have we learned our error,
Seeing him there in the mire us so kindly await
A comrade befitting the hour of a world's fate,
And we look him full in the eyes ; we are rid of our last terror.

True that Death is an ill, but the worse ills are many;
Shame and slow rotting, cold and greasy years,
Pride in dishonour these things hold our fears;
We can play pitch and toss with our lives as a boy with a penny.

We have spent ourselves to win us a lady's favour,
But now the spending is grown to a leaping fire,
And winning for ourselves seems but a strange desire;
Her eyes -are remote as stars ; her kisses have lost their savour.

We have put life away and spurn the ways of the living;
We have broken with the old selves who gathered and got,
And are free with the freedom of men who have not;
We partake the heroic fervours of giving and again giving.

Was it only for Death we were borne of our Mothers?
Only for Death created the dear love of our wives?
Only for Death and in vain we endeavoured our lives?
Yea, life was given to be given ; March onward, my brothers!

Charles John Beech Masefield

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Poems about Christmas 1915

As most of you will know, I began seriously to research the poets and poetry of the First World War in May 2012.  After a while, I became convinced that I was ‘receiving help’ because ideas, words, names and phrases come into my head from nowhere.   I often dream about the poets.  Two nights ago I awoke in the middle of the night with “Christmas 1915” going through my head.  The words remained in the cold light of day, so I began to look into poems written on or about Christmas 1915.   I am trying to find out more about the poets but if anyone can help please get in touch.

To set the scene, here is some film footage of Christmas scenes on the Western Front http://ww1lit.nsms.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/db/object/ww1/5505

Poems found so far:

“Christmas: 1915” by Percy MacKaye (1875–1956) - an American dramatist and poet.

 Now is the midnight of the nations: dark
    Even as death, beside her blood-dark seas,
    Earth, like a mother in birth agonies,
Screams in her travail, and the planets hark
Her million-throated terror. Naked, stark,
    Her torso writhes enormous, and her knees
    Shudder against the shadowed Pleiades
Wrenching the night’s imponderable arc.

Christ! What shall be delivered to the morn
    Out of these pangs, if ever indeed another
    Morn shall succeed this night, or this vast mother
Survive to know the blood-spent offspring, torn
    From her racked flesh?— What splendour from the smother?
What new-wing’d world, or mangled god still-born?

“1915 on Christmas Day” by 'Celtic Thunder'

On the Western Front the guns all died away
And lying in the mud on bags of sand
We heard a German sing from no man's land
He had a tenor voice so pure and true
The words were strange, but every note we knew
Soaring o’er the living, dead and damned
The German sang of peace from no man's land

They left their trenches and we left ours
Beneath tin hats the smiles bloomed like wild flowers
With photos, cigarettes and pots of wine
We built a soldier's truce on the front line
Their singer was a lad of 21
We begged another song before the dawn
And sitting in the mud and blood and fear
He sang again the song all longed to hear

Silent night, no cannons’ roar
A king is born of peace for evermore
All's calm, all's bright
All brothers hand in hand
In 19 and 15 in no man's land

And in the morning all the guns boomed in the rain
And we killed them and they killed us again
At night they charged; we fought them hand to hand
And I killed the boy that sang in no man's land

Silent night, no cannons’ roar
A king is born of peace for evermore
All's calm, all's bright
All brothers hand in hand
And that young soldier sings
And the song of peace still rings
Though the captains and all the kings
Built no man's land
Sleep in heavenly peace

To Sew Or Not to Sew: A Poem - Christmas 1915 by EDWARD H. DOUGLAS

With eager heart and eager hand,
We stitched and stitched, with tightening thread,
Bags, to be later filled with sand,
To shield a gallant Tommy’s head.

Hark! from the trenches rings the cry –
“Oh! help us in our deadly strife;
Provide us bags, or else we die,
For, lack of these costs many a life.”

But now from War Officialdom
Issues the order – “Cease your task.”
It fell upon us like a bomb,
And what to do, we humbly ask?

For still there floats the same refrain,
We can but feel its plaintive touch,
“Send all you can,” and then again,
Send more: we cannot have too much.”

EDWARD H. DOUGLAS. From https://godolphinww1.com/2015/09/04/to-sew-or-not-to-sew-a-poem-christmas-1915/

"The Oxen"--A Poem for Christmas 1915 by Thomas Hardy

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
     "Now hey are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
     By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
     They dwelt in their strawy pen.
Nor did it occur to one of us there
     To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few believe           [Hynes gives "would weave." ]
     In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve
     "Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder comb
      Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
     Hoping it might be so.

Transcribed directly from the London Times for 24 December 1915, page 7. Checked against The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hardy, ed. Samuel Hynes, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1984). II 206

Walter Lightowler Wilkinson (1885 – 1917) – British poet

I have not been able to find a photograph of Walter Lightowler Wilkinson. If anyone can help, please get in touch.

Walter was born in 1885 in Bedminster, Somerset, UK. His parents were Lightowler Wilkinson, a railway goods manager, and his wife Maria.  In 1901, the family was living in Ealing. After the death of Lightowler in 1908, Walter was introduced to Mrs W. Sharpe, widow of author William Sharpe. She helped him develop his aptitude for writing poems.

Walter took up flying to try to help a health condition but was rejected by the Royal Flying Corps when he tried to join.  Instead, he joined the University and Public Schools Corps as a Private in September 1914.

Commissioned into the Princess Louise’s 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regiment in 1916, Walter was posted to France in January 1917.  He was killed in action during the Battle of Arras on Vimy Ridge on 9th April 1917 and was buried in Highland Cemetery, Roclincourt, Nord-pas-de-Calais, France.

Walter’s poems were featured in four WW1 poetry anthologies.

“At Last Post”

COME home!—Come home!⁠
The winds are at rest in the restful trees;
At rest are the waves of the sundown seas;
And home—they're home—
The wearied hearts and the broken lives—
At home! At ease!

B.E.F., France.

“Night in War Time”

NIGHT and night's menace: Death hath forged a dart
Of every moment's pause and stealthy pass:
Blind Terror reigns: darkly, as in a glass,
Man's wondering Soul beholds his fearful Heart,
And questions, and is shaken: and, apart,
Light Chance, the harlot-goddess, holding Mass,
Scatters her favours broadcast on the grass
As might a drunkard spill his wares in mart!

Time and sweet Order have forsaken men,
So near Eternal seems the Night's foul sway:
We ask of Life: "Has Chaos come again,
With Ruin, and Confusion, and Decay?"
Yet slowly, surely darkness dies: and then,
Out of the deep night's menace, dawns the Day!

B.E.F., France, January 25th, 1917 from “More songs by the fighting men. Soldiers poets: second series” Edited by Galloway Kyle (Erskine Macdonald, London, 1917)

An interesting discussion on The Great War Forum re ‘Southern crush’ from Walter’s poem  “Wayside Burial” – second line

“The Wayside Burial”

"THEY'RE bringing in their recent dead—their recent dead!
I see the shoulder badge: a "Southern crush."
How small he looks—(O damn that singing thrush!)
Not give foot five from boots to battered head! . . .
Give him a kindly burial, my friends,—
So much is due, when some such loyal life ends!
"For Country!" . . . Ay, and so our brave do die:
Comrade unknown, good rest to you!—Good-bye!

They're bringing their recent dead! No pomp, no show:
A dingy khaki crowd—his friends, his own.
I, too, would like—(God, how that wind does moan!)—
To be laid down by friends: it's sweetest so!
A young life, as I take it; just a lad—
(How cold it blows; and that grey sky, how sad!)—
And yet: "For Country"—so a man should die:
Comrade unknown, good rest to you!—Good-bye!

They're burying their dead!—I wonder now:
A wife?—or mother? Mother it must be—
In some trim home that fronts the English sea.
(A sea-coast country: that the badges show.)
And she?—I sense her grief, I feel her tears!
"This, then, the garnered harvest of my years!"
And he? . . . "For Country, dear, a man must die!"
Comrade unknown, good rest to you!—Good-bye!

It's reeded: he is buried! Comrade, sleep!
A wooden cross at your brave head will stand.
A cross of wood? A Calvary!—The Land
For whose sake you laid down sweet life, will keep
Watch, lad, and ward that none may bring to shame.
That Name for which you died! . . . "What's in a name"?—
England shall answer! You will hear Her cry:
"Well done, my own! my son—good rest: Good-bye!"

B.E.F., France, 4.3.17.

“The stanza you have now given makes it clear that these badges are from a battalion from a county or counties on the English Channel coast. It reads as though this is a term for the badge itself. Odd that it doesn't show up on Google (as far as I can see). But perhaps forum experts on these battalions would know...trouble is there must be such a lot of them, Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset, Devon.

On the other hand the phrase could mean that the badge identifies the man as belonging to a 'Southern Crush'. I've just checked my trusty old Oxford English Dictionary (the 20-volume one with historical citations) and that gives a 1916 quotation from 'Boyd Cable', Action Front (no idea what that is, I assume a novel): 'You want to ask about someone in the old crush', where crush is stated by the OED to be understood from the context to mean 'regiment'. Also the Observer newspaper had on 12 June 1927,' The best recruiter is the man who is pleased with his 'crush' '.

EDIT These come under a sub-category of 'crush', substantive, marked slang, originally US, meaning a group or gang of persons, specifically a body of troops; a unit of a regiment.

The more I think about it, the more likely this second interpretation seems.”


William Henry Littlejohn (1891 – 1917) – British poet

William was born in Islington, London in 1891.  His parents were William Littlejohn, a coach builder, and his wife, Mary Ann Littlejohn, nee Bulled.  The family live in Hammersmith, London.

William went to work as a clerk for the Civil Service and joined the Territorial Branch of the Middlesex Regiment.  By the time WW1 began, he had reached the rank of Sergeant.

William married Florence Annabel Bell in Fulham in 1915.

Promoted to the rank of Company Sergeant Major (CSM), William served in Gallipoli with his Regiment, before being posted to the Western Front.  He was killed on 10th April 1917 and was buried in Wancourt British Cemetery, France.

William’s poems were included in WW1 Anthologies “The Muse in Arms”, edited by E.B. Osborn (Murray, London, 1917) and “The Valiant Muse”, edited by F.W. Ziv (Putnam, New York, 1938).

“A Prayer”

Lord, if it be Thy will
That I enter the great shadowed valley that lies
Silent, just over the hill,
Grant they may say, 'There's a comrade that dies
Waving his hand to us still!'

Lord, if there come the end,
Let me find space and breath all the dearest I prize
Into Thy hands to commend:
Then let me go, with my boy's laughing eyes
Smiling a word to a friend.

W H Littlejohn

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Alexander James Mann – Pen Name Hamish Mann (1896 – 1917) - Scottish WW1 soldier poet

“My thoughts in this small booklet lie,
The windows of my inner eye.” – H.M.

“Songs are my life; my life’s a song always,
Into my verse I pour my very soul.”  Hamish Mann 

Alexander James Mann was born in Broughty Ferry, Dundee, Forfarshire, Scotland on 5th April 1896. His parents were Alexander Mann and his wife Charlotte, and his siblings were David, Jeanie, Isobel and Alan.

Alexander was educated at Grove Academy, Broughty Ferry, where he  is remembered on the school’s war memorial, and George Watson’s College, Edinburgh, after which he worked as a journalist.  

At the start of the war, Alexander assisted at Craigleith Military Hospital, where he joint edited the hospital's magazine “The Craigleith Chronicle”, contributing some of his work. He also had poems published in other Scottish publications under the pen-name ‘Lucas Cappe’.   He also used the pen-name Hamish Mann, by which he is now mainly remembered.

Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in July 1915, Alexander joined the 8th Battalion of the Black Watch and was posted to France in August 1916, taking part in the Somme Offensive.  During the first day of the Battle of Arras on 9th April 1917, Alexander was badly wounded by a shell. He died the following day and was buried in Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension, 62045 Aubigny-en-Artois, Pas de Calais, France.

Alexander’s brothers also served in WW1 - Captain Allan Cowan Mann, M.M. & Bar, M.i.D. twice, Royal Army Medical Corps and Captain David Mann, Royal Army Medical Corps;  both his brothers returned home safely.

Alexander’s WW1 poetry collection “A Subaltern’s Musings” was published by his parents after his death by John Long, London in 1918 and five of his poems were included in "From the Line: Scottish War Poetry 1914 - 1945" edited by David Goldie and Roderick Watson (Association for Literary Studies, Glasgow, 2014)/

“The Shell Hole” 10 September 1916 by Hamish Mann

In the Shell Hole he lies, this German soldier of a year ago;
But he is not as then, accoutred, well, and eager for the foe
He hoped so soon, so utterly, to crush. His muddy skull
Lies near the mangled remnants of his corpse – war’s furies thus annul
The pomp and pageantry that were its own. White rigid bones
Gape through the nauseous chaos of his clothes; the cruel stones
Hold fast the letter he was wont to clasp close to his am’rous breast.
Here, ‘neath the stark, keen stars, where is no peace, no joy, nor any rest,
He lies. There, to the right, his boot, gashed by the great shell’s fiendish whim,
Retains – O horrid spectacle! – the fleshless stump that was his limb!
Vile rats and mice, and flies and lice and ghastly things that carrion know
Have made a travesty of Death of him who lived a year ago.


Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978), p. 216 - which incorrectly calls  him Arthur James Mann
Find my Past

With thanks to John Seriot for additional information about Alexander's poems.

Photo from Alexander's collection “A Subaltern’s Musings”.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Edmond Rostand (1868 - 1918) – French poet, writer, playwright

Edmond Rostand was one of the poets featured in the Poets of 1918 Exhibition held in 2018.

Edmond Eugène Joseph Alexis Rostand was born on 1st April 1868 in Marseilles, France at No. 14 rue Monteaux, now called rue Edmond-Rostand.  His parents were Eugène Rostand and his wife, Angèle, nee Gayet.

Educated initially in Marseilles, Edmond went to Paris in 1884 to the Stanislas College, following which he enrolled to study law.

Edmond married Rosemonde Gérard, who was also a poet, on 8th April 1890 in Paris.  The couple had two sons – Maurice, born in 1891, who became a poet, and Jean, born in 1894, who became a writer and biologist.  In 1897, when Edmond was 29 years old, he published his most famous work “Cyrano de Bergerac”.  He was electected to the Académie française in 1901.

In 1915, Edmond left his wife to be with the actress Mary Marquet.

During the First World War, Edmond tried to enlist in the French Army but was rejected.  He then threw himself into helping the French soldiers (Poilus), raising funds and becoming a medical orderly in the Pays Basque area, working close to the Front several times. When the Armistice was announced, Edmond went to Paris to be among the people and there he contracted Spanish Flu.

Edmond died on 2nd December 1918.  He was buried in the Saint-Pierre Cemetery in Marseilles.

Edmond Rostand’s WW1 poetry collection was “Le Vol de la Marseilleise” (Ed. Eugene Fasquelle, Published by Librairie CHARPENTIER et FASQUELLE, Paris, 1919)

“La Cathédrale”

Ils n'ont fait que la rendre un peu plus immortelle.
L'Œuvre ne périt pas, que mutile un gredin.
Demande à Phidias et demande à Rodin
Si, devant ses morceaux, on ne dit plus : a C'est Elle! »

La Forteresse meurt quand on la démantèle.
Mais le Temple, brisé, vit plus noble; et soudain,
Les yeux, se souvenant du toit avec dédain,
Préfèrent voir le ciel dans la pierre en dentelle.

Rendons grâce — attendu qu'il nous manquait encor
D'avoir ce qu'ont les Grecs sur la colline d'or :
Le Symbole du Beau consacré par l'insulte! —

Rendons grâce aux pointeurs du stupide canon.
Puisque de leur adresse allemande il résulte
Une Honte pour eux, pour nous un Parthénon!

"The Cathedral"

All they did was make it a little more immortal
A work of art doesn’t cease to exist because it’s destroyed by a moron
Ask Phidias and ask Rodin
Whether seeing their work we don’t say “That’s it!”.

A fort dies when we dismantle it
But a ruined church is always beautiful
And, looking upwards, we recall how the roof looked
But prefer to see the sky rather than stones full of holes.

Let us give thanks – and admit that we previously didn’t have
Monuments like those the Greeks have on their gilded hill
A symbol of beauty sanctified by an act of abuse

Let us give thanks to those who aimed their stupid cannon
Since the result of their action is shame on them
But for us the building has become a Parthenon.

St Luke's Church in Liverpool was badly damaged during an air raid on the City in 1941.  The building has been cleaned but left as a Memorial to the Futility of War.

“Futility” by Wilfred Owen

Move him into the sun - 
Gently its touch awoke him once, 
At home, whispering of fields half-sown. 
Always it woke him, even in France, 
Until this morning and this snow. 
If anything might rouse him now 
The kind old sun will know. 

Think how it wakes the seeds— 
Woke once the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides 
Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir? 
Was it for this the clay grew tall? 
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil 
To break earth's sleep at all?


Monday, 1 April 2019

Richard Euringer (1891 - 1953) – German writer and airman

Richard Euringer was born in Augsburg in Bavaria, Germany on 4th April 1891.   He was educated at the local grammar school.  When he began publishing poetry, Richard used the pen name Pen-name Florian Ammer.

During the First World War, Richard joined the German Air Force and served as a pilot on the Western front from 1914 until 1916.   He fought with the Turkish Army in Mesopotamia, before returning to Germany to take command of the Flying School in Lechfeld in Bavaria, Germany.

After the war, Richard began writing seriously and had several books published: “Fliegerschule 4” (1929), “Vortrupp Pascha” (1937), “Der Zug durch die Wüste” (1938), “Die Arbeitslosen” (1930), and “Die Fürstenfallen” (1935).

During the 1930s, Richard joined the Nazi Pary and began working for the “Völkischer Beobachter”, which was a Nazi newspaper.  By 1936, he was a member of the advisory boards for writing and broadcasting in the Third Reich.   Richard’s book about his experiences as a pilot in two world wars, “Als Flieger in zwei Kriegen,” was published in 1941 by Philipp Reclam Jr., Leipzig.

Richard died on 29th August 1953 in Essen, Germany.

Photograph of Richard Euringer from Die Mannschaft (Berlin: Limpert, 1937)

Source: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Euringer