Monday, 22 April 2019

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.