Friday, 7 June 2019

Gerald Siordet, MC (1885 - 1917) – British Poet, Artist, Critic and Art Teacher

Portrait of Gerald Siordet by Glyn Philpot
WW1 soldier poet featured in the 2017 exhibition 'Arras, Messines, Passchendaele & More, 1917', Gerald Caldwell Siordet was born on 13th June 1885 in Le Havre, France.  His parents were George Crosbie Siordet and his wife, Mary Beatrice Siordet, nee Caldwell. The Siordet family were merchants of Huguenot origin from Switzerland and they moved to Britain during the 18th Century.

Educated at Clifton College, Bristol and Balliol College, Oxford, Gerald went on to work as a temporary cataloguer in the Architecture and Sculpture Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Gerald met the artist Brian Hatton while they were at Oxford University – Brian was at Trinity College.  They joined forces and set up a studio together in London in 1912 - The Bronze Door studio in South Kensington. As a freelance writer of literary reviews, Gerald found work with the Folio Society, and the Medici Society,

When war broke out, Gerald joined the Rifle Brigade and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.   Posted to the Western Front, Gerald was wounded during the Somme Offensive in 1916 and was awarded a Military Cross for conspicious bravery in taking over command when his Commanding Officer was killed.

Brian Hatton enlisted in September 1914 as a Tooper with the 1/1 Worcestershire Yeomanry, a cavalry regiment. He was killed on 23rd April 1916 during the Battle of Katia, which took place about 25 miles east of the Suez Canal. Fifty Royal Engineers, together with a detachment of The Queen’s Own Worcestershire Hussars, which was sent to guard them, were sinking a well when they were attacked by more than two thousand Turkish infantry troops.  At the time of his death, Brian was a Second Lieutenant.
Brian Hatton WW1

Gerald was in France when he heard the news of his friend’s death. He wrote to his cousin Val Burkhardt to ask for information, since Burkhardt was then serving in Egypt.  Captain Burkhardt replied on 27th September 1916, stating that he was having a better memorial made than the few sticks and the bottom of a biscuit tin bearing an illegible inscription that he had found.  A footnote to that letter stated that after the war the Worcester Yeomen were reburied in Kantara War Memorial Cemetery in Egypt. Brian’s Grave Reference is A. 9.
Gerald Siordet in uniform

In January 1917, Gerald was posted to Mesopotamia and was attached to the King's Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster), 6th Battalion. He was killed on 9th February 1917, leading his men in an attack on a Turkish position near Kut-al-Amara. His body was never recovered. Gerald has no known grave but is commemorated on the Basra Memorial in Iraq.  His name is inscribed in the Chapel Passage, West Wall in Balliol College, Oxford.

After his death, Gerald’s sister, Vera Siordet, asked painter Glyn Philpot to help her publish a volume of her brother’s poetry and drawings and “Selected Poems and Drawings” was published in 1918.  Gerald had poems included in four WW1 poetry anthologies.

"To the Dead"

Once in the days that may not come again
The sun has shone for us on English fields,
Since we have marked the years with thanksgiving,
Nor been ungrateful for the loveliness
Which is our England, then tho’ we walk no more
The woods together, lie in the grass no more.
For us the long grass blows, the woods are green,
For us the valleys smile, the streams are bright,
For us the kind sun still is comfortable
And the birds sing; and since your feet and mine
Have trod the lanes together, climbed the hills,
Then in the lanes and on the little hills
Our feet are beautiful forevermore.
And you — O if I call you, you will come
Most loved, most lovely faces of my friends
Who are so safely housed within my heart.
So parcel of this blessed spirit land
Which is my own heart’s England, so possest
Of all its ways to walk familiarly
And be at home, that I can count on you,
Loving you so, being loved, to wait for me,
So may I turn me in and by some sweet
Remembered pathway find you once again.
Then we can walk together, I with you.
Or you, or you, along some quiet road.
And talk the foolish, old, forgivable talk.
And laugh together; you will turn your head,
Look as you used to look, speak as you spoke,
My friend to me, and I your friend to you.
Only when at the last, by some cross-road.
Our longer shadows, falling on the grass,
Turn us back homeward, and the setting sun
Shines like a golden glory round your head.
There will be something sudden and strange in you.
Then you will lean and look into my eyes.
And I shall see the bright wound at your side.
And feel the new blood flowing to my heart.
Your blood, beloved, flowing to my heart,
And I shall hear you speaking in my ear—
O not the old, forgivable, foolish talk.
But flames and exaltations, and desires.
But hopes, and comprehensions, and resolves,
But holy, incommunicable things
That like immortal birds sing in my breast.
And springing from a fire of sacrifice.
Beat with bright wings about the throne of God.

 Shown below are two of his drawings from the collection held at Balliol College:

By kind permission of Gerald Siordet’s Great-Nephew, James Ritchie.

Portrait of Gerald Siordet by Glyn Warren Philpot RA (5 October 1884 – 16 December 1937)

Sources:  Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978)
Siegfried Sassoon “Siegfried’s Journey 1916 – 1920” (Faber & Faber, London, 1945)