Saturday, 21 September 2019

Nicholas Herbert Todd (1878 – 1916) – British poet and playwright

Nicholas Herbert Todd was one of the soldier poets featured
in the commemorative exhibition of Somme Poets held in 2016

Nicholas was born in Occold, Eye, Suffolk, UK on 21st September 1878.  His father was Horatio Lovell Todd, an Anglican Church minister - Rector of St. Michael and All Angels Church in Occold – and his mother was Frances Catherine Todd, nee Todd.  Nicholas had three brothers – Horatio J. Todd, b. 1865, Francis S. Todd, b. 1866 and  Charles F. Todd, b. 1872.

After attending Felsted School in Essex, Nicholas went up to Keble College, Oxford.  He became a teacher and taught at a school in Balham, London and then at Sedburgh Preparatory School in Yorkshire.

In 1916, after ten years at Sedbergh School, Nicholas enlisted as a Rifleman in the 1st/12th Battalion of the London Regiment (The Rangers).   He trained at a camp in Winchester before being sent to the Western Front, where he was killed on 7th October 1917 near Baupaume.

Nicholas Herbert Todd is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial in France, on the Sedbergh School Memorial and on a plaque in St. Michael and All Angels Church in Occold.

Written while at Hazeley Down training camp near Winchester in August 1916:

Dear Geoff I wonder if you'd like to be
A soldier of King George, the same as me.
To live in Huts arranged in long straight rows,
Or if you'd rather, call them Bungalows.
Your bed, three boards, on which you rest at night,
Which you're required by order to keep white.
To rise at six-or usually much later
And wash, and dress, and shave at such a rate, a
Bedroom at the P.S.S. would hardly equal,
Then marching; about for hours as a sequel.

To listen to advice from N.C.O's
How to stick bayonets inside your foes,
And many other military jaws,
And all the mysteries of forming fours.

A change indeed from that old room I sat in
Trying to teach the elements of Latin,
And bringing boys, whose names I will not mention,
In army parlance " to strict attention."
I hope when I return, if e'er I do,
You'll know your Latin Grammar all right through!
And have no trouble, when I am a civvy,
In reading off at sight a page Livy.
Meanwhile I wander sometimes up and down,
Along the ridges circling, Winton Town
Finding the orchids bending to the breeze,
Or lying on the wild thyme at my ease,
Or hearing ill the Minster's giant pile,
The throb of glory thrilling up the aisle,
And Dreaming of the Princess Who, years past,
Built their memorials, and only asked
Those who came after just one prayer to say
For those who went into the eternal day
For ever, where the tracery of I heaven
Lets in the light from all file planets seven.

And so farewell much love, and may we meet,
Where the swift Rawthey splashes round the feet
Of laughing boys, and Winder's dear old crest
Catches the sunlight dying in the West.
And laden with the spoils, the P.S.S.
Return with shouting in the usual mess.

Nicholas Herbert Todd’s WW1 collection “Poems and plays” was published in 1917  by Jackson, Sedbergh.


Other sources:  Find my Past, Free BMD, and Catherine W. Reilly; "English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography" (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1978, p. 316.

Friday, 13 September 2019

J.B.Priestley (1894 - 1984) - British Poet, Writer, Artist, Dramatist & Critic

Featured in the commemorative exhibition of Somme Poets held in 2016, John Boynton Priestley was born on 13th September 1894 in Manningham, Bradford, Yorkshire, UK. His father was a schoolmaster. John’s mother died when he was young and his father re-married.

John worked as a clerk after leaving Belle Vue Grammar School but his ambition was to become a writer.

In September 1914, John joined the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment with the rank of Lance-Corporal.  Posted to the Western Front in August 1915, he was wounded during The Somme Offensive in June 1916, when he was buried alive by a Trench Mortar. He was sent back to Britain to recover.

After a long period in various hospitals, John recovered, was commissioned into the Devonshire Regiment and posted to the Western Front again in the summer of 1918. He was gassed but recovered sufficiently to supervise Prisoners of War.

After the war, John went to study at Trinity Hall, Cambridge University and a long and interesting literary career followed. John died on 14th August 1984.

J.B. Priestley’s WW1 poetry collection “The chapman of rhymes (poems)” was published in 1918 by Moring.

Sources:  Find my Past, Wikipedia and Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) p. 258.
Photograph from:

Monday, 9 September 2019

James Lyons (1896 – 1918) – British WW1 soldier poet

James was born in Winton, Salford, Manchester, UK on 10th September 1896.  His parents were James Lyons, a Provision Merchant, originally from Birmingham, and his wife, Lilian Maria, nee Rogers.

In 1901, the family lived in Monton Road, Ellesmere Avenue, Eccles, Barton upon Irwell, Lancashire.  James was the eldest child and he had the following siblings:  Alice Constance, b. 1898, Walter, b.. 1905, Lilian Elisabeth, b. 1909 and Grace Winifred, b. 1911.  In 1911, the family lived in Broughton, Salford.

When war broke out, James joined the RAMC as a Private but was invalided out of service in 1917.  He moved to Lytham St. Annes by the sea in Lancashire due to his health problems.  There, he wrote an opera and further poems.  James died on 19th August 1918 and was buried in Peel Green Cemetery, Eccles.

James wrote a poem entitled “Gallipoli – To the Fallen”, which was set to music by his friend Stanley H. Clarke and performed by the Beecham Operatic Choris on 6th November 1918 at a concert in Manchester.

James Lyons’ WW1 poetry collections were:

“Sons of the Empire, and other poems” (Heywood, Manchester, 1916) and
“Gleam o’ pearls: poems” (Cornish, Manchester, 1919)

A Shell-wrecked Village at Evening, 1917 by James Lyons

So bleak they stand against the twilit sky,
Those shattered walls that once held love and light.
No gleaming window greets the falling night,
But doubtful shadows on the pathways lie,
To shelter unseen things that start and fly,
Waking these selfsame echoes in their flight
That once caught children’s voices shrill and bright.
Ghosts keep those tumbled ruins – how they sigh! –
Or is but the night wind’s low lament,
Borne from a hundred places scattered wide,
Whence the poor exiles from the village went?
No eye observes the wan moon upward ride,
The place stands  in her pale light scarred and rent,
The silent witness of war’s crucified.

The poet Robert Cochrane, a graduate of Manchester Metropolitan University, has written a fantastic book about James Lyons.  Robert has extensively researched James Lyons and reprinted some of his poems in a book entitled "Do you Remember - the selected poems of James Lyons", published by The Bad Press, Manchester in 2018.  Robert Cochrane has also produced an anthology of WW1 poems entitled "As Ashes follow Fire: Neglected Voices of World War One" (The Bad Press, Manchester, 2018).

James Lyons is featured in Catherine W. Reilly's "English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography" on page 206 but the only details Reilly gives are that James was a Private in the Royal Army Medical Corps and that his WW1 poetry collections were "Sons of the Empire, and other poems" (Heywood, Manchester, 1916) and "Gleam o' pearls (poems)" (Cornish, Mancheter 1919).

Robert Cochrane has also produced a CD of some of the poems written by James Lyons which have been set to music.

For further information, please contact The Bad Press, PO Box 76, Manchester M21 8HJ or via their website  or via Facebook

Sources: Find my Past, Catherine W. Reilly’s “English Poetry of the First World War:  A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) p. 206
“Do you Remember -The Selected Poems of James Lyons” Edited by Robert Cochrane (The Bad Press, Manchester, 2018) and "As Ashes follow Fire: Neglected Voices of World War One" (The Bad Press, Manchester, 2018).

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Max Plowman (1883 - 1941) – British poet and pacifist

Max Plowman featured in a commemorative exhibition held in 2016 about
some of the Poets on The Somme, 1916

Born Mark Plowman in Tottenham on 1st September 1883, Max’s father was Mark Plowman, who ran a brick making business and his mother was Anna Maria Plowman, nee Hunt.  Max began writing poetry at an early age.  He became a journalist after working for ten years in the family business, and his poems were published in various magazines, with his first collection coming out in 1913 under the title “First Poems”.

Max married Dorothy Lloyd Sulman in 1914.

When war broke out, Max volunteered to join the RAMC and was sent to the 4th Field Ambulance.  Commissioned into the Yorkshire Regiment’s 10th Battalion, he served on the Western Front on The Somme at Albert, where he was concussed by an exploding shell.  After treatment by Dr Rivers at Bowhill Auxiliary Hospital in Britain, Max refused to return to the war and was court martialled on 5th April 1918.  He was dismissed from the Army but escaped further punishment on the grounds that he was a Conscientious Objector.

After the war, Max ran a commune on a farm in Essex. His war-time memories were published in 1928, with the title “A Subaltern on The Somme”, under the pen-name ‘Mark VII’.

Max also helped to found the Peace Pledge Union, becoming the organisation’s first general secretary in 1937.  He died on 3rd June 1941.

Max Plowman’s WW2 poetry collections were:
“A lap full of seed (poems)” published by Blackwell, Oxford in 1917
“Shoots in the stubble (poems)”, published by Daniel in 1920. 

His poems were included in five WW1 poetry anthologies.

“When it’s over”

'Young soldier, what will you be
When it's all over?'
'I shall get out and across the sea,
Where land's cheap and a man can thrive.
I shall make money. Perhaps I'll wive
In a place where there's room for a family.
I'm a bit of a rover.'

'Young soldier, what will you be
At the last 'Dismiss'?'
'Bucked to get back to old Leicester Square,
Where there's good champagne and a glad eye winking,
And no more 'Verey Lights' damnably blinking
Their weary, dreary, white-eyed stare.
I'll be out of this.'

'Young soldier, what will you be
When they sign the peace?'
'Blowed if I know; perhaps I shall stick it.
The job's all right if you take it steady.
After all, somebody's got to be ready,
And tons of the blighters 'll get their ticket.
Wars don't cease.'

'Young soldier, what will you be At the day's end?'
'Tired's what I'll be. I shall lie on the beach
Of a shore where the rippling waves just sigh,
And listen and dream and sleep and lie
Forgetting what I've had to learn and teach
And attack and defend.'

'Young soldier, what will you be
When you're next a-bed?'
'God knows what; but it doesn't matter,
For whenever I think, I always remember
The Belgians massacred that September,
And England's pledge - and the rest seems chatter.
What if I am dead?'

'Young soldier, what will you be
When it's all done?'
'I shall come back and live alone
On an English farm in the Sussex Weald,
Where the wounds in my mind will be slowly sealed,
And the graves in my heart will be overgrown;
And I'll sit in the sun.'

'Young soldier, what will you be
At the 'Last Post'?'
'Cold, cold in the tender earth,
A cold body in foreign soil;
But a happy spirit fate can't spoil,
And an extra note in the blackbird's mirth
From a khaki ghost.'

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