Saturday, 7 March 2020

John Goudy (1893 - 1951) - British soldier poet

With thanks to Historian Debbie Cameron for this post

A letter written by Private John Goudy from France in November 1916 to his former teacher, Joseph Goodison, headmaster of Higher Brinksway School, Stockport, enclosed a poem;  he wondered if it was worthy of publication.  John also mentioned that the weather conditions were severe.

Goodison clearly liked the poem, as he read an extract from it during a speech he gave at the National Union of Teachers’ meeting in 1917. In his notes for the speech he wrote “A Stockport lad who fought with so many other Stockport lads at Thiepval… sent a poem which he composed in his earliest free hour after Thiepval battle, to his former teacher.”

John Goudy was born in 1893, the son of John Smith Goudy and Margaret Leatham. His father was an Irish-born wheelwright, and the family moved from Ireland to Kettleshulme somewhere between 1886 and 1891. They then moved to Whaley Bridge, before moving to Stockport, and at the time of the 1901 census were living on Vulcan Street.

By the time he was eighteen, John was a boarder with a family in Levenshulme, Manchester, and working as a general clerk in the basket industry. On the 13th March 1915 he enlisted in the army, he served in France in 1917 in the Army Service Corps, and he was discharged on the 5th August 1918, at the age of 25, as no longer physically fit for war service. He was awarded the Victory and British medals.

Debbie says: “I found this handwritten poem from an archive project I was involved in several years ago, based on Manchester's record office archives. It's lovely as it is beautiful handwriting too.”

The poem, entitled “Thiepval 1916”, reads:

The hell was born,- on a July dawn –
“To win or die our youth was laid”,
On that red morn, o’er dew just born,
Neath early sky our charge was made.

Pleased, – the Carnage Spirit
O’er shells that fell,
On Thiepval’s dead,
And weeping o’er the sea,
And the mournful Spirit
Of an absent bell, –
“Tolled to the tread
Of sleeping o’er the lee.

The pine trees fell, in the Pine Trees’ Dell, –
Loud did thunder Britain’s mighty guns,
Thro’ shot and shell, – with Hero yell,
Thro’ the thunder Britain’s might sons.
The carriage spirit smiled
With it’s grinning head.
On fierce hell,
Raging on and neath the sod,
And lips of morn that smiled –
At Eve were dead, –
“And heroes fell
On earth – To rise to GOD.”

John Goudy – France, 1916.

Thiepval, a village on the Somme in France, was occupied by the Germans as a fortress. It was attacked by the British on the 1st July 1916. The village was completely flattened by the bombardment, but the Germans occupied the deep cellars of houses, so their machine guns were protected and they put up a strong resistance.  There were heavy losses, and it was September before Thiepval was taken. One of the largest memorials to the missing is located at Thiepval.