Monday, 28 December 2020

Walter James Redfern Turner (1889 –1946) - Australian-born writer, critic and musician who lived in England

With thanks to Dominic Sheridan of the Australian Great War Poetry Journal who has researched Turner and his work extensively for his commemorative project, for his guidance and inspiration

I was surprised to discover that one of my all-time favourite poems - "Romance" - was written by a WW1 soldier poet. 

Walter was born in South Melbourne, Australia on 13th October 1889.  His parents were Walter James Turner (1857 – 1900), an organist at St Paul's Cathedral and a warehuseman, and his wife, Alice May Turner (née Watson), who was a musician.  Walter was educated at Carlton State School, Scotch College and the Working Men's College. 

After the death of his father, Walter and his mother went to live in Britain. The 1911 Census shows Walter working as a merchant’s clerk and residing in Hugh Street, London, S.W. with his widowed Mother, who is listed as a musician and pianist.   Among the literary personalities of the era, Walter met and became friends with Siegfried Sassoon, Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West, and Lady Ottoline Morrell. Harold Monro, who founded the Poetry Bookshop and helped aspiring young poets to get their work published, included 13 of Walter’s poems in his Georgian Poetry anthologies. 

Walter spent ten months travelling and writing in Austria and Germany between 1913 and 1914 and served as a Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery Anti Aircraft Section from 1916 to 1918.  

On 5th April 1918, in Chelsea, London, UK, James married Marguerite Delphine Dubuis (1891 - 1951).   From the First World War until the mid-1930s, Walter was known primarily as a poet. His 1916 poem entitled “Romance” ("Chimborazo, Cotopaxi....") is arguable the most famous of his poems.  Walter dedicated his collection entitled “The Dark Wind” (E.P. Dutton & Co. New York, 1920) to Siegfried Sassoon, with whom he and his wife shared a house on Tufton Street, Westminster, London, before Sassoon moved out in 1925.

Photo of Walter and Seigfried Sassoon by 
Lady Ottoline Morrell c. 1925

W. B. Yeats was "…lost in admiration and astonishment" about Walter’s poetry, including some of Walter’s work in his “Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892–1935", published in 1936 by Oxford University Press. 

Walter was the literary editor of the weekly “Spectator” magazine from 1941 to 1946, and general editor of the Britain in Pictures series. He died in Hammersmith on 18th November 1946.  

“Recollecting a Visit to W. B. Yeats” by Walter Turner

It is most pitiful to watch men go

In search of beauty with despairing eyes,

And what it is they lack as this world lies

Open before their gaze they do not know.

These porcelain skies with billows of graven snow

They paint on cold, thin cups, and draw from strings

Voices of mourning winds and sense of wings;

From woods rob sad-faced flowers and bid them grow

Nearer their souls; ay, creep out in the night

And steal the stars and the bright Moon from Heaven,

And bring them home to decorate their dreams

My God it is a strange and pitiful sight

To see the treasury of a poet's room

And him alone there shrouded in beauty's gloom!

Walter’s WW1 poetry collections were: “The Hunter and other Poems” 

(Sidgwick & Jackson, London,1916)

“The Dark Fire” (Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1918)

The Dark Wind (E.P. Button & Co., New York,1920) - a compilation of poems from “The Hunter”, “The Dark Fire” and “In Time Like Glass” 

And his poems were included in eight WW1 poetry anthologies.

“The Sky-Sent Death” by Walter Turner

'A German aeroplane flew over Greek territory, dropping a bomb which 

killed a shepherd.' 

Sitting on a stone a Shepherd, 

Stone and Shepherd sleeping, 

Under the high blue Attic sky; 

Along the green monotony 

Grey sheep creeping, creeping. 

Deep down on the hill and valley, 

At the bottom of the sunshine, 

Like great Ships in clearest water, 

Water holding anchored Shadows, 

Water without wave or ripple, 

Sunshine deep and clear and heavy, 

Sunshine like a booming bell 

Made of purest golden metal, 

White Ships heavy in the sky 

Sleep with anchored shadow. 

Pipe a song in that still air, 

And the song would be of crystal 

Snapped in silence, or a bronze vase 

Smooth and graceful, curved and shining. 

Tell an old tale or a history; 

It would seem a slow Procession 

Full of gestures: limbs and torso 

White and rounded in the sunlight. 

Sitting on a stone a Shepherd, 

Stone and Shepherd sleeping, 

Like a fragment of old marble 

Dug up from the hillside shadow. 

In the sunshine deep and soundless 

Came a faint metallic humming; 

In the sunshine clear and heavy 

Came a speck, a speck of shadow — 

Shepherd, lift your head and listen, 

Listen to that humming Shadow! 

Sitting on a stone a Shepherd, 

Stone and Shepherd sleeping, 

In a sleep dreamless as water. 

Water in a white glass beaker, 

Clear, pellucid, without shadow; 

Underneath a sky-blue crystal 

Sees his grey sheep creeping. 

In the sunshine clear and heavy 

Shadow-fled a dark hand downward ; 

In the sunshine deep and soundless 

Burst a star-dropt thing of thunder — 

Smoked the burnt blue air's torn veiling 

Drooping softly round the hillside. 

Boomed the silence in returning 

To the crater in the hillside, 

To the red earth fresh and bleeding, 

To the mangled heap remaining: 

Far away that humming Shadow 

Vanished in the azure distance. 

Sitting on a stone no Shepherd, 

Stone and Shepherd sleeping, 

But across the hill and valley 

Grey sheep creeping, creeping, 

Standing carven on the sky-line. 

Scattering in the open distance. 

Free, in no man's keeping. 

From “The Dark Wind”  

Dominic Sheridan, writing in his Australian Great War Journal*, has this to say:

"Walter James Redfern Turner - Australia’s Georgian Poet" served in the Royal Garrison Artillery from 1916 - 1918. He was born in South Melbourne, Australia. Writers such as Turner, Frederic Manning, Harley Matthews, Martin à Beckett Boyd and James Griffyth Fairfax, helped give Australia a literary voice in England. Walter wrote 13 poems for the Georgian School. Whether he had meant any of these poems to be chosen is difficult to say, but Harold Monro (poet and publisher) and Edward Marsh (editor), believed that these 13 poems by the expat Australian poet were worthy, not only of consideration, but also inclusion into two of the five anthological volumes of Georgian poetry”

Stephen Cribari, a poet who teaches law in America, has this to say:  “Georgian Poetry only saw maybe five volumes, many of its contributors did not survive The War, but it does seem to have brought the major figures from the end of the Victorian Era together with the poets who would have marked the fullness of the Georgian Era, some of whose writing changed with The War and then changed the arc of English poetry after the war.  

Edward Thomas, still in his prose mode, favorably reviewed the first volume.  That was just before Frost turned Thomas toward becoming a poet.  Thomas then submitted poems to Marsh for the second volume, but "Edward Marsh . . . had decided against the inclusion of either Thomas or Frost in his second volume of Georgian Poetry, not caring for Thomas's verse and imposing a new rule to exclude overseas writers from consideration."  Hollis, "Now All Roads Lead to France," p. 248 (Faber & Faber, 2011).  Thomas enlisted in The Artists' Rifles, which attracted as you know many artists and poets including Wilfred Owen.  Though nothing seems to suggest Thomas knew Owen personally, "(o)ther poet members would include two minor Georgians, W.J. Turner and Edward Shanks."  J.M. Wilson, Edward Thomas from “Addlestrop to Arras”, p. 336 (Bloomsbury, 2015).

Sources:  Find my Past, British National Archives, Free BMD,

Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St., Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) p. 319 

*Dominic Sheridan's Australian Great War Journal can be viewed here:

“The Dark Wind” is available to view as a free download on Archive:

"The Advertiser" Adelaide. Australian Associated Press (AAP). 21 November 1946. p. 8.

Photograph of Siegfried Sassoon and Walter James Turner by Lady Ottoline Morrell (1873 – 1938) c. 1925. 

Captain Jack (John Newman) Gilbey (1888 - 1952) – writer, poet and soldier

With grateful thanks to volunteer researcher Janet Durbin for finding this poet

John Newman Gilbey, known as Jack, was born on 4th February 1888. His parents were Newman Gilbey, a Justice of the Peace and wine merchant director, and María Victorina Gilbey, nee de Ysasi.  Newman Gilbey's father, Alfred, of Wooburn House, Wooburn, Buckinghamshire, had founded a successful wine business with his brother, Sir Walter Gilbey, 1st Baronet. One of Jack’s maternal great-grandfathers was Don Manuel María González y Angel, founder of wine and sherry bodega González Byass.  

Jack had the following siblings: Harry N.Gilbey, b. 15 Nov 1886, Charles Newman Gilbey, b. 5 February 1889, Carmen Gilbey, b. 2 Jun 1894, and Alfred Newman Gilbey b. 1901, who became a Roman Catholic priest and, later, Catholic Chaplain of Cambridge University.

Educated at Stoneyhurst College, Clitheroe, Lancashire, Jack went on to the Royal Military College in Sandhurst, Berkshire, before joining the Second Welsh Regiment in 1908.  A Lieutenant by the time war broke out, he was wounded on 14th November 1914, evacuated to Britain and sent to recuperate after treatment to Polesden Lacey Convalescent Home for Officers, which was run by Mrs Greville.  By 1915, Jack was a Captain.

In her research into Polesden Lacey, volunteer researcher Janet Durbin writes: “Like many other country houses during the First World War, Polesden Lacey became a convalescence home for wounded officers”. Janet shares her research into the lives of the soldiers who stayed there:  “Eighty officers stayed at Polesden, after being evacuated home from the front line and treated at King Edward VII hospital in London. A few of the officers left the army and became well-known in their post-war careers – such as writers Robert Julian Yeatman (who wrote “1066 and All That”), Martin Gompertz and cricketer John James Croft Cocks.”

Jack Gilbey returned to the Front and was wounded again on 13th April 1918, again recuperating at Polesden Lacey.   In 1939 Jack was living in Essex with his Father and other family members.  He died in 1984 in Harlow, Essex. 

In the Preface to Jack Gilbey’s 1936 collection "In Loving Memory and Other Poems" Arthur, Bishop of Brentwood says: “… he has a message to give in simple language to those who suffer like himself and to those who have gained by these sufferings, which while dispelling the crude sentiment that any war will make our land fit for heroes to live in, shows that men and women can be heroes in spite of war, yes even because of war, if they have faith and trust in God, company with the Saints..." 

The following poems are from that collection:

“Silence” p. 17

Two minutes – while we bow the head

And pay our tribute to the Dead.

Two minutes – can we offer less

To those who died, that peace might bless

Our days, and banish lawlessness?

So we remember thankfully

Their sacrifice – our liberty.

“Peace” p. 15

‘To safeguard peace prepare for war,’

Is still the view some nations share

To save men’s lives;  yet how much more

Might precious lives be saved by prayer.

Ere ‘tis too late may they atone,

No more must horrors be endured;

Only by prayer and prayer alone

Is good-will won and peace secured.


and “In Loving Memory and Other Poems” by Jack Gilbey (Burns, Oates & Washbourne, Ltd., London, 1936) - photograph from inside cover of that collection - photographer unknown.

To ensure peace, prepare for war" is from the book "Epitoma Rei Militaris," by the Roman general Vegetius (whose full name was Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus). The Latin is: "Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum."

Friday, 18 December 2020

A handkerchief featuring a poem by Harold Begbie written in the early days of WW1 commemorating the extremely popular initial publication in the August 31, 1914 “Daily Chronicle”, newspaper of London, UK.


A handkerchief featuring a poem by Harold Begbie written in the early days of WW1 commemorating the extremely popular initial publication in the August 31, 1914 “Daily Chronicle”, newspaper of London, UK.

The poem “Fall In” was written by Edward Harold Begbie (1871-1929) and was reprinted on broadsides, postcards, reproduced in other newspapers and in such Canadian War poetry anthologies as Carrie Ellen Holman’s (comp. & ed.)  “In The Day of Battle: Poems of the Great War”  (Toronto, Ontario,  William Briggs, 1918 (3rd edition)), page 30.   

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

“In the Poppy Field” by James Stephens (1880 – 1950)

 With thanks to Johan Moors of Flanders Fields Museum for finding this poem by Irish poet and writer James Stephens (9 February 1880 – 26 December 1950)  which, although not written during WW1, is relevant to remembrance

“In the Poppy Field”

Mad Patsy said, he said to me,

That every morning he could see

An angel walking on the sky;

Across the sunny skies of morn

He threw great handfuls far and nigh

Of poppy seed among the corn;

And then, he said, the angels run

To see the poppies in the sun.

A poppy is a devil weed,

I said to him - he disagreed;

He said the devil had no hand

In spreading flowers tall and fair

Through corn and rye and meadow land,

By garth and barrow everywhere:

The devil has not any flower,

But only money in his power.

And then he stretched out in the sun

And rolled upon his back for fun:

He kicked his legs and roared for joy

Because the sun was shining down:

He said he was a little boy

And would not work for any clown:

He ran and laughed behind a bee,

And danced for very ecstasy.

"In the Poppy Field" was published in the 1912 Georgian Poetry anthology put together by Edward Marsh.   

Red poppies, about which Canadian poet, artist, doctor and artilleryman Colonel John McCrae wrote (see Forgotten Poets), has been evident after every battle in Flanders over hundreds of years. British historian Lord Macaulay wrote in 1855 about the site of the Battle of Landen in the Province of Brabant that took place in 1693, during the Nine Years War between the French and the English, when William III was on the throne.  Landen is in Belgium and is approximately one hundred miles from Ypres.  The French lost 9,000 men and the English 19,000:

"The next summer the soil, fertilised by twenty thousand corpses, broke forth into millions of poppies. The traveller who, on the road from Saint Tron to Tirlemont, saw that vast sheet of rich scarlet spreading from Landen to Neerwinden, could hardly help fancying that the figurative prediction of the Hebrew Prophet was literally accomplished, that the earth was disclosing her blood, and refusing to cover the slain."

John McCrae's WW1 poetry collection "In Flanders Fields and Other Poems" can be viewed here::

Macaulay's works are also available on Project Gutenberg.

Picture:  A painting entitled "Trenches on the Somme" by Canadian Artist Mary Riter Hamilton, who went to paint the aftermath on the Western Front in 1919. Mary's paintings were commissioned by the Canadian War Amputees Association and can be viewed on

Monday, 14 December 2020

George Robey - Sir George Edward Wade, CBE (1869 – 1954) stage name George Robey

With thanks to Historian Debbie Cameron for finding this poem by George Robey

George Robey was an English comedian, singer and actor in musical theatre and music hall - I had heard of him but never knew he wrote poems.

During the First World War, in addition to his performances in revues, George raised money for many war charities and was appointed a CBE in 1919.  He became famous in musical revues during and after the First World War, particularly with the song "If you were the only Girl in the World”.  The song, popular during WW1, was composed by Nat D. Ayer with lyrics by Clifford Grey specially for the musical revue “The Bing Boys Are Here”, which premièred on 19 April 1916 at the Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square, London. The song was originally performed as a duet between Lucius Bing, played by George Robey, and his love interest, Emma, played by Violet Loraine and was published in 1916 by B. Feldman & Co. and republished in 1946. In the early months of 1954, a knighthood was conferred on Robey by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.  He died on 29th November 1954.

This poem, entitled, 'A Tommy's Appreciation of Victoria Station Free Buffet' and written by George Robey, set the scene in Victoria Station, London, UK where weary Tommies arrived after a long journey.  Staffed mainly by middle and upper class women, the WW1 buffets in stations were a war charity close to the heart of high society magazines such as “The Tatler”.  Money also came from theatrical fundraisers such as George Robey, who adopted the buffet as one of his charities putting on matinee variety performances at the Coliseum, generously donated by the theatre impresario Oswald Stoll for the afternoon.  

"A Tommy's Appreciation of Victoria Station Free Buffet"

''Ave you ever struck London at two in the morn?

Lor' love a duck - ain't it cold!

When you're dying for something to drink as is warm,

But it ain't to be bought - not for gold'


They're ladies, they are: us, an' REEL ladies, too -

Servin' cawfee and cake to the swaddies.

An' they're there all the night, with a kind word or two -

Lor' - they must have eight 'earts in their bodies.

I've never seen 'eaven - an' don't s'ppose I will -

I'm just doin' MY bit - for the Nation,

An' I ain't seen an angel, but I'd like to bet

That they're just like them gels in the station.

I says to one lady there - "Pardon me, mum,

But who's payin' for all this 'ot drink?"

She says, "Tommy, my lad - it's the Public who pays -

I SHOULD say, those of 'em who THINK!"

Well, whatever they've give - if it's pennies or quids,

As sure as the Lord's up above 'em,

Their names'll be writ in the Good Book some day,

An' all we can say is - "Gawd luv 'em!"

Photos: Robey (left), Violet Loraine and Alfred Lester in costume for “The Bing Boys Are Here” (1916) and Victoria Station Buffet WW1

Friday, 4 December 2020

Alfred Edward (A.E.) Housman (1859 – 30 April 1936) – British poet

Alfred Edward Houseman was born on 26th March 1859 in Valley House, Fockbury - a village on the outskirts of Bromsgrove in Worcestershire. His parents were Edward Houseman and his wife, Sarah Jane, née Williams. Among Alfred's six siblings were the poet Alfred Edward (A. E.) Housman (b. 26th March 1859) and the writer Clemence Housman (b. 23rd November 1861). 

The children's mother died on Alfred's twelfth birthday and his father, who was a solicitor, then married  LucyAgnes Housman, one of his cousins, in 1873.

Educated at King Edward's School in Birmingham and later Bromsgrove School, where won prizes for his poems, Alfred won an open scholarship to study classics at St John's College, Oxford.  After Oxford, Alfred went to work in the Patent Office in London.

While he was living in London, Alfred completed “A Shropshire Lad”, a cycle of 63 poems, which has been in print continuously since it was first published in May 1896. In a lecture given in 1933, entitled "The Name and Nature of Poetry", he suggested that poetry should appeal to emotions rather than to the intellect".  In 1904, “A Shropshire Lad” was set to music by Arthur Somervell.

Alfred died on 30th April 1936 in Cambridge.

“Here dead we lie” by A. E. Housman

Here dead we lie

Because we did not choose

To live and shame the land

From which we sprung.

Life, to be sure, 

Is nothing much to lose,

But young men think it is,

And we were young.

A.E. Houseman's WW1 collection "Last Poems" was published by Grant Richards in 1922.  He had WW1 poems printed in nine WW1 anthologies.

Source: Catherine W. Reilly, "English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography" (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1978) p.p. 174 - 175.