Friday, 30 April 2021

W.G.Thomas MC, Mentioned in Despatches (1883 – 1962) – WW1 soldier poet

With thanks to Jim and Sheila Maxwell of Harlech Library and Institute, Wales and Professor Tim Kendall of Exeter University, who advised Jim to contact me to find biographical information about W.G.Thomas.  My initial suggestions and research (see post  on 15th April 2021) have been added to by Jim. Thanks are also due to John Vallance, to David Ward, Archivist of Oswestry School, to Annette Fulford in Canada and to Al Poole, a Trustee of the Royal Welch Fusilier Museum for their kind help in filling in the details.  And, more recently I contacted William's grandson, Stephen J. Parry-Thomas, who sent me a WW1 photograph that features W.G. Thomas in uniform

William Geoffrey Thomas was born in Wrexham, Denbighshire, Wales on 11th March 1883. His parents were The Reverend John W. Thomas, Vicar of Bwlch-y-cibau, Montgomeryshire, Wales, and his wife Mary, nee Parry. William’s siblings were John Godfrey Parry Thomas (known as Parry), b. 1884, Mary C. Thomas, b. 1886, Ruth M. Thomas, b. 1888 and May J. Thomas, b.1891.

William attended Oswestry School from 1895 to 1902, where he joined the School and College Cricket and Football XIs.  He went on to study at Exeter College, Oxford. He became a Master at Walsall Grammar School and Played fullback for the Corinthians Football Club and also played cricket for the local cricket team. 

William went to Canada in March 1914 for health reasons, travelling from Liverpool to Halifax in Canada on the Royal Mail Ship ship the “Empress of Ireland”

When war broke later that year, William enlisted at Valcartier, Quebec and served initially as a Sergeant – No. 918 - with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on the Western Front.   William was commisioned as a Temporary Second Lieutenant into the 9th Royal Welsh Fusiliers Regiment on 22 July 1915* and posted to France in July 1915, where he served as a Machine Gun Officer. In March 1916 he was promoted to Temporary Captain.  William was awarded a Military Cross in the January 1917 Birthday Honours List:  “Temp Captain William Geoffrey Thomas, Royal Welsh Fusiliers.” Apparently, William also served with the 5th Battalion of the South Staffords.  

W.G. is in the middle row, seated,
in the middle

After the war, William returned to teaching at Queen Mary’s Grammar School in Walsall in 1919.  In June 1927, he married Rita Prentice in Walsall and their son, John G.P. Thomas, was born in April 1929. According to Stephen, John became a ceramic artist and potter and did TV work and was widely respected in his field.   

By 1939, William was the Second Master at Queen Mary's Grammar School, where he taught until 1945 - in all 38 years.   

William, who was an amateur artist as well as a poet, died in 1962.

William’s WW1 poetry collection “Amateur Soldiers” by W.G. Thomas was published by Old Royalty Book Publishers, London in 1928.   He later published another collection of his poems, entitled ‘Pass of the Acorn Cups’.

William’s brother, John Godfrey Parry Thomas, also attended Oswestry School from 1895-1902.  Known as "Parry Thomas", he became a well-known engineer and racing car driver - forerunner of Major Henry Segrave and Malcolm Campbell. 

John ParryThomas was killed on 3rd March 1927 attempting to break his own world speed record on the Pendine Sands in Wales. Pendine Sands is 7 miles (11 km) of beach on the shores of Carmarthen Bay on the south coast of Wales. It stretches west to east from Gilman Point to Laugharne Sands.

Incidentally, RMS “Empress of Ireland” was an ocean-going liner that sank near the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River in Canada following a collision in thick fog with the Norwegian collier “Storstad” in the early hours of 29th May 1914. Although the ship was equipped with watertight compartments and, in the aftermath of the Titanic disaster two years earlier, carried more than enough lifeboats for all onboard, she foundered in only fourteen minutes. Of the 1,477 people on board, 1,012 died, making it the worst peacetime marine disaster in Canadian history.

*Note: After the 1881 Childers Reforms, the Regiment's official title was The Royal Welsh Fusiliers, but "Welch" continued to be used informally until restored in 1920 by Army Order No.56.

Stephen J. Pattry-Thomas said: "W G Thomas is in fact William George Parry-Thomas my grandfather who passed away in 1962.  He stopped using the 'Parry' part of his name when his brother, John Godfrey Parry-Thomas, was killed on Pennine sands in 1927.


Find my Past

Free BMD

Catherine W. Reilly.- “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New Yorik, 1978) p. page 312.

Information from David Ward, Archivist of Oswestry School from “A List of Old Oswestrians”, in R. R. Oakley's book “A History of Oswestry School”, published in 1957.

Image of W.G. Thomas from John Vallance

Photograph of W.G. Thomas in uniform WW1 kindly supplied by his grandson,Stephen J Parry-Thomas 

Annette Fulford is a Canadian genealogist/family historian who specializes in First World War Bride research.

Harlech Library and Institute is a small, Century-old charity in Wales, set up by Jim and Sheila Maxwell as a community reference library. 

“The Gentlemen of England” by W.G. Thomas

The gentlemen of England 

Have answered to the call,

And city desks are silent

And lonely is the hall:

The ploughboy’s left his horses,

Deserted lies the mine,

And every day they’re making

New batallions of the line.

The gentlemen of England

Are swinging down the street,

Four abreast with rifles slung

And music in their feet:

And the Colonel he is smiling,

For he wonders if they know

His thoughts of them the morning

They first formed up in row.

The gentlemen of England

Are going overseas:

And Wiltshire trains are puffing

Longside Southampton’s quays:

And mules are raising murder,

But they find they have to go:

See the transport sergeant smiling

As the last is slung below.

The gentlemen of England

Are lying dead in France,

Or facing guns and mortars

With a haughty arrogance.

But the Colonel’s almost crying

As he thinks of what he knew –

But he had to send them over

While the main attack got through.

The gentlemen of England

Are sticking it in France:

They’ve filled the old batallion,

And they’re ready to advance.

And the captians all are smiling,

And the men are full of go:

This time they get their own back –

They are part of the Big Show.

From “Amateur Soldiers” by W.G. Thomas, pp. 11 and 12 - from a photograph of the pages kindly sent to me by Jim and Sheila Maxwell.  A copy of the collection is in the Harlech Library and Institute. That copy of the book was presented to Coleg Harlech in 1961 by Professor Stanton Whitfield and he noted the dates 1883-1960 under the author’s name.  Jim and Sheila Maxwell managed to salvage some of the books from the Library of Coleg Harlech when the College closed down recently.  Coleg Harlech was a residential adult education college for mature students in Harlech, Gwynedd, later on part of Adult Learning Wales.

Is William Geoffrey Thomas also the W.G. Thomas who jointly wrote "The Song of the Lewis Gun" with A.S. Barnard, which was printed in Prestwich in 1917?  It consists of 2 pages and there is a copy in the British Library.  They are listed under W.G. Thomas in Catherine Reilly's Bibliography on page 312.  The Lewis gun (or Lewis automatic machine gun or Lewis automatic rifle) was a First World War light machine gun. 

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Archibald Allan Bowman (1883 -1936) – Scottish WW1 poet – Prisoner of War

With thanks to Jim Maxwell of the Harlech Old Library for reminding me that I had not yet researched A.A. Bowman 

Archibald was born in Beith, Ayrshire, in 1883. His parents were Archibald Bowman, a Minister in a Non Conformist Church in Beith, Fife, Scotland, and his wife, Isabella.  Archibald Junior was the eldest child -  his siblings were James, b. 1885, Thomas, b. 1886 and Margaret, b. 1888.

Educated at Speirs School and Beith Academy, Archibald went on to study at the University of Glasgow from 1901 to 1905, graduating with first class honours in Philosophy and second class honours in Classics.   After graduating, he was appointed assistant to the Professor of Logic at Glasgow University and Lecturer in Logic at Queen Margaret College.

Archibald was offered and accepted the Chair of Logic at Princeton University in 1912, in succession to Dr Hibben. He married Mabel Stewart on Christmas Eve 1912, and together they had three children, Archibald, Alistair and Mary. 

When the First World War broke out, Archibald applied for leave of absence in order to join the British Army. Permission was granted in 1915 and Archibald was appointed as an officer with the rank of Second Lieutenant on 13th September 1915, serving in Britain and France with the Highland Light Infantry.  Captured during the Battle of Lys in April 1918, he was taken to Rastatt internment camp for French civilians, which was used as a military transit camp in 1918.  While in captivity he wrote poems – the first poem was written in Rastatt on 26th April and the last one was written on 9th May 1918.   The first poem written in the Officers Camp in Hesepe is dated 19th May 1918.   The collection, entitled “Sonnets from a Prison Camp” was published by John Lane, The Bodeley Head, London in 1919.

In the Foreword, Archibald says: “It ought to be a pleasure to acknowledge generosity in an enemy ; and I wish to express my indebtedness to Captain Hohnholz, Commandant of the Prison-Camp at Hesepe, to whose kindness I owe it that I am able to offer the sonnets as they stand for publication.” Offizier — Gefangenenlager  Hesepe, 17th August 1918.

Two of the poems: 

He who hath never from behind toothed wire 

Glimpsed, helpless, freedom's waiting amplitude, 

Hath never watched, fast rooted where he stood 

The embers of another day expire 

In glory welling westward, like the pyre 

Of some spent viking whom the Atlantic flood 

Bears dwindling into that infinitude 

That great souls end in ; then around the fire 

Of his own musings, lodering through the bars 

Of a shrunk life, hath sought awhile to limn 

His lost felicity — can ne*er divine 

The vastness of the common things that line 

Life's banked horizon, nor hath learned to rim 

Infinity with galaxies of stars. 

Rastatt, 26th April 19I8 

— Our own Immortals ! Ours while we can keep 

An isle of quiet for you 'neath the hoar 

Shade of the Minster, where the Nation bore 

Your mortal relics weeping. Rest you deep I 

Rest I And while children's children softly weep 

Over you, and the great rose windows pour 

A glory round, at peace for evermore 

In marble and in alabaster sleep ! 

— Knowing your England ! Knowing that while 


Tries men by fire, these men will not recede 

From where their fathers of the early prime 

Led them by generations great in deed 

To deeds still greater, where on fields sublime 

The freebom sons of England bled — ^and bleed I 

Hesepe, 25th July 1918 

Sources: Find my Past

Catherine W. Reilly. “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) p. 63

Saturday, 17 April 2021

Herbert Trench (1865 –1923) - Irish poet, writer and playwright

Frederic Herbert Trench was born in Avonmore, County Cork, Eire on 12th November 1865. His parents were William Wallace Trench and his wife Elizabeth Trench, nee Allin.  Educated at Haileybury School and Keble College, Oxford, Herbert was elected a fellow of All Souls' College and in 1891, after some years spent travelling, he was appointed an examiner at the Board of Education. 

On 15th July 1891, Herbert married Lilian Isabel Fox and the couple had two daughters and a son.  He gave up working for the Board of Education in 1908 in order to devote himself to literary work and became Director of the Haymarket theatre, London.  Herbert wrote poetry from an early age;  his first volume of poems, “Deirdre Wedded” was published in 1901. That volume was soon followed by further poems, notably " Apollo and the Seaman," which was included in “New Poems” (1907) and “Lyrics and Narrative Poems” (1911).

In 1908, a Dramatic Symphony, opus 51, written by Joseph Holbrooke setting Trench's poem “Apollo and the Seaman” to music, was performed, under the directorship of Thomas Beecham. 

Herbert then began writing theatrical works, collaborating with his friend Thomas Evelyn Scott-Ellis, 8th Baron Howard de Walden. They put on “The Blue Bird” by Maeterlinck in 1909, and Ibsen's “The Pretenders in 1913, at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Afterwards, he went travelling again.

During the First World War, Herbert worked in Florence, Italy for the establishment of a better understanding between Great Britain and Italy. He died in Boulogne-sur-Mer on 11th June 1923.

Among Herbert Trench’s later publications were “Ode from Italy in Time of War”  (Methuen, 1915), “Poems with Fables in Prose” (Constable, 1917), a poetic play “Napoleon” (1918), which was produced in London by the Stage Society in 1919, “Selected Poems” (Cape, 1924) and “La Bataille de la Marne” (Oxford University Press, 1925) and he had poems included in five WW1 anthologies.

Mottarone is a mountain in the Western Alps of north-western Italy

The herd of glaciers from these brooks has run, 

Leaving great boulders lone to mark the sway 

Of their moraines, rude confines of a day. 

Through the same gates, fore-goers of the Hun, 

Goth, Carthaginian pierced, and passed away. 

We now, the riper peoples, rightly sure 

We must withstand the harsh and immature. 

The bitter-hearted, toss'd from dream to dream, 

Fiercely unstable — in ail things extreme — 

These overlordship-seekers ; we intent 

That the spirit of every folk shall take its bent 

Sunward, and wayward in experiment 

Adventure, — each small nation stand uncurbed — 

We shall put down the aggressors, unperturbed. . . . 

For what is life's chief enemy? Not they 

But the sense of human life's futility. 

The vainness of ourselves, as of our foes — 

To that swift passage what can Man oppose; 

Who, brawler between two lights, God and Death - 

Sun-marshall'd and moon-tended — journeyeth? 

What of clear natures and enduring can 

Enter the hot and childish discord, Man? 

Flowing or floating — what of worth can be 

Establish' d? 

Courage, Awareness, the pois'd Soul. 

The rooted forest-people's polity 

Profound; of forest verdure that stands true 

And rooted in its own slopes' golden bowl 

Spreads free. Here every happy mead 

Hath windflowers of a different hue; 

And sun-born Love, the mountain flower, is bred. 

And, family by starry family. 

Spreads chalices, whereof each petal young 

Is a new life : fresh Awareness — tenderly swung 

And diffused as moveth a breeze over grasses and trees 

Of more: all other men's lives, all other men's ease.. 

Guard we this new Soul against tyrannies. 

The soul is end enough, if nought else is 

To come to flower against the precipice. 

Yonder in Brescia bronze-wing' d Victory 

Doth still in her subalpine temple stand. 

Holding a vanish' d shield beneath her hand: 

Her sons will not to the north's menace yield. 

Rather than live unworthy of their land 

Some will forego existences and fames. 

Theirs will be written with the unknown names 

Inscribed for ever on the vanish'd shield; 

The viewless shield itself, their souls shall be.

From: “Ode from Italy in Time of War:  Night on Mottarone” by Herbert Trench (Methuen, London, 1915), p. 8


Find my past

Catherine W. Reilly, “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978)  p. 317-318.

Thursday, 15 April 2021

W.G. Thomas, MC (1883 - 1962) - British WW1 soldier poet

With thanks to Stephen J Parry-Thomas, W.G.'s grandson

for sending me additional information and a WW1 photograph

Jim Maxwell of Harlech Old Library contacted me recently, via Professor Tim Kendall of Exeter University, asking if I had “further information about the WW1 poet W.G. Thomas.   The Library have acquired “Amateur Soldiers”, a WW1 collection by W.G. Thomas, published by Old Royalty Book Publishers, John Street, Adelphi, London in 1928 - in which year the publishers appear to have gone out of business.

The book was presented to Coleg Harlech in 1961 by Professor Stanton Whitfield and he seems to have noted the dates 1883-1960 under the author’s name.”

I put my thinking cap on.  Thomas is quite a common surname – even for WW1 poets as there are nine poets with that surname listed in Catherine W. Reilly’s “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography”, in which C.W. Thomas and his collection are listed on page 312.  As Professor Stanton Whitfield was from Walsall, it occured to me that he might have known W.G. Thomas, so I began to research and, in the 1939 Census, we find a W.G. Thomas and family living in Lichfield Street, Walsall, Walsall C.B., Staffordshire, England:

William G. Thomas 11 Mar 1883 Male Secondary Schoolmaster Married

Rita Thomas 01 Feb 1904 Female Unpaid Domestic Duties Married

John G P Thomas 11 Apr 1929 Male At School Single  

I then found that a William G. Thomas married a Rita Prentice in Walsall in June 1927 and thought this could possibly be the right man, so I sent my findings to Jim.

Jim picked up on that and found a “W G Thomas who taught at Queen Mary School, Walsall.  That was also the school that Professor Stanton Whitfield attended.    W G is listed as receiving the MC during the war when attached to the Machine Gun Corps .He seems to have had another book of poems entitled ‘Pass of the Acorn Cups’. “


I recently contacted Stephen J. Parry-Thomas who is W.G.'s grandson, who told me that "W.G. was William George Parry-Thomas who passed away in 1962.  He stopped using the 'Parry' part of his name when his brother was killed on Pennine sands in 1927, -John Godfrey Parry-Thomas."  John Godfrey Parry-Thomas was a racing car diver who took on the land speed records in the 1920's.

He also told me that the Parry-Thomas family motto is "Natus Ducere, Non Duci" which means "Born to lead, not to be led". The photograph shows W.G. - the officer in the centre of the middle row. 

Sources:  Find my Past, Free BMD

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

Photo kindly sent to me by Jim Maxwell.

Inside title page of the collection "Amateur Soldiers" 
by W.G. Thomas