Saturday, 20 November 2021

Ernest Denny (1888-1917) – British schoolteacher and soldier poet

Information about this hitherto unknown WW1 soldier poet has been kindly supplied by Historian Debbie Cameron* 

Poem included with thanks to the response from the Team at Reading University and in

particular to Research Volunteer Jeremy Jones

Ernest Denny was born on 11th July 1888 in Rillington, Yorkshire, UK. He was the second son of Robert William Denny, a schoolteacher, and his wife, Ellen Hannah Denny, nee Gardner, and his siblings were Charles William Denny, Percy Gardner Denny and John Gardner Denny. By 1901 the family were living in Redditch, Worcestershire, UK, where Ernest’s father was the headmaster of a Wesleyan School. 

In 1911 Ernest became ill and was admitted to a sanatorium in Lowestoft, Suffolk.

Ernest was educated at King Edwards School in Birmingham before going on to study at Reading University from 1913-15. On graduating he became a teacher and taught in a school in Suffolk.

During the First World War, Ernest seems to have joined the Artists Rifles as a Private before being commissioned as a Second Lieutent into the London Regiment and serving with the 15th (County of London) Battalion (Prince of Wales's Own Civil Service Rifles)  on the Western Front.   

Ernest died of wounds on 4th August 1917 and was buried in Dozinghem Military Cemetery, Vleteren, Arrondissement Ieper, West Flanders (West-Vlaanderen), Belgium - Grave/memorial reference: II. C. 10.

Ernest Denny is also rememberd on Redditch War Memorial and on a memorial in Redditch Bates Hill Methodist Church, which is now in Redditch Emmanuel Church

The Ancestry website Probate records:  Ernest Denny of 196 Mount Pleasant, Redditch, Second Lieutenant, 2/5th Battalion, London Regiment, attached to the 17th King’s Rifles. 

According to various websites, Ernest had poems published in an anthology entitled “Galleys Laden: Poems by Four Writers - Ernest Denny, Nora O'Sullivan, C. Doyle, and Gwen Upcott” ("Adventurers All" Series, No. XXIII), and a collection of his own poems entitled “Triumphant Laughter: Poems 1914 – 1917” was published in paperback form in 1978 by Brentham Press, London.

“By a wayside Calvary – France” By Ernest Denny written in October 1916

Ah!  Christ, again

Thou hangest in carven agony;

Meek, yet superbly proud, Thou challengest me

To gaze afresh upon Thine ancient pain,

To see Thee at Thy penance for no sin.

Again I watch the ancient strife begin –

Thee dying, and the busy world around 

Eating and drinking, buying and selling, pause

A moment and pass by. 

And Thou, uplifted high 

In wooden imagery to plead Thy cause

Criest aloud, with lips that make no sound. 

The poem is on page 14 of “Triumphant Laughter”which was found for us by Jeremy Jones, a research volunteer at Reading University Museum of English Rural Life / Special Collections Service.

Jeremy tells us: “In 2017 the university received a donation of material relating to Ernest, which contained some of his poems in manuscript form. Ernest is described on the photograph of his grave on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website as "one of the war poets". Subsequent to his death, Ernest’s work was published In 'Galleys Laden' (1918) and 'Triumphant Laughter' (1978).”

Wayside Calvary, Fricourt, France, WW1


* Historian Debbie Cameron is the founder of the Facebook Group Remembering British Women in WW1 – The Home Front and Overseas