Saturday, 20 January 2018

William Fox Ritchie (1887 – 1918) – Scottish

Richard Conoghan kindly sent me a poem written in 1915 by William Fox Ritchie and I had to research the poet.

William was born on 15th June 1887 in Bellshill, Lanarkshire, Scotland, UK.  His parents were George and Margaret (nee Craig) Fox Ritchie.  William’s father was a gamekeeper and forester. 

Educated at Pinwherry and Colmonell public schools, William joined Princess Louise’s Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, a Regiment of the British Army, on 3rd April 1909.  He served in Malta for three years before being posted to India.   His Regiment was among the first to be sent to Flanders in 1914, which means he was an Old Contemptible.  

Invalided home with Frost-bite, William trained as a Musketry Instructor but then applied for active service.  He was posted to join 12 Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in Salonika.  William was a Sergeant when he was killed at the age of 31 at Grande Couronne, Salonika.  He was buried in Colonial Hill Cemetery, which is now known as Doiran Military Cemetery, in Greece.  He was an extremely brave man and was recommended by his Commanding Officer to receive the Croix de Guerre for bravery.

A poem written by William Fox Ritchie in March 1915.   Reproduced here by kind permission of Ritchie  

“A Candid Opinion”

 Do we want to back to the trenches?
To get biscuits and bully to eat
To get caught by a sniper’s chance bullet
Or crippled with frost bitten feet.  

There are some say they’re anxious to get back
There are others who say they are not.
It is not that they care for the danger
Or are frightened that they will get shot. 

It’s the awful conditions you live in,
Midst the rain and the mud and the dirt.
Where you’d give a month’s pay for a square meal,
And twice that amount for a shirt.

No, I’m not at all anxious to go back,
But I’ll hve to go that’s understood
So I’m willing and ready to go there
And if needs be to stop there for good. 

Willie F. Ritchie, 91st Highlanders, 23/04/1915

With many thanks to Richard for sending me the poem via Twitter.  Information found via Find my Past.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

James Miles Langstaff (1883 - 1917) – Canadian

James was born in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada on 25th  July 1883.  His parents were Dr. James Langstaff, MD and Louisa F. Langstaff.  James studied at the University of Toronto and won 7 scholarships for further study.  He went on to study law at Osgoode Hall, Toronto and graduated in 1912 with the Gold Medal and Van Koughnet Scholarship.  James was a keen tennis player.

He joined the 75th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry in WW1 as a Lieutenant and was posted to the Western Front where he was Mentioned in Despatches and recommended for a Military Cross.   He was soon promoted and gained the rank of Major.

Major James Langstaff was killed in action on 1st March 1917 during a Canadian attack on the German Lines near Vimy Ridge and was buried in Villers Station Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

From “The Dead” written by James Langstaff shortly before he was killed:

"These laid the world away; poured out the red

Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be

Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene

That men call age; and those who would have been.

Their sons, they gave, their immortality.

Blow, bugles, blow! They brought us, for our dearth.

Holiness, lacked so long, and Love, and Pain.

Honour has come back, as a king, to earth.

And paid his subjects with a royal wage;

And Nobleness walks in our ways again;

And we have come into our heritage."


Shell Dodging, January 1917

"Up in the trenches the men get fairly expert at detecting the direction of shells and are able to dodge them to some extent. This is particularly the case with some of the Trench mortar shells, "rum-jars," as they are called, which not only can be heard coming but actually be seen in the air. They have a very high trajectory and are a long time in the air relatively to the distance they have to go. On the other hand, some other shells are impossible to dodge — "whizz-bangs," for instance, which have a very low trajectory and at certain ranges out- strip the sound of the explosion, so that a man struck by one never hears the shell that hit him. It is a very interesting study, comparing the time which is taken by the sound of the shell and the shell itself to traverse various ranges. Sound travels at a constant speed of 1,100 feet per second (whereas a gun starts off with a certain muzzle velocity) and gradually overtakes the shell and eventually precedes it if the range is long enough. Thus, at certain short ranges or with very fast guns the shell beats the sound; at longer ranges the shell passes you at the same instant that you hear it "whirr"; and at still longer ranges you hear the shell before it arrives.
It takes one some time to get on to all these phenomena — I can remember I used often to be puzzled at hearing the sharp bark of our own field guns apparently from just behind my back, at the very moment the shell was heard scrunching overhead. The reason was, of course, that I happened to be at just the exact range where the sound of the shell was overtaking the shell itself."

I know that I have been guided in many things. Other people might refuse to admit that it was guidance, but I've been there myself, and I've lived through the experiences myself, and I'm sure. Also, since getting over here, I really believe that I have been conscious of guidance and support and wisdom in difficult places. In the raid we pulled off at Ypres, for example, I'm positive that I had special guidance. Our party was to go over at midnight, but the scout officer, who had been out for two hours trying to locate the hole our guns had blown in the German wire, had not returned and nobody knew just where the gap was. Our artillery barrage was beginning and the zero hour arrived and still the scout had not returned. I had to make a decision one way or the other and I ordered the party out to take a chance on locating the gap. It looked like a rash order, but it turned out all right for the party had gone only a few yards when they came across the scout officer returning with the information!

This may not sound very convincing, but I'm sure of it, and about other things that have happened.

February 13, 1917.

Anyhow everything is all for the best, and I'm trying to make the most of the time over here and I hope that I am learning from these experiences, and picking up from day to day more patience and tact and judgment and firmness and knowledge of human nature and power to handle men, that will perhaps be useful to me in the future and make this not waste time.

*February 27, 1917. I believe more and more in prayer and I'm sure that I've got strength and wisdom through it for tasks over here.   (* Taken from his last letter).


Written by Major J. M. LangstafT during the early months of his enlistment:


The tyrant lord has drawn his sword,

And has flung the scabbard away.

He has said the word that loosed his horde

To ravage, destroy, and slay.

"Then where are those who will dare oppose

The blast of my fury's flame?"

But a salty breeze swept across the seas.


And back the clear answer came:

"We have heard the boast of your mighty host,

And slaves will we ne'er become,

Let our deeds declare what bur hearts will dare.

We come! We come! We come!"


The Mother of Men has called for them,

The nations she reared long ago;

"In Freedom's name I make my claim,

By the tokens that freemen know.

Let the world behold, as in ages old.


That my strength can never decay.

In a cause that's right, wall ye rise and fight?

Give me answer: yea or nay!"

"We have heard your call, mother of all.

From the shores of your island home.

Let him die in thrall who denies that call

We come! We come! We come!"

The lion's young, they forth have sprung

At the sound of the lion's roar.

To defend the lair they once did share

By the far-flung ocean's shore.

With eye aflame and ruffled mane.

They greet the approaching fray.

Let the foe beware who roused that lair,

For list to the lion's bay.

*'We have heard on the air the bugle's blare

And the roll of the muttering drum;

To the surging beat of ten thousand feet.

We come! We come! We come!"


A SONNET ON WAR Written by Major J. M. Langstaff for the Regimental Paper shortly before his death.


I never thought that strange romantic war

Would shape my life and plan my destiny;

Though in my childhood's dreams I've seen his car

And grisly steeds flash grimly thwart the sky.

Yet now behold a vaster, mightier strife


Than echoed on the plains of sounding Troy,

Defeats and triumphs, death, wounds, laughter, life.

All mingled in a strange complex alloy.

I view the panorama in a trance

Of awe, yet coloured with a secret joy.

For I have breathed in epic and romance.

Have lived the dreams that thrilled me as a boy.

How sound the ancient saying is, forsooth!

How weak is Fancy's gloss of Fact's stern truth!


—J. M. L.


and the full text of a special memorial to James is available as a download here

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Patrick Shaw-Stewart (1888 – 1917) – British

Patrick Houston Shaw-Stewart was born in Dolgelly, Merionethshire in Wales on 17th August 1888.  His parents were Major General John Heron Maxwell Shaw-Stewart, a retired, high-ranking British Army officer, and his wife Mary Catherine, nee Bedingfield.  He had a brother and two sisters.

Patrick was educated at Eton College before winning a Classical Scholarship to study at Balliol College, Oxford where one of his contemporaries was Julian Grenfell.

In London to work at Barings Bank, Patrick joined the Coterie poetry group.  The Coterie was a select group of Edwardian artists and intellectuals with members such as Diana Manners (Lady Diana Cooper) and Raymond Asquith. 

In America for business reasons in August 1914, Patrick returned to Britain and volunteered to join Winston Churchill’s recently created Royal Naval Division.  He was sent to Dunkirk, initially as an interpreter, then as Embarkation Officer.  He was then sent to “Hood Battalion”, where Rupert Brooke was a fellow officer.  When Rupert Brooke died and was buried on the Island of Skyros en route for Gallipoli, Patrick was in charge of the firing party at Rupert's funeral.

After service in the Gallipoli Campaign, Patrick was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander and posted to the Western Front in France in command of the Hood Battalion. He was killed in an area to the north of Cambrai on 30th December 1917. He was buried at Metz-en-Couture in the British Extension to the Communal Cemetery.  There is a memorial to the memory of Patrick Shaw-Stewart at Balliiol College Oxford, on the west wall of the Chapel passage.

Patrick was awarded the Chevalier of the Legion of Honour – Croix de Guerre (France) for his services as a Liaison Officer with the French Headquarters.  His most famous poem is “Achilles in the Trench”, which was included in three WW1 anthologies.

Sources:  Wikipedia, Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) and Anne Powell “A Deep Cry” (Palladour Books, Dyfed, 1993)

From "Achilles in the Trench"

Fair broke the day this morning
Upon the Dardanelles:
The breeze blew soft, the morn's cheeks
Were cold as cold sea-shells.

Published in "Vain Glory: a miscellany of the Great War", Cassell, London, 1937.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Christmas Poems of the First World War

"Carol for Christmas 1914" by Henry Lionel Field  
Henry Lionel Field featured in the exhibition of Poets of the Somme which was held in July 2016 at The Wilfred Owen Story museum in Birkenhead, Wirral, UK.    Henry joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme - 1st July 1916.   He was buried in Serre Road Cemetery No. 2, Beaumont Hamel et Hebuterne, Somme, Nord Pas de Calais, France.
On a dark midnight such as this,
Nearly two thousand years ago,
Three kings looked out towards the East,
Where a single star shone low.

Shepherds were sleeping in the fields,
When the hosts of Heaven above them sang:
“Peace upon earth, goodwill towards men”,
And the deeps in answering cadence rang.

Low in the manger poor and cold,
Lay Mary with her new-born child,
Scarce sheltered from the bitter blast
That whistled round them shrill and wild.

Be with them Lord in camp and field,
Who guard our ancient name to-night.
Hark to the cry that rises now,
Lord, maintain us in our right.

Be with the dying, be with the dead,
Sore-stricken far on alien ground,
Be with the ships on clashing seas,
That gird our island kingdom round.

Through barren nights and fruitless days
Of waiting when our faith grows dim
Mary be with the stricken heart,
Thou has a son, remember him.

Lord, Thou has been our refuge sure,
The Everlasting Arms are wide,
They words from age to age endure,
They loving care will still provide.

Vouchsafe that we may see, dear Lord,
Vouchsafe that we may see,
Thy purpose through the aching days,
And may our prayers be heard.

From "Poems and Drawings", published by Cornish, Birmingham in 1917.

Henry also features in the book of the exhibition - pp. 19 - 20.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Ewart Alan Mackintosh MC (1893 - 1917) - Scottish

Featured in last year’s Somme Poets Exhibition at the Wilfred Owen Story Museum in Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, UK, Ewart was killed on 21st November 1917 during the Battle of Cambrai.  He was buried in Orval Wood Cemetery, Flesquières, Nord, France.  The photograph of Kenneth McLennan placing a wreath on the grave of Ewart Alan Mackintosh on the anniversary of the poet's death is by courtesy of Neil McLennan.

Ewart’s poem “In Memoriam” is one of the most emotive of the First World War.  His poetry was compared to that of Rupert Booke at the time of the conflict.

Ewart Alan Mackintosh was born in Brighton, Sussex, UK on 4th March 1893.  His father, from Alness in Ross and Cromarty in Scotland, was Alexander Mackintosh and his mother was Lilian, nee Rogers.  Educated initially at Brighton College, Mackintosh went on to St. Paul's School in London and then studied classics at Oxford in Christ Church College.

At Oxford, Mackintosh was a member of the University's Officer Training Corps and tried to enlist at the outbreak of the First World War.  However, poor eyesight meant that he was initially turned down.  He was commissioned into the Seaforth Highlanders on 31st December 1914 and sent to France.

Mackintosh was wounded at High Wood (Bois des Fourcaux), near Albert on the Somme in northern France, and sent back to Britain in August 1915 to recuperate.  While he was based in Cambridge, he met and became engaged to Sylvia Marsh.  

In 1916, Mackintosh was leading his men in battle near Arras when fourteen of his men were wounded and two were killed. The death of one of the men - David Sutherland, who Mackintosh tried in vain to rescue  -  inspired Mackintosh's most famous poem.   He was awarded the Military Cross on 24th June 1916.

Kenneth McLennan laying a wreath on the grave of Ewart Alan Mackintosh
Mackintosh was killed in action on 21st November 1917 on the second day of the Battle of Cambrai.  He was buried in Orival Wood near to the northern French town of Flesquieres.  The photograph of his grave shows Neil McLennan leaving a floral tribute on 21st November 2017 - reproduced by kind permission of Neil McLennan

Kenneth McLennan takes up the story: “My grandfather was second man in a Lewis Gun team in Alan Mackintosh's company in 1/4 Seaforths. They were in action near to Cantaing Mill and after some hard fighting were consolidating a counter attack. Mackintosh took the Lewis gun team slightly forward of the firing line where it was set up. He lifted his head to look for targets and was shot through mouth with the bullet exiting at the back of his head. I was told this story many times and never paid much attention to it until many years later when I went looking for who this officer was and where he was buried.”

Mackintosh’s two published poetry collections were:

"A Highland Regiment and Other Poems" published by John Lane, London in 1917 and

"War The Liberator and Other Pieces", published in 1918 by John Lane, London, and his poems were included in 8 WW1 poetry anthologies. (Source:  Catherine W. Reilly "English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography" (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1978).

Additional information supplied by Kenny McLennan, whose grandfather served in the same Regiment as E.W. Mackintosh.  

"In Memoriam"

So you were David's father,
And he was your only son,
And the new-cut peats are rotting
And the work is left undone,
Because of an old man weeping,
Just an old man in pain,
For David, his son David,
That will not come again. 

Oh, the letters he wrote you,
And I can see them still,
Not a word of the fighting
But just the sheep on the hill
And how you should get the crops in
Ere the year got stormier,
And the Bosches have got his body,
And I was his officer. 

You were only David's father,
But I had fifty sons
When we went up that evening
Under the arch of the guns,
And we came back at twilight
— O God! I heard them call
To me for help and pity
That could not help at all. 

Oh, never will I forget you,
My men that trusted me,
More my sons than your fathers'
For they could only see
The little helpless babies
And the young men in their pride.
They could not see you dying
And hold you while you died. 

Happy and young and gallant,
They saw their first born go,
But not the strong limbs broken
And the beautiful men brought low,
The piteous writhing bodies,
They screamed, "Don't leave me Sir,"
For they were only fathers
But I was your officer.

Friday, 3 November 2017

"Tipperary to Flanders Fields" commemorating WW1, Remembrance Weekend 2017, Kent, UK

The UK Kent-based Actors’ Co-operative Katapult Productions presents "Tipperary to Flanders Fields" which commemorates the First World War in words and music, using some of the songs and poems from the era.  Some of the content tells the story of the women in WW1 in their own words.  

Devised and directed by Michael Thomas the performers will be Julia Burnett, Marie Kelly, Alan Simmons and Ann Lindsey Wickens.

Performances of “Tipperary to Flanders Fields” will be held during Remembrance Weekend 2017 at the following venues:

The Avenue Theatre, Sittingbourne, ME10 4DN on 11th November 2017 at 7.30pm;

at The Astor, Deal, CT14 6AB on 12/11/2017 at 4pm;

and at The Queens Theatre, Hornchurch, RM11 1QT on 13/11/2017 at 2.30pm.

Tickets available from the box offices of the theatres.

Initial information shared from Remembering Women on the Home Front Facebook page, with further information provided by Katapult Productions.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

A very interesting commemorative project: "The Bridge: Reading the Poetry of War"

With thanks to Deb Fisher of the Siegfried Sassoon Association and to Patrick Villa of the War Poets Association for finding this interesting project organised by Eric M. Murphy and Linda A. Saunders.  Further details about The Bridge Reading the Poetry of War can be found on their website:

The organisers are hoping for the in-put of as many people as possible so do have a look and see if your own favourite poem has been added and if not please add it.