Saturday, 9 September 2017

Ronald Gorell Barnes, MC, Lord Gorell (1884 - 1963) – British politician, writer, poet and editor

Ronald Gorell Barnes, 3rd Baron Gorell was born on 16th April 1884. He was the son of John Gorell Barnes, 1st Baron Gorell, and his wife, Mary, nee Humpston Mitchell.  Educated at Winchester College, Winchester, UK and Harrow School, Harrow, UK, Ronald went up to Balliol College, Oxford, graduating with a Master of Arts.

He was called to Inner Temple in 1909 and was entitled to practise as a barrister. Between 1911 and 1915, Ronald worked as a journalist at “The Times” newspaper.  He held the rank of Captain in the Rifle Brigade and served during the First World War, being mentioned in despatches. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1917.

Ronald became the 3rd Baron Gorell, of Brampton, Derby on 16th January 1917 after the death of his elder brother who was killed in WW1. He was appointed Officer, Order of the British Empire in 1918 and was also awarded the Order of Leopold of Belgium. In 1919, Ronald was appointed Commander, Order of the British Empire in 1919.  

 On 10th January 1922, Ronald married Maud Elizabeth Furse Radcliffe, daughter of Alexander Nelson Radcliffe and Isabel Grace, nee Henderson.  The couple had three children – two sons and a daughter.  From 1913 until 1917, Maud was the spiritual medium who helped the poet William Butler Yeats.

President of the Royal Society Teachers from 1929 to 1935 and editor of “Cornhill Magazine” between 1933 and 1939, along with Agatha Christie Ronald was co-president of the Detection Club from 1956 until 1963.

Ronald died on 2nd May 1963 at the age of 79.   His WW1 poetry collections were:

“Days of Destiny: war poems at home and abroad”, (Longmans, Green, London, 1917)

“Many mansions (poems)” (Murray, 1926)

“Pilgrimage and other poems” (Longmans, Green, London, 1920 and his poems were published in seven WW1 poetry anthologies.


“Days of Destiny” is available as a download from Archive:


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

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Herbert Asquith (1881 - 1947) – British poet, writer and lawyer

Herbert was the second son of Herbert Henry Asquith, the British Liberal politician, First Earl of Oxford, and his wife Helen Kelsall Asquith, nee Medland. Herbert junior wa born on 11th March 1881.  He had the following siblings:
Raymond (1878 – 1916), Arthur, b. 1884, Helen Violet (1887 – 1969) and Cyril (1890 – 1954).  Herbert senior’s first wife Helen Asquith died in 1891. 

Herbert Asquith senior was the British Prime Minister from 1908 until 1916 when he became ill following the death during the Somme Offensive of his eldest son Raymond. 

After the death of his first wife in 1891, Herbert senior married Emma Alice Margaret Tennant, known as Margot, in 1894.  The couple had a son, Anthony (1902 – 1968), who became a film director, and a daughter Elizabeth (1897 – 1945), who became a writer and poet.
In 1910, Herbert junior married Cynthia, daughter of Hugo Richard Charteris, the 11th Earl of Weymss.  Cynthia was also a writer.

Like his brother Raymond, Herbert junior became a lawyer.  They both served with the Royal Artillery during the First World War, Herbert junior reaching the rank of Captain.
Herbert junior died on 5th August 1947.

The Hon. Herbert Asquith’s First World War poetry collections were:
“Poems 1912 – 1933” (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1934

“The Volunteer and other poems” (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1915)
“The Volunteer and other poems, 2nd edition with new poems added” (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1917)

And his poems were published in 21 WW1 anthologies.

“The Fallen Subaltern”

The starshells float above, the bayonets glisten;
We bear our fallen friend without a sound;
Below the waiting legions lie and listen
To us, who march upon their burial-ground.

Wound in the flag of England, here we lay him;
The guns will flash and thunder o’er the grave;
What other winding sheet should now array him,
What other music should salute the brave?

As goes the Sun-god in his chariot glorious,
When all his golden banners are unfurled,
So goes the soldier, fallen but victorious,
And leaves behind a twilight in the world.

And those who come this way, in days hereafter,
Will know that here a boy for England fell,
Who looked at danger with the eyes of laughter,
And on the charge his days were ended well.

One last salute; the bayonets clash and glisten;
With arms reversed we go without a sound:
One more has joined the men who lie and listen
To us, who march upon their burial-ground.


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

Arthur Newberry Choyce (1893 - 1937) – British poet

Arthur was the ‘Leicestershire WW1 Soldier Poet’ whose poetry was compared by “The Independent” newspaper to that of Rupert Brooke

Arthur Newberry Choyce was born in Hugglescote, Leicestershire, UK in 1893.  His parents were Benjamin Choyce, a carpenter, and his wife Mary Ann Choyce, nee Newberry.  The Leicestershire village in which the family lived was near Coalville, about ten miles from Loughborough.

At the outbreak of war, Arthur joined the Leicestershire Regiment as a Second Lieutenant.  He was sent to the Western Front where he saw action during the Somme Offensive in 1916.

Wounded on 15th June 1917, Arthur sheltered for twenty hours in a shell hole before being rescued and sent for treatment.

When he had recovered sufficiently he was sent to America on a speaking tour, reciting his poems to great acclaim, encouraging Americans to join in the fight.

After the war, Arthur continued writing and publishing his work.  He became headmaster of Snibston village Primary School in Coalville, Leicestershire.   Arthur died in 1937 in Ashby-de-la-Zouche.

Arthur’s WW1 poetry collections were:  "Crimson Stains: poems of war and love" published in 1917 by Erskine Macdonald, London;

"Memory: poems of war and love" published in New York by John Lane in 1918. Which you can find here: and

“Songs while wandering” (John Lane, New York, 1919), written in America and dedicated to England

Arthur also had some poems published in the WW1 Anthology "Soldier Poets: more songs of the fighting men" edited by Galloway Kyle and published by Erskine Macdonald in 1917.

Arthur wrote a poem while crossing the Atlantic in April 1918 but it does not reflect the dangers of such a journey.  Tad Fitch and Michael Poirier have written a book that describes in details the perils of crossing the Atlantic – “Into the Danger Zone”.  For a review please see

Atlantic Crossing

The little song that you sing to me
Seems part of the sea’s own melody
(We are alone, just you and I).
It is late … you wanted to see the moon.
Have you heard that we come to harbour soon?
(How swiftly the stars and the sea slip by!).

Churned in the wonderful waves below
Clusters of phosphorous fishes glow,
(How swiftly the stars and the sea slip by!)
And we who have just a remaining day
Are silently staring our dreams away…
(We are alone, just you and I).

Alone, alone, just you and I …
My soul! … how the stars and the sea slip by!

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

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Passchendaele Poets and more

An exhibition featuring some of the poets, writers and artists involved in the Battles of Messines (Mesen), Passchendaele and after in 1917 is currently on display at The Wilfred Owen Story, 34 Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH41 6AE.  Entry is free.  The WOS is open Tuesdays to Fridays from 11 am until 2 pm but it is advisable to telephone first - 07903 337995.
Among the poets, writers, one musician and nurses in the exhibition are:
Harry Amos and Oscar Walters (on the same panel)
Charles James Beech Masefield                                    
Dennis Wheatley and Herbert Read (on same panel)
Eugene Rhuelier and MacKintosh (on same panel)
Francis Ledwidge
Frank Prewett – Canadian
Geoffrey Wall
Hamilton Fish Armstrong
Hedd Wyn
Hugh Gordon Langton - musician
Patrick Shaw-Stewart
T.E. Hulme
Thomas Carnduff
Thomas Ewart Mitton and John Allan Wyeth (on same panel)
Arthur Hugh Sidgwick
Arthur Lewis Jenkins
Frank C. Lewis
Geoffrey Caldwell Siordet
Gerald George Samuel
Isaac Rosenberg
John Frederick Freeman
Leonard Comer Wall  (photo of his grave, in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery Belgium taken by Willy de Brouwer and reproduced here with his kind permission)
Nathan Percy Graham
William Robert Hamilton
David Jones and Edmund Blunden (on same panel)
Eric Fitzwater Wilkinson
Edmund Valpy Knox (E.V. Knox)

Nurses of Passchendaele
Kate Luard
Nellie Spindler
Minnie Wood
Wirral, Cheshire VADs Amy and Kath Isaac
Also on display
When Wilfred met Siegfried (the Craiglockhart meeting of two of WW1’s greatest soldier poets)
The Wilfred Owen Story
34 Argyle Street
CH41 6AE.
United Kingdom.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Hamilton Fish Armstrong (1893 - 1973) – American

With thanks to Dr. Margaret Stetz for telling me about Hamilton.

Hamilton Fish Armstrong was born in New York, America on 7th April 1893.  His parents were Maitland Armstrong, an American Diplomat and artist, and his wife Helen Armstrong, nee Neilson.  Helen was a niece of the American politician and Governor of New York, Hamilton Fish.   Maitland and Helen had seven children.

Hamilton studied at Princeton University and then went to work as a journalist for the “New Republican Magazine” which was founded in 1914 and dealt with the arts and politics.

I understand that Hamilton went to the Western Front in France in 1917 and then became Military Attache in Serbia.  Among his many awards were The Order of the Serbian Red Cross (1918), the Order of St. Sava Fifth Class (1918), Order of the Crown – Roumania (1924), le Legion d’Honneur – France (1924) and the Order of the British Empire (OBE) (1972.

In 1922, Hamilton joined the staff of the American magazine “Foreign Affairs” and in 1928 he became the magazine’s editor, a post which he held until 1972.  He had a long and distinguished career as a writer and diplomat and died on 24th April 1973.  I have not been able to find any further details of his WW1 experience but from the following poem it seems clear that by the time it was written in 1916, Hamilton had already visited the Western Front.

On Sick Leave (p. 333 “New York Verse”)

He limped beneath the Arch, across the Square,
And through the dazzling shaft of rainbow-air
That blew from where the busy fountain leaped.
For him within that vision-laden cloud
There were no peaceful hills, no valleys loud
With streams, no field in honeysuckle steeped.

Grim hills there were, emplumed with puffs of smoke –
Valleys there were, where biting guns awoke
Echoes that died amid the eternal din –
Broad honeysuckle-bordered fields there were,
Stamped down by passing troops, - and in the air
That smell which only is where war has been.

From the poetry anthology edited by Hamilton and published in 1917 “The Book of New York Verse“, which is available as a free down-load on Archive:  Photo of the Armstrong Family in around 1910 - photographer unknown - from


Thursday, 13 July 2017

Exhibition: Poets of Messines (Mesen), Passchendaele and after - 1917 at the Wilfred Owen Story Museum, Birkenhead

An exhibition featuring some of the poets, writers and artists involved in the Battles of Messines (Mesen), Passchendaele and after - 1917 is currently on display at The Wilfred Owen Story in Birkenhead, Wirral, UK   Entry is free. 

The WOS is open Tuesdays to Fridays from 11 am until 2 pm but if you are planning a visit it is advisable to telephone first - 07903 337995.

The Wilfred Owen Story

34 Argyle Street,
Birkenhead, Wirral,
CH41 6AE.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Remembering Leonard Comer Wall who was killed on 9th June 1917

Remembering today, 9th June 2017, WW1 Soldier Poet Leonard Comer Wall who was killed a hundred years ago on 9th June 1917. Leonard was buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery. He is one of the poets featured in the 1917 commemorative exhibition on display at The Wilfred Owen Story in Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Wirral.

See earlier posts about Leonard.

Photo by Paul Breeze.   There are still some copies of the Wirral Poets 2017 Calendar left if anyone wants one. Leonard is featured in June.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Gerald George Samuel (1886 – 1917) – British

Gerald was born in Marylebone, London, UK on 6th May 1886.  His parents were Marcus Samuel, first Viscount Bearsted and his wife, Fanny Elizabeth Samuel.  Gerald’s father ran an import company, trading with the Far East and set up the Shell Transport and Trading Company.

Gerald’s siblings were Walter, Nellie and Ida Marie.  Gerald travelled to Japan, Canada and the United States in 1912.

During the First World War, Gerald was turned down twice when he applied to join the Army, due to defective eyesight.  However, he was commissioned into the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment and posted to the Western Front, where he was wounded twice.

Gerald was killed during the Battle of Messines on 7th June 1917.  At the time of his death, he held the rank of Lieutenant.  He is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres, Belgium, panel 45 and 47 and at Willesden Cemetery in London.

Gerald George Samuel’s WW1 poetry collection “Poems” was published by Humphreys, London in 1917.  
Catherine W. Reilly "English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography" (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1978)

I don’t often comment on the writing of the poets I feature but I am very impressed indeed by Gerald George Samuel’s writing, enjoyed reading his poems and made a few notes to share with you.  

The Introduction, written by Gerald’s father, has a copy of the last letter of encouragement Gerald wrote from the Front to the boys he worked with in Stepney. I found it particularly moving.  And in the poem “My Aim” Gerald wrote that he would like “To make the world a happier, better place” (page 24).
Gerald described the weapons of the conflict, which was the first using the tools of the Industrial Revolution, as “the brutal inventions of crime” and the conditions in the trenches as “the pitiless welter of shell” (From “Consolation”, page 32).

In “Lost Years” I found a sentiment reflected in one of my Mother’s favourite poems – “The Moving Finger writes…”: from Edward FitzGerlad’s translation into English of Omar Khayam’s poem in Farsi:

“For I cannot call back the ebbing tide
And live again the seasons that are gone.” (page 34)

On page 40 is a poem dedicated “To Music” – echoing my own feelings about music:

And on page 41 are a few lines about music, poetry and art.

I leave you with two of Gerald’s poems:

“War and After” 

I hope that when at last these days are o’er,
I may return my labours to renew,
And try to wipe away the marks of war
That stain the nations with their bloody hue.
To bring some ray of solace to a few,
To make their lives less difficult to live,
Is all I ask.  My work I shall not rue
If I can help to comfort some who grieve,
And added happiness to some poor toilers give.

Untitled (page 22)

I care too little for this earth
To love it, though it gave me birth;
But I would leave to those like me
In future days some legacy.

Joy is not mine, but if my pain
Bring forth for someone else a gain:
I only wish that when in Heaven
I may observe the joy I’ve given.

“May” (page 27)

But I would not forgotten be,
When only dust is left of me:
And so I try, with painful strife,
To justify my having life.


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Poets killed in WW1 who are commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres, Belgium

Tom BRANDON, kia 13th May 1915, Ypres

The Hon. Gerald William GRENFELL, Lieutenant, Rifle Brigade, 2 Bn., kia 30th July 1915, Ypres - His poems were published in two WW1 Anthologies.

(NOTE:  The Hon. Julian Grenfell who died on 26th May 1915 of wounds sustained on 12th May 1915 near Ypres, is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery.)

Sydney HALE, 8th Battalion, Rifle Brigade, kia 31st July 1915, Zouave Wood

Walter Scott Stuart LYON, a Lieutenant in the Royal Scots, kia 8th May 1915, Ypres – His WW1 collection “Easter at Ypres 1915 and other poems” was published by Maclehose, Glasgow in 1916.

The Hon. Colwyn Erasmus Arnold PHILIPPS, MC, Captain, Royal Horse Guards, kia 13th May 1915 – His WW1 collections “Verses, prose, fragments, letters from the Front” was published by Murray in 1916 and he had poems published in two WW1 poetry anthologies.

Gerald George SAMUEL, Royal West Kent Regiment, kia 7th June 1917 during the Battle of Messines – His WW1 collection “Poems” was published by Humphreys in 1917.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Frank S. Brown (1893 - 1917) – Canadian

Francis Smith Brown, known as Frank, was born in Canada in 1893.  His father was the Reverend S.G. Brown of Almonte, Ontario.

Frank described himself as a ‘soldier and clerk’ when he joined the Princess Patricia’s Regiment at the outbreak of war. He was known as the “poet of the Pats.”

Frank was among the first of the Canadians to come to Britain in WW1.  His unit was initially stationed on Salisbury Plain, where he spent some time in hospital when he became ill.  Frank was an accomplished pianist and sang as a baritone.  He was also a good horseman and an expert shot.  After his recovery, Frank was posted to the Western Front where he served with the rank of Sergeant.   He was killed at St. Eloi on 3rd February 1915.

Frank had poems published in the “Ottawa Citizen” newspaper and his  WW1 Collection “Contingent Ditties and Other Soldier Songs of the Great War“, edited by Holbrook Jackson, was published by Sampson Low, Marston & Co. Ltd., London, in 1915.  The collection is available as a free down-load here:

Source: “Contingent Ditties and Other Soldier Songs of the Great War” (Sampson Low, Marston & Co. Ltd., London, 1915) 

“THE P.P.C.L.T. (Princess Pat's)”

The trumpet sounded loud o'er hill and plain :

To Arms ! To Arms ! Our Empire is at war !

Come, join your colours, on the land or main.

All Britons who have served the King before.


And in the mountain mine; by prairie plow,

They answered to the trumpet's brazen voice :

They, who had served the Empire long enow

As soldiers by profession and from choice.


No conscripts, these, in whose unwilling hands

Weapons are thrust, to wage unwilling strife.

But — freemen all, who needed not commands

To volunteer their service, limb and life.


Thus rose a regiment, as 'neath a wand.

Of seasoned men, with medalled service too :

Soldiers from every corps throughout the land —

Britons beyond the seas; tried men and true.


This is indeed a princely gift to give

To our Imperial Realm in crisis sore —

Proud in the nation of the sturdy men,

And prouder yet of him who raised the Corps.


Then go, ye able sons of Britain's soil,

To take your place, wherever it may be ;

God speed you in the glory — and the toil.

Princess Patricia's Canadian Infantry.





The sunny rose of autumn's smoky day

Had almost fled. The chill was in the air,

When issued forth from Gaspe's smiling bay

A grand Armada, 'neath a cruiser's care.

A great and grand flotilla, speeding forth

Beneath the oily pall of clinging smoke —

A gift to Motherland, of priceless worth —

Th' Atlantic's lazy swells to life awoke.


Thrice ten and two great modern Argosies,

That hurried to the Field the best of youth

To bear their country's colours o'er the seas,

And herald Canada to national growth.

Great sons of sires whose willing blood has given

To our New World the sterling of the Old ;

Most worthy volunteers are these, undriven

To take up arms ; freemen, but strong and bold.


Beneath the watching escort's wakeful eyes

The fleet pulsed on. The ocean's lazy roll

Bore three long straggling lines, 'neath low'ring skies,

Spread as a flock of geese cleave toward their goal.

Thrice ten and two great, sullen merchantmen,

As, sullen in their cloaks of drab and black,

They freighted over thrice ten thousand souls.

How many of these same pay they bring back ?


The days roll by. The ocean slowly yields Its bosom to the squadron's steady pace,

Until the cliffs of England rise to greet

The scions of her colonizing race

Come home — to give their all. Come home -  to fight.

Come home— though born of that far Western land,

Where Britain's shield is 'stablished for the right,

They volunteered to lend an armed hand.

Oh 1 Plymouth, Cradle of the mighty Drake ;


The haven of his vessel's hopes and fears ;

Yet have you ever seen so fine a sight?

Or have you waked to such a crest of cheers

As roars aboard the transports, on whose decks

Are packed the khaki hosts ? Has e'er a day

Such wealth of loyal blood, such willing hands

Brought to your shores ?

All England answers, " Nay."

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Alan Seeger commemoration evening, American Library in Paris, Monday, 5th June 2017 at 19h. 30

At the American Library in Paris on Monday evening, 5th June 2017, American writer Chris Dickon will give a talk about the life of Alan Seeger and his involvement and death in WW1.  Alan’s father founded the American Library in Paris after the war.

Composer/saxophonist Patrick Simmerli will perform a piece of music he has composed inspired by Alan Seeger. 

The evening promises to be very entertaining - find out more here:

Alan Seeger is one of the poets featured in the book “Somme Poets”, available from
The American Library in Paris
10, rue General Camou,
75007 PARIS,

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Harold Parry (1896 - 1917) - British

With many thanks to Lynne Sidaway who suggested I research this forgotten WW1 poet.  Harold was born one of twins in Bloxwich, Walsall, West Midlands, UK on 13th December 1896.  His parents were David Ebenezer Parry, a mining engineer and colliery manager, and his wife Sarah, nee Arkinsall.  Harold's siblings were:  Donald b. 1891, Dorothy, b. 1892, and Victor, his twin.

Educated initially at a local preparatory school, Harold went on to Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall where he joined the Cadet Corps, wrote poetry and excelled at cricket and football.   He went on to study at Exeter College, Oxford.

Harold volunteered to join the Army in January 1916 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the King’s Owen Yorkshire Light Infantry.   Transferred to the 17th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, Harold was posted to the Western Front, where he continued to write poetry.

Harold was killed on 6th May 1917 at Ypres and was buried in Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery, West Flanders, Belgium.   He is also commemorated in Field Road Cemetery, Bloxwich.

Harold Parry’s WW1 poetry collection “In Memoriam Harold Parry” was published by W.H. Smith in 1918

Sources:  Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War – A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978), Find my Past, Free BMD, and

Monday, 1 May 2017

Erwin Clarkson Garrett (1879 – 1954) - American

While looking for information about British soldier poet Nathan Percy Graham, I came across Erwin Clarkson Garrett, an American soldier poet of the First World War.

Erwin was born on 28th March 1879 in Germantown, Philadelphia in the United States of America. His parents were George L. Garrett and his wife Sophia Cooper Garrett, nee Gray.

 In 1906, Erwin graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Pennsylvania.  He enlisted as a Private in the American Army and served during the Philippine Insurrection of 1899 – 1902 in the 23rd Infantry.

Erwin then travelled around the world.   In 1916 he published “Army Ballads and Other Verses”.

In August 1917, following the entry of America into the First World War, Erwin travelled at his own expense to France, where he enlisted in the American Army in Paris on 1st September 1917.  He served as a Private in Co. “G” of the 16th Infantry of the AEF and was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star.

Erwin died in October 1954.

In 1919, Erwin published “Trench Ballads, and Other Verses” which were all written while he was in the Trenches on the Western Front - published in 1919 by The John C. Winston Company, Philadelphia, USA.   The collection is available as a free down-load on Project Gutenberg and if you scroll down you will not only find his poems but also copious notes about his time in France, which are fascinating:


CHARLIE CHAPLIN IN BLIGHTY by Erwin Clarkson Garrett from "Trench Ballads, and Other Verses"

The mess-hall windows blanketed
    To bar the western light—
The tables cleaned and cleared away,
And bench by bench in close array
Five hundred convalescents sway
    To catch the caption bright.

And there are men with helpless legs,
    And torn chest and back;
And men with arms in sling and splint,
And one poor eye that bears no glint,
And muscles limp or turned to flint—
    And souls upon the rack.

They came from Chateau Thierry—
    From Fere-en-Tardenois—
From Soissons, Oulchy-le-Chateau,
From Rheims and Fismes, where blow by blow,
’Cross Marne and Oureq and Vesle aflow
    They hammered them afar.

And now upon the screen is thrown
    An old familiar form:
’Tis Charlie of the strong appeal,
At skating-rink or riot meal,
And every mirth-producing reel
    Awakes the farthest dorm.

The aching head, the splintered arm,
    The weary, dragging feet;
The wound that took a month to drain—
The everlasting, gnawing pain—
Are all forgot and gone again
    When Charlie strikes the street.

Your esoteric shrug and sneer
    And call him crude and quaint;
But we who’ve seen him “over here”—
Who’ve heard the laugh that brings the tear—
Who’ve heard the bellowing roar and cheer—
    _We_ call him Charles the Saint.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Commemorating 1917 exhibition at The Wilfred Owen Story museum, Birkenhead, Wirral, UK

Remembering 1917 is an exhibition commemorating the First World War through poetry and more. The exhibition, which is in memory of Great Uncle James Yule, who was killed on 9th April 1917 at Arras, is on display at The Wilfred Owen Story museum at 34 Argyle Street, Birkenhead, CH41 6AE, Wirral, UK.

Among the poets featured are those who were killed on 9th April - the first day of the Battle of Arras – R.E. Vernède, Edward Thomas, William Maunsell Scanlan, Walter Lightowler Wilkinson and Alexander James Mann. Also included are Wirral/Merseyside poets Geoffrey Wall, Leonard Comer Wall, Olaf Stapledon, James Laver and Percy Haselden.

The WOS is run by dedicated volunteers and is open Tuesdays – Fridays from 11 am until 2 p.m.  Entry is free.   Please check before visiting to make sure there is someone to welcome you: or call 07903 337995.  

For those unable to visit the exhibition, there will be a commemorative book on sale later this year.
The Wilfred Owen Story
34 Argyle Street
Wirral, UK
CH45 2NZ

Friday, 13 January 2017

Jimmie Howcroft (1893 - 1936) – British airman poet

James (known as Jimmie) Howcroft Junior was born in Bolton, Lancashire, UK in 1893.  His parents were James Howcroft and his wife Margaret, nee Coop.  Jimmie’s brother Fred was born in 1892   Jimmie’s father taught at the Sunday school at Fern Street Wesleyan Chapel in Bolton.

Fred became a coal miner and Jimmie, who began work at the age of twelve, was apprenticed to an electrical engineer when he was fifteen.  He worked as an electrician in various factories and was a keen sportsman in his spare time.

After the death of the boys’ father, Margaret re-married. Her second husband was Richard Taylor and in 1901, the family lived at No. 10 Haynes Street in Bolton.  Richard and Margaret’s only child, a daughter, died in infancy.

During the First World War, Jimmie joined the Royal Flying Corps as a mechanic and his brother Fred joined The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment – an infantry regiment - and was sent to the Western Front. 

Jimmie, who played football for his Squadron, became an observer, which meant he could accompany pilots in planes, and he, too, was posted to The Western Front.  A tricky landing during a reconnaissance mission over the Somme, resulted in Jimmie’s back being badly fractured and he was sent back to Britain for treatment.  The journey to London took three days.

For five years Jimmie lay in a hospital bed in The London Hospital, completely paralised and unable to move.   Jimmie’s poems are a testament to his courage.  As he could not move his arms or hands, he dictated the poems to his nurse, Phyllis Harding.  On 20th May 1921, Jimmy was finally able to leave hospital.   Jimmie’s first collection, “Looking on”, with a foreword by John Oxenham, was published in 1920 to critical acclaim.  In spite of the cover price of two shillings and six pence – half a crown, as the coin was called, which would be equivalent to the purchasing power of £25 in 2017 – sold extremely well, which demonstrates the popularity of poetry at that time.  With the proceeds from the sale, Jimmy was able to purchase a cottage in Hampshire – Little Forest Gate Cottage in Liphook.  So he was moved down to Liphook where his Mother, Margaret Taylor, and the nurse who had nursed him for his five-year stay in The London Hospital, looked after him.

Two poems written around that time are very revealing:
Homing (written on the last day in hospital, 20th May 1921) (page 32 of “Songs of a broken Airman”)

Homing, homing, homing,
Sweet instinct and divine –
Sweetest in the gloaming.
When thoughts will e’er entwine
Old faces and old places,
Old songs we used to sing!
Though far we stray at the close of day
Homing thoughts will homeward wing.

To Sister (page 32 of “Songs of a Broken Airman)

What understanding you express,
In your all-tending tenderness!
Your actions to my mind convey,
The things that words can never say.
When in the depths of dull despair,
Your ministry pursues me there,
To raise me up to things above,
Your sympathy commands my love.

Jimmie’s second collection, “The Songs of a Broken Airman”, with an introduction by John O’London, was published by Hodder & Stoughton, London in 1922 and with the proceeds of that book, Jimmie started a poultry farm at his cottage.   Jimmie lived on until 1936 when he died in September of that year.  He was buried in the cemetery at St. Mary the Virgin Church in Bramshott, Hampthsire.

“Songs of a Broken Airman” is dedicated to Miss Phyllis Harding, who I am guessing was Jimmie’s nurse.  His poems are extremely inspirational and as one reviewer commented in the media at the time of publishing: “There are no circumstances, however, adverse, which a courageous spirit may not surmount”

Sources:  Find my Past; Free BMD, The British Newspaper Archive, Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978)
and “The Songs of a Broken Airman” (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1922) The photograph of Jimmie Howcroft is from "Songs of a Broken Airman".

Poems by Jimmie Howcroft:

“Have Courage” from (“Songs of a Broken Airman”, page 7)
Man!  Break the shackles of your mind.
Desist from feeble groping,
Then light as air and free as wind
Go snatch the joy you’re hoping;
For life is love, and love is good,
And freedom’s for the making;
Then earn your freedom as you should,
Nor tarry in the taking.

“Armistice Day” (from “Songs of a Broken Airman”, page 8)

O ye who made the sacrifice
That we your kin might live,
Who fought and counted not the price
Too high a one to give –

O ye who gave your lives in love
That Britain might be free,
Look down and counsel from above
Our long infirmity.

Look down – stoop down – be wish us yet!
Brave souls we could not spare;
May courage we can ne’er forget
Direct us everywhere.

Man’s Mismanagement from “Songs of a Broken Airman” (page 26)

Then are we sane, that we should order life
To chaos, turmoil, and unending strife?
The world will change, all be wond’rous bright,
When we look upward and towards the light.

Quit ye like Men (from “Songs of a Broken Airman”, page 39)

Then what am I?
A stricken pawn in a mighty plan,
Yet striving still to be a man.

Though hopeless seems the race to be
Yet breast it bravely, thou shalt see,
Like mist before the sun,
Thy troubles die, and fade away,
And joy be at the close of day
If thou hast nobly run.

I Flew! (from “Songs of a Broken Airman”, page 42)

I flew!
Upward climbing to the engine’s roar
The clay is dead, but still the soul can soar
Imprisoned here, as by some earthy chain,
In higher life, my soul shall soar again.