‘To the Glory of the Lord’: Claude Quayle Lewis Penrose MC

Researched and written by Phil Badham

Claude Penrose was born in De Soto County, Florida, USA, on 10 August 1893 to Irish parents from Kinsale, Ireland. His father Henry (‘Harry’) was a civil engineer and his mother Mary was a writer. In 1895 the family travelled to Ireland, landing at Queenstown on 5 April that year. Family sources state that in March 1897 the Penrose family moved from Ireland to Vine House, Frimley Green, Surrey, and in September 1900 to a house named Nadrid in Frimley Green (the family named the house themselves, because it was named after one in which Harry Penrose’s maternal grandfather, Henry Davies O’Callaghan, had lived at East Muskerry, County Cork, Ireland). The 1901 census shows the family still living in Frimley. Claude’s education befitted him for military life. He was admitted to the United Services College, Windsor, in 1905 and later boarded there before moving on to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, London, in 1911. At school he wrote poetry and won a prize for painting. According to the 1911 census, his parents were then living at Deepcut Bungalow, Guildford Road, Frimley Green. Claude was gazetted to the Royal Garrison Artillery in 1913. In November 1914, he was sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force. He quickly rose through the ranks and apart from occasional home leave remained in France until he was killed in 1918. In March 1915 he was involved in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle and was subsequently mentioned in despatches. The following year, he fought in the Battle of the Somme and wrote his impression of the early hours of 1 July 1916, the opening day of the battle, in a poem called ‘On The Somme’ (see below). In September 1916, after the attack on Combles, he was awarded the Military Cross. In 1917, he was promoted to Acting Captain and then to Acting Major and given command of the 245th Siege Battery. Claude kept a pocket diary between 1 and 30 July 1918. In recognition of his actions during the British retreat of 21-24 March 1918, he was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross. Claude was due to have home leave on 3 August 1918, but on 31 July, his command post near St Omer was hit by an 8-inch shell. After freeing himself from the debris, Claude rescued his subaltern, but had been seriously injured himself. Four hours later he collapsed and was taken to the 2nd Canadian Casualty Clearing Station. On 1 August 1918, he died from his injuries.

After the war had ended, Claude’s mother organised the publication of a book of his poems and art work. Entitled Poems, with a biographical preface, it was published by Harrison & Sons in 1919. In the preface of the book, she stated:

‘When he passed out of the world, as a result of wounds from a German shell, he was attended by a Canadian doctor at a Canadian Casualty Clearing Station; when he entered it, he was attended by a Canadian doctor who had gone down to Florida for the sake of its wonderful climate, and cared for during the first days of his life by a German woman, who was the only nurse the Avon Park settlement afforded’.

Record and citation of Claude Penrose’s MC
(TNA, WO 389/19 and WO 389/7)

 

Claude’s reflection on the beginning of the Somme campaign:

‘On The Somme’ by Claude Quayle Lewis Penrose MC

Who heard the thunder of the great guns firing?

Who watched the line where the great shells roared?

Who drove the foemen back, and followed his retiring

When we threw him out of Pommiers, to the glory of the Lord?

 

Englishmen and Scotsmen, in the grey fog of morning

Watched the dim, black clouds that reeked, and strove to break the gloom;

And Irishmen that stood with them, impatient for the warning,

When the thundering around them would cease and give them room

 

Room to move forward as the grey mist lifted,

Quietly and swiftly – the white steel bare;

Happy, swift and quiet, as the fog still drifted,

They moved along the tortured slope and met the foemen there.

 

Stalwart men and wonderful, brave beyond believing –

Little time to mourn for friends that dropped without a word!

(Wait until the work is done, and then give way to grieving) –

So they hummed the latest rag-time to the glory of the Lord.

 

All across the No Man’s Land, and through the ruined wiring,

Each officer that led them, with a walking-cane for sword,

Cared not a button though the foeman went on firing

While they dribbled over footballs to the glory of the Lord.

 

And when they brought their captives back, hungry and downhearted,

They called him “Fritz” and slapped their backs, and, all with one accord

They shared with them what food they’d left from when the long day started

And gave them smokes and bully to the glory of the Lord.

Claude may have inherited his skill with words from his mother, Mary Elizabeth Penrose (nee Lewis), a novelist. She was born in Kinsale, Ireland in 1860 and was educated at Rochelle School, Cork, and Trinity College, Dublin, where she read German and English literature. She contributed fiction to magazines such as ‘Temple Bar’ and ‘The Windsor Magazine’ and also wrote novels (as Mrs H.H. Penrose), including Denis Trench (1911), Charles the Great: A Very Light Comedy (1912), The Brat: A Trifle (1913), Burnt Flax (1914) and Something Impossible (1914).

Claude Penrose’s watercolour of Knoll Farm, Zillebeke, October 1917
(from Mary Penrose, ‘Poems’)

With thanks to Lee Thomas and Jo Killmister.

Listening to the Guns – ‘Picnic: July 1917’ by Rose Macaulay

Written by Carole Garrard

Such was their thunderous noise, the rumble of the guns and the blast of detonating shells on the Western Front were audible in southern England on a still day or if the wind was in the right direction.  Rose Macaulay’s poem, ‘Picnic: July 1917’, evokes the experience of hearing the (by then) familiar sound amidst the wild beauty of the Surrey hills.

We lay and ate the sweet hurt-berries
In the bracken of Hurt Wood.
Like a quire of singers singing low
The dark pines stood.

Behind us climbed the Surrey Hills,
Wild, wild in greenery;
At our feet the downs of Sussex broke
To an unseen sea.

And life was bound in a still ring,
Drowsy, and quiet and sweet….
When heavily up the south-east wind
The great guns beat.

We did not wince, we did not weep,
We did not curse or pray;
We drowsily heard, and someone said,
‘They sound clear today’.

We did not shake with pity and pain,
Or sicken and blanch white.
We said, ‘If the wind’s from over there
There’ll be rain tonight’.

Once pity we knew, and rage we knew,
And pain we knew, too well,
As we stared and peered dizzily
Through the gates of hell.

But now hell’s gates are an old tale;
Remote the anguish seems;
The guns are muffled and far away.
Dreams within dreams.

And far and far are Flanders mud,
And the pain of Picardy;
And the blood that runs there runs beyond
The wide waste sea.

We are shut about by guarding walls;
(We have built them lest we run
Mad from dreaming of naked fear
And of black things done).

We are ringed all round by guarding walls,
So high, they shut the view.
Not all the guns that shatter the world
Can quite break through.

Oh guns of France, oh guns of France,
Be still, you crash in vain….
Heavily up the south wind throb
Dull dreams of pain…..

Be still, be still, south wind, lest your
Blowing should bring the rain……
We’ll lie very quiet on Hurt Hill,
And sleep once again.

Oh we’ll lie quite still, not listen nor look,
While the earth’s bounds reel and shake,
Lest, battered too long, our walls and we
Should break…….should break……….

 

Rose Macaulay (1881-1958), is better known as a novelist than a poet, although the quality of this poignant and elegiac poem The Picnic suggests it should be otherwise. Macaulay’s first novel, Abbots Verney, was written in 1906 and her final and most famous work The Towers of Trebizond, was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1956. She was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1958, the year of her death. After her death it was revealed through private letters and diaries that in 1918 she had fallen in love with a married man, Gerald O’Donovan, a former Jesuit priest, and that, despite her religious convictions and moral scruples, they were lovers until his death in 1942.

Rose Macaulay was born in Rugby, Warwickshire in 1881, the second of the seven children of G.C. Macaulay, an acclaimed classics scholar and teacher at Rugby School, and his wife Grace Mary Conybeare. Her early childhood was spent in Italy near Genoa and after the family’s return to England she attended Oxford High School for Girls and later entered Somerville College, Oxford, where she read Modern History. After her graduation in 1903 she lived briefly in Aberystwyth where her father was working at the university but in 1905 the family again moved, this time to Great Shelford in Cambridgeshire. Rose’s father had been invited to join the English department at Cambridge University, where he became a lecturer and founded the Modern English Review. Her circle of acquaintances included many of her father’s friends at the department and past pupils including Rupert Brooke with whom Rose had a close friendship and with whom she corresponded and shared her early poetry.

In these years before the outbreak of war Rose was writing novels and publishing poetry in the Westminster Gazette. Her first novel Abbots Verney appeared in 1906, followed by another six before 1914, including The Lee Shore, for which she won a Hodder & Stoughton competition. With the prize money and with help from an uncle she was able to move to London, breaking away from what had become an increasingly stifling and restricted existence dominated by her father, and bought a flat in Southampton Buildings, off Chancery Lane. With introductions by Brooke she was soon moving in the top literary circles of London, including the Bloomsbury set of Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster and Lytton Strachey. It was also in 1914 that she published her first book of poetry, The Two Blind Countries.

At the outbreak of war Rose worked as a nurse and briefly as a land girl, returning to London to work as a civil servant, first at the British Propaganda Department, and later at the War Office, with responsibility for exemptions from service and conscientious objectors. One of her closest friends was Naomi Royde-Smith, who worked at the Saturday Westminster Gazette as literary editor, the first time a woman had held this position. Royde-Smithe published the early work of, among others, Rupert Brooke, D. H. Lawrence, and Graham Greene. The two women were renowned for their well-attended literary parties at Naomi’s flat in Kensington which attracted writers, politicians and academics including Hugh Walpole, William Beveridge, Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield and Naomi’s lover Walter de la Mare. The two women also liked to spend time out of London at Naomi’s cottage in Holmbury St Mary, near Dorking, where the married De la Mare could visit more privately. It is from this cottage that they would have taken walks through the Surrey Hills including Hurt Hill where the poem is set. In one of her letters to De la Mare Naomi described Hurt Wood as ‘the peacefullest and silentest and sweetest-smelling place anywhere’.

In a literary analysis of the poem Kate McLoughlin suggests that the poem is an early depiction of ‘compassion fatigue’. She argues that in the same way that modern viewers’ compassion can be dulled by too much exposure to horrific events graphically portrayed by modern TV and media so the picnickers of the poem long to ignore the harsh reality and pain, the ‘hurt berries’, of the war that intrudes even whilst they try to enjoy a simple outing in the countryside. Their attempts to disregard the faraway sounds of the guns, to forget, if only for an afternoon, the destruction of their friends across the Channel, are shattered by the associated memories and realities of what those distant sounds of the great guns on the battlefields of Flanders embody. The final stanza reveals the poet’s deep understanding of the psychological stress all of them are enduring even though they are not physically on the battlefield, and how close they are to breaking under the strain.

References

Wikipedia article

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

McLoughlin, Kate.Rose Macaulay, Hurt-Berries and Compassion Fatigue (http://ww1centenary.oucs.ox.ac.uk/?p=2279) licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/)

Poem is © The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Rose Macaulay.  The poem is protected by copyright and may not be used for commercial purposes without permission from the copyright holder

‘In Lucem’ [in the light]: Reigate County School for Girls in Wartime

Written by Marion Edwards

Reigate County School for Girls was established in 1905. By 1913, plans for a new building were in hand, but had to be abandoned; instead the intention became a transfer to the school building then occupied by Reigate Grammar School for Boys. However, even this plan had to be shelved when war was declared in September 1914. The new school building would not materialise until 1927.

The war itself appears not to have affected the girls directly. The ‘Half-Century Report’ published in 1955 (SHC ref 3155/8/1) gives this brief resume of the war years:

‘When the girls returned to school in September 1914, war had already begun. Refugees from Belgium had arrived, and soldiers were billeted in the town and its neighbourhood; but the routine of school work continued with little interruption. There were, however, new calls for help to be answered. A weekly collection was made for the Belgians, and parcels of clothing were sent to them, while all spare time was taken up by knitting for the forces. Even during lectures the click of needles could be heard.’

Prize Certificate, 1915 (SHC ref 3155/2/2)

‘Owing to the war, certificates instead of prizes were awarded for good work during the years 1915-18. These were simple and dignified documents, and the mood of dedication characteristic of the first years of the war is well illustrated by the lines printed at the foot of each certificate. In 1915, for instance, they were,

“Who stands if Freedom Fall?  Who dies if England live?”

And in 1916

“Rejoice, whatever anguish rends your heart / That God hath given you a precious dower / To live in these great times and play your part / In Freedom’s dawning hour.”

It was well that the people of that time had no prophetic vision to tell them how soon the light of that dawn would be quenched.’

1916 Prize Certificate (SHC ref 3155/2/2)

However, the school did acquire a physical training mistress in 1914, and in 1915 gave its first gymnastics display, followed in March 1917 by participation in the first of several annual inter-school gymnastic competitions.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the school log book for 1913-1919 (SHC ref 3155/2/2) gives very little detail of war activities, other than those outlined in the Report. However, it does note ‘The Principles for which we are fighting under: What has been, is being, & can be done in country, town & district, for the war’ as the topic of essays for the Empire League Competition of 1915, and that sales of work in aid of the school’s sponsored cot at Reigate hospital continued throughout, despite some reduction in takings.

The log book is more forthcoming for the end of the war. In October 1918, the school took part in the Municipal Procession for ‘Gun Week’ with two floats illustrating ‘Women’s Work’ with girls in the costumes of ‘University women, WAACs, Wrens, Red Cross nurses, hospital nurses, land workers (farmers, gardeners, dairy maid [sic]), post women, bus conductresses, messenger girls, office clerks & girl guides’, and on the 13 November took that day as a holiday ‘In consequence of the signing of the Armistice on the 11th’.

Perhaps the best indication of the affects of the war on the girls and their teachers comes from the school magazines from the war years (SHC ref 3155/7/4), although these were only published in June 1915, December 1916, June 1918 and July 1920.

The June 1915 magazine begins with an editorial discussing ‘the greatest war the world has seen’, whose ‘first results are visible and awful’ and for which ‘We must never rest … until we have fought it down, and established that other spirit in its place, – until men and women live in comradeship and helpfulness and reverence for one another.’ The editorial concludes spiritedly: And there must be no desponding: if our men abroad are to be brave we must be brave at home, and go forward with that deliberate optimism which has faced the worst and has faith to look beyond.’ Poems entitled ‘England Expects!’ (addressed to the men ‘who idle all their days’ and the women who ‘each do their part for her dear land’), ‘England’ (‘For the war-drum throbs – the call has come,/And England has answered; her sons she has sent’) and ‘The Kaiser’ (‘Who burnt down Antwerp, sacked Louvain?/Went to the East and back again,/And, – coward! Travelled in a Red Cross Train?/The Kaiser!’), a piece about ‘Jim, the Drummer Boy’ (who saved his Colonel in the trenches) and ‘A True Story of a German Spy’ are included in this issue.

The editorial of December 1916 begins ‘to feel some hope and see some signs’ of the end of the war, despite fears that, rather than ending in 1917, it will continue until 1918, and considers ‘what the men will do when they come home; what those women will do who will have to give up their temporary work; whether the gathering of our race from the ends of the earth will make a permanently wide brotherhood, … ’. In this issue, poems entitled ‘A Tribute to the Men who go to fight’ and ‘The Greater Love’ honour British soldiers and their allies who are fighting abroad ‘Because of man’s inane desire/To wound and kill his fellow-man’.

The magazine of June 1918 begins with an editorial comparing the delights of a sunny Surrey spring with the fact that ‘over there our men are fighting and suffering and falling in the most fearful battle of all; standing firm and … selling their lives as dearly as they can, that we may keep our England safe’, continues by discussing the role of the England of the future and closes by outlining the ‘Wonderful things’ that have happened in the war. Poems in this issue are entitled ‘Anything’ (‘On “Anything! They bid me write!/What can I write about? … shall I write on aeroplanes/Fighting for us in France? … Of our soldiers, nobly standing/In trenches, water-logged … ’), ‘On the Death of General Maude’ (‘He died a hero’s death … ’) and ‘The League of Nations’, but the largest contribution is the two and a half page ‘Extracts from the Diary of a French Poet-Soldier Imprisoned for a Year in Germany and now in Switzerland’, although there is no indication whether this is a true story or an imaginative and well-conceived essay. Other notices relate news on ‘Franski’ (‘the little Belgian boy whom we help to support’), the Prisoner of War Fund and the work of ‘The White Ribboners’.

No magazine was then issued until July 1920, but the editorial comments on the war as ‘a thing of the past. The awful bloodshed and waste of life are over’, on the resulting peace and on the work of the League of Nations. A poem on ‘The Great Silence At the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month’ is the final mention of the war.

Click here for further reports on the school.

Tommy Atkins

With research provided by the Surrey Infantry Museum

The name “Tommy Atkins” has been widely used to represent the regular British soldier of the Great War. There are various theories about the origin of this particular term – the Duke of Wellington is often credited with choosing the name – but it certainly dates as far back as 1815, when it was used by the War Office in its “Collection of Orders, Regulations etc.”

The Imperial War Museum lists no less than 76 servicemen called Tommy Atkins and at least three served in the Surrey regiments. Thomas Ernest Atkins served with the 8th and 10th Battalions The Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment. Another Thomas Ernest Atkins claimed to be 19 when he enlisted in the 13th Battalion East Surrey Regiment on 13th July 1915 at Wandsworth. He served with “C” Company 13th Battalion for 179 days until he was discharged aged 16 years and 4 months on 7th January 1916 for misstating his age. (Interestingly, it is believed that the name “Tommy Atkins” was the example name on conscription sheets during the First World War, and that teenagers who were underage often signed up using this alias. However the birth of a Thomas Ernest Atkins was registered in Wandsworth between October and December 1899 so perhaps this young man lied solely about his age).

Thomas Atkins G/37874 headstone Lijssenthoek Cemetery. Image courtesy of Lijssenthoek Archives.

Thomas Atkins G/37874 headstone Lijssenthoek Cemetery. Image courtesy of Lijssenthoek Archives.

We know more about the third Thomas Atkins, who lived in Chertsey. Before enlisting, he was a farm labourer living at 15 Mead Lane. He joined the army under the Derby Scheme and went to the front in November 1916. The Surrey Advertiser reported on 13th October 1917 that he had died of wounds received on 30th September (although his Commonwealth War Graves Commission record says that he died on 26th September). The report states that his wife was living at Keeper’s Cottage, Botleys and that he had worked for Mr. H. Gosling JP of Botleys, Chertsey. He was buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in Belgium.

Click here to read more about Thomas Atkins of Chertsey in Graham Webster’s piece on the War Memorial at Holy Trinity Church, Lyne.

The eternal plight of the British Tommy Atkins was immortalised by Rudyard Kipling in his poem “Tommy”, included in his collection “Barrack-Room Ballads” of 1892:-

Tommy

I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,

The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”

The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,

I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:

O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;

But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,

The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,

O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

 

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,

They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;

They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,

But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;

But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,

The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,

O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

 

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep

Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;

An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit

Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.

Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”

But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,

The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,

O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

 

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,

But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;

An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,

Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;

While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,

But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,

There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,

O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

 

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:

We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.

Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face

The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”

But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;

An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;

An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!

Susan Lushington’s letters from soldiers

Susan Lushington (1870-1953) was the daughter of Vernon and Jane Lushington of Pyports, Cobham, and Kensington Square, London. Vernon was a County Court Judge in Surrey and was associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement, counting the designer and writer William Morris among his friends. After Vernon’s death in 1912, Susan Lushington went to live at Kingsley in Hampshire, a few miles south west of Farnham and near the army camp at Bordon. Susan’s passion was music and she threw open her home to any soldiers who wanted to come and enjoy music and refreshments. Many must have enjoyed this brief break from the routine of army life and once transferred to the Front wrote back to Susan often expressing their gratitude in surviving letters held in the Lushington archive at Surrey History Centre.

In December 1915 Trooper Robert Bamber of the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry wrote to Susan as promised at their last meeting on Bordon Station, identifying himself as one who ‘used to ask you to play a melody on your violin’ and mentioning that ‘a lot of different chaps’ have pleasant memories of her, although ‘some will never return to that peaseful [sic] village’ of Bordon. Private Arthur Parfrey, in the 8th Battalion of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment thanked Susan ‘for the opportunities you gave me for music when I was in camp at Bordon. Is it not wonderful, Mr Cawthorne, the violinist whom you introduced to me, is still here with me and in the same billet’.

Gunner Christopher Wendell, writing from Salonika, in the Royal Field Artillery in the summer of 1917 recalled ‘happy times’ which gave him ‘food for pleasant reflection’. At Christmas 1917 he organised a small choir to sing carols and ‘our colonel actually complimented us on our vocal efforts and our hopes and fears as successful wassailers were dispelled … the menu provided was all that could be desired. So that you see it is possible to enjoy Xmas on a huge hillside in the Balkans’. At the end of the war Wendell took part in 22nd Divisional Theatre Company performances of the operetta ‘The Chocolate Soldier’ in the Balkans.

There are also letters to Susan from soldiers who were to lose their lives in the conflict including Lieutenant Marmaduke Robert Hood Morley, of the 8th Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, son of Noel and Jessie Morley, of Lychwood, Worplesdon Hill, Woking, who was killed on 1 July 1916 aged 22 and is commemorated on Woking Town Memorial. Lieutenant Gilbert Talbot (1891-1915), son of Edward Stuart Talbot, Bishop of Winchester, and Lavinia Talbot, served in the 7th Battalion, Rifle Brigade. He wrote to Susan on 18 March 1915 from Farnham Castle, the home of the Bishop of Winchester, ‘I hope I shall see you before I go. We’re now in camp at Aldershot and expect to go very soon, though we know nothing definite’. He died on 30 July 1915.

Some letters highlight nostalgia for a past that has gone, never to return. Lieutenant Colonel Lord Alexander George Thynne (1873-1918), MP for Bath, 1910-1918, youngest son of John Alexander Thynne, 4th Marquess of Bath, wrote to Susan on 20 July 1918, recalling days at Oxford in the 1890s ‘when a canoe on the Cher[well] seemed the acme of laziness and bliss. I can still see you playing in the orchestra of the Frogs [play by ancient Greek author Aristophanes] with Hubert Parry conducting. It is those sort of memories that make one hate the beastliness of these days of war. The most irritating thing is the waste of good years spent in this manner of life – years that can never be caught up again’. He was commanding officer of the 6th Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment, and was awarded the DSO and Croix de Guerre. He was killed in action on 14 September 1918.

The archive also includes letters from Franklin Lushington (1892-1964), who fought in World War I and World War II. He was the author of ‘The Gambardier: giving some account of the heavy and siege artillery in France, 1914-1918’ (written under the pen name Mark Severn, 1930) and ‘Portrait of a Young Man’ (1940), both of which include descriptions of his service in World War I. Franklin served in the Royal Artillery and wrote to Susan on 29 March 1917 (SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/24a-b), ‘I have got a very good battery with nice officers. My Captain (you know I’ve attained the lofty rank of Major ?!) is a topper and thoroughly efficient. He is a ranker and has the DCM. Of the others one is an author, writes things under such titles as a “Literary Pilgrim in England” and has a son of 18 in the Army! [This was the poet Edward Thomas, killed a few days later on 9 April at the Battle of Arras]. Another a Professor of Philosophy from Edinburgh University. A third an Australian boy of 19 and the fourth also a boy fresh from a public school. They are all gentlemen and good fellows, which is such a blessing’.

Letter from Franklin Lushington to Susan Lushington referring to the poet Edward Thomas, 29 March 1917, SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/24a-b

Letter from Franklin Lushington to Susan Lushington referring to the poet Edward Thomas, 29 March 1917, SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/24a-b

On 24 April Franklin wrote to Susan again ‘I have been having a very strenuous and rather a rotten time out here. Been right in the thick of things from the start. It was desperately cold and uncomfortable a week ago. We are living in the open or in disused trenches or in holes we’ve made for ourselves. I find the incessant noise very wearing, also I have buried two of my officers in the last fortnight which has upset me badly – two of the dearest and best chaps that ever stepped’.

Envelope of letter from Franklin Lushington to Susan Lushington, marked as passed by the censor, 29 March 1917, SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/24a-b

Envelope of letter from Franklin Lushington to Susan Lushington, marked as passed by the censor, 29 March 1917, SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/24a-b

On 29 November 1918 Franklin gave Susan a very downbeat account of the Armistice, ‘I’ve seldom spent a more depressing day than November 11th, and everybody I’ve met from other units says the same. I don’t know how to account for it but here are a few suggestions. 1) the reaction. For some weeks we had all been at the highest pitch of excitement, all working at top pressure day and night, chasing the Hun back and back. Then suddenly there was nothing to do and one realised one was filthy and unwashed, tired out, miserably uncomfortable, living probably in some dirty little battered village in which the Germans had left nothing but the manure heaps; 2) nothing but water to celebrate with!; 3) we all kept thinking of Piccadilly or Trafalgar Square and why weren’t we there this night of all nights? 4) We regretted, whilst quite recognising the sound sense in an Armistice at once if we could get our own terms, not having a whack at the Hun in his own country. I dearly wanted to shoot at a Hun town! Altogether it was a dismal affair!’ (SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/26a-b)

Browse Susan Lushington’s First World War correspondence further.

Search the Lushington Archive on the Exploring Surrey's Past website

EM Forster (1879–1970)

Novelist, critic and former resident of Weybridge and Abinger Hammer, Surrey

Written by Di Stiff, Surrey History Centre

Edward Morgan Forster is best known for his ironic novels examining hypocrisy and class difference and the attitudes towards gender and homosexuality in early-twentieth-century British society. His most famous works include A Room with a View (1908) and the homosexually-charged Maurice (1970).

Although never declared in his lifetime, he was himself homosexual, and a resident of Surrey for over 40 years.

Forster the pacifist

Forster's Voluntary Aid Detachment Red Cross index card, 1915-1919 (Courtesy of the Red Cross)

Forster’s Voluntary Aid Detachment Red Cross index card, 1915-1919 (Courtesy of the Red Cross)

A pacifist, Forster worked for the Red Cross when war broke out. He thought he would be too old or deemed medically unfit for conscription to the British army but to his consternation, conscription regulations were widened in 1915 to include all men between the ages of 18 and 40. There had been an agreement whereby Red Cross personnel were excused from military service, but Forster found himself summoned for a medical and was furious about the whole matter. He refused to argue that he was a conscientious objector and he suffered psychologically from the stress of the episode.

Eventually he was deemed unfit military service and worked as a Red Cross ‘searcher’ in Alexandria, Egypt, in October 1915. His job was to interview the wounded in hospitals for information about fellow soldiers who were reported missing. Forster’s Voluntary Aid Detachment index card shows him resident at Harnham, Monument Green, Weybridge. He served from November 1915 to January 1919 and his rank on leaving was Searcher-in-Chief.

See Forster’s Lifestory on the Lives of the First World War website.

Love in Alexandria

Forster in Alexandria, 1917 (from Nicola Beauman, Morgan: A biography of EM Forster, 1994)

Forster in Alexandria, 1917 (from Nicola Beauman, Morgan: A biography of EM Forster, 1994)

Mohammed el Adl, c.1917 (from Nicola Beauman, Morgan: A biography of EM Forster, 1994)

Mohammed el Adl, c.1917 (from Nicola Beauman, Morgan: A biography of EM Forster, 1994)

Whilst in Alexandria, Forster wrote regularly to Edward Carpenter, regaling him of tales of the openly gay life there and his own encounters. He began a three year affair with a young Egyptian, Mohammed el Adl, confiding to his friend Florence Barger:

‘I have plunged into an anxious but very beautiful affair…if you pass life by it’s jolly well going to pass you by in the future. If you’re frightened it’s all right – there’s no harm; fear is an emotion. But by some trick of the nerves I happen not to be frightened’.

Florence sent a photograph of Mohammed to Carpenter, who followed their every move with vicarious delight:

‘…what a pleasure to see a real face after the milk and water mongrelly things ones sees here! It was literal refreshment to me. Those eyes – I know so well what they mean, and I think you do too, now! And that very charming mouth!’

The relationship came to an end, however, when Mohammed, a Muslim, was expected to marry, and did so in 1918. He and Forster parted and Mohammed’s first son was born a few months later, whom he named Morgan. Forster returned home in January 1919. Tragically, Mohammed died in 1922 from consumption, and his widow sent Forster her husband’s gold ring. Every day Forster walked alone through Chertsey Mead, the watermeadows a mile from his house in Weybridge, contemplating his former love and each night he slept with the ring under his pillow.

Forster declined a knighthood in 1949 but on his 90th birthday he received the Order of Merit. After failing health in old age he died of a stroke in Coventry in June 1970, aged 91.

Forster and Ackerley

Forster is linked to another Great War Surrey LGBT icon, the writer JR Ackerley. Foster and Ackerley exchanged hundreds of letters over the course of their friendship and Ackerley’s Portrait of E M Forster was published as a result in 1968. Read more about Ackerley and his experiences of the war here.

Sources:

  • Read more about Forster’s wartime work in the records of the Red Cross http://www.redcross.org.uk/en/About-us/Who-we-are/History-and-origin/First-World-War/E-M-Forster
  • Wendy Moffat, A Great Unrecorded History: A new Life of E M Forster (2010) recounts Forster’s relationships in detail, including his time in Alexandria during the First World War. A copy is held in Surrey History Centre’s local studies library collection (SHC ref 920.FOR)
  • The papers of E M Forster are held at King’s College Archives, Cambridge (reference EMF/-)
  • Forster produced dozens of short stories, essays, travel diaries, broadcasts, pageants and even a film script. Many of his published works can be seen here at Surrey History Centre and at Surrey Libraries. The online Surrey Libraries Virtual Catalogue can be explored at http://www.surreylibraries.org/

J R Ackerley’s Great War Experiences

Novelist, dramatist, poet, editor and Captain in the East Surrey Regiment

Joseph Randall Ackerley was born in Kent in 1896. He became a Captain in the 8th East Surreys and was profoundly affected by his First World War service, haunted by ‘survivor’s guilt’. His play Prisoners of War (1925) based on his wartime experiences, was outspokenly pro-gay, as were his other books and poems. He also edited and wrote the introduction to Escapers All (1932), a volume of personal accounts of First World War POW camp escapees.

Known for his eccentricity, his personal and professional friends, including many Surrey gay icons, were all part of the homosexual literary set. Ackerley joined the BBC in 1928 and was literary editor of its Listener weekly magazine from 1935 to 1959.

Ackerley and The Great War

‘I was a pretty boy and used to being run after’.

Like most middle class boys in public school education, Ackerley applied for a commission at the outbreak of war and was gazetted a Second Lieutenant in the 8th (Service) Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, on 14 Sep 1914; he was a few months short of his 18th birthday. He was later promoted to a Captain. In April 1915, he was billeted in Colchester, along with Captain ‘Billie’ Nevill, who was later killed in the famous East Surrey football charge at Montauban, on the first day of the Somme, 1 July 1916. During final training in Salisbury, in May 1915, Ackerley met his best friend of the war, Bobby Soames.

Photograph of Ackerley (far right), with fellow officers, possibly in France, c.1916 (SHC ref ESR/NEVI/1, p.26)

Photograph of Ackerley (far right), with fellow officers, possibly in France, c.1916,
(SHC ref ESR/25/NEVI/1, p.26)

 

Life-changing incidents

Two incidents on the Western Front haunted Ackerley for the rest of his life. On the first day of the Somme, the British suffered 60,000 casualties; Ackerley was shot in the arm and peppered with glass shards. Frightened and dazed, he lay in a shell-hole for six hours as men all around him were picked off by German snipers. Ackerley’s cap was shot from his head but he was eventually taken to the safety of a first-aid post. This attack saw the death of Bobby Soames.

Later that month, in an attempt to exorcise the nightmare memory Ackerley wrote The Everlasting Terror, which was published in the November issue of the prestigious English Review. It is dedicated ‘To Bobby’ and ends with a memorial to him:

And so through all my life and days,
In all my walks, through all my ways,
The lasting terror of war
Will live with me for evermore.
Of all the pals whom I have missed
There’s one, I know, whom Christ has kissed,
And in his memory I’ll find
The sweetness of the bitter rind –
Of lonely life in front of me
And terror’s sleepless memory

The second incident occurred in May 1917 as Ackerley led his men on an attack at Cérisy, Arras. The troops were unprepared for a counter-attack and Ackerley, shot in the buttock and thigh, was again left lying in a shell hole for hours, with dead and dying officers. He was eventually collected by a German stretcher-bearer and after an exhausting journey wrapped in louse-ridden blankets, he ended up at a hospital in Hanover.

Recovery and awakening

After recovering, Ackerley was sent to a string of POW camps before being transferred to a neutral site at Mürren, in the Swiss Alps. He used this experience as inspiration for writing The Prisoners of War, which revolves around a Captain’s comfortable captivity in Switzerland and his longing for an attractive young Lieutenant. At Mürren, Ackerley met the author Arnold Lunn, who confronted him about his sexuality. Lunn immediately set him to read the ‘standard works’ on the subject of homosexuality such as Otto Weinberger and Edward Carpenter. Such writers were a revelation to him.

The war dragged on; Ackerley’s brother, Peter, a Lieutenant also in the 8th Battalion, was killed in France in August 1918 and Ackerley narrowly avoided Spanish Flu, which killed several of the inmates at Mürren. Ackerley finally returned to England in December 1918. Experiencing a precarious relationship with his father, Ackerley felt that the wrong son had returned from the war and this haunted him throughout his lifetime.

The nominal roll for the 8th Battalion shows that Captain J R Ackerley went overseas with the unit on 27 July 1915. The ‘remarks’ column states that he was wounded and missing from 6 May 1917 and recorded as a Prisoner of War. The roll also records Ackerley’s brother, Peter, who was killed in action in August 1918 (SHC ref 8227/2/5).

The nominal roll for the 8th Battalion shows Captain J R Ackerley and his brother, Peter, who was killed in action in August 1918 (<strong><a href="http://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/collections/getrecord/SHCOL_8227_2_1_1_5" target="_blank">SHC ref 8227/2/5</a></strong>)

The nominal roll for the 8th Battalion shows Captain J R Ackerley and his brother, Peter, who was killed in action in August 1918 (SHC ref 8227/2/5)

No service papers can be found for Ackerley and we assume that he did not apply for his medals as no medal index card can be found either.

See Ackerley’s Lifestory on the Lives of the First World War website.

Ackerley, Forster and others

Ackerley is linked to many other Surrey LGBT icons including EM Forster, Noel Coward and Harry Daley; he also discovered and promoted the writer WH Auden, who had been a pupil at St Edmund’s School, Hindhead. John Gielgud was a friend of Ackerley’s and he attended the opening night of The Prisoners of War.

Ackerley met Forster in the early 1920s and the two became great friends, Forster acting somewhat as a confidant and adviser on Ackerley’s complex love life. The two exchanged hundreds of letters over the years and towards the end of his life, Ackerley sold his letters from Forster, for £6000. Ackerley did not live long enough to enjoy the money, dying of a coronary thrombosis at his home in Putney on 4 June 1967. His autobiography, My Father and Myself was published posthumously in 1968 and two years later Portrait of E M Forster was published, with a collection of his own correspondence, The Ackerley Letters, following in 1975.

Obituary notice for Captain J R Ackerley, Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment Newsletter, November 1967, p.5

Obituary notice for Captain J R Ackerley, Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment Newsletter, November 1967, p.5

Text by Di Stiff, Surrey Heritage

Read about The Secret History of Australia’s Gay Diggers.

Sources:

  • Photograph of Captain J R Ackerley, c.1916 can be found in an East Surrey Regiment photograph album (SHC ref ESR/18/2/2 p.6).
  • Photograph of Ackerley (see above), with fellow officers, possibly in France, c.1916. This photograph comes from an album compiled by the brother of Captain Billie Nevill, who was killed at Montauban (SHC ref ESR/25/NEVI/1, p.26).
  • The nominal roll for the 8th Battalion shows J R Ackerley went overseas with the unit on 27 July 1915. The ‘remarks’ column states that he was wounded and missing from 6 May 1917 and recorded as a Prisoner of War. The roll also records Ackerley’s brother, Peter, who was killed in action in August 1918 (SHC ref 8227/2/5).
  • The war diary for the 8th (Service) Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, at Montauban, the first day of the Somme, 1st July 1916, runs to seven pages and includes the deaths of Capt Billie Nevill and Ackerley’s best friend Lieutenant Bobby Soames. The First World War diaries of both the East Surrey and the Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiments are available to view online courtesy of The Surrey Infantry Museum http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk.
  • Obituary notice for Captain J R Ackerley, Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment Newsletter, November 1967, p.5
  • Peter Parker, A Life of JR Ackerley, 1989.

Short bibliography

The Prisoners of War (first performed 5 July 1925)
Escapers All (1932)
My Father and Myself (1968)
E.M. Forster: A Portrait (1970)

The Poetry of Wilfred Owen

Text by Chris Bent

“Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity”

Wilfred Owen wrote some of the best World War One poetry. The poignant images he created captured his violent and horrific experiences of war, in particular trench and gas warfare. This was in complete contrast to the romantic poems written by the likes of Jessie Pope and Rupert Brooke. His desire was to inform everyone at home of the true horrors of war and the dreadful suffering that the soldiers endured. In the Preface to a collection of poems that he was hoping to publish in 1919, he memorably states “All a poet can do today is warn”.

Even as a young man he always aspired to be a poet. The early indications for this can be found when he was a ten year old on holiday near Broxton in Cheshire. During an idyllic stay with his mother’s friends, he saw his poethood born. He loved the Romantic poets and worshipped Keats from a young age. Keats and Shelley were significant influences in his early writings.

During his time at Bordeaux, where he was providing English lessons, he was introduced to a French poet called Laurent Tailhade. They met occasionally for lunch and Tailhade provided much encouragement for Owen to further his poetry writing.

Whilst in Craiglockhart Hydropathic Establishment he famously met Siegfried Sassoon who was to become a significant influence in the development of his poetry. Sassoon became a mentor figure and original manuscripts survive today that show his contributions to some of the most highly acclaimed poems, such as Anthem for Doomed Youth. Owen’s doctor, Arthur Brock, also provided him with encouragement for his poetry as a form of rehabilitation.

Sassoon also introduced Owen to Harold Munro who became another strong influence. He regularly visited Munro’s poetry bookshop in Bloomsbury, London.

Owen’s poems were remarkably completed in just over a year. His style became innovative as he experimented with various forms. However, it is his use of pararhyme that we most remember him for today. Only five poems were published in his lifetime. Of these, three appeared in The Nation and two in the Hydra (the Craiglockhart journal he edited).

Whilst at Witley, Owen’s manuscripts suggest that A New Heaven and Purple were written. Though neither were his most significant poems, A New Heaven has elements that can be seen as a precursor to Anthem for Doomed Youth.

In 1919 Edith Sitwell produced Wheels which contained seven of his poems. One year later Siegfried Sasson edited Poems which contained 23 poems. However, it was not until 1931 when Edmund Blunden edited The Poems of Wilfred Owen with 42 poems that his recognition was ensured. A significant revival of public interest was brought about in the 1960s with the C Day Lewis edited Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen which contained 80 poems. His popularity remains as strong as ever in the 21st Century.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

Title: Anthem for Doomed Youth
Description: Wilfred Owen: The War Poems, ed. Jon Stallworthy (Chatto & Windus, 1994) by-nc

“What passing bells for these who die as cattle?

       -Only the monstrous anger of the guns

       Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons

No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,

       Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,

The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells;

       And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?

       Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes

The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

 

The manuscript above shows Owen’s poem ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ with Siegfried Sasson’s amendments. The First World War Poetry Digital Archive constructed by the University of Oxford contains many poems together with a selection of letters written home. The media available includes original manuscripts and photographs.

Read more about Wilfred Owen in Surrey:

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-edward-salter-owen/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-owen-at-witley-camp/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-owens-letters-home-from-witley-camp/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-owen-in-guildford-and-godalming/

 

Acknowledgement for ‘Anthem’ is made to:  Wilfred Owen: The War Poems, ed. Jon Stallworthy (Chatto & Windus, 1994)

http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/search?query=wilfred+owen&collection=&Search=Go

Wilfred Owen in Guildford and Godalming

Text by Chris Bent

 

During his time at Witley camp, Wilfred was keen to explore the local area. He developed a genuine affection for some of the nearby towns and villages.

One Sunday evening, 20th June, 1916, Wilfred wrote to his mother Susan :

This afternoon I borrowed a (very groggy) bicycle and rode through Godalming to Guildford, in perfect weather. I accomplished being alone and conversed with no creature all the five hours. Guildford is an old town of great charm, with suggestions of Shrewsbury. I had tea in an old casement overlooking the High Street: a real old lattice Bay, no shams: I remained there an hour longer so pleasant was the place…Guildford seems to exist in another age than Buildwas (an Abbey in Shropshire) & Much Wenlock. It is a rather peculiar type of country, neither mountain nor plain. There were some lovely bits of road, field, cottage and street. As I was coming back the footpaths undulated with saluting arms.

Godalming

Title: Godalming
Description: Godalming High Street, photograph by by-nc

Guildford High Street

Title: Guildford High Street
Description: Guildford High Street, photograp by-nc

Two weeks later he was telling his mother:

I made my usual sally into Guildford and had a happy enough ramble around Thorpe’s Bookshelves and the Town and the little River, where there are Punts and Canoes. It is hardly wide enough for skulls.

Guildford Bookshop

Title: Guildford Bookshop
Description: Guildford Bookshop, photography by Chris Bent by-nc

The Thorpe book business was established in 1883 with the shop in Guildford High Street opening just a few years later. Sadly, the demand for specialist books declined and the shop closed in January 2003. The structure remains and is a Grade II listed building.

Ten days before the battalion moved on to Oswestry and then Southport, Wilfred met his brother Harold at Witley and told his mother:

Harold came over yesterday afternoon in response to my telegram. He came out with me on my Afternoon Work and we had a little supper in Guildford. He stayed the night in my Hut where I am now writing at present.

 

Read more about Wilfred Owen in Surrey:

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-edward-salter-owen/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-owen-at-witley-camp/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-owens-letters-home-from-witley-camp/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/the-poetry-of-wilfred-owen/

 

Acknowledgement for the Letters is made to: Wilfred Owen: The Collected Letters, eds. Harold Owen and John Bell (Oxford University Press, 1967)

Acknowledgement is made to the Wilfred Owen Literary Trust

Wilfred Owen’s Letters Home from Witley Camp

Text by Chris Bent

Wilfred Owen wrote some of the most memorable poems of the First World War. The beauty of his writing can also be found in the many hundreds of letters that he sent to family and friends, mostly to his mother Susan. These letters give us a rich perspective of his life, his beliefs and his values. Those written from Witley camp are a treasure of memories of life at camp and the men who were based there. Extracts from some of these letters are summarised below. Owen was generally very happy at Witley and liked the camp, though initially his arrival there was a shock to the system.

Witley and Milford camps

Got a car from Milford to the Camp 2 or 3 miles off: a vast affair on the top of the hill with Pines interspersed amongst the huts. The Officers’ huts form a big settlement apart….The site is delightful for a camp; but we are all confined to it.  Susan 18.6.1916

I am an exile here, suddenly cut off both from the present day world and from my own past life. I feel more in a strange land than when arriving at Bordeaux! It is due to the complete newness of the country, the people, my dress, my duties, the dialect, the air, food, everything….. I have nearly got together my camp effects, Bed, chair, wash-stand, etc all necessary here. Shall be glad of socks as soon as you can send them. Would you include my enamel mug, left on my dressing table.  Susan 19.6.1916

Food & Drink

Supper was an informal meal today. I was helped to an enormous portion of pies and things. Susan 18.6.1916

Your Thursday Parcel arrived only this morning. Many loving thanks for the Chocs. But you really mustn’t send any more. I fare sumptuously every day. Susan 20.6.1916

The Mess at 8 o’clock is a fairly dignified performance. We get food “a la Grand Hotel” always. Colin 19.6.1916

Soldiers

I know nothing of the officers, other than our Set of “Artists” and nothing of my duties. The men seemed a fairly superior crowd. Susan 18.6.1916

The generality of men are hard-handed, hard-headed miners, dogged, loutish, ugly (but I would trust them to advance under fire and to hold their trench), blond, coarse, ungainly, strong, unfatigueable, unlovely, Lancashire soldiers, Saxons to the bone. Susan 19.6.1916

I am “commanding” numbers of wounded men, now restored. It gives me a great deal of pain to speak severely to them, as now and again need is. I am beginning to pick out the Intelligent and the smart “laads” from amongst the uncouth and ungainly. But I have no individual dealings. My Servant is a Grandfather, with medals of old wars and sons fighting. Susan 3.7.1916

Duties

Had to assist inspection of kit, this morning. I see a toothbrush and a box of polish missing. I demand in a terrible voice “Where’s your TOOTH-BRUSH?” and learn that the fellow has just returned from overseas”…….My most irksome duty is acting Taskmaster while the tired fellows dig: the most pleasant is marching home over the wild country at the head of my platoon, with a flourish of trumpets and an everlasting roll of drums.  Susan 19.6.1916

I am perfectly well, not a bit worried or overworked: though I trod on knife-edges at the first. Susan 20.6.1916

We have been expecting the King to visit our trenches and have worked overtime every day this week. Our anxiety begins again tomorrow! I give an extra ten minutes to shaving every morning in consequence. It is most annoying. Susan 3.7.1916

Training

I have had an exam today: a written one yesterday and an oral one held in the open air this morning. I don’t greatly care if I fail: it means I stay in England longer……We have to get up at 5.45 for strenuous physical drill. Our Sergeant-Major gives it us……I gave “Eyes Front” when I meant “Eyes Left” in passing a guard this afternoon!! The Sergeant Major never even smiled. Nor did I!  Colin 19.6.1916

I often have a Platoon completely to myself on the Moors (The Surrey Downs). Red-Hats gallop up to us at startling speed, or sometimes whizz up in motors, but they never stay long, or criticise. Susan 3.7.1916

I am most frightfully hard-worked. It is one of the worst weeks I ever had in the army. Work begins at 6.30 and never finishes all day. I am deaf with the 7 hours continual shooting and stomach-achy with the fasting from food. Susan late July

I am now as well up in Gas Warfare as can be. It is some satisfaction to feel knowing in these matters, because I am sure it will be used more and more. Gregg and I have devised a slight improvement in the P.H. Helmet but it is not worth noising abroad since the Helmet is really out of date now, displaced by _ But, here I am beginning to “Leak information” (when I have to read daily a solemn W.O. letter, saying that no talk of the War is ever to be indulged in, even in private letters and so on!). Susan early August 1916

I was on Bomb throwing with real live Mills Grenades. I went to sleep in a safe spot when I had thrown my own; but the noise was too frightful to go on. After lunch I fell asleep; and remained so long after the rest had fallen in! But none noticed me! Arriving back in camp I was called upon suddenly to lecture on Discipline. I was now feeling “rotton” but I thought obedience in this case would make a good opening verse for the Lecture; and so it did. Susan 22.8.1916

Read more about Wilfred Owen in Surrey:

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-edward-salter-owen/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-owen-at-witley-camp/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-owen-in-guildford-and-godalming/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/the-poetry-of-wilfred-owen/

 

 

Acknowledgement for the Letters is made to: Wilfred Owen:  The Collected Letters, eds. Harold Owen and John Bell (Oxford University Press, 1967)

Acknowledgement is made to the Wilfred Owen Literary Trust