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THE WORCESTERSHIRE AND SHERWOOD FORESTERS REGIMENTAL ASSOCIATION

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30 April 2021     WFRA NEWSLETTER         Volume 12 Issue 20

001 WORLD WAR ONE POETS by Katherine Dack

When I think of poems from the Great War the first lines that come to mind are – ‘If I should die, think only this of me’,  The first line of The Soldier by Rupert Brooke.  So I decided to research some of the other serving poets of the day to find out a little more and over the next few weeks I will be sharing what I found out with you.

 EDMUND CHARLES BLUNDEN 
C.B.E., M.C. and Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry
The longest serving poet from the Great War – continuous front-line action from 1916 to 1918

Edmund Blunden was born on 1 November 1896 in London, the youngest of nine children, but the family moved to Yalding, a village in Kent, when he was four years of age.  Edmund’s father was the schoolmaster at the local school.  He won a scholarship to Christ’s Hospital school in 1909 and seemingly enjoyed his time at the boarding school.  In 1914 he gained a senior classics scholarship at Queen’s College, Oxford.  Later in October 1914 his first poems and works were published, Poems 1913 and Poems 1914, also his translation of poems from France.  2nd Lieutenant Edmund enlisted with the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1915.

Edmund and the Royal Sussex Regiment spent from August 1915 to May 1916 training.  They moved from the camp at Weymouth along the coast to Shoreham.  Then from Shoreham to Cork.  From Cork back to Shoreham.  Edmund spent this time writing a series of pastoral poems.  In spring 1916 three volumes were published.  In May 1916 Edmund travelled to France and joined the 11th Royal Sussex and spent time on trench duty at Festubert, Cuinchy, Richebourg.  In August they moved to the Somme.  On the 30th June 1916, Edmund was involved in the Boar’s Head battle, which haunted him for the rest of his life.  From the autumn of 1916 to December 1917 Edmund saw action during the third Ypres offensive, aka Passchendaele.  For his part during this action, he was awarded the Military Cross, the citation (29932 from the London Gazette Supplement of 26-01-1918) reads 

‘For conspicuous gallantry in action.  He displayed great courage and determination when in charge of a carrying party under heavy fire.  He has previously done fine work’.

During February 1917 Edmund helped by his sidekick, Sgt. Frank Worley, taught new troops how to wire in the pouring rain.  Edmund described Worley as a calm and gentle soldier who was by his side for over two years.  Edmund was spotted by a visiting General, due to his extraordinary boots!  Edmund was caught in two gas attacks, in July and October 1917.  Due to a combination of exhaustion and asthma, which would have been aggravated by having been gassed, he returned from Gouzeaucourt to a training camp in Suffolk in the spring of 1918.  

 Pillbox

 

"Just see what’s happening Worley! Worley rose
And round the angled doorway thrust his nose
And serjeant Hyde went too to snuff the air. . . .
Then war brought down his fist, and missed the pair!
Yet Hyde was hit by a splinter, the blood came,
And out sprang terrors that he’d striven to tame,
A good man, Hyde, for weeks. I'm blown to bits,
He screams, he screams. Come Bluffer, where’s your wits,
Says Worley, Bluffer, you’ve a blighty, man!
All in the pillbox urged him, here began
His freedom: Think of Eastbourne and your dad,
The poor man lay at length and brief and mad
Flung out his cry of doom; soon ebbed and dumb
He yielded. Worley with a tot of rum
And shouting in his face could not restore him,
The ship of Charon over channel bore him,
All marvelled even on that most deadly day
To see this soul so spirited away."


Whilst in Suffolk he met Mary Daines.  On the 1st June 1918 Edmund married Mary with whom he would have two daughters, Joy and Clare and a son named John.  He was officially demobilised on the 17th February 1919.  His joy of the safe arrival of his daughter, Joy, was short lived, after a visit to Edmunds parents, and being poisoned by contaminated milk.  Baby Joy was rushed to the Great Ormond Street Hospital, where Edmund had given her a blood transfusion, trying everything to save her but at just five weeks of age she died. Edmund never got over this part of his life.  Shortly after this tragic event he returned to pick up his education by becoming an Oxford undergraduate in October 1919.

Edmund didn’t appear to settle after the war, he returned to his education having deferred his course from Oxford, but he changed from studying the Classics to English Literature.  He met and started a forty-year friendship with Siegfried Sassoon, who at the time was the literary editor of the Daily Herald, later to become the Sun.  Due to having a young family to support, let alone his writings and contributions to a wide range of publications, he left the University to take up the offer of a job on the journal ‘The Athenaeum.’  In April 1922 Edmund had published ‘The Shepherd and Other Poems of Peace and War’ which received an award for being the best book to be published during the year and for having a writer who was under forty years of age.  The Hawthornden Prize helped his finances as it was worth £100.00.  

On the 28th March 1924, Edmund left England to take up the position of Professor of English at the Tokyo University in Japan.  During the summer months of 1925 Edmund met and started an affair with Aki Hayashi, with whom he would remain friends with until his death.  They were lucky to be able to part as lovers but return to being friends. Edmund returned to England after a couple of years in July 1927.  He was busy writing and in November 1928 Undertones of War was published.  It was such a hit that there were three reprints during December 1928 alone.  

In February 1930 Edmund joined ‘The Nation’, which was later to become the New Statesman, in the capital, for a twelve-month period as the literary and assistant editor.  His marriage with Mary had collapsed.  The following February the divorce from Mary was completed.  March saw the publishing of ‘The Poems of Wilfred Owen’.  Edmund moved from Yalding to go to Merton College, Oxford; as Fellow and Tutor in English.

Edmund had a lifelong passion for the game of cricket, he was an opening batsman along with one of his good friends, Rupert Hart-Davis.  He didn’t like wearing gloves so often insisted on not donning them, not necessarily a good idea when facing the oppositions opening fast bowlers.  He was known as a great lover of the game although he played ardently and very badly.  Writing in the Cricket Country, George Orwell described him as a ‘true cricketer’.  

Edmund is recorded to have said, ‘the game which made me write at all, is not terminated at the boundary, but is reflected beyond, is echoed and varied out there among the gardens and the barns, the dells, and the thickets, and belongs to some wider field’. 

Edmund met and started a relationship with fellow writer Sylva Norman.  They married on the 5th July 1933.  The following six years appear to be quite non eventful with everything going well in both his personal and professional lives.  This was about to change when during the autumn of 1939 he met and started an affair with Claire Poynting, who was twenty-two years his junior.  

The outbreak of the second world war saw Edmund teaching map reading to the University Officer Training Corps.  His nine-year marriage to Sylva ended in February 1942.  This led to Edmund leaving his Oxford position to join The Times Literary Supplement as a staff writer.  

Some six years after they met, Edmund and Claire married on the 29th May 1945.  It was his final marriage, which lasted until his death and produced four daughters, Margaret, Lucy, Frances and Catherine.  Two years later on the 6th November 1947 Edmund travelled to Japan as a Cultural Advisor with the UK Liaison Mission.  He returned and re-joined The Times in May 1950.  Edmunds work in Japan was recognized and in 1951 he was awarded the C.B.E.  In late September 1953 Edmund again sailed to the orient this time to take up the position of Chair of English at the University of Hong Kong.  

Edmund was awarded the Queen’s gold medal for poetry in 1956.  Life is then stable until 1964 when he left Hong Kong and returned to England and made Long Melford their family home.

In February 1966 Robert Graves retired as Professor of Poetry at Oxford University.  Edmund was talked into standing for the position.  He thoroughly enjoyed the work but due to health problems he was forced to resign in 1968.  A collection of Edmunds poems for the younger readers called ‘The Midnight Skaters’, were chosen by C. Day Lewis and published in July 1968.

He never managed to come to peace with his memories of the Great War, but found some release in his writings.  Comradeship with his old Battalion led to many reunions, especially with Frank Worley, trips onto the continent included visits to old battlefields. Edmund died of a heart attack at 77 years of age on the 20th January 1974.  He was laid to rest at Holy Trinity Church at Long Melford.

It seems wrong to have an article about Edmund Blunden without looking at his comrade who was by his side through thick and thin.

Sgt. Francis (Frank) Joseph Worley DCM.

Frank served alongside Edmund Blunden, in the 11th Royal Sussex Regiment, and Edmund mentioned him in his poem, Pillbox.  It was Edmund who recommended Frank for the V.C., which was downgraded to a Distinguished Conduct Medal, awarded for most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on the Menin Road, 25th, 26th and 27th September 1917, during the Third battle of Ypres.

Frank Worley and Edmund Blunden remained good friends after the war and Edmund wrote a poem for Frank, in memoriam, shortly after his death in June 1954. 

Frank's service records haven’t survived but it is known that he enlisted on the 11th September 1914 and served with the 11th Royal Sussex Regiment.   Frank was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, his citation reading:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in volunteering to carry messages to the front line when most of the runners had become casualties.  On one occasion he volunteered to find another battalion headquarters and succeeded in delivering a most important message.  He carried down a wounded man on his back, and several time assisted signallers to run out their lines.  In spite of the strain and though slightly wounded he continued to volunteer for every kind of duty and would take no rest until ordered to do so.

Due to wounds received during active service, Frank had done his bit for King & Country and he was discharged in December 1918.  On returning to the Eastbourne area, he settled down, returning to his trade as a butcher and was married in 1922.   Frank died in Worthing during 1954 he was 63 years of age. 
 

Sergeant Frank Albert Hoad

In the poem another of their select group who was mentioned, although named as Hyde, was Sergeant Frank Albert Hoad.

‘Pillbox’ is written as an eyewitness watching the men sheltering in a pillbox for safety.  One of the officers instructs ‘Worley’ to see what is happening outside of the protection of the pillbox.  

Sgt. Hoad goes with him and they stand in the entrance.  While they are accessing the situation, a shell explodes nearby and soil and splinters rain through the air.  At first, they appear to have survived intact but then they realise that Sgt. Hoad has been hit by one of the splinters.  We learn that his comrades tell him that it is a ‘Blighty’ wound, meaning that he will be shipped home for treatment in a British hospital. Unfortunately, due to the shock of the event and from a long period of time spent living on his nerves, Hoad didn’t survive, he passed away on the 3rd September 1916.  

The poem, however, was written in 1917, nearly a year after Hoad had died .... so, was it simply a remembrance rather than a report of the incident?  Sgt. Hoad was killed in action and assumed at first to be missing, whereas in the poem he is with his mates, so they would have reported him as dead, rather than missing, so this is left to conjecture.


 

002 DEMENTIA ASSISTANCE REQUIRED

RHQ Nottingham have been contacted by an advocate who is supporting one of our veterans who has dementia; Michael J Whapples.  Michael has poor memory and difficulty in engaging however he becomes much more animated when talking about his army service.  The advocate is asking that if anyone served with Michael, that they could share some stories or tell of places that he served, so that he can use them in his work with his client.  He is also asking for any small item memorabilia as this can also be used to aid discussion.  The only details that RHQ hold are the following so it is hoped that you can fill in the gaps to help the advocate, help Michael.

24117353 Private Michael J Whapples.  His address on joining was Needwood, Staffordshire.  He served in the Worcestershire Regiment prior to amalgamation to the WFR and discharged from the army on 21 March 1976. Any information or memorabilia can be sent to:

Mr MJ Whapples
c/o 4 Cliffe Court
Welton
Lincoln
LN2 3LW

 

003 TRENCH TALK

Words from the trenches of WW1.

Doughbuys
It’s unknown exactly how U.S. service members in World War I came to be dubbed doughboys, the term most typically was used to refer to troops deployed to Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Forces, but there are a variety of theories about the origins of the nickname.

According to one explanation, the term dates back to the Mexican War of 1846-48, when American infantrymen made long treks over dusty terrain, giving them the appearance of being covered in flour, or dough. As a variation of this account goes, the men were coated in the dust of adobe soil and as a result were called “adobes,” which morphed into “dobies” and, eventually, “doughboys.”

Among other theory claimed the nickname could be traced to Continental Army soldiers who kept the piping on their uniforms white through the application of clay. When the troops got rained on the clay on their uniforms turned into “doughy blobs,” supposedly leading to the doughboy moniker.

Estaminet
A hospitality establishment found in villages and towns, sometimes occupying a converted cow-shed. Soldiers on leave could eat, drink and be entertained. It usually had a low roof, an open iron stove and wooden benches and tables.

Chin Strapped
Tired, exhausted. A soldier could be so exhausted that in a figurative sense, he is only being held upright by his chinstrap. 

Bull Ring
British army training camps like those at Rouen, Harfleur and Etaples. Soldiers were transferred to a Bull Ring from the front line for refresher training, and to reinforce the fighting spirit.

004 ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

1636 – Eighty Years' War: Dutch Republic forces recapture a strategically important fort from Spain after a nine-month siege.
1789 – On the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York City, George Washington takes the oath of office to become the first elected President of the United States.
1863 – A 65-man French Foreign Legion infantry patrol fights a force of nearly 2,000 Mexican soldiers to nearly the last man in Hacienda Camarón, Mexico.
1943 – World War II: The British submarine HMS Seraph surfaces near Huelva to cast adrift a dead man dressed as a courier and carrying false invasion plans.
1945 – World War II: Führerbunker: Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun commit suicide after being married for less than 40 hours. Soviet soldiers raise the Victory Banner over the Reichstag building.
1945 – World War II: Stalag Luft I prisoner-of-war camp near Barth, Germany is liberated by Soviet soldiers, freeing nearly 9000 American and British airmen.
1961 – K-19, the first Soviet nuclear submarine equipped with nuclear missiles, is commissioned.
1975 – Fall of Saigon: Communist forces gain control of Saigon. The Vietnam War formally ends with the unconditional surrender of South Vietnamese president Dương Văn Minh.
2004 – U.S. media release graphic photos of American soldiers abusing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

 

005 VETERANS SUPPORT

The following are available to support veterans and their families who may be experiencing mental health difficulties;

Forcesline Tel: 0800 731 4880 (between 9am and 5pm Monday-Friday)
Combat Stress (24 hours)
Veterans and their families; Tel: 0800 138 1619
Serving personnel and their families; Tel: 0800 323 4444
Samaritans (24 hours); Tel: 116 123

005 VETERANS SUPPORT

The following are available to support veterans and their families who may be experiencing mental health difficulties;

Forcesline Tel: 0800 731 4880 (between 9am and 5pm Monday-Friday)
Combat Stress (24 hours)
Veterans and their families; Tel: 0800 138 1619
Serving personnel and their families; Tel: 0800 323 4444
Samaritans (24 hours); Tel: 116 123


Mark Dack
for Executive Committee

 

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