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 Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis

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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Mon 01 Apr 2013, 11:40

In 1913 Edward Thomas embarked on a bicycle trip across the English countryside in which he attempted to once more immerse himself in its qualities and nature after some years in London. He published an account of this experience in one of his rare prose works "In Pursuit of Spring".

BBC Radio 4 has just completed a three-part programme written and presented by naturalist Matthew Oates which retraces Thomas's journey and examines the countryside as a basis for lyrical interpretation and expression as well as Thomas's own personal contribution and legacy to the long tradition of nature-inspired poetry in English literarure.

BBC Radio 4 - In Pursuit of Spring (episodes 1 to 3)
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Tue 02 Apr 2013, 07:58

Many thanks for that link, nordmann. I should have missed the programmes had you not mentioned them.

Lord, but the man could write. No "dauber" this, Priscilla, but an absolute master. His prose is sometimes better than his poetry - writing at times so perfect it hurts to read it. But then Robert Frost observed that you could take a chunk of Thomas's prose, cut it about a bit and you'd end up with poetry. I don't think you actually have to "cut it about": it is already what Oates calls prose-poetry.

For anyone interested you can read "In Pursuit of Spring" here - easy to download and you get pages that turn (just click on "Read online" in the "View the book" box on the left):

http://archive.org/details/inpursuitofsprin00thomuoft


Priscilla wrote:
Mmm, may I have a little say here? I knew 'Adlestrop' but had forgotten who had written it - and Thomas's name seemed unknown to me. Then I read that he had been an avid reader of Richard Jefferies - as I had been when young - ah, so now I know something of him. I read several of Thomas' poems yesterday and was struck by the lack of empathy he had with his unpopluated world of nature writing. He was less a creative poet than he was a recorder of what moved him to thought; the same difference as is betweeen the talented dauber and a master...

...Jefferies - so Watson who prefaced the copy I have with me here suggests - he would probably eventually become more admired for his distillation of country people than for his celebrated observations of nature. It was for that that I read him because I was privy to the ploughman, the milkmaid and the poacher and such during my childhood in a remote rural corner. Later, John Moore capture the last of that world well and with humour. Jefferies' humour is a tad heavy, and Thomas is short suited in it. There is no way that he could ever have been a second John Bejman.

Priscilla, if you have not yet flown away...

In programme two a lecturer/expert from the University of Exeter talks about Jefferies - her special study for over ten years.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 26 Oct 2013, 09:50

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, as part of the forthcoming centenary of the outbreak of World War I, invited several poets to respond to the poems, diaries and other personal records from the inhabitants of its trenches. Seamus Heaney, in what has proved to be his last poem, was inspired by Edward Thomas's "As the team's head-brass" to produce this. What a fitting final image in the circumstances:

"In a field" by Seamus Heaney

And there I was in the middle of a field,
The furrows once called "scores' still with their gloss,
The tractor with its hoisted plough just gone

Snarling at an unexpected speed
Out on the road. Last of the jobs,
The windings had been ploughed, furrows turned

Three ply or four round each of the four sides
Of the breathing land, to mark it off
And out. Within that boundary now

Step the fleshy earth and follow
The long healed footprints of one who arrived
From nowhere, unfamiliar and de-mobbed,

In buttoned khaki and buffed army boots,
Bruising the turned-up acres of our back field
To stumble from the windings' magic ring

And take me by a hand to lead me back
Through the same old gate into the yard
Where everyone has suddenly appeared,

All standing waiting.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sun 13 Jul 2014, 07:23

For the next seven days only (from today, Sunday 13th July) the programme "And you, Helen" is available on BBC's i-player -

Poet Deryn Rees-Jones looks at the life and work of writer Helen Thomas, her tempestuous marriage to poet Edward Thomas and her role in keeping his flame alive after his death in World War One.

A gallery of photos accompanies the programme.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sun 13 Jul 2014, 22:04

Thanks for the information, Nordmann; I had no idea that programme was on.  I know a Deryn, though not Ms (or Mrs??) Rees-Jones.  The Deryn I know was a tad miffed with her parents for naming her thus I think because the name means "Bird" in Welsh.  She was born in England but her family spent some time in Wales and she says she was teased about her name while she was there.  I have a very common name so I rather envy her having a name which is rather out of the ordinary, although I concede some of the out of the ordinary names (including ones some "celebrities" bestow on their offspring) can be absolute stinkers.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 25 Jul 2015, 13:04

Jean Moorcroft Wilson's biography of Thomas has just been published. My copy should arrive next week. Some interesting comments in this review:




 http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/may/31/edward-thomas-adlestrop-to-arras-review-jean-moorcroft-wilson


Seems Moorcroft Wilson very much focuses on the "double life" that Thomas was forced to lead. But Helen too was leading a double life.



His wife, who later shamelessly mythologised their marriage, told a friend that “poverty, anxiety, and discouragements [made him] bitter, hard and impatient, quick to violent anger, and subject to long fits of depression”.

Husband and wife both seem to have blamed themselves for each other’s misfortunes. Helen, who never acknowledged the truth of her predicament, was long-suffering. In his last year at Oxford, and after their marriage, worshipping “Beauty”, Thomas fell in love with several young men, and drank heavily.

With so much unresolved within, Thomas nurtured a secret death wish, took refuge in opium, and blamed “continued journalism*” for destroying his creativity.



*The "hack" work he had to do to support his wife and children.

Drink, drugs and young men - mmm - hope Moorcroft Wilson is not just being sensational here. Were bisexuality, heavy drinking and laudanum abuse no more than a young man's experimenting, or were they proclivities/needs that lasted all Thomas' life, and which contributed to his torment, but also to his creativity? I'll be interested to read what Moorcroft Wilson has to say.

EDIT: A rather better review here:

http://www.literaryreview.co.uk/bevis_05_15.php
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 25 Jul 2015, 22:20

How odd, Temperance.  I have been looking at an article about Edward Thomas from The Oldie that I have been meaning to mention here.  About the genesis of his poem Aldestrop.  But I am off out for the day soon (niece's house-warming, and greetings to new baby, Mac).  Hopefully will get to this in the very near future.  (Mind you, I've had it sitting waiting for months now, and hadn't written about it till now, but I did look at it yesterday and think that I would write about it in the next day or so.)
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Mon 27 Jul 2015, 11:44

Hope you'll get back with the article, Caro.

My book should be here tomorrow: I'm really looking forward to reading it. Moorcroft Wilson's biography of Siegfried Sassoon was excellent, so I'm sure her latest offering won't be disappointing. I wonder if she talks more about the poetry than recent commentators have done, especially Robert Frost's influence on Thomas's work? Matthew Hollis had a fair bit to say about Frost and Thomas, but I'm sure Moorcroft Wilson will add more. Hope so.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jul/29/robert-frost-edward-thomas-poetry
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Tue 28 Jul 2015, 03:18

Hello Temperance,

I don't think the article I read would have anything extra to add really, to what is written above, though the author PJ Kavanagh didn't comment a lot on his life.

I think there was a suggestion in the above discussion that Thomas hadn't written much prose, but this article seems to suggest otherwise.  "Published his first book of essays while still an undergraduate...and to keep himself and his family fed, for the next 15 years found himself in a whirlpool of deadlines, unerpaid commissions for 'country' books - he called it the Norfolk Jacket school of writing - and biographies. Sometimes he wrote for 16 hours a day."  Then Kavanagh says there were fears for his sanity and brief flights from his family as much for his family's sake as for his own. "He felt, increasingly, that much of what he wrote (not all) was somehow false, was not the real him; but then, what was that?"  He was often asked why he didn't write poetry and answered, "Me? Because I couldn't write a poem to save my life."

But when he met Robert Frost the later told him that  parts of his prose were poems.  "It unblocked the dam. 'I might as well write poetry,' Thomas wrote to Eleanor Farjeon in 1915. 'Has anyone ever begun at 36 in the shade?'  Over the next two years he wrote poems, often daily - 140-odd - while groaning over a commissioned biography of the Duke of Marlborough.  Between 7th and 9th January 1915 he wrote four poems, one of them 'Adlestrop'. He found the name in the previous year's June notebook, one work ('only the name').  Publishers turned his poems down, and the diffident Thomas was quite undeterred: 'Sorry about the rejection because I feel utterly sure they are me,' At last."

Kavanagh said Adlestrop has become an anthology favourite and there is a book of articles called Adlestrop Revisited in which contemporary railway timetables are consulted, questions asked: why did the 'express' train stop? (No answer found.)

I am always surprised by such things as this last paragraph mentions: I never read poems or indeed novels with that sort of enquiry, just accept that if an author wants to have a train stopping, that's what they will write.  I don't read authors with their biography in mind, and get surprised when I realise that a pop song, for example, is based on events in the lyricist's life at the time. I am never sure whether this realisation lessens or heightens the effect of their songs/novels/poems. 

This article begins by saying Aldestrop puzzled his friends, as it has no 'poetic language' apart from the one line, "No whit less still and lonely fair".  (I might think 'cloudlets' and 'mistier' have a poetic ring to them.)

That's about all the article said - it was mostly about the influence of Frost (and Thomas's influence on Frost for that matter -his review of Frost established Frost's reputation in England and helped him to success in America), and their similarities, as you have mentioned earlier. And then his last piece of writing found when he was shelled: "I never quite understood what was meant by God."
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 01 Aug 2015, 16:42

Caro wrote:


I think there was a suggestion in the above discussion that Thomas hadn't written much prose, but this article seems to suggest otherwise.  "Published his first book of essays while still an undergraduate...and to keep himself and his family fed, for the next 15 years found himself in a whirlpool of deadlines, unerpaid commissions for 'country' books - he called it the Norfolk Jacket school of writing - and biographies. Sometimes he wrote for 16 hours a day."  Then Kavanagh says there were fears for his sanity and brief flights from his family as much for his family's sake as for his own. "He felt, increasingly, that much of what he wrote (not all) was somehow false, was not the real him; but then, what was that?"  He was often asked why he didn't write poetry and answered, "Me? Because I couldn't write a poem to save my life."

But when he met Robert Frost the later told him that  parts of his prose were poems. 



His prose is superb, Caro: his critical biography of Richard Jefferies is a classic of the genre, and his topographical and travel books are beautifully written. His so-called "hackwork" - reviews and articles "churned out" (Christopher Somerville's rather dismissive phrase) - are actually pieces any of us would be proud to put our names to.

I'm looking at the poetry again as I read my new book - it is an excellent biography - and I have once more come across this old favourite. How superb it is. I hope, though, it does not distress MM:

The Combe


By  Edward Thomas  


The Combe was ever dark, ancient and dark.

Its mouth is stopped with bramble, thorn, and briar;

And no one scrambles over the sliding chalk

By beech and yew and perishing juniper

Down the half precipices of its sides, with roots

And rabbit holes for steps. The sun of Winter,

The moon of Summer, and all the singing birds

Except the missel-thrush that loves juniper,

Are quite shut out. But far more ancient and dark

The Combe looks since they killed the badger there,

Dug him out and gave him to the hounds,

That most ancient Briton of English beasts.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 12 Mar 2016, 21:19

And now Thomas as photographer. His book of prose "Pursuit of Spring" was composed on a 130 mile cycle trip that Thomas undertook in 1913 from London to Somerset's Quantock Hills district. What has only recently come to light is that Thomas took snaps along the way and these, rescued from the Edward Thomas archive by photographer Rob Hudson, will now be used to illustrate a new edition of "Pursuit of Spring" to be published later this year.


Nettlebridge, Somerset


Turner's Tower, Hemington, Radstock


Unknown location


Crowcombe, Somerset


Bishop Sutton, Somerset


Near Timsbury, Bath


Castle Street, Bridgwater


Kilve Chantry, Somerset


The Quantocks, Somerset


Wells, Somerset


Kilmersdon, Somerset

The shot of Turner's Tower in Hemington piqued my curiosity - it looked rather too well preserved in Thomas's snap and I wondered what its history might be. In fact at the time of the photo it was only around 30 years old and now, alas, is no more. Though both its construction and its demise say much about those peculiarly petty squabbles characterised by spite, jealousy and fiercely personal umbrage that can arise in rural village life, and which can escalate so quickly into full-blooded feuds and vendettas in which expense is no object, whereas retribution and the final say is everything. This from wiki;

In the late 19th century a local quarry owner, John Turner of Faulkland, took out a lawsuit against his neighbour Hedworth Jolliffe, 2nd Baron Hylton who owned Ammerdown House in Kilmersdon. When Turner lost he erected a tower of around 180 feet (55 m) high to rival the column at Ammerdown, with a dance hall and tea garden at the base. When Turner died in 1894, Lord Hylton bought the structure to demolish it. The base and dance hall were converted into workers cottages and eventually demolished in 1969.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sun 13 Mar 2016, 09:49

The story of the towers intrigued me so I scavenged about among the interwebbies for a bit ...

As usual, the wikipedia entry was misleading. A fuller account of the War Of The Two Towers (Somerset style) was posted by "This Is Somerset" on the Western Daily Press website in 2011. The tower that Thomas photographed in fact had already been reduced once by a lightning fire and then by Lord Hylton, as stated, but according to the Western not for any vindictive reason but actually on grounds of safety. Hylton's revenge on Turner had in fact been more emphatic and already complete by the time of the demolition. Building his folly had bankrupted Turner and his estate, including the tower, had been purchased by Hylton. Originally it had been fully three times higher (see below). One can only marvel at how impressive the original structure must have appeared on what is essentially a featureless landscape along the A366 between Ammerdown and Faulkland. And as you can also see from the later photograph it remained more or less in the same state as Thomas snapped it until its final demolition in 1958 (not 1969 as wiki had it). The adjoining buildings were also demolished in 1968, leaving not a single remnant to indicate that such an imposing structure had ever even existed (see the bottom picture below).





The Western Daily article:

Towers are very much part of the English landscape and there are several in Somerset.

One of these stands in the grounds of Ammerdown Park, the home of Lord Hylton. Another at one time stood in the village of Faulkland, originally known as the Faulkland Tower and later as Turner's Tower.

But what of their history? Members of Clutton History Society were keen to learn about their past in a presentation given by Dennis Chedgy, of Radstock Museum, in a talk entitled The Two Towers, the Story of John Turner.

Ammerdown House was commissioned by Samuel Jolliffe in 1788 and was designed by James Wyatt, a famous London-based architect, for the princely sum of £70; equivalent to £4,000 in today's money. The house was completed in 1791.

Samuel Jolliffe died in 1824 and his son Col John Twyford Jolliffe inherited the estate. He establish a deer park and had the eight foot high (2.4m) lias stone wall built around the grounds, a distance of four-and-a-quarter miles (6.8km).

Col John was instrumental in building the Ammerdown Tower as a memorial to his father. The structure was 156ft high (47.5m) with a glass observatory at the top commanding views of North Somerset. He died before the tower was completed and it was left to his brother, the Rev Thomas Robert Jolliffe, to complete it.

John Turner was the son of an affluent Exeter builder, a company that had contracts with the Bampfields, wealthy land owners in Devon. Col Warwick Bampfield also had a mansion and lands at Hardington near Buckland Dinham and the young John Turner became his head steward.

When Col Bampfield died in 1823 his estate was inherited by Sir Charles Bampfield, who was a compulsive gambler. Inevitably the family fortune was frittered away by Sir Charles and he met an ignominious end in London when he was shot by a jealous former servant.

Sir Charles left so much debt that the estates had to be sold off and John Turner was appointed to oversee the sale.

Turner himself bought pockets of land and occasionally exchanged land with the Rev Jolliffe, with whom he was on good terms.

Turner went on to build ranks of cottages for miners and quarrymen such as the ones at Faulkland where Turner himself chose to live.

In 1872 the Rev Jolliffe died aged 92 and as there were no heirs the Ammerdown estate came into the possession of Baron Hylton.

Animosity developed between Turner and the Baron and so incensed was Turner that as he had no further land to develop he decided to build a tower to outshine the one at Ammerdown.

The site of the tower was at Faulkland and upon completion it stood 180ft (55m) high with a committee room built within it and viewing galleries at various heights. At the base of the tower was a ballroom and an adjoining cottage for a caretaker.

The foundation of the stone-built tower comprised four large 10ft (3m) stone cubes. As the tower reached its summit Turner became concerned about the weight of the structure so the very top was built of timber.

At its opening people came from miles around to enjoy the spectacle and were treated to the sight of a Bristol sailor who did a handstand on the pinnacle of the tower.

The tower had cost Turner £4,000 to build which bankrupted him and his estates had to be sold. Ironically, it was Baron Hylton who acquired them.

Turner died in 1894 of pneumonia and he was buried at Hemington Church, and from then on his tower was known as Turner's Tower.

In 1906 the tower was struck by lightning and the top 40ft (12m) was lost. In 1910 its height was again reduced for safety reasons.

In 1958 the remaining tower was again considered unsafe so was totally demolished and 10 years later the ballroom and adjoining cottage were also removed.

Today, three trees stand on the site of the tower. The stone from the tower was utilised by Lord Hylton to build a large estate house in Kilmersdon which is today privately owned.

The Ammerdown Tower also suffered storm damage and no longer has its glass observation dome but still stands as a memorial to Samuel Jolliffe.



The Ammerdown tower which Turner sought to out-do.


The Google Street view from Thomas's perspective today. Not a trace of Turner's folly remains.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sun 13 Mar 2016, 15:58

The Edward Thomas Fellowship (it's only about £10 a year to join) sends out two, or sometimes, three Newsletters - plus what they call a "Journal" - every year. Members are given up-to-date information about anything concerning Thomas - his life, his family, his work. There are also details of Edward Thomas seminars, usually held in Oxford. They are excellent.

The link to the photos nordmann has posted was given in February's newsletter:

http://robhudsonphotography.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Edward%20Thomas

We were also given the following info last month:

Cardiff University will be hosting an Edward Thomas conference on April 19th - 21st next year. Edna Longley and Lucy Newlyn will be plenary speakers.

The University d'Artois will be also be hosting a Thomas conference, "Edward Thomas 1878 - 1917: The Arras conference", 6th - 7th April 2017. (Deadlines for proposals: 15th April, 2016!!).

Simon Heffer wrote an article for the Telegraph in February. Entitled "Edward Thomas: The Father of Modern Landscape-Writing", the piece focuses on the prose - "most of his finest poetry was written in prose". Here's the link:


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/edward-thomas-the-father-of-modern-landscape-writing/


The latest biography (by Jean Moorcroft Wilson) of Thomas which I mentioned above, is reviewed in the London Review of books, November 5th 2015 (volume 37, number 21), but you need to subscribe to read the review.

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n21/adam-phillips/i-fret-and-fret


EDIT: I forgot to give the link to the Edward Thomas Fellowship website:

http://www.edward-thomas-fellowship.org.uk/fellow.html


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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sun 13 Mar 2016, 16:28

It's amazing to think that Turner's remarkable tower came down in stages without destroying everything below it. And yet that does indeed seem to be what happened.

Love those pictures of old Somerset nordmann. As a child I spent happy holidays in the county with our cousins from Castle Cary. If I remember correctly, my late auntie Eileen told me, that neighbouring Kilmersdon (pictured) claims to be the location of the original hill from the Jack and Jill nursery rhyme. Not sure what the historical evidence is for that though.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Mon 11 Apr 2016, 13:18

It was the anniversary of Edward Thomas's death on Saturday: he died on April 9th, 1917 (Easter Monday), the first day of the Battle of Arras. I've mentioned the date before on the "On This Day" thread, so did not post anything this year.

The development of legend and myth has been much discussed on this site, usually, of course, in connection with religious topics, but legend and myth are words used by Thomas's most recent biographer, Jean Moorcroft Wilson. Moorcroft Wilson has uncovered evidence that suggests that Helen Thomas needed to weave fantasies about her husband's end: it would seem that this woman had lived a life which meant she could not bear very much reality - either about her husband's life with her, or about the manner of his death without her. This is what Helen wrote to Eleanor Farjeon:

"...there was no wound and his beloved body was not injured. This was borne out by the fact that when the contents of his pockets were returned to me - a bundle of letters, a note-book and the Shakespeare Sonnets I had given him - they were all most strangely creased as though subject to some terrible pressure, most strange to see. There was no wound or disfigurement at all. He just died standing there in the early morning after the battle."

It seems that the incident of the shell-blast that simply took Thomas's breath away, had indeed happened, but on the day before - and he had survived it. Major Franklin Lushington, Thomas's Officer-in-Charge, later visited Helen (he had previously written to her - see below) and he may have unwittingly allowed her to devise a more bearable version of Edward's end than the facts strictly support. He described to her Thomas's miraculous survival of a shell-blast the day before his death, which she then transferred to his actual death. Lushington later described the April 8th incident in The Gambardier writing how, on that day before the battle proper, a 5.9 shell plunged to the ground next to Thomas, but by an extraordinary stoke of luck failed to explode. He continues: "...the wind of its passing knocked him down: that night in the mess somebody said, with unintended irony: 'Thomas you were evidently born to live through this war' and they all drank to his health."

Twelve hours later, Thomas was dead. Lushington wrote to Helen: "With regard to his actual death...it should be of some comfort to you that he died at the moment of victory from a direct hit by a shell." In other words, he had not suffered, but he had most certainly not died without wound or disfigurement. He had not simply given up the ghost. And that "at the moment of victory" detail was not strictly speaking true, but was possibly meant to comfort too.

When asked by one of Thomas's earliest biographers, John Moore, for precise details, Lushington wrote - on 29th February, 1936 - words which leave no room for ambiguity:

"O.P. at that time was in rather an exposed piece of trench in the village of Beaurains in front of Arras. The next day, Easter Monday, was the date of the Battle of Arras. A few moments after Zero Hour (about 7 o'clock in the morning I think it was) I was rung up on the telephone from the O.P. . A voice said that Thomas had been killed, shot clean through the chest by a pip-squeak (a 77mm shell) the very moment the battle began. A little later it began to snow."

Lushington's letter to Moore has been buried for many years in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library and Helen's more romantic version has persisted, lending a more dramatic twist to what, sadly, was otherwise a fairly routine death in battle in the First World War.

But does the exact manner of Edward Thomas's death matter? Should we accept a grieving woman's sanitised version? It does matter. Here is Moorcroft Wilson's own answer to that question:

"Yes it does (matter). The legendary version of his end places him in a realm of myth and threatens to obscure the real miracle of his life: his writing. The most authoritative poetry critic of his time, the innovator of new forms and approaches in a number of prose genres, and among a handful of poets who helped reshape English verse in the early twentieth century, it is Thomas's achievements in life we should be remembering him for rather than the manner of his death."

Grieving women and a desperate need to create a beautiful myth - interesting - but I won't go there, not on this thread, anyway.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Mon 11 Apr 2016, 14:34

A poet such as Thomas lived for the elevation of the mundane to the level of myth - almost every poem of his attempts that feat in some small way. Some not so successfully maybe, but some sublimely. All succeed in at least some partial transformation of reality in that direction.

So I can't think of a better life to exemplify, or indeed thread upon which to discuss, the human tendency to substitute the mythical for the often more disappointing reality we perceive around us, especially at moments of grief, and why we seemingly like doing it so much even when it must be patently obvious to those less interested what is going on.

His wife, like many other widows I am sure at the time, clung to a false version of his demise for reasons I would have presumed were obvious. In Thomas's case, as I suppose with every person loved by those they leave behind, there is also the almost irresistible urge to make something new from the experience that enhances the memory of the departed. It can be anything from exaggerating a trait or an incidental memory to something little short of actual beatification, but it means in a perverted way that the person - in a sense - is still developing, still living, and therefore still with us.

I would disagree slightly with Moorcroft Wilson's quote above. Yes, it is often a gross disservice to the truth to replace it with myth, and in some cases it does indeed adversely affect a true appreciation of the person who has died (we all know this tendency from false eulogies at funerals and the like), but in Thomas's case I cannot see why the two should not co-exist. Thomas the man may have died what was then an all too common death; suddenly, violently, horribly mutilated and without dignity or grace, but Thomas the poet remained incorrupt, and in her own way Helen Thomas knew that this should also be equally true. For her, clinging to that particular myth would have been a no-brainer. It addressed his memory in almost every way that mattered to her.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Tue 12 Apr 2016, 15:25

nordmann wrote:
A poet such as Thomas lived for the elevation of the mundane to the level of myth - almost every poem of his attempts that feat in some small way. Some not so successfully maybe, but some sublimely. All succeed in at least some partial transformation of reality in that direction.

So I can't think of a better life to exemplify, or indeed thread upon which to discuss, the human tendency to substitute the mythical for the often more disappointing reality we perceive around us, especially at moments of grief, and why we seemingly like doing it so much even when it must be patently obvious to those less interested what is going on.

His wife, like many other widows I am sure at the time, clung to a false version of his demise for reasons I would have presumed were obvious. In Thomas's case, as I suppose with every person loved by those they leave behind, there is also the almost irresistible urge to make something new from the experience that enhances the memory of the departed. It can be anything from exaggerating a trait or an incidental memory to something little short of actual beatification, but it means in a perverted way that the person - in a sense - is still developing, still living, and therefore still with us.

I would disagree slightly with Moorcroft Wilson's quote above. Yes, it is often a gross disservice to the truth to replace it with myth, and in some cases it does indeed adversely affect a true appreciation of the person who has died...but in Thomas's case I cannot see why the two should not co-exist. Thomas the man may have died what was then an all too common death; suddenly, violently, horribly mutilated and without dignity or grace, but Thomas the poet remained incorrupt, and in her own way Helen Thomas knew that this should also be equally true. For her, clinging to that particular myth would have been a no-brainer. It addressed his memory in almost every way that mattered to her.


So, if a man's life - or, more importantly, his life's work - is of exceptional significance, a little bit of mythologizing by those left behind in devastation and grief is understandable - even justified? Mmm - that's an interesting idea.

You are remarkably generous to Helen and her lies, something I find a little surprising. I share Robert Frost's exasperation with this woman's inability to be honest with herself, but I acknowledge that she was trapped - as indeed he was - in what would be called today a classic co-dependent relationship. I think the reasons for her stubborn denial of the truth - both during her marriage to this man and during her widowhood after his death - are not as "obvious" as you suggest. She had to cling to her fantasy of love out of need; it was not real devotion. She may have appeared to have been the utterly devoted wife, suffering because of his genius, but how her "love" - and such women do always call it "love" - suffocated him. She reminds me of Miriam in Lawrence's Sons and Lovers. And how his inability to love her tortured her. Frost always maintained that Thomas wanted to leave his wife, but his duty and loyalty - yes and innate decency too - made that impossible. Death was the only way out for him and his decision to enlist was, according to Frost, a way of escaping from Helen. It was a kind of suicide, but an honourable suicide that would ensure an adequate pension for her and for their children. But nothing is simple: he was as needy as she and he knew it. That need for the stability she offered was a need that drove him half-crazy, making him either depressed and morose, or driving him to raging fury. Impossible situation for all concerned.

Helen's last years with Thomas were actually an agony of suspicion and jealousy about the beautiful and artistic Edna Clarke Hall, the woman with whom Thomas spent many hours walking and talking before he embarked for France. The love poetry he wrote in 1916 was remarkable - like Hardy's to his dead wife. Except Thomas's love poetry was not about or for his wife - the poems he wrote for Helen and about her were only full of pity and apology. Read It Rains (written 11th - 13th May 1916) - about Edna? about his memories of Hope Webb? about them both? - one of the most beautiful love poems in English. Then read No one so much as you (written 11th February 1916). In fact, read the whole sequence of poems written in 1916, plus the letters Thomas wrote about them. There is a terribly deceitful - or honest? - letter written by Thomas  to Helen on 24th February 1916 denying that his verses "had anything to do with you. Fancy your thinking I should let you see them if they were. They are not to a woman at all... Silly old thing to jump to such conclusions...As to the other verses about love you know my usual belief is that I don't and can't love and haven't done for something near 20 years. You know too that you don't think my nature really compatible with love, being so clear and critical."

So clear and critical. Maybe No one so much as you was for all the women in his life - his mother, his wife, his friend, Eleanor, yes even for Edna... No wonder Helen had to live in denial: her fragile ego defences demanded it. She broke down after his death - worth looking at the letters she sent to Edna. "Silly old thing" and "fancy thinking" indeed: I'd have been tempted to stuff his love poetry down his throat, but I suppose, proud and honoured to be married to a genius - and to be the mother of his children - you just don't. You lie instead - to yourself and to everyone else.

I'm not sure I agree with your comment about Thomas's "mythologizing" in his poetry. Are you confusing myth with folk-lore? Myth is not so obvious in Thomas's work as it is, for instance, in Blake's. Thomas's writing is grounded in reality: a reality acutely, beautifully, accurately observed and recorded - and yes, transcended certainly. But myth? However, as usual, I probably just don't understand what you are saying.

It rains

It rains, and nothing stirs within the fence
Anywhere through the orchard’s untrodden, dense
Forest of parsley. The great diamonds
Of rain on the grassblades there is none to break,
Or the fallen petals further down to shake.

And I am nearly as happy as possible
To search the wilderness in vain though well,
To think of two walking, kissing there,
Drenched, yet forgetting the kisses of the rain:

Sad, too, to think that never, never again,
Unless alone, so happy shall I walk
In the rain. When I turn away, on its fine stalk
Twilight has fined to naught, the parsley flower
Figures, suspended still and ghostly white,
The past hovering as it revisits the light.




No one so much as you


No one so much as you
Loves this my clay,
Or would lament as you
Its dying day.

You know me through and through
Though I have not told,
And though with what you know
You are not bold.

None ever was so fair
As I thought you:
Not a word can I bear
Spoken against you.

All that I ever did
For you seemed coarse
Compared with what I hid
Nor put in force.

My eyes scarce dare meet you
Lest they should prove
I but respond to you
And do not love.

We look and understand,
We cannot speak
Except in trifles and
Words the most weak.

For I at most accept
Your love, regretting
That is all: I have kept
Only a fretting

That I could not return
All that you gave
And could not ever burn
With the love you have,

Till sometimes it did seem
Better it were
Never to see you more
Than linger here

With only gratitude
Instead of love -
A pine in solitude
Cradling a dove.



EDIT: That word "clay" is deceptive - and confuses things: it was a word Edna Clarke Hall uses a lot in her diaries when referring to Thomas. Was the cradled "dove" of the final verse Edna, or was it Helen? Or, as suggested above, was this despairing poem about his inability to love any woman completely, Thomas's admission of feeling "only gratitude instead of love" for them both?


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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Wed 13 Apr 2016, 09:29

Temp wrote:
So, if a man's life - or, more importantly, his life's work - is of exceptional significance, a little bit of mythologizing by those left behind in devastation and grief is understandable - even justified? Mmm - that's an interesting idea.

Yes - it even applies to grief over imaginary demises too. Myth is a very adaptable commodity. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about ...

YET some men say in many parts of England that King
Arthur is not dead, but had by the will of our Lord Jesu
into another place; and men say that he shall come again,
and he shall win the holy cross. I will not say it shall be
so, but rather I will say: here in this world he changed
this life.


The myth in which Thomas invested was the standard (and peculiarly English) bucolic one, but with some interesting nods to realism which its more extreme subscribers tend to leave out. I did not mean that Helen's misperceptions or misrepresentations were a contribution to the same myth at all. She was just grieving, but it did allow a rather false version of his demise to gain currency, and it must be admitted that this encouraged others to incorporate it into their own subscription to the bucolic myth via Thomas's work afterwards. Much like when people traipse all the way to Ullswater and feel terribly disappointed to find only odd daffodil tufts here and there and nothing even approaching "continuous as the stars that shine and twinkle on the Milky Way". Their bucolic puncture is complete when they learn that William's favourite flower (to which he dedicated no less than three paeans) was the Common Pilewort.

I agree that there was a lot of (reasonably mild) dishonesty going on between him and his missus, and probably even each with themselves. But that doesn't diminish grief or its effects - and sometimes can even enhance things in that respect.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Wed 13 Apr 2016, 10:11

nordmann wrote:
Temp wrote:
So, if a man's life - or, more importantly, his life's work - is of exceptional significance, a little bit of mythologizing by those left behind in devastation and grief is understandable - even justified? Mmm - that's an interesting idea.

Yes - it even applies to grief over imaginary demises too. Myth is a very adaptable commodity. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about ...

I do indeed. I did write above: "Grieving women and a desperate need to create a beautiful myth - interesting - but I won't go there, not on this thread, anyway."


nordmann wrote:

The myth in which Thomas invested was the standard (and peculiarly English) bucolic one, but with some interesting nods to realism which its more extreme subscribers tend to leave out. I did not mean that Helen's misperceptions or misrepresentations were a contribution to the same myth at all. She was just grieving, but it did allow a rather false version of his demise to gain currency, and it must be admitted that this encouraged others to incorporate it into their own subscription to the bucolic myth via Thomas's work afterwards. Much like when people traipse all the way to Ullswater and feel terribly disappointed to find only odd daffodil tufts here and there and nothing even approaching "continuous as the stars that shine and twinkle on the Milky Way". Their bucolic puncture is complete when they learn that William's favourite flower (to which he dedicated no less than three paeans) was the Common Pilewort.



"Continuous as the stars that shine and twinkle on the Milky Way" - Lord, that's awful - how did he get away with it? I have to admit I'm not a great fan of Wordsworth.

Bucolic myth - mmm, I'm think there's a lot more to Thomas's stuff than the sort of "Oh God, how I love England" emotions that rise in one's breast when one listens, for example, to Vaughan Williams'  pastoral compositions. Thomas' poetry is not all larks rising, sheep grazing, flowers twinkling etc., you know (I'm sure you do): it's darker and deeper - and more disturbing.

We often think of Edward Thomas (1878-1917) as a pastoral poet of place and belonging, but his real subjects were disconnection, discrepancy and unsettledness. His poems are thronged with ghosts, dark doubles, and "unfathomable deep" forests, and his landscapes are brittle surfaces, prone to sudden collapse. FR Leavis got it right when he described Thomas's poetry as working at "the edge of consciousness". Even his most anthologised poems – "Adlestrop" or "At the Team's Head-Brass" – reach towards knowledge which is ungraspable or somehow lost.

That's from a Guardian review of the Matthew Hollis biography, All Roads Lead to France.



http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/aug/05/roads-lead-france-thomas-review


EDIT: "Even his most anthologised poems – "Adlestrop" or "At the Team's Head-Brass" – reach towards knowledge which is ungraspable or somehow lost." Ah, that's made me pause and think again - lost knowledge or ungraspable knowledge. Mmm.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Wed 13 Apr 2016, 12:00

nordmann wrote:
I agree that there was a lot of (reasonably mild) dishonesty going on between him and his missus, and probably even each with themselves. But that doesn't diminish grief or its effects - and sometimes can even enhance things in that respect.



I now feel I am merely gossiping about someone else's marriage, rather than discussing poetic technique, but of course all the biographers look at Thomas's relationships with Hope Webb, Eleonor Farjeon and Edna Clarke Hall. I am stunned that you qualify "dishonesty" with the dismissive "reasonably mild". Even Hollis, who wisely does not say too much about Thomas's infatuation with the eighteen-year-old Hope Webb, acknowledges his terrible "unkindness" towards Helen over this affair - non-consummated as it no doubt was. Hollis tells us that "Helen believed that Edward had taken a cruel pleasure in stoking her jealousy." In the chapter called "Winter" of Part III of his biography, this biographer also quotes chunks of letter in which the Hope girl was discussed by husband and wife: parts of Helen's correspondence on this subject are abject: "I don't want anything else at all if you'll love me," she wrote. "I want you to love Hope if you'll love me too...I don't know if I'm any better for having written this letter, or if I'll cry myself to sleep." I have written (in pencil) in the margin of my copy by this - "Oh, dear God!"

Amazingly, Hollis says that Helen handled the episode "deftly: encouraging his sense of independence, understanding his desires, praising his attractiveness and appealing subtly to the impeccability of his morals. Five years later she would manage the arrival of Eleanor Farjeon into the inner circle and supervising the feelings of all involved*, but she was not able to extend the same influence with the older, wiser and more beautiful Edna Clarke Hall."

"Deftly" - not a word I would have chosen for Helen's desperate outpourings and submission - a "deftness" which seems to have irritated Thomas beyond endurance and so provoked even more cruelties from him, some subtle, some not so subtle.

But how differently men and women see things - "mild dishonesty" this was not. I wonder how other female posters react to these revelations - if they react at all?? I can't see either Priscilla or ferval as young wives crying themselves to sleep as they ponder how best and how "deftly" to deal with their husband's relationship with a teenage girl. Me neither. But perhaps I've got it all wrong? Does anyone else feel that would like to shake Helen - and thump Thomas?

PS Hope Webb's father was seriously concerned - Thomas was instructed to have nothing more to do with the girl. In a letter to a friend (Walter de la Mere?), Thomas wrote:" I have become so deeply corrupted...My wife and family are quite forgotten among these delights." I should not be surprised if he sent a copy of that for Helen to read - and she would probably have responded: "My darling, I am so happy for you." Grrr.

PPS *"supervising the feelings of all involved" - now there's a telling phrase about Helen.


However, enough of my agony aunt comments about this - back to myth and such.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Wed 13 Apr 2016, 12:08

Believe me - as dishonest, hysterical, dramatic and shitty behaviour goes this was all mild stuff. Might have been big in the Thomas household but in the real world ...

They actually remind me so much of a couple I knew. Spookily so in fact, even down to the teacup design in which they staged their storms. Though for his part he couldn't write at all (especially cheques for money he owed) and she was less "deft" than "daft".

But also, like as in the Thomas legend, neither of them blew up either (only metaphorically now and then). Unfortunately.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Wed 13 Apr 2016, 12:40

Oh, I do believe you, believe me.

I may have read a lot of books, but I admit I probably know very little of that mysterious place -  "the real world". Too protected a life by half, I suppose.

But I do know misery when I see it - I think - and God were those two miserable. I wonder how it affected their children? And, if he had gone off to America with Robert Frost, as was mooted at one point, would his poetry have been so good? Would he have kept writing? Misery often makes for great art after all - or is that another naïve observation from my sheltered little world? The real misery it seems to me is when one is utterly miserable, yet no great art is forthcoming - to have the artistic temperament without being a real artist.

But then again, despite having only a nodding acquaintance with your real world, I perhaps have more understanding about what you are saying than you give me credit for.

Anyway, back to reality - of a sort - now.

PS "Couldn't write" - mmm.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Tue 25 Apr 2017, 18:12

The Edward Thomas Fellowship is holding a special Study Day on Saturday 10th June at Saint Peter's Church , Petersfield, Hampshire - Thomas died 100 years ago this month  - April 9th, 1917. The Fellowship Study Days are usually held in Oxford, but this one marks the opening of the Edward Thomas Study Centre and there is a special speaker - Matthew Hollis himself. The title of his talk is "Thomas's Path to Poetry: Frost, Steep and the Path to War".

Other speakers include Edna Longley (she's got a new book out) and Guy Cuthbertson on "Thomas  and the Arts and Crafts Movement".

I can't wait to hear Matthew Hollis speak - should be an excellent day. Tickets, including lunch, are only £20 for members and £25 for non members.

Jean Moorcroft Wilson, the lady who always wears big hats and who is an expert on Thomas, usually shows up at the Study Days: she is always willing to answer questions. Her recent biography of Thomas is excellent.
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PostSubject: Edward Thomas's death   Tue 13 Jun 2017, 17:05

Edward Thomas was my Great Uncle, myself and the family are quite disturbed to learn,possibly,that he was killed by the 77mm rifle grenade.

If this were true how would his personal effects have survived intact.A round clean through the chest,especially of that calibre, quite apart from it being an explosive round,would have at the very least covered the effects in gore even if the round had not destroyed them (and ET!).

These effects still survive at Cardiff University I believe? they do not by all accounts appear to be covered in blood and guts.

Maj. Lushington wrote to John Moore stating Edward had died thus in 1936,19 years after Edwards death. I wonder how accurate his memory would have been after this time including the 2 remaining years of WW1 which he endured.

Sorry but I find this account of Gt,Uncle Edwards death a little hard to swallow,maybe I choose to believe so,but in my experience people hit squarely by explosive rounds tends to be a rather messy business.
yours
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Tue 13 Jun 2017, 22:00

ben maxted wrote:
Edward Thomas was my Great Uncle, myself and the family are quite disturbed to learn,possibly,that he was killed by the 77mm rifle grenade.

If this were true how would his personal effects have survived intact.A round clean through the chest,especially of that calibre, quite apart from it being an explosive round,would have at the very least covered the effects in gore even if the round had not destroyed them (and ET!).

These effects still survive at Cardiff University I believe? they do not by all accounts appear to be covered in blood and guts.

Maj. Lushington wrote to John Moore stating Edward had died thus in 1936,19 years after Edwards death. I wonder how accurate his memory would have been after this time including the 2 remaining years of WW1 which he endured.

Sorry but I find this account of Gt,Uncle Edwards death a little hard to swallow,maybe I choose to believe so,but in my experience people hit squarely by explosive rounds tends to be a rather messy business.
yours
Ben Maxted

Ben,

sorry to not have heard about Edward Thomas. As a continental, but from near Flanders Fields, I had although an interest in WWI...
Not also about Sassoon until I entered the BBC history messageboard in 2002.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbhistory/

Did a quick research on the internet and found:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Thomas_(poet)
And about the death of him at Arras...
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3083998/Myth-war-poet-s-bloodless-death-Tale-heart-stopped-battle-hide-truth-widow.html
And your request on the "Great War Forum":
http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?/topic/250878-death-of-edward-thomas/


A question: But perhaps that is not possible because of the burocracy and the costs? Is it not possible to unearth your anchestor to close the question once and for all?

Second question, but not that important:
From the Wikipedia:
"Thomas, the son of civil service clerk Philip Henry Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Thomas, was born in Lambeth"
Named Edward's parents both "Thomas"?

And Ben...Welcome to the boards...

Kind regards, from Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Wed 14 Jun 2017, 08:37

Hi Ben , and welcome.

I hadn't previously heard any such description of Thomas's unfortunate death - in fact the more usual comment in biographies of your great-uncle is allegedly based on the initial communication by his commanding officer at the time to his/your family and states (rather unusually for such missives at the time) that he died in the concussion of a nearby shell impact and was in fact remarkably unmarked externally. Neither account may be completely trustworthy for different reasons, but as you say the condition of his personal effects would suggest the original account was largely true. Without any way now of establishing a definitive truth in the matter I would suggest you continue to uphold the traditional account if it is important to you.

Thomas is very much a poet in the process of being "rediscovered" by modern enthusiasts of his craft. I imagine within his family however such rediscovery was never required. Do you reckon his family have been largely universally proud of your great-uncle, or have there been undercurrents of antipathy and criticism such as only families tend to harbour towards their own in his case too?
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Wed 14 Jun 2017, 12:06

Ben,

You're probably aware of this already, but just in case. The CWGC entry for Edward Thomas:

Edward Thomas
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Wed 14 Jun 2017, 12:42

nordmann wrote:

I hadn't previously heard any such description of Thomas's unfortunate death...


Er - I did write a great long post about it: see Monday April 11th above.

Ben, have you and your family been in touch with Jean Moorcroft Wilson, your great-uncle's biographer? As I mentioned in my post of 11th April 2016, it was she who first questioned the manner of the poet's death - see the final chapter of her 2015 book Edward Thomas from Adlestrop to Arras. I'm sure the Edward Thomas Fellowship would also welcome your comments. I have given their contact details in previous messages on this page.

I love your great-uncle's poetry. He is one of the masters of our language as more and more people are now realising.

I hope you will post some more on this thread - on this site indeed.

Kind regards,

Temp.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Wed 14 Jun 2017, 13:32

Temp wrote:
Er - I did write a great long post about it: see Monday April 11th above.

Much has transpired since April 11th 2016. Forgive me.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 17 Jun 2017, 13:43

Ben wrote:

If this were true how would his personal effects have survived intact. A round clean through the chest, especially of that calibre, quite apart from it being an explosive round, would have at the very least covered the effects in gore even if the round had not destroyed them (and ET!).
.

Lushington wrote:
"O.P. at that time was in rather an exposed piece of trench in the village of Beaurains in front of Arras. The next day, Easter Monday, was the date of the Battle of Arras. A few moments after Zero Hour (about 7 o'clock in the morning I think it was) I was rung up on the telephone from the O.P. . A voice said that Thomas had been killed, shot clean through the chest by a pip-squeak (a 77mm shell) the very moment the battle began. A little later it began to snow."


I wonder if that word "clean" explains why there was no "mess"? I have no idea: we need a forensic expert here, or at least a medical or military expert who can explain what happens - or what can happen - when a person is shot through the chest, perhaps straight through the heart. A "clean" wound is surely quite, quite different from the  horrendously messy and bloody injuries inflicted by an explosion. Did the shell act more like a single bullet, with a clean entry into and exit from the body? How much internal bleeding does a clean bullet wound cause? Can it vary? Does the 77mm refer to the length or breadth of a shell? If the former, is it like a long, narrow bullet? I hope this isn't a ridiculous question - I really have no idea about such things.


The strange creasing noted on the contents of Thomas' pockets - the letters, the note-book and the Shakespeare Sonnets - can be explained by the incident of the previous day.


The new evidence - the letter Lushington wrote to Helen with its statement "With regard to his actual death...it should be of some comfort to you that he died at the moment of victory from a direct hit by a shell" -  is surely conclusive. It would seem that his body had not - thankfully - been horribly mutilated, but neither was it found without a mark on it, as Helen later claimed. Thomas and the items he carried were certainly not blown to pieces, but this great writer's end was not the one Helen would have wished - her husband's breath simply being - in her poetic phrase - "taken away".


I asked above whether the manner of this man's death "matters" - a question Moorcroft Wilson also puts to her readers. I agree with her conclusion, also quoted by me last year. This is a history site, and one thing I have learned here is that the careful and dispassionate consideration of all available evidence is so important, however distressing that may be when our cherished beliefs are challenged. Myth is not history, as I have been told so many times. I quote above what Moorcroft Wilson says about this question of "mattering". That point made, I must add that I regret any pain my postings from last year - about the new evidence uncovered by this writer, who is after all the poet's most recent biographer - may have caused the living members of Thomas' family.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 17 Jun 2017, 16:10

I am no forensic expert but the 77mm refers to the calibre, ie the diameter of the shell, and with that diameter (about 3 inches in old money) it was certainly a high-explosive or fragmentation shell, rather than a solid bullet. If it had exploded on hitting him or the ground near him, I doubt there would be very much left at all, and if it had not gone off but just acted like a solid cannon ball (but something the size and shape of a 2 litre coca-cola bottle), again the exit wound would have been enormous, so basically cutting him in two or more pieces (sorry if this is a bit distastful but you did ask). Being "shot clean through the chest by a pip-squeak" may however be just Tommy parlance for being shot through by a piece of shrapnel from a 77mm shell that landed nearby. That might well give a far smaller wound depending how close he was to the explosion, although shrapnel wounds can be notoriously messy. As they are not stream-lined and are usually flying at a lower velocity than a rifle bullet, the fragments of shrapnel tend to act like dum-dum bullets, sometimes ricocheting around within the body and typically producing an exit wound far, far larger than the entry hole. That said he may well have been cut down by a single piece of shrapnel from a nearby shell and suffered instantly fatal injuries, yet with the contents of his pockets remaining undamaged and unbloodied.

It's a rather gory subject, certainly not something I'm familiar with, nor something I intend to dwell on much further, nevertheless I recall that some of the victims of the recent Manchester bombing suffered terrible shrapnel-type wounds, producing large surface/exit damage, injuries to internal organs, shattered bones and massive blood loss ... but in some cases their mobile phones in jacket or jeans pockets were undamaged and were still ringing with the calls of worried friends even as they were being treated by paramedics. So it certainly is possible to be cut down and killed by an explosive fragmentation bomb and still have one's personal items survive undamaged.

It just so happens I have a 77mm shell cartridge (ex-US, WW2, from Belgium ... which I use in the garden as a repository for cigarette butts). This is only the empty cartridge bit and obviously lacks the explosive warhead (having been fired in 1945) but just this bit stands about 400mm (1' 3") tall and the whole thing, with the 77mm (3inch) dia shell attached, would have been getting on for a metre in length. It might have been known as a 'pip-squeak' in WW1 but it was still a big artillery shell designed to be fired from a seriously big field gun.

 ... swords into poughshares; shells into ashtrays.


Last edited by Meles meles on Thu 29 Jun 2017, 17:18; edited 9 times in total (Reason for editing : added picture & upped my comparisons & units!)
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 17 Jun 2017, 17:10

Thank you for that clarification, MM. I found it very helpful, although upsetting. It is indeed a terribly distressing subject - especially so at the present time.

I am beginning to understand now why Helen wanted/needed to keep the truth from herself and from others.

But Thomas's splendid poetry - and the prose - remain.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 17 Jun 2017, 18:26

MM wrote:
 ... swords into poughshares; shells into ashtrays.


If only that could be universal, MM. Your  moggy's obvious serenity as she snoozes next to the shell, now a harmless ashtray, makes the picture - and your caption - all the more poignant...
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sun 18 Jun 2017, 09:57

I've just noticed that Ben originally referred to the fatal projectile as possibly being "a 77mm rifle grenade". As I said I'm no expert but a rifle grenade is rather different from an artillery shell: in essence it's a hand-grenade or similar small explosive bomb, fitted to a spigot so that it can be fired from an ordinary rifle to give a longer range than just throwing it by hand. They were about the size and shape of a half-litre mineral water bottle, on a long stick.

A WW1 German rifle grenade, intended to be fired from the standard infantry Mauser rifle:



... and rifle grenades ready to be fired, although these are obviously British:



Accordingly the explosive bit of a rifle grenade is much smaller than an artillery shell, with far lower muzzle velocity and a very much shorter range (typically just a few hundred yards). No doubt still very deadly if you're hit by one or one landed in the vicinity, and they certainly caused a lot of casualties in the trenches, but the effects mentioned above need to be considerably scaled back.

But if it is a rifle grenade I'm not sure what the 77mm would mean as this was a standard calibre for ordinary explosive artillery shells to be fired from the standard model of field artillery (77mm is of course the diameter of the gun's barrel).

Here's a WW1 German, 1915-model, Krupp 7.7cm Feldkanone, which is clearly capable of firing a far heavier explosive shell than an ordinary rifle:

  

 and a 77mm shell, standing about 1m tall 


I note also that an online dictionary of WW1 slang gives a 'pip-squeak' to be any small shell (including gas bombs, trench mortars and rifle grenades) so it seems to be fairly non-specific and used in much the same way as for a 'whizz-bang'.

But this is all rather dwelling on Edward Thomas' death rather than his life and prose.
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