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EDMUND BLUNDEN: WAR POET PIDLIP GARDNER Among the 'New Poems' included at the end of Poems of Many Years, the now standard selection of Edmund Blunden's poetry published in 1957, was one entitled 'Frank Worley, D.C.M., July 1954:' It is a short, graceful requiem for a man whom Blunden had first met almost forty years earlier, when both were fighting in northern France, Worley as a corporal (later a sergeant), Blunden as a young lieutenant. Worley's combination of bravery and gentleness endeared him immediately to Blunden, who thus described him in Undertones of War (1928): A kinder heart there never was; a gentler spirit never ,., He was for ever comforting those youngsters who were so numerous among us; even as the shrapnel burst over the fire-bay he would still be saying without altered tone, 'don't fret, lay still: and such things.In 1954 Blunden paid tribute to his now dead comrade in similar terms, as one whose especial gift it was 'To share, to give, to make privation / No trouble at an: When Blunden published A Hong Kong House in 1962, Worley was again remembered, along with others about whom the poet enquired Where are the sergeants, passed beyond?': Unsted the quick-moving, clear-eyed Marshall, Great-hearted Worley of Worthing the pride, My Wally Ashford astute and impartial, Seall of the runners, and Luck who plied With the rations up through the wild night-tide.S In these two late poems Blunden is remembering, primarily, people; but the people exist in a context, and what the poems show is simply that, for Blunden, the context has never been forgotten. The context was the First World War. Edmund Blunden was born in 1896. After spending his childhood in the village of Yalding (near Maidstone), in Kent, he moved into neighbouring Sussex for his education at Christ's Hospital, Horsham. He entered the army virtually straight from school early in 1915, and a year later was posted to France as a subaltern in the II th Royal Sussex Regiment. His war service was passed in three distinct sectors of the Western Front. tlTQ, Volume XLII, Number 3, Spring 1973 EDMUNDBLUNDEN: WAR POET 219 From April to August 1916 he was variously stationed between Bethune and La Bassee, doing trench-duty at Festubert, Richebourg, Givenchy, Cuinchy, and Auchy. The next four months were spent in the area unpleasantly summed up as 'the Somme'; for B1unden, more precisely, at the north end of the River Ancre, which Sows south from Beaumont Hamel through the town of Albert to join the River Somme east of Amiens. Here he served in trenches at Beaumont Hamel, Hamel, Aveluy, Authuille, and Thiepval Wood, with occasional interludes of rest at Senlis five miles behind the lines. The greater part of B1unden's war however, consisted of just over a year, from November 1916 to January 1918, spent in the salient around Ypres, a landscape 'knocked silly' by the German bombardments of 1914. Here, in due course, B1unden took part in the Third Ypres (or Passchendaele) offensive launched On 3 July 1917, serving in the front line just after the Battle of Pilkem Ridge and, later, at Tower Hamlets on the Ypres-Menin road. At about this time B1unden's recommended promotion to captain was turned down by his commanding general, ostensibly on the grounds of his youth (B1unden was about twenty), but it seems permissible to infer from Undertones of War that earlier outspokenness (,I began to air my convictions that the war was useless and inhuman.'4) had as much to do with it: 'My offences against propriety of speech and demeanour were in any case sufficient to spoil my chances.'6 Early in 1918 B1unden's battalion moved south again, and in March he himself was transferred, from the village of Gouzeaucourt near Cambrai , to a training centre in England. At some point in his long active service B1unden had been gassed and was therefore pronounced unfit for further duty overseas, though he tried twice to go (thus risking the same fate as Wilfred Owen, tragically killed only a week before the Armistice). After a short period with the postwar...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 218-240
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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