Send out the boys of the girls’ brigade

I’m thinking again about the chapter on soldiers’ songs that I’m writing for a collection on the the First World War and the Arts.
In September 1914, a Times reader shared ‘the latest popular marching song from Aldershot’, whose words, he said, were the work of a sergeant in the Gordon Highlanders:

Send out the Army and the Navy,
Send out the rank and file.
(Have a banana!)
Send out the brave Territorials,
They can easily run a mile.
(I don’t think!)
Send out the boys of the girls brigade,
They will keep old England free,
Send out my mother, my sister and my brother,
But for goodness sake don’t send me.

Read More »

Letchworth (a footnote to John Buchan)

In John Buchan’s  Mr Standfast (1919), Richard Hannay is sent on an undercover mission to ‘the Garden City of Biggleswick’, to live among the   high-minded pacifists who set the place’s tone.
One of the residents describes the city:

‘It is one great laboratory of thought,’ said Mrs Jimson. ‘It is glorious to feel that you are living among the eager, vital people who are at the head of all the newest movements, and that the intellectual history of England is being made in our studies and gardens. The war to us seems a remote and secondary affair. As someone has said, the great fights of the world are all fought in the mind.’

Hannay notices that in Biggleswick there is ‘an abundance of young men, mostly rather weedy-looking, but with one or two well-grown ones who should have been fighting.’
Among these is ‘an unwholesome youth’ called Aronson, ironically described as ‘the great novelist’ and with a strong resemblance to D. H. Lawrence.
I’d heard before (I forget where) that Biggleswick was based on Letchworth Garden City, in Hertfordshire. Read More »

Some better ones from Jessie Pope

Jessie Pope always gets a bad press these days, especially from teachers who use her as an example of how not to write a war poem. Was she always that dreadful?

I’ve just become an Honorary Research Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University, and one of the perks is that I get access to databases through their excellent library service. Today I’ve been ferreting around in the Daily Mail‘s historical archive, looking at the first printing of Sapper stories, and recipes by Evadne Price.

During the first year or so of the War, Jessie Pope, of course, wrote poems regularly for the Mail. Most are just rather simple-minded patriotism, but I rather like this, from December 1914: Read More »

War Art at Leeds


For the past few months, Marion and I have been attending the lectures on art and the First World War at Leeds Art Gallery. I blogged here about Sue Malvern’s excellent talk on Nevinson; even more memorable was the account of Herbert Read by his son Ben.

I’m glad to say that the lectures are now available online, at For each of the eight talks there is a YouTube sound recording, a transcript, and links to relevant images.

The lecture that I’m most pleased to have online is the one that we missed when we were away on holiday, Anne C. Brookes’s talk on the very strange war memorial that Eric Gill produced for Leeds University in 1923, a carving of Christ Driving the Moneychangers from the Temple’.

gill warmemorial
Click the image for a larger version.
Read More »

‘An Arnold Bennett Companion’

The very good news is that An Arnold Bennett Companion, edited by John Shapcott, has now been published.


The cover, by the way, is one of Bennett’s own watercolours.
I’m especially interested in this book because it includes a chapter by me, on Arnold Bennett and the Great War. Read More »

Margate, 1922

In The Waste Land (1922). T.S. Eliot, having spent time in Margate while recovering from a nervous breakdown, wrote:

“On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken finger-nails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect

In 1922 (the annus mirabilis of modernism) Margate was also referenced in another key work: P.G.Wodehouse’s The Girl on the Boat. Read More »

‘For This I Had Borne Him’ by G. F. Bradby

During the Boer War, G.F. Bradby had written caustically about the way the British were conducting the campaign, and about the moral support given by the Church. As well as his Kipling parody, ‘Processional’, which I have mentioned before, he wrote, among other poems, ‘The Concentration Camps: October, 1901’:

Five thousand little children’s graves upon the blacken’d plain!
The first-fruits of the gospel à la Rhodes and Chamberlain,
the pledge of brotherhood restored, and that Imperial brag
Of Peace and Love et cetera beneath the British flag.

And Priest and Levite passing by, are eager to explain
It’s just the price we have to pay for being too humane;
They haven’t died, or, if they have, it’s absolutely right.
(The Church has such a pleasant way of proving black is white.)

When I discovered that the author of these poems had published a novel during the Great War, I immediately wanted to read it, and For This I Had Borne Him (1915) has turned out to be well worth hunting down. Read More »

Why teach Jessie Pope?

Jessie Pope is no longer a household name, but during World War One she was one of the most widely read poets. After decades in obscurity she has re-emerged to become a fixture on the English literature syllabus, but for all the wrong reasons.

That’s the beginning of The WW1 Poet Kids are Taught to Dislike, a good new article on the BBC website. It discusses the strange fact that Jessie Pope, a light and chirpy versifier, is the third most taught poet in Great War literature classes, after Owen and Sassoon.

Marek Pruszewicz, the author of the article, quotes me on the subject, and also Anne-Marie Einhaus, who explains very well why Jessie is so popular:

My theory is when you are teaching, especially at GCSE level, what you need is a clear message,” says Einhaus. “So you travel the journey from jingoism to total disillusionment and Jessie Pope fits well with that. It’s particularly handy to beat her with the stick of disillusionment.

Read More »

‘Blue Danube’ by Eunice Buckley

blue danube

This novel begins in the 1890s, with a Jewish patriarch in Vienna counting his blessings:

Today, the Lord be thanked, the Jews were neither despised nor rejected, but mingled with the Gentiles on terms of equality: in some instances might it not even be proper to say on terms of superiority?

When the book was published in 1943, these thoughts of Gustav von Silverberg would have resonated with a dreadful irony. The Jews of Austria, like those of the rest of continental Europe, were facing discrimination and cruelty on a scale unthinkable to this optimist of fifty years before.
One phrase in that sentence would have had a different resonance, though, for the (I assume few) readers who realised that ‘Eunice Buckley’ was a pseudonym of Rose Allatini. Despised and Rejected was the title of the Allatini pacifist novel suppressed in 1918, and by 1943 almost completely forgotten. Read More »

G. F. Bradby

Last week, as I mentioned, I was impressed by this Kipling parody, which I found in the conscientious objectors’ magazine, The Tribunal


Lord God of battles, whom we seek
On clouds and tempests throned afar,
When, tired of being tamely weak,
We maffick into deadly war.
If it should chance to be a sin,
At least enable us to win. Read More »


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