Who’s Writing this Blog?

Who am I?

I’m George Simmers, who in 2005 retired from teaching English in a comprehensive school. Not wanting to drift into intellectual mouldiness during my retirement, I decided to do what I should have done thirty years before, and began PhD research at Oxford Brookes University. My subject was the fiction of the Great War (That’s the fiction they were writing at the time and just after, not modern novels about the war).

I have therefore spent a lot of my time reading novels (and memoirs and magazines and comics) of the period 1914-1930, gathering insights into the way that soldiers and ex-soldiers were portrayed. I’m lucky to live near Oxford, and once or twice most weeks I have spent a day or twoin the astonishing Bodleian Library, whose dedicated staff (I think of them as myopic gnomes scurrying through vast dark subterranean book-stacks, just for me) dig out the most astonishing material. Sometimes I order a book and am presented a cardboard box. I open it to find a ninety-year old book nestling inside, in its pristine dust-jacket. I wonder if I’m the first to open the book since 1915.

So why blog?

Reading this extraordinary material, I find a lot of interesting stuff that hasn’t found a place in my thesis or anything else that I’m likely to publish or share in other ways. On the off-chance that someone else might be interested in the things that catch my eye, and the ideas that strike me, I thought I’d put some of them online and see what happens.

It has been a most productive decision.  I have  made contact with academics and enthusiasts, and heard their views about the literature of the War.  Even more rewardingly,  I have also heard from descendants of some of my authors, which has greatly helped my sense of context. To anyone out there who is just beginning a Ph.D. thesis, I’d give this advice – get blogging!

The thesis was finally handed in late in 2009, and in  2010 I was awarded my Ph.D. Now I am thinking about how to turn the thesis into a book. I’m still fascinated by this material, and you can expect the blog to continue for a good while yet.

Where else am I online?

I also edit Snakeskin Poetry Webzine, which I think is the longest-running poetry zine on the web.

George Simmers


  1. J.D. Heskin
    Posted June 12, 2006 at 9:41 pm | Permalink


    I don’t know if this could be of any interest in your studies. And maybe you already have been to this site. But, if not, here it is. As you know, sometimes in the most elementary places, one can find fresh material.


  2. Posted July 6, 2006 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful! This is exactly what blogging is for and I’m so glad to have found you. I’m looking forward to seeing what you turn up in your Bodleian browsing. Best, BL

  3. Posted December 2, 2006 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    Mr. Simmers:

    Congratulations on doing what you always wanted to do. I’ve run across your blog a few times during my own research for Great War related topics. I’m an ex-USAF pilot, currently employed as an engineer in the San Frncisco Bay Area. I am so intrigued with the infinite fascinating tales of the Great War that I wrote a novel (An Ace Minus One) with the western front as a backdrop. The website (constructed by my wife) gives a glimspe of my novel. Interesting article about the “white feathers”. I actually had included a scene in my book. Best of luck in your research!

  4. Stephen Cullen
    Posted March 22, 2007 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Hello, George,

    I wonder if you’ve looked at my 1999 Oxford D.Phil., Gender and the Great War; British combatants, masculinity and perceptions of women, 1918-1939 ? It is based on Great War writing between 1918 and 1939, written by British combatants. It might be useful.

    Stephen Cullen.

  5. Jane Stemp
    Posted October 4, 2007 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Hi George,

    Have you come across “The Setons” by ‘O. Douglas’ [i.e. Anna Buchan, John’s sister]. First published 1917. The family set-up is basically that of the Buchans themselves.

    Her “Penny plain” and “Pink sugar” also fall within your timespan but I can’t remember off the top of my head whether they have such specific reference to the war.

  6. Posted October 4, 2007 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the suggestions.

  7. Carol D
    Posted February 15, 2008 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    Hi George – I enjoyed your website. Thank you for sharing. Have you read the Maisie Dobbs novels that have been written more recently? They are haunting in their descriptions.

  8. Joe
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Simmons,
    I was just curious what you think of “war literature.” The use of it as a plot device, and whehter or not its a good or bad thing in literature.
    Thanks so much.

  9. Posted March 23, 2009 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Joe –
    You ask what I think of “war literature”.
    I think it’s enormously varied, and difficult to generalise about.
    You ask what I think of it as a plot device.
    Great books have been written about men and women whose lives have been changed by war. So have many bad books.
    The worst books have been written by those who neither have any experience of war, nor have the willingness to research past the obvious.
    If you’re asking whether you should write a war story – my answer would be yes, but only if you’ve done your homework very thoroughly.

  10. siobhan
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 12:22 pm | Permalink


    Have just come across your blog whilst persuing my own obsession with WW1. I know it is not directly relevant (having been written in 1971) but what do you think of Goshawk Squadron?


  11. Posted March 31, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    ‘Goshawk Squadron’ is one that I haven’t got round to yet (My interest is mostly in fiction written between 1914 and 1930). It sounds interesting – but – so many books, so little time.

  12. James Gilman
    Posted May 29, 2009 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    My widowed grandmother and 5 children (including my future mother) lived in Walthamstow, London, during the First World War. Each night a soldier was on guard duty at the corner of their road, and it was through my grandmother befriending him that my mother met my father — hence without that soldier I’d not be here! I’ve never been able to find out (a) what the soldier was guarding; (b) whether every street in Walthamstow was similarly guarded during the War; (c) whether every street in London was similarly guarded. There was no military site, not even a barracks, marked on the street maps of the time. (In which case, where was the soldier stationed?)Can anyone solve this mystery?

    • Julian Putkowski
      Posted November 17, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      It would be helpful if you could better indicate the location of the street. Aside from depots and barracks, there were a number of important war production establishments situated in the vicinity of the Lea Valley. Aircraft development and munitions production facilities were situated in the area to the south of the Walthamstow reservoirs, including Leyton Walthamstow and Hackney marshes.

  13. Posted January 10, 2010 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    From 1965 to 1968, I was a Ph.D. candidate at Rice University (Houston, Texas). I wrote a doctoral dissertation entitled “The Impact of War on American Literature” — it was never accepted and consequently no longer exists. If you’d care to correspond about my fading recollection of my insights, please do.

  14. Posted February 11, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    I thought you might be interested in an online list of my war poetry collection at http://www.warpoetrycollection.com

    It contains over 5000 volumes by or about those who experienced war and then wrote about that experience in the form of poetry or verse. In includes men, woman, and children from of all ages and nationalities, from Sumerian times to the present t day conflicts in the Middle East.

    The collection can viewed by author or conflict.

  15. RGopalakrishnan Nair
    Posted May 22, 2010 at 11:00 am | Permalink


    A noble way to spend your retired life-time. Greatly appreciate it. Very seldom chance upon a being as you–spend time in researching rather then resting. Sir, I salute you. Look forward to reading your thesis. My best wishes.

  16. Posted October 4, 2011 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    My grandmother lost most of her sons to WWI, but before stumbling upon your blog, I knew very little about the great war other than the it of minimal history I retained from grade, and high school since my life after that was all about the arts. You provided some wonderful hours of reading, an expansion of my understanding of those times, and even a few blog posts for my own strange and eclectic blog that my few readers found enlightening. I know you provide a more in depth interest to many others. So, just to say thanks and proffer my admiration for your efforts.

  17. Nick Hooper
    Posted September 28, 2015 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    It’s good to see this contemporary fiction being given attention, rather than the post 1929 war poets’ reminiscences. I have been reading the likes of MacGill, Mottram, Manning, for many years. I urge you to get your thesis published (I am a just retired head of history – my project is the school I worked at for 27 years and its former pupils during the war). Another form of writing you may want to look at (may have already done so) is the unit histories written in the 1920s.
    Have you approached Helion Books?

  18. Tim Atkinson
    Posted March 28, 2016 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    My latest Great War literature project might be of interest/use both to your own research and possibly to other readers of your blog. You’ll be aware that very little is written of the post-war battlefield clearances and burials – and nothing fictional. This is an attempt to plug that gap: https://unbound.co.uk/books/the-glorious-dead

  19. Fiona Timms
    Posted May 14, 2018 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Hi there.

    I’m sure you won’t remember me. You taught me English at MCS from ‘78 to ‘80. I played Grusha in The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

    I’d like to say thank you. You were one of the teachers who really brought your subject to life.


    • Posted May 14, 2018 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

      Of course I remember you! You were a wonderful Grusha!
      Let me know what you’re doing now. I’m at simmersgeorge@yahoo.co.uk


      • Fiona Timms
        Posted June 7, 2018 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        Are you on Facebook? We have a Magdalen alumni group that would love to hear from you. You have a lot of fans!

        It’s only now, after reading your blog, that I’ve realised what differentiated you as a teacher. PASSION!

  20. Andrew White
    Posted November 25, 2018 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Hello George;

    You were my English teacher at MCS from 1975 through to 1981, and I also appeared in several plays that you produced at school. I am about to have my first book published, a factual account of an MCS Old Boy whose WW1 grave cross hangs on the chapel wall. It would be great to hear from you – you now have my email address.

  21. Maureen Connelly
    Posted April 28, 2021 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    What a great way to spend your retirement! Have you heard of ‘Peter Drake’ also a retired teacher from Hexham Northumberland who has written an excellent play called ‘The Prisoner’s Friend’ which has been performed in the North East

  22. Posted May 12, 2021 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if this blog is still live but if it is, it might be worth contacting Peter Drake for a copy of his play The Prisoner’s Friend. I saw it in Gateshead a while ago and it was extremely good. Very well researched and incredibly powerful
    John Hexham

  23. Posted May 16, 2021 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Thank you John Hexham for recommending my play and book The Prisoner’s Friend
    I would be delighted to let you have a comp copy if interested
    Peter Drake

  24. Posted May 16, 2021 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Thank you John Hexham for recommending my play and book
    I would be delighted to let you have a comp copy if interested
    Peter Drake

  25. Posted May 16, 2021 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Dear Peter,
    Do feel free to continue recommending your book under assumed names, and then thanking yourself for the recommendations. It’s quite amusing – though it doesn’t make me want to read your book.

  26. Norman Wells
    Posted May 25, 2021 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Mr Simmers – I was amused to find your references to AS-Level examinees’ responses to Rowland Feilding’s ‘War Letters to a Wife’.

    My grandfather, who was mentioned in the book, would have been astounded at the suggestion in one of the submissions that Col Feilding was homosexual. How times have changed!

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