Tag Archives: World War I

New catalogue: papers of Edmund Blunden

The catalogue for a collection of letters and papers relating to the poet Edmund Blunden is now available online.*

Perhaps best remembered for being a war poet, Edmund Blunden is commemorated alongside fellow war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Many of his war poems, however, were written in retrospect and have the added poignancy of being written by an author over whose entire remaining life the First World War cast a long shadow. His poetry, like that of his literary hero John Clare, often evoked nature and explored how the natural world was affected by the devastating effects of war.

Born in London on 1st November 1896, the eldest of nine children, Edmund’s formative years were spent in Yalding, Kent. He attended Christ’s Hospital in Horsham, Sussex. When he left school in 1915, he joined the Royal Sussex Regiment as a Second Lieutenant and fought on the front line. His war years were not without distinction and he was awarded the Military Cross in 1917. He would later write about his experiences in his acclaimed prose work, Undertones of War, published in 1930.

During the last year of the war, when on camp in Suffolk, he met, fell in love with, and married Mary Daines, a local 19-year-old girl. Their first child, Joy, was born the following year but tragically died after only a few weeks. Joy’s death was to haunt him for the rest of his life. Mary carefully kept the letters Edmund sent her during their courtship when he was away with military duties; as she requested, however, her own love letters to him have not survived.

Edmund Blunden and Mary Blunden (née Daines), by Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1920 © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

After demobilisation in 1919, Edmund started studying at The Queen’s College, Oxford but this was cut short, partly for financial reasons. He travelled alone to Buenos Aires in 1922 and then accepted the post of professor of English at the Imperial University of Tokyo in 1924. Both times he left Mary and his family behind, their daughter Mary Clare having been born in 1920 and a son John Clare in 1922. Edmund, always a prolific correspondent, sent home copious letters, postcards, and Japanese prints, which Mary and later Mary Clare kept carefully. However, the strain of living apart took its toll on an increasingly fragile relationship. Edmund returned home in 1927 and the couple were divorced in 1931.

Despite an inauspicious start at Oxford, Edmund became Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Merton College, Oxford between 1931 and 1947. In these years he met and married the writer, Sylva Norman (née Nahabedian). The marriage, perhaps based more on intellectual need than compatibility, was short lived. Shortly after the marriage was dissolved in 1945, he married Claire Margaret Poynting, a young teacher and Oxford graduate, who shared his love of literature and cricket. They had four daughters.

Edmund returned twice again to the Far East – firstly in a diplomatic role between 1947 and 1950, before returning for a longer period as Professor of English Literature at the University of Hong Kong between 1954 and 1964. This time, though, he took his entire family with him.

Publicly acknowledged for his works to literature, in 1951 he was made a CBE, received the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry in 1956, and was made a companion of the Royal Society of Literature in 1962. Upon his retirement in 1964, the family returned to Suffolk. Though his health was deteriorating, Edmund Blunden was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1966, a post he had to resign after two years. He died at his home in Long Melford in 1974 aged 77.

The collection contains an extensive series of correspondence, dating from 1918 to the 1960s, mainly comprising letters sent from Edmund Blunden to his first wife Mary. The collection also includes commonplace books, scrapbooks, newspaper cuttings, various papers and correspondence relating to biographies, and papers relating to Mary Blunden.

– Rachael Marsay

*Please note that the collection is not currently accessible as, following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please do check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

Display – Wilfred Owen: The Pity of War

The last photograph of Wilfred Owen, Hastings, 30 Aug 1918

The last photograph of Wilfred Owen, Hastings, 30 Aug 1918

A hundred years ago, at 11 a.m. on 11 November 1918 (the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month) the Armistice was signed, bringing to an end the First World War. As the celebratory church bells rang out, a telegram was delivered to Susan and Tom Owen informing them of the death of their eldest son, Wilfred, one of 17 million casualties of the Great War to end all wars. He had been killed at the age of 25, just seven days before the Armistice. Owen received the Military Cross for gallantry, but was unknown to the public as a poet: only five of his poems were in print before his death. Today he is recognised as one of the greatest writers of war poetry in the English language.

To mark this double centenary the Bodleian has mounted a display of original material from the Owen Collection, which was given to Oxford University by Owen’s sister-in-law, Phyllis, in 1975 and transferred from the English Faculty Library to the Bodleian in 2016. Included in the exhibition are manuscripts of ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’; editions of the Craiglockhart Hospital magazine which Owen edited while being treated for shell-shock in 1917, and a selection of photographs and personal belongings preserved by his family.

Curated by Judith Priestman and Andrew Wheale

Wilfred Owen: The Pity of War
26 October – Christmas 2018
Proscholium, Bodleian Old Schools Quadrangle
Free entry

The first rule of Pig Club…

Rulebook of Nailsworth Pig Club, from the Sir Stafford Cripps archive at the Bodleian Library [sc22/1c]

Rulebook of Nailsworth Pig Club, April 1918, from the Sir Stafford Cripps archive [sc22/1c]

There’s just something about this delightful little three page rulebook that tickles me. Perhaps it’s the use of phrases like ‘eligible pigs’. Otherwise, it’s a perfectly serious document which details the ins and outs of the provision, insurance and inspection of pigs and potatoes (pigs and potatoes!) raised by members of the club.

It appears to have been produced by Gloucestershire County Council and was presumably part of a county-, or country-wide effort to encourage people to raise their own food during the war (also done during the second world war). Despite the central concern of food production, though, it’s a surprisingly cheering document for people concerned with animal welfare, as it’s very specific that the animals must be healthy and well-cared for, and that insurance compensation would not be paid if ‘the death or sickness of a pig is attributed to bad food, insufficient attention, or other carelessness or ill-treatment’.

One of my favourite things about the rulebook is who it belonged to: Stafford Cripps, probably best known as Britain’s ambassador to Moscow in 1940-1942 and as the austerity chancellor from 1947-1950. When this document was produced however, Cripps was not yet a political high flier. A chemistry graduate and practicing lawyer, he was both married and in ill health in 1914, which meant that he was not called up. He kept himself busy with recruitment efforts and then volunteered for a year in France as a Red Cross ambulance driver. In late 1915 he offered his chemistry expertise to the Ministry of Munitions and was posted to one of the country’s biggest munitions factories in Queensferry, near Chester. From early 1916, Cripps was running it, and it took its toll on his health. In early 1918, when this rulebook was drawn up, he was convalescing from a physical breakdown. Somehow, though, he still managed to find the time and energy to serve as honorary secretary of the Nailsworth Pig Club. The now nearly 100 year old rulebook survives in his archive at the Bodleian Library.

Incidentally, the first rule of Pig Club?:

  1. NAME.–The Society shall be called the “Nailsworth Pig Club.”

Can’t argue with that.

Lord Southborough papers now available

Francis Hopwood, first Baron Southborough

Francis Hopwood, first Baron Southborough, MS. Photogr. c. 185, fol. 56

The archive of the civil servant Francis Hopwood, first Baron Southborough (1860–1947), has now been catalogued and is available in reading rooms in the Weston Library.

Trained as a solicitor, Southborough had a fascinating career in the public service. The consummate civil servant, he worked at the Board of Trade, the Admiralty, and the Colonial Office when the British Empire was at its territorial peak. A skilled negotiator who was involved in public affairs at the highest level, he (among many other duties) served as secretary of the Select Committee investigating the botched Jameson Raid (1895-96), was entrusted with a secret peace mission to Scandinavia during World War I, and was elected as secretary of the Irish Convention which attempted to resolve the “Irish Question” following the Easter Uprising of 1916.

Southborough also worked closely with members of the British royal family and royal household, and was involved with the acquisition and cutting of the famous Cullinan Diamond, resulting in nine principal gems, two of which (known as the Great Star of Africa and the Second Star of Africa) today form part of the Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign’s Sceptre With Cross. The archive also includes a box of letters from Princess Louise and a typescript account (attributed to Princess Louise) of life in the royal household under Queen Victoria.

The general correspondence is also fascinating, and the archive includes letters from characters as diverse as the fervent naval reformer Admiral Lord Fisher and the author Edith Wharton. There are also significant tranches of letters from Southborough’s close colleague Winston Churchill (they worked together in the Admiralty); the South African prime ministers Louis Botha and Jan Smuts; Bernard Forbes, Lord Granard, corresponding about Irish affairs and the conduct of the Dardanelles Campaign in World War I; and Wiliam Humble Ward, Lord Dudley, while he was governer of Australia.

The archive is astonishingly rich and has a very wide range of research potential, not least for students of British political history.

War or Peace? 10 days in the Summer of 1914

In July 1914 there was no certainty that Britain would become entangled in the ‘Austro-Servian War’ which emerged from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June. The Liberal government in London was deeply divided over Britain’s possible role in a European conflict. A major new source for the deliberations that took place in H.H. Asquith’s Cabinet in the Summer of 1914 is Lewis Harcourt’s political journal. Harcourt, who was Colonial Secretary, sat next to Asquith at the Cabinet table. He maintained a record of proceedings despite being warned more than once by his colleagues not to do so. No official Cabinet diary was kept until David Lloyd George began the practice in December 1916.

Monogram on Lewis Harcourt's ministerial trunk in which his political journal was housed before it was acquired by the Bodleian Library.

Monogram on Lewis Harcourt’s ministerial trunk in which his political journal was housed before it was acquired by the Bodleian Library.

To mark the centenary of British intervention in the First World War on 4 August 1914, we shall be posting entries from Harcourt’s journal on the Oxford World War I Centenary blog from 26 July to 4 August. The journal traces the slide into war, and captures the changing opinions of individuals and groupings of ministers both for and against intervention.

Harcourt’s journal features in the Bodleian Libraries exhibition The Great War: Personal Stories from Downing Street to the Trenches.

-Matthew Neely

From Downing Street to the Trenches: First-Hand Accounts from the Great War, 1914-1916

OXFORD LITERARY FESTIVAL EVENT

From Downing Street to the Trenches: First-Hand Accounts from the Great War, 1914-1916

2:00pm | Monday 24 March 2014 | Bodleian: Convocation House | Tickets £11 | details

Mike Webb will be talking about his book to be published alongside the Bodleian Libraries Exhibition, The Great War: Personal Stories from Downing Street to the Trenches, 1914-1916 which runs from 12 June to 2 November 2014

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