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The Twelve Poets of the Ypres Salient

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There were sixty-six poets killed in the First World War. Some were recognised, and their work published others, going into obscurity. Of the sixty-six there are twelve who are buried or commemorated in the Ypres Salient and their profile reflects the sixty-six. Two are recognised the others going into obscurity. There are ten officer poets and two other ranks, and three of the officers hold the Military Cross. Indeed, Lt Col John Ebenezer Stewart, listed on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing, was glad of the MC he had won, if only to prove that ‘fellows who write verse are not softies.’


Society’s vision of the First World War is shaped by the war poets such as Owen, Sassoon, Yeats, Blunden, Rosenberg, and Brooke. Their vision has dominated the narrative and popular image of what the war was to those who fought in it and lived through it. The reality was very different. The twelve poets of the Ypres Salient wrote of this reality of the human suffering but also of the mundane day to day life of the Poor Bloody Infantry. Their poetry was published during the war or shortly after.


Many myths have grown up around the First World War the public schools as great factories of cannon fodder, the lost generations, the uncaring Generals, Haig being singled out, and the ‘Lions led by donkeys’ narrative. The reality is somewhat different. Andrew Robertshaw and David Kenyon in their book ‘Digging the Trenches, The Archaeology of the Western Front’, calculated that 7.61 per cent of the wounded and less than 1 per cent of the sick died after reaching medical care. Consequently, they estimated that 82 per cent of the wounded returned to their units and that 9.3 per cent of sick did likewise. Around 11 per cent of those who served in the British armed forces died. The total number from the United Kingdom who were mobilised numbered some 5.7 million. Therefore, 5.07 million came home. In the case of the Ypres Salient, the cemeteries and memorials to be found there represent a significant minority of those who died there however, not the millions that are regularly presented in the post war narrative. My blog on Death & All Its Forms covers the subject in more detail 


Kipling’s poem ‘A Death Bed’ uses the war and is not about the war. It is a poem about death which is both a complex and disturbing statement on the theme. His son John was shot through the head and was listed as missing and buried in a ‘Known Unto God’ grave. His remains were identified in 1992 when a mistake was discovered in the CWGC paperwork by Norm Christie then Records Officer with the CWGC. He is buried in St Mary’s ADS Cemetery, Haisnes. His death haunted Kipling, it was not helped that others wrote to him gloating at his son’s death as a reward for Kipling being a vociferous advocate of the war and British imperialism.


‘This is the State above the Law

The state exists for the State alone.’

(This is a gland at the back of the jaw,

And an answering lump by the collar bone.)

Some die shouting in gas or fire;

Some die silent, by shell and shot.

Some die desperate, caught on the wire;

Some die suddenly. This will not.


The twelve poets of the Ypres Salient come from varied backgrounds and I have included extracts of their poetry as well as much as possible of the military action, they were involved in, using regimental histories and war diaries. The men are included in the cemetery biography with a link listed beside each name and this can be followed to their story and that of the cemetery or memorial they are listed on. You can also read their individual stories in the Twelve Poets of Ypres Salient section


The Twelve Poets of the Ypres Salient are:


Lieutenant Robert William Sterling, 1st Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, Age 21, Killed 23 April 1915. Dickebusch New Military Cemetery Grave D.28


Lieutenant Walter Scott Stuart Lyon, 9th Battalion Royal Scots, Age 28, Killed 8 May 1915. Menin Gate Memorial Panel 11


Captain The Honourable Colwyn Erasmus Arnold Phillips, Royal Horse Guards, Age 26, Killed 13 May 1915. Menin Gate Memorial Panel 3


2nd Lieutenant Harold Parry, 17th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps, Age 20, Killed 6 May 1917. Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery Grave VI.L.12


Lieutenant Gerald George Samuel, 10th Battalion Royal West Kent Regiment, Age 31, Killed 7 June 1917. Menin Gate Memorial Panel 45 


Lieutenant John Collinson Hobson, 12th Battalion Royal Scots attached 116th Company, Machine Gun Corps (Infantry), Age 23, Killed 31 July 1917. Menin Gate Memorial Panel 56


Private Ellis Humphrey Evans, 15th Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers, Age 30, Killed 31 July 1917. Artillery Wood Cemetery Grave II.F.11


Lance Corporal Francis Ledwidge, ‘B’ Company, 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, Age 29, Killed 31 July 1917. Artillery Wood Cemetery Grave II.B.5


Captain Eric Fitzwater Wilkinson M.C., ‘A’ Company, 8th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment (Leeds Rifles),  Age 26, Killed 9 October 1917. Tyne Cot Memorial Panel 42 to 47


2nd Lieutenant William Robert Hamilton, Coldstream Guards, attached 4th Battalion Guards Machine Gun Regiment), Age 26, Killed 12 October 1917. Tyne Cot Memorial Panel 9 & 10


Lieutenant John Brown M.C., 6th Battalion attached 9th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders (Pioneers), Age 26, Killed 11 April 1918. Voormezeele Enclosure No.3 Grave XIII.B.26/27


Lieutenant Colonel John Ebenezer Stewart M.C., 4th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment, Age 29, Killed 26 April 1918. Tyne Cot Memorial Panel 85 to 86

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