Thursday, 6 September 2018

Beatrice Mary Smylie (1871 - 1961) - British

"A poet not on your list - Beatrice Mary Smylie" - from Felix via Twitter.  Beatrice was married to the poet Robert Smylie who was killed during the Somme Offensive on 14th July 1916.  Robert was featured in the 2016 exhibition of Poets, Writers and More of the Somme, 1916.  There is a book of that exhibition - Robert is on pages 29 - 30.

Beatrice was born in 1871 in Weston-Super-Mare in Somerset. She died in Cambridge on 31st March 1961 and was buried in Swaffam Bulbeck Cemetery, grave reference: 98032325.

Felix kindly sent me a scan of some of her poems, which I hope to type out and share with you shortly.

Many thanks, Felix.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Virginie Élodie Marie Thérèse Demont-Breton known as Virginie Demont-Breton (1859 – 1935) – French artist and poet

Virginie Élodie Marie Thérèse Breton was born on 26th  July 1859 at Courrières, a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Hauts-de-France region of France.   Virginie’s father was the artist Jules Breton (1827-1906), and her uncle was the artist Emile Breton.

Beginning in 1879, Virginie exhibited examples of her work in Paris. She was awarded a gold medal at the Universal Exhibition held in Amsterdam in 1883. In 1880, Virginie married the artist Adrien Demont en 1880 and they had three daughters - Louise, Adrienne et Éliane.
 In 1890, Virginie and her husband moved to Wissant, a small village on the ‘Opal Coast’ in France between Capes Blanc-Nez and Gris-Nes.  The following year they had a house built by the Belgian architect Edmond De Vigne.

Virginie Demont-Breton joined the French Union of women artists and sculptors in 1883 and was President of the Union from 1895 until 1901.  In 1894, Virginie was awarded a Legion d’honneur.

Virginie died in Paris on 10th January 1935.

See some of Virginie’s beautiful paintings here:

Virginie’s poetry collection, “Tendresses dans la tourmente: 1914-1919 poésies”, was published by Alphonse Lemerre, Paris, 1920.  I am trying to find some of Virginie’s poems.  If anyone can help, please get in touch.

With thanks to Régine Verguier for finding Virginie for me

Virginie's most famous painting "L'Homme est en mer" - English translation 'Her husband is away at sea' evokes for me the sentiments of women during the Fist World War.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Message of encouragement from the Women's History Community

"Dear Lucy London and Female War Poets

Thank you for submitting your entry to the WHN Community Prize.  I am sorry to tell you that you were not one of our prize winners, but that the judges were impressed by your work to uncover previously forgotten / unacknowledged/ unpublished women poets. One of our judges commented that this was a really interesting topic and that on a very small budget, you had promoted and shared an area of women’s history that was not well known. Keep up the good work. 

All the very best

Professor Maggie Andrews on behalf of the Women's History Community History Prize Panel"

Thank you Professor Andrews and the Women's History Community History Prize Panel - my main aim is to spread the word about the amazing women of WW1.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Celia, Lady Congreve (1867 – 1952) – British poet and WW1 nurse

Celia was born in India on 24th April 1867. She was baptised Cecelia Henrietta Dolores Blount la Touche on 3rd November 1867, in Rajkot, India, where her father was based.  Celia’s parents were Charles William Blount La Touche, a British Army Officer, and his wife, Rosa Wilhelmina, nee Müller.

On 3rd June 1890, Celia married Walter Norris Congreve VC KCB MVO (who was later knighted and became General Sir Walter Congreve), known as “Squibs” or “Old Concrete”, at St. Jude’s Church in Kensington, London, UK. Walter was an Army officer who served in the British Army during the Second Boer War and the First World War.  After WW1, he was General Officer Commanding the Egyptian Expeditionary Force between 1919 and 1923, Commander-in-Chief Southern Command between 1923 and 1924 and Governor of Malta from 1924 until his death in Malta in 1927.

Celia and Walter had the following children: William La Touche Congreve, VC, DSO, MC, Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur, Rifle Brigade, b. 1891 on the Wirral - William, known as “Billy”, was killed in action in 1916;
Commander Sir Geoffrey Cecil Congreve, DSO, RN., b. 19th July 1897, who was killed in WW2, and
Major Arthur Christopher John Congreve, b. 1903, who also served in the Second World War. Geoffrey Cecil Congreve was created a baronet of Congreve in the County of Stafford in July 1927.

In 1891, Celia was registered as living in Burton Hall (later Burton Manor), Burton, near Neston, Wirral, UK.

During the First World War, Celia served as a nurse in Belgium and France and was awarded the Reconnaissance Francaise and the Belgian Medaille de la Reine Elisabeth for being one of the last nurses to leave Antwerp with the wounded in 1914. She was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre for her bravery as a nurse at Rosières-aux-Salines, near Nancy, France.  The hospital was shelled and bombed by aircraft in 1918.

Celia died in Harrow on 4th September 1952.

Cellia’s WW1 poetry collection was “The Castle and other verses” (Humphreys, London, 1920).  One of her poems was included in “The Fiery Cross: an anthology”, edited by Mabel C. Edwards and Mary Booth (Grant Richards, Lonbdon, 1915) and, more recently, Dr Vivien Newman mentioned Celia in her book “Tumult and Tears:  The Story of The Great War through the eyes and lives of its women poets” (Pen & Sword History, Barnsley, Yorkshire, 2016).

Sources:  Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War:  A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978).

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Ella Higginson (1862 – 1940 ) - American

I find it very exciting to discover a WW1 female poet I have not heard of  and Ella Rhodes Higginson falls into that category.

With grateful thanks to Marielle Stockton, Research Specialist in the Library of American Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, USA, for her posts on Twitter, that led to the discovery of Ella Higginson and to an exchange of e-mails, to Dr. Laura Laffrado, Professor of English at Western Washington University and the Director of the Ella Higginson Recovery Project and to Debbie Cameron for reminding me to look at Twitter.

Ella was born in Kansas, the youngest of six children. Her parents were Charles Reeve Rhoads and his wife, Mary A. Rhoads.  Ella began writing poetry at an early age and had one of her poems – “Dreams of the Past” -  published in  “The Oregon City” newspaper in 1875.

Ella Rhoads married Russell Carden Higginson. He came from a prominent family on the east coast that had established themselves during America's colonial period. Russell Carden Higginson is a cousin of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the editor of Emily Dickinson's poetry. Ella is therefore relatec by marriage to the poet Mary Thacker Higginson, who was the wife of Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

During the First World War, Ella was a volunteer with the Bellingham Branchy of the American Red Cross and received the Red Cross Medal for her service.

“Song of the Evergreen Pine” is a poem that the Washington State Federation of Women’s Clubs asked Higginson to write for their 1915 convention. This poem appears in Ella Higginson: A Tribute, a slim volume published after her death in 1940 in which she selected many of the poems that would appear in it. This poem appears in no other books of Higginson’s.

The rivers to the ocean flow,
The sunsets burn and flee,
The stars come to the darkling sky,
The violets to the lea;
But I stay in one lone sweet place
And dream of the blue sea.

The harebell blooms and is away,
The salmon spawns and dies;
The oriole nests and is on the wing,
Calling her sweet good-bys;
But I, when blossoms and fruit are gone,
Yearn, steadfast to the skies.

I am a prayer and a praise,
A sermon and a song;
My leaf-chords thrill at the wind’s will
To nocturnes deep and strong;
Or to the sea’s far lyric melodies
They echo and prolong

When April flashing up the hill
Freshens my green attire,
I light my candle tall and pale
With holy scarlet fire—
And straight their incense mounts to God,
Pure as a soul’s desire.

My branches poise upon the air,
Like soft and living wings;
My trembling leaves the wind awakes
To a harp of emerald strings—
Or through the violet silences
A golden vesper sings.

I am a symbol and a sign . . .
Thro’ blue or rose or gray;
Thro’ rain and dark; thro’ storms of night,
Thro’ opaline lights of day—
Slowly and patiently up to God
I make my beautiful way.

“For Honor and for God” was printed on the front page of the Bellingham Herald on September 18, 1917. It was also published in a handbook of the Bellingham State Normal School, one of the state colleges for training teachers. This poem appears in no books of Higginson’s.

America, stand up! The time has come
      To blow shrill bugle-calls throughout this land.
      Drop the white flag of peace from they're firm hand,
And bid the long, wild rattle of the drum
Quicken the blood of men from shore to shore.
      Nations, on our swords gathered is no rust!
      Peace if it may be; red war if it must!
For we love peace—but we love honor more.

Fling out again o’er every battle-ship
      That old white flag with the inspired device—
      The pine-tree springing from the lowly sod
Thrilled big with prayer to its trembling tip!
      Then will the old fire melt these veins of ice,
      And we will fight—for honor and for God!

“God Has Not Spoken Yet” appears in the American Reveille in April of 1910, but in Ella Higginson: A Tribute the poem is reprinted and there it says that it was written in April of 1918. I believe that the poem was perhaps revised by Higginson and printed in a newspaper or periodical in 1918. This poem appears in no other books of Higginson’s.

God has not spoken yet!
The world’s dread horror struggles to its close;
Where France’s slopes today with blood are wet,
Next year will bloom the lily and the rose.

God has not spoken yet!
But when God speaks—whose side will God be on?
Will he the Invaders’ crimes forget,
Give night and shame, or Liberty and dawn?

God has not spoken yet—
But courage must not fail, nor faith grow weak;
To work! for Freedom’s sun must never set!
God has not spoken—but God will speak!

[under poem in type: “(Hohenzollern changed to Invaders.)—E. H.”] 

An interview with Dr. Laura Laffrado

Follow Marielle’s tweets here

The Photograph of Ella taken during the 1890s is from her Wikipedia entry (27 May 2018).

Friday, 27 April 2018

Mary Symon (1863 – 1938) – Scottish Poet

With thanks to on Twitter for reminding me that I had not yet researched Mary Symon, who is on my List of Female Poets of the First World War.

Mary was born on 25th September 1863 in Dufftown, Moray in Banffshire, Scotland. Dufftown is in the ancient parish of Mortlach.  Her parents were John Symon, a Saddler and Merchant who was a Provost of Dufftown, and his wife, Isabella Symon, nee Duncan.  Mary had a younger sister, Elizabeth, who was born in 1866.

Mary began writing poetry at an early age. She was educated locally at Mortlach Public School, then attended the Edinburgh Institute for Young Ladies. She attended classes at Edinburgh University and graduated from St. Andrew’s University .

Mary died in Dufftown on 27 May 1938

Mary’s WW1 collection "Deveron Days, poems" was published by Wyllie, Aberdeen in 1933.  Mary's poem was also published in "A Book of Twentieth-Century Scots verse" (Gowan & Gray, Glasgow, 1925). 

For an article by Leanne Welsh about Mary’s poem "The Soldiers' Cairn", please see:

“The Soldiers' Cairn” by Mary Symon

Gie me a hill wi' the heather on't,

An' a reid sun drappin' doon,

Or the mists o' the mornin' risin' saft

Wi' the reek owre a wee grey toon.

Gie me a howe by the lang Glen road,

For it's there 'mang the whin and fern

(D'ye mind on't, Will? Are ye hearin', Dod

That we're biggin' the Soldiers' Cairn.

Far awa’ is the Flanders land

Wi' fremmit France atween,

But mony a howe o' them baith the day

Has a hap o' the Gordon green.

It's them we kent that's lyin' there,

An' it's nae wi' stane or airn

But wi' brakin' herts, an' mem'ries sair,

That we're biggin' the Soldiers' Cairn.

Doon, laich doon the Dullan sings—

An' I ken o' an aul' sauch tree,

Where a wee loon's wahnie's hingin' yet

That's dead in Picardy;

An' ilka win' fae the Conval's broo

Bends aye the buss o' ern,

Where aince he futtled a name that noo

I'll read on the Soldiers' Cairn.

Oh! build it fine and build it fair,

Till it leaps to the moorland sky —

More, more than death is symbolled there,

Than tears or triumphs by.

There's the Dream Divine of a starward way

Our laggard feet would learn—

It's a new earth's corner-stone we'd lay

As we fashion the Soldiers' Cairn.




Lads in your plaidies lyin' still

In lands we'll never see,

This lanely cairn on a hameland hill

Is a' that oor love can dee;

An' fine an' braw we'll mak' it a',

But oh, my Bairn, my Bairn,

It’s a cradle’s croon that’II aye blaw doon

To me fae the Soldiers' Cairn.


And Find my Past

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Hannah Sarah Taylor, nee Lawson - A 'silver-haired' poetess

Meanwhile, over on Twitter, BlitzDetective has found me a WW1 female poet who entertained people sheltering in air raid shelters during the WW2 Blitz by reading her poems to them.  I am hoping to enlarge upon this find.

My grateful thanks to BlitzDetective for contacting me with such an amazing find: 
Hannah Sarah Lawson was born on 21st June 1867 in Camberwell, London, UK.  Her mother was nee Barnett.  In 1889, Hannah married John Harry Taylor and they had two children – Cyril, born 17th July 1902, and Alice.

During the Second World War, in an air raid shelter in Blenheim Grove, Peckham, UK, a make-shift brazier gave out warmth and light.  A few people got out of their bunks and gather quietly in the firelight.  A little silver-haired old lady was reading from a thick exercise book:

“Forward, onward, upward and though your heart may break,

 Faith can pierce the densest mist that hides the highest peak.

Then when your life’s work’s ended, and you cross death’s silver streak

Earth will be just a little better for your climb towards the peak.”  

“I wrote that in 1914”, said 73 year old Mrs Hannah Taylor in a report in the “South London Press” newspaper during WW2:

It’s nearly 60 years since this Peckham widow wrote her first poetry – it was blank verse - a small play inspired by a recitation she had heard.  The playlette is enacted for their own amusement by herself and a few friends in her home at King’s Cross.  Since then, during a busy life, as mother of five and wife of a hard-working husband, she has gradually filled the pages of a number of exercise books with neatly written plays and stanzas, ranging over all topics – moral, political and romantic.  Many of the people who listen to her poems while the Blitz rages outside, have heard her reciting from the platform at Co-operative and Band of Hope concerts.
They may also enjoy the drawings of 38-year old Cyril Taylor hung up on the walls of the air raid shelter as a background to his mother’s poetic evening.   She has a mother’s pride in them.
Mrs Taylor told a “South London Press” reporter who saw her at her home in Copleston Road, Peckham – she said “I have never tried to get any of my stuff published.  Whenever I have something to say, I put it into poetry.  Before the war, I recited my verses at a great many concerts.  Now I have taken the books in which they are written to a shelter for safety and read them at night as some like to listen.”

This woman who has dedicated her spare time to brightening the hours for others has a heart-ache of her own.  Each time the postman knocks at her house with its boarded windows, she hurries to scan the letter hoping it will contain news of her daughter, Alice and the Belgian husband with whom she returned to Belgium after the last war.  They had previously lived at Hannover Park, Peckham.  When they last wrote, the husband, Mr Theo Larsen, was Manager of the Carleton Hotel, Antwerp and their private address was Rue Berchemhoff, no. 5, Berchem, Province of Antwerp.  This letter said that the Germans had crossed the Belgian frontier.  No correspondence had followed.

“I have written to the Red Cross but they haven’t been able to help me”, says Mrs Taylor. “I keep wondering what has happened to my girl.”  Meanwhile, reading aloud by the brazier in the shelter, she tells Hitler
“Whatever you do to our people, however you smash London Town,
We still have Old England, our England, You can’t keep Old England down.”

From “The South London Press” during WW2.