I am celebrating National Poetry Day in the UK with a poem by a First World War poet discovered by Lesley Young. Many thanks to Lesley for getting in touch with me and sharing her findings which began when Lesley found a book of poems among her Great-Grandfather's half sister's possessions.
Kathleen Ethel Burne was born in Kensington on 11th May 1879. Her father was Thomas Burne, who worked as a clerk in a colliery in Durham, and her mother was Mary Isabella nee Simons. The family moved to London in 1864 when Thomas worked for the Civil Service, re-organising the War Office accounts during the Boer War, a task for which he was awarded the Imperial Service Order. He then became an Officer's secretary at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. Thomas and his wife had several children, among them Adeline, Godfrey, Cecil and Ormond, who went to teach in Germany. One of Thomas and Mary's sons and a grandson became mining engineers. Thomas died on 22nd March 1903.
Kathleen attended boarding school in St Andrews, Fife in 1891 and went on to study at Girton College, Cambridge in 1901. From 1907 until 1925, Kathleen worked as private secretary to Edmund Lamb MP at his estate in Borden Wood, Essex, where she lived at 3 Garden Cottages, Borden Wood. During that time Kathleen helped Edmund Lamb research his book ‘Some Annals of the Lambs: a Border Family’, which was published in 1926.
Kathleen was a teacher for a time and worked for over 25 years with Father Andrew in Plaistow, East London. She never married. Kathleen's nephew Harold Burne was killed in Palestine on 3rd November 1917.
Kathleen died after an illness aged 80 on 10th June 1959 at the Hostel of God, Clapham Common, but her WIll states her usual residence was Lake Cottage, Bobbolds Farm, Milland, Liphook, West Sussex.
Kathleen's poetry collection "Poems by K.E.B. " includes several poems written during the First World War and was probably printed in around 1926. Lesley's copy is hand bound with a hand-painted cover.
Sources: Information supplied by Lesley Young who has carried out extensive research on the life and work of Kathleen, and members of Kathleen's family who supplied personal information to Lesley. Kathleen's family have very kindly given me permission to share some of her poems with you, which I plan to do over the coming months.
Here is one of those poems:
Background to the poem:
In 1914 the German Kaiser invaded Belgium, which had previously declared itself neutral in a treaty dated 1839. During The First World War, the Chancellor of Germany dismissed that treaty as "A Scrap of Paper. Looking on the British Newspaper Archives - there are several poems about "a Scrap of Paper" that date from 1914/1915 published around the country. The comment clearly enraged the British public and inspired many to write poetry.
"Just for a scrap of paper!" the scornful German said,
"Just for a scrap of paper these things be on your head!"
Just for a scrap of paper we mourn our English dead.
Good faith is but a phantasm, and honour but a name:
Yet the little hosts of Belgium have won undying fame;
Yea, they shall live for ever, though their homes go up in flame,
Though their mortal bodies perish in direst agony,
Though the foeman's heel is on their neck, and their helpless children flee,
Though their women tread an alien soil in homeless misery.
As they have kept their honour, will England keep her faith;
She will stand by her gallant comrades till she draws her last breath;
She will fight for that scrap of paper to the very gates of death.
And you, O perjured Kaiser, when your thunder-bolts are hurled,
When the day of reckoning comes at last and the flags of war are furled,
May find that a scrap of paper has changed the face of the world.