Sunday 29 December 2013

Facebook Page Female Poets of the First World War

They say that if you wake up with an idea then you should try to act upon it.  So this morning I have set up a Facebook Page for the Commemorative WW1 project Female Poets of the First World War.

My aim is, and always has been, to include as many poets as possible from as many countries of the world as possible.  This is not an academic project so I welcome suggestions of unknown poets and look forward to hearing from you either by e-mail or on Facebook.


An Exhibition is on view at The Wilfred Owen Story
34 Argyle Street
BIRKENHEAD, Wirral, CH41 6AE  Tel.: 07903 337995
Tuesday - Friday 11 am - 2 pm - please phone first as the WOS is manned by volunteers.

Nancy Cunard (1896 - 1965) - British

WW1 poster

Nancy Cunard was born on 10th March 1896 in Nevill Holt, Harborough District, Leicestershire, UK.  Her parents were Sir Bache Cunard, an heir to the Cunard shipping line and a baronet, and Maud Alice, nee Burke, an American heiress.

During the First World War, Nancy remained in London where she and her friends - the poet Iris Tree and Lady Diana Manners - dealt with their fear of losing friends who enlisted, and the terror of air raids at home, by dressing up in their finery and partying. 

The girls also volunteered for war work in canteens, worked tirelessly for charities and raised funds for the war effort. They had friends who confided their secret fears to the girls before going off to war, their worst fear being not having a proper burial due to being blown to bits.   

On 15th November 1916, Nancy married Sydney George Fairbairn, a cricketer and army officer who was wounded fighting during the Gallipoli Campaign. They honeymooned in Devon and Cornwall, the set up home in London in a house given to them by Nancy's mother as a wedding present. The couple separated in 1919 and divorced in 1925.

Nancy died in Paris on 17th March 1965 and is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Île-de-France, Paris, France - Grave Reference: Division 87, Columbarium- however, it seems that the headstone no longer exists.
Nancy Cunard portrait

Nancy's WW1 poetry collections were:  "Outlaws and other poems" (Elkin Mathews, London, 1921) and "Paralas" (Hogarth, 1925).  She also had poems published in two  editions of the Sitwells' "Wheels" anthologies  - 1916 and 1917.

Sources:  Chatherine W. REILLY.- "English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography" (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1975) pp. 32 and 101, 

GORDON, Lois.- “Nancy Cunard Heiress, use, Political Idealist” (Columbia University Press, Chichester, 2007).

Photograph of Nancy Cunard centre - with her friend Lady Diana Manners (left) - at a sale in December 1915, held in Harrods department store, London, UK in aid of the Red Cross Fund.   Photograph from “The Tatler” Magazine, 8th December 1915. 

Found by Zoe Lyons and posted on Sue Robinson’s Facebook Group Wenches in Trenches

Friday 20 December 2013

Elsie Janis (1889 - 1956) - American music-hall entertainer, actress, film star, film producer, film director, screenwriter and writer

It seems that I shall have to add Elsie Janis - one of my "Inspirational Women of WW1" - to the list of American poets.

Elsie, who was born Elsie Jane Bierbower on 16th Marach 1889 in Columbus, Ohio, USA , used the pen-name Elsie Janis. She wrote and published several collections of poems in her long and illustrious career as a talented music-hall entertainer, actress, film star (both silent and talking), film producer, film director, screenwriter, poet and writer.

One of Elsie's poems was dedicated to the Troops of the American Expeditionary Force who she went to entertain on The Western Front in 1917.   

One soldier wrote home: “Elsie Janis entertained us a few evenings ago and say, if she couldn’t make you forget all your troubles in a half minute, you might as well dig a six-foot hole and crawl in. She sang a few of Broadway’s latest and told some good stories and kept us all laughing for an hour and a half. She even had us singing like a bunch of kids, including a half dozen generals in the front row.”

The poem is entitled "Lest we Forget!" which surely earned Elsie the title "The Sweetheart of the AEF".

Well boys! La guerre est finie,
And, of course, we all are glad.
But, as time goes on, we’ll realize
That the War was not so bad.
Of course, it had its drawbacks,
But it had its glories too
And for me, my greatest glory was
That I got to know you.
To know you in your hardships,
To know you in your joys
To know that my life’s finest hours
Were spent among you boys.
In dug-outs or in Y-huts,
In boxing ring or trench,
I loved to see you smile at me,
And yell in Doughboy French:
“Bonjour comment te hell est vous?”
And sing my songs with me.
Oh boys, I know it’s selfish,
But I’m sorry it’s “fini”

For as a boy remembers
The dear old swimming  hole,
And as a girl remembers
The first kiss her sweetheart stole:
Just as your mother still can feel.
Your golden baby locks,
So are the days we spent in France
Locked in my memory box.

The War is dead Long live the War!
And the memory of the men
Who fought and died,
Or lived through hell
To come back home again.
So let us laugh, and let us say
Thank God we’re through,
And yet – 
Let’s breath a tiny little prayer
Each day,
Lest we forget. (Janis, “Poems”, pp 58 – 59).

One of the most popular songs Elsie sang to the troops was “Don’t Forget the Red Cross Nurse” by Lew Orth and Chas. K. Hicks and published by Orth & Coleman, Boston, Mass. in 1917.

All about sacrifice, the song captures the effort of the nurse who is likely to forgo herself and help soldiers first in the “field of battle mid cannon’s roar and rattle.” Serving in a time of conflict, the image of the American Red Cross nurse became a symbol of companionship, bravery, and motherly love.

Elsie entertaining troops in WW1

After WW1, Elsie toured with a show called "Elsie Janis and her Gang in a Bomb-Proof Review", which featured former soldiers, nurses and other WW1 workers.

Elsie moved to Los Angeles, where she died in 1956.


Friday 13 December 2013

Remembering May Sinclair on 103.2 Preston FM

Arguably one of the most important British women writers of the early twentieth century, May Sinclair was mentioned on our Best Kept Secrets Radio Show on 103.2 Preston FM last weekend.  Listen again by clicking on the link at the end of this report.

Since I began researching May Sinclair's life and works for the Exhibition of Female Poets of the First World War that began in November 2012 at the Wilfred Owen Story, 34 Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH41 6AE, a May Sinclair Society has been set up.   Rebecca and Claire, who run the Society have been in touch with an up-date of Society news 

The May Sinclair Society website now features two new articles: 'May Sinclair and Psychology', and 'May Sinclair's Impressions of War'.

Leslie de Bont has written a fascinating account of Sinclair's involvement with the Medico-Psychological Clinic, her psychological writings, and the influence this had on her fiction. You can view this article here -

Charlotte Jones's article, 'May Sinclair's Impressions of War', is a masterly contextual reading of A Journal of Impressions in Belgium, narrative authority, and Impressionism in wartime. You can read this here -

If anyone would like to contribute an article please do get in touch via the Society's website.

A reminder, too, of the call for papers for next year's Symposium -     The deadline for abstracts is 31st March 2014.

Thursday 12 December 2013

Poem dedicated to Betty Stevenson, Inspirational Woman of WW1


To them that knew her there is living flame
In these the simple letters of her name.
To them that knew her not, be it but said
So strong a spirit is not of the dead.

G. Meredith

From:  "Betty Stevenson, YMCA Croix de Guerre avec Palme Sept. 3rd 1896 - May 30th 1918"
Edited by G.G.R.S. and A.G.S. published by Longmans Green and Company, New York, 1920

Sunday 8 December 2013

Undiscovered WW1 Poets

I am indebted to Seamus Breslin for posting the attached poem written by the mother of a solider who was killed in WW1. Seamus posted the poem on the Remembering World War One in 2014 one hundred years Facebook Group page.  The poem was written by Sarah Toye in memory of her son John Vincent Toye who died on 2nd July 1915.

Unlike many others who collect anthologies of WW1 poetry written by women, I would like to highlight those who were not 'professional poets' but who wrote from the heart.

And I hope that my exhibitions will inspire a new generation to write their own poetry.  In the words of Scottish poet George Bruce "Just do it!".

With thanks to Dr. Ian Olson for bringing George Bruce to my attention.

And thanks to Stanley Kaye for starting the Facebook Group and for his wonderful idea of planting poppies in remembrance, so that next year the world will be ablaze with colour.

Sunday 1 December 2013


I am always asking people to let me know of any poets they know of who are not already on my list.   I thought, in all fairness, I really ought to let you know some of the books I have already read.



ALAN, A.J, Ed.- “Second Book”.- (Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., London, 1932)

BILTON, David.- “Images of War  The Germans in Flanders 1914” (Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2012)

BIRN, Antony and BIRN, Nicholas. Eds.- “Voices from the Front Line".- (Summersdale Publishers Ltd., Chichester, Sussex, 2008)

BOORMAN, Derek.- "A Century of Remembrance. 100 Outstanding British War Memorials". (Pen & Sword Books, Barnsley, Yorkshire, 2005)

CARDINAL, Agnes, GOLDMAN, Dorothy, HATTAWAY, Judith. Eds.- “Women’s Writing on the First World War” (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999)

CLARKE, G.H. Ed.- “A Treasury of War Poetry  British and American Poems 1914 - 1919".-  (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1917)

DEPP, Wolfgang G., MIDDLETON, Christopher, SCHONHERR, Herbert, Eds.- “Ohne Hass und Fahne No Hatred and no Flag Sans haine et sans drapeau”.- (Rowohlt, Hamburg, 1959)

Editor Unknown.- “Fifty amazing stories of the Great War”.- (Odhams Press Ltd., London, 1936)

FOWLER WRIGHT. S. (Ed.).- "Poets of Merseyside  An Anthology of Present
Day Poetry".-  (Merton Press Ltd., London, 1923)

GOLDSTEIN, JOSHUA S.- “War and Gender:  How Gender shapes the War System and Vice Versa”.-  (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001)

HIGGONET, Margaret, Ed. - “Lines of Fire  Women Writers of World War I” .-(Penguin Books, London, 1999)

HOLLIS, Matthew and KEEGAN, Paul, Eds.- “101 Poems against War”.- (Faber and Faber, London, 2003)

HOLT, Tonie and Valmai and ZEEPVAT, Charlotte, Eds. – “Poets of the Great
War”.- (Pen & Sword Books Ltd., Barnsley, Yorkshire, 1999)

KHAN, Nosheen, Ed.- “Women’s Poetry of the First World War” .- (Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 1988)

LARKIN, Philip.- “The Oxord Book of Twentieth Century Verse Chosen by Philip Larkin” (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1973)

LLWYD, Alan, Ed. - “Out of the Fire of Hell.  Welsh Experiences of the Great War 1914 – 1918 in prose and verse”.- (Gomer Press, Llandysal, Ceredigion SA4 4JL, 2008)

MACDONALD, John with ZELIKO, Cimpric. - “Caporetto and the Isonzo Campaign  The Italian Front 1915 – 1918”.- (Pen & Sword Military, Barnsley, Yorkshire, 2011)

MARSLAND, Elisabeth A., Ed.- “The Nation’s Cause  French, English and German Poetry of the First World War”.- (Routledge, Oxford, 1991)

NOAKES, Vivien, Ed. - “Voices of Silence  The Alternative Book of First World War Poetry”.- (Sutton Publishing Ltd., Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2006)

POLE, Stephen and WHEAL, Elizabeth-Anne Eds. - “Dictionary of the First World War”.- (Pen & Sword Military Classics, Barnsley, Yorkshire, 2003)

POWELL, Anne, Ed.- "A Deep Cry A Literary Pilgrimage to the Battlefields and Cemeteries of First World War British Soldier-Poets Killed in Northern France and Flanders".- (Palladour Books, Aberporth, Dyfed, 1993)

REILLY, Catherine. Ed. - “Scars upon my Heart”.- (Virago Press, London, 1981)

ROBERTS, David. Ed.- "Minds at War The Poetry and Experiences of the First World War".- (Saxon Books, Burgess Hill, West Sussex, 1996)

SMITH, William James. Ed. – “Granger’s Index to Poetry”.- (Columbia University Press, London, 1973)

SPRIET, Chris, Ed.- ”We werden honderd jaar ouder (We aged a hundred years).- Davidsfonds Uitgeverij, Leuven, 2013)

STALLWORTHY, Jon. Ed., “The Poems of Wilfred Owen”.- (Chatto & Windus, London, 1990)

ZUBER, Terence.- "The Battle of the Frontiers  The Ardennes 1914".- (The History Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2007)


The First World War Poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford