Wednesday 27 January 2016

Georgina de Bellasis Bowen-Colthurst (1855 - 1921) - Irish

Georgina was born on 2nd March 1855 in Cork, Ireland.  Her parents were Alfred Greer and Peggy Bowen-Colthurst.

She married Robert Walter Travers Bowen-Colthurst on 15th August 1872 and the couple had four children:  Mary, John, Peggy and Robert.   They lived at Oakgrove and Dripsey Castle in Carrignamuck, Co. Cork, Ireland.

Georgina's WW1 Collection 'It is for Man to choose' was published by Elkin Mathews in 1920.  It was dedicated to the memory of her son, Robert Macgregor, who was born in 1883.  He was a Captain in the 1st Battalion Leinster Regiment and was killed in action on The Western Front.  The inscription read: 'To my grandson, Patrick, in memory of his dearly-loved father, killed at St. Eloi, 15th March 1915, in the World War.'

Captain Bowen-Colthurst is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial in France.

Georgina died in 1921.

Monday 18 January 2016

Eva Anstruther (1869 - 1935) – British poet and writer

Eva Isabella Henrietta Hanbury-Tracy was born on 25th January 1869.  Her parents were Charles Douglas Richard Hanbury-Tracy, 4th Baron Sudley, and his wife, Ada Maria Katherine, nee Tollemache.   Eva grew up in the family home Toddington Manor near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire.

Eva began writing seriously at the age of fourteen and had some of her work published.  She wrote novels, short stories, a play, poems and contributed articles to newspapers.

In 1889, Eva married Henry Anstruther and the couple had a son and a daughter.  They separated later and were divorced in 1915.

When the Camps Library – a scheme for providing Allied Prisoners of War with books during WW1– was set up on 1st October 1914, Eva was appointed Honorary Director of the organisation.   As she had many contacts among important people of the literary world at the time, Eva was able to make arrangements with certain publishing companies whereby stocks of their unsold books were made available to Camps Library free of charge. 
For her work as Director of the Camps Library, Eva was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1918.

Eva died at her home in Chelsea, London, on 19th June 1935.

Source:  Article by Edmund G.C. King ‘Books are more to me than food. British PoWs as Readers 1914 – 1918’ on Project Muse, John Hopkins University Press, Volume 16, 2013; pp. 246 – 271 (Article) - kindly sent to me by a friend in America.

And Wikipedia


Sunday 10 January 2016

Another Poem by Shushanik Kurghinian

Although this poem was not written during the period of the First World War, it has a very powerful message that is still valid today.   As Shushan Avagyan has kindly sent me her translations of several poems written by Shushanik Kurghinian, I thought I would share some of them with you.

I Want to Live

S. Kurghinian, 1907

I want to live, but not a lavish life

trapped in obscurity, unconcern, foolishness,

nor an outright hostage of beauty aids

as a frail creature, delicate and feeble

but equal to you, oh men, prosperous

as you are powerful and headstrong,

fit against calamities, ingenious in mind

and bodies full of fervor.


I want to love, unreserved, without a mask

autonomous like you, so that when in love

I can sing my feelings to the world

and unchain my heart a woman’s heart

before the crowds . . . ignoring their stern

judgements with my shield and destroy

their prickly arrows aimed at me

with all my vigor unrestrained!


I want to act, equal, next to you,

as a loyal member of the people,

let me suffer over and again, night or day,

wandering from one place to another,

always struggling for the ideal

of freedom . . . And let this burden

torment me even in my exile

only to gain a purpose in this life.


I want to eat, comfortably as you do,

from that same fair bread, for which

I gave my share of holy work;

in the struggle for existence, humble and meek,

without feeling humiliated, let me

shed sweat-and-tears for a blessed earning,

let scarlet blood flow from my worker’s hands

and let my back tire in pain!


I want to fight, first as your rival,

standing against you with an old vengeance,

that absurdly and without mercy you

turned me into a vassal through love and force.

Then after clearing these issues of my sex

I want to fight against the agonies of life

courageously like you, holding your hand,

facing together this strife of being or not . . .

Saturday 9 January 2016

Shushanik Popolijian Kurghinian (1876 - 1927) - Armenian

I received a wonderful e-mail recently from Shushan Avagyan (b. 1976), a translator and lecturer in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at the American University of Armenia.  Shushan sent me a wealth of very interesting information that she has written about one of the poets on my List - Armenian poet Shushanik Popoljian Kurghinian - together with other biographical notes and photographs of the poet.  

Shushanik Popoljian Kurghinian was born on 18th August 1876 in Alexandropol (now called Gyumri) in Eastern Armenia.  In 1893 Shushanik joined the Armenian Social Democrat Hunchak Party.  She wrote poetry, prose and plays and began to consider ways to free Armenians from Turkish and Czarist rule.

Shushanik married Arshak Kurghinian.  In 1903 she travelled alone to Russia where she joined a clandestine workers’ movement in Rostov-on-Don.   Her first collection of poetry was published in 1907.   Shushanik’s poetry speaks for the under-privileged – especially women – and is a rallying call for the poor and oppressed.

Shushanik’s husband died in 1917.  In 1921 she returned to Armenia where she became ill and died in 1927.   Her daughter compiled and published Shushan’s poetry in several collections.

Shushan sent me several of her translations of Shushanik’s poems – here is one of them.

The Girl

S. Kurghinian, 1917

With old and tattered clothes,

with beautiful eyes of azure

the child of great anguish is she,


who wears a dishonored smile upon

her face¾a promiscuous wanton look

from the early experienced lust.


To the crowded market full of people

she comes pale, lifeless and hungry

looking for an “acquaintance” . . .


¾Take me, for the price of a slice

of bread or a glass of wine,

she sobs out loud.


¾Take my beggarly body,

my soul, ravaged and forlorn,

my heart¾all for a shameless sale!


¾Come, I said, wretched sister,

come and I will ease your pain,

release you from shame.


And she cursed me obscenely, laughing,

¾You think you are purer than me?

Me, abandoned by blind fate?

Thursday 7 January 2016

Alexandra Seager (1870 - 1950) - Australian

Alexandra was born Alexandrine Laidlaw on 10th November 1870 in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.  Her father was farmer and miner William Laidlaw and her mother Helen Mickel, nee Dickson.

On 16th June 1891, Alexandrine married Clarendon James Seager, a widower and British Army Officer.  In 1908, by which time they had six children, the family moved to live in Adelaide.   There, Alexandrine started up a business called The Scholastic Agency that found governesses and servants for outlying farms and cattle stations.
The three Seager boys joined the Australian Imperial Force in 1914 and following a visit to one of them, Alexandrine began a campaign to persuade the women of Australia to support the war and the Cheer-Up Society came into being.  Women volunteers visited military camps and hospitals, arranging concerts, lunches and special farewell ceremonies for the troops.   They also organised parcels to send to the troops.  

Alexandrine also started a campaign to have the Violet adopted as the flower of remembrance in Australia and the very first Violet Day was held on 2nd July 1915.

From 1915 onwards, the Cheer-up Society organised refreshments for soldiers in a marquee behind the railway station in Adelaide.  Later a hut was opened to replace the temporary arrangement in nearby Elder Park - The Cheer-Up Hut.

Alexandrine’s youngest son George lost his life at Gallipoli but she continued to write patriotic poems and to support the war effort.   She started the South Australian Returned Soldiers Association.   During the Depression of the 1930s, the Cheer-Up Hut provided meals for the poor.

Alexandrine and her husband retired to live on Kangaroo Island where their sons lived.  She continued to write poetry.  Alexandrine died on 12th March 1950 and was buried in the cemetery at Kingscote.

Sources:  Michael Sharkey, Editor of The Australian Poetry Journal

Here is Alexandra Seager’s poem about Violets, kindly sent to me by Michael Starkey:

‘Violet Verses’

(To the dear memory of George Rothwell Seager, whose good-bye was “If I stop a bit of German lead, be a sport!”)

To-day we wear the clinging violet

            In memory of the brave,

While ever thoughts of fond but proud regret,

            Come surging wave on wave.


Some sleep beside the sobbing Dardanelles,

            And some in gallant France,

‘Mid gardens fair, where medieval bells

            Wake echoes of romance.


‘Twas fitting that the young and brave should die

            To build a nation’s name—

That strong young hands should mould her destiny

            In an undying fame.


In morning’s glory or the moon of life                  [sic] [‘noon’ in VV]

            They fell, our fighting men;

In burning valour–the white heat of strife—

            They passed beyond our ken.


“Whom the gods love,” so the ancients said, “die young”

            How could it other be?

Would love drag glorious youth through weary years

            To age’s misery?


What would we choose, if choose we could, for those

            So infinitely dear?

The glowing beauty of the blooming rose,

            Or dry dead leaves and drear?


The commonplace of life—dull, sordid care,

            Or humdrum safe content,

Inconsequent small things that jar and wear

            And hard words kindly meant?


Ah! theirs was Life—life worthy of a man—                                [‘Theirs’ in VV]

            Whose exit was a thrill;

No weary acquiescence in a plan

            That long, dull years must fill.


In contemplation of what might have been,

            Our aching hearts are filled

With sweet, sad thoughts; and for a little time

            The yearning ache is stilled.


Then suddenly it wakes, as unaware

            There flits across the track

A little, laughing child, whose sunny hair

            Brings crowding mem’ries back.


A snatch of song, the perfume of a flower,

            And all the world grows dim.

The barriers we built and felt a power

            Melt in one thought of Him.


Yet some in all this storm, and stress, and strain,

            When nations reel and rock,

In shameful safety ply their lust for gain,

            Unmov’d whate’er the shock—


While on the altar of the Empire’s might,

            For Love and Honour’s sake,

Proud, passionate young life there claims the right

            The sacrifice to make.


And we, the mothers, sisters, sweethearts, wives

            Of these, our dear young dead,

Leave with them there the sunshine of our lives,

Lost in a mist of red.


For them no tolling bell, no fun’ral pall—

            (Theirs was no common death);                            [‘Their’s’ in VV)

But flowers whose spring-like fragrance touches all

            With love in every breath.


“Far better to have loved and lost,” they say,

            “Than never loved at all,”

For always at some time gold turns to gray,

            And evening shadows fall.


We’ll strew with thoughts of love and fairest flowers

            The paths our heroes trod;

We’ll bless the precious years that made them ours—

            And leave the rest to God.

  Alexandra Seager, August 25th 1916

 Source: A. Seager, ‘Men: A Collection of Verses Written During the War’, ns, nd [Adelaide: The Author, 1919], pp. 15-18.

 NOTE. The same poem is printed in the anthology ‘Violet Verses’, Adelaide, ns, nd [1917], and adds ‘By His Mother’ after the epigraph. Fryer PR8161. W28V56 1917 1.

Wednesday 6 January 2016

Australian Women Poets of the First World War

One of the most fantastic things about this commemorative WW1 project is the contact I now have with people from all corners of the world.   I recently received an e-mail from Michael Sharkey, who edits the ‘Australian Poetry Journal’ in Melbourne Australia.  Michael, a former university lecturer and poet who has been researching and lecturing on Australian women’s WW1 poetry for many years, had come across my weblog and very kindly sent me details of some more Australian women poets of the First World War.

Michael reminded me that when Helen Power was born, Tasmania, like the other Australian States, was a separate Crown Colony of the British Empire.  Australia as a single entity was not formed until 1901, when these Crown Colonies became The Confederacy of Australia.  

I am very grateful to Michael and indeed to all those who contribute to this commemorative First World War project which is in memory of my Grandfather, an Old Contemptible with the Royal Field Artillery who survived service in both World Wars and of my two Great Uncles -  one who was killed at Arras on Easter Monday, 9th April 1917 and the other who died of Pneumonia on 8th November 1918 on board the Thames Barge '99' of which he was Master, following a trip to Dunkirk delivering vital supplies to the British Army. 

I need to add the following Australian women poets of WW1 to my List:

Mabel Forrest

Nora McAuliffe

Beatrice Vale Bevan

Emily Courgeau

Helen Power

Ellie Wemyss

Source:  e-mails from Michael Sharkey who sent me a copy of an article he wrote on the subject that was published in ‘Australian Literary Studies’, volume 23, No. 1, pp. 63 – 78).