Tuesday 28 June 2016

Mary C.D. Hamilton (1850 - 1943) - British Poet

Mary's full name was Mary Christian Dundas Hamilton. She was born on 24th May 1850 in Edinburgh and baptised on 6th June 1850 in Coylton, Ayr, Scotland.  Her parents were John Hamilton and his wife Catharine Barbara Hamilton, nee Stobart. (I wonder if she was related to the Stobart family into which Mabel St. Clair Stobart married (nee Boulton) ? - see http://inspirationalwomenofww1.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/mabel-st-clair-stobart-1862-1954.html  

Mary's brother was Lewis Boswell Inman Hamilton who was born on 13th February 1858 in Edinburgh.  

Mary seems to have been a poet.  She lived in Sussex towards the end of her life. 
During the First World War, possibly inspired because her nephew - Brigadier James Melvill Hamilton - was awarded the DSO during the First World War, Mary wrote some lines during the war which have now become very famous.  The verse, with the title “A Hymn for Aviators”, was originally printed in "The Times" newspaper in London in 1915, and was published in William Reginald Wheeler's WW1 anthology "A book of verse of the Great War" published by Yale University Press, New Haven in 1917.   This anthology is available as a down-load https://archive.org/stream/abookversegreat00wheegoog/abookversegreat00wheegoog_djvu.txt

Additional information very kindly supplied by M. Devoy.  If anyone has any further information about Mary or a photograph of her please get in touch. 

My thanks to Sussex Newspapers for their help in this search.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Amelia Earhart (1897 - 1937) - aviator and poet

An e-mail from a lady in America seeking information about the poet Mary C.D. Hamilton, who wrote a prayer for aviators in 1915 that was set to music, sent me on a search for further information about Mary.  As I searched, I discovered that Amelia Earhart (1897 - 1937) pioneer female aviator who volunteered with the VAD in Canada during WW1,  wrote a poem which I feel rings very true today:

"Courage" by Amelia Earhart (1897 - 1937)

Courage is the price that life exacts
For granting peace.
The soul that knows it not
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear,
Nor mountain heights where bitter joy can hear
The sound of wings.
How can life grant us boon of living, compensate
For dull, gray ugliness and pregnant hate
Unless we dare
The soul's dominion?  Each time we make a choice we pay
With courage to behold the resistless day,
And count if fair.

I included Amelia Earhart some time ago under the heading "Inspirational Women of World War One" -  http://inspirationalwomenofww1.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=Amelia+Earhart

Amelia's poem from http://aviationpoetry.org - a website worth looking at.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

World Premier of "Rouen" poem by May Wedderburn Cannan set to music by Chris O'Hara, 2nd July 2016, Manchester

May Wedderburn Cannan’s most famous poem “Rouen”, recalling the time she spent working at the Lady Mabell Egerton Coffee Stall at St Sever Station in France during the First World War has been set to music with May's Grand-daughter Clara May Abraham's permission by north-west composer Chris O’Hara and will be performed for the first time by the Manchester Chorale during an evening of stories and songs on Saturday, 2nd July 2016 at St. Ann’s Church, Manchester M2 7LF.

For tickets please contact www.manchesterchorale.org.uk

May Wedderburn Cannan (1893 - 1973) - British Poet

May was born at 34 St. Giles, Oxford on 14th October 1893.  Her Father was Charles Cannan, Dean of Trinity College Oxford, who also managed Oxford University Press and her mother was Mary nee Wedderburn.    May was the second of three daughters – her elder sister was Dorothea and her younger sister, Joanna, became a novelist and children’s writer. Their cousin was the novelist and playwright Gilbert Cannan.

May’s father used to take his three daughters rock climbing in the Lake District, Scotland and Switzerland with some of his academic friends.
May was very interested in literature and the girls devised their own magazine.  In 1907, the girls produced an anthology of poetry – “The Tripled Crown”, for which Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch wrote a poem of introduction.  May’s first poem was published in 1908 in “The Scotsman”, and in the same year, Dorothea and May were sent to Downe House Boarding School in Kent.

At the age of 18, May joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment and trained as a nurse, attaining the rank of Quartermaster.   The VADs came under the control of the Red Cross.  In 1913, May was instructed to set up a small hospital of 60 beds if need be but when war broke out she had to step down in favour of a higher ranked officer and worked as an auxiliary nurse.

May went to Rouen early in 1915, where she helped to run the canteen at the railway known as the Coffee Shop in Rouen for four weeks.   Her most famous poem ‘Rouen’ recalls this period of her life.
Following that, May returned to Oxford and with her sisters, worked during much of the war with their father at Oxford University Press because, after the introduction of conscription in 1916, many men had left for the war.  The Oxford University Press’s output at that time included works produced by the Government’s War Propaganda Bureau.

In 1918, May went to work at the War Office Department in Paris for the intelligence department.   She met up with and became engaged to Bevil Quiller-Couch in Paris in December 1918.  Bevil, who was in the Royal Artillery and survived the war, died of influenza in Germany in 1919.  After his death, Bevil’s horse “Peggy” was returned to England to his father, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, a writer and lecturer at Cambridge University, who had made arrangements for the horse to be returned to his home.   May’s poem “Riding” describes her feelings when riding the horse in Cornwall and is extremely moving.

May published three volumes of her poems – “In War Time” in 1917, “The Splendid Days” in 1919, which she dedicated to her fiancĂ©, and “The House of Hope” in 1923, which she dedicated to her father.   May wrote a novel based on her life experiences – “The Lonely Generation” - and in her 70s wrote her autobiography “Grey Ghosts and Voices”, which was published after her death.

May’s poem ‘Rouen’ is the most anthologised women’s poem from the First World War and was selected by Philip Larkin for his Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse, which was published in 1973.  He felt it had “all the warmth and idealism of the VADs in the First World War…”
May married Percival James Slater who had been a balloonist in the Royal Flying Corps and had been wounded during the First World War.  In WW2, Slater was promoted to the rank of Brigadier.
May died in Pangbourne, Berkshire on 11th December 1973.

My grateful thanks to Clara Abrahams who is the only granddaughter of May Wedderburn Cannan.  Clara lives in rural Herefordshire and grows wildflowers for woodland and wetland habitats.   Clara was eight years old when she first learned that her grandmother was a poet, when May’s poem ‘Rouen’ went into the 1973 Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse.  She remembers May, in her seventies, writing her autobiography, typing away on a tiny, portable typewriter.
According to Clara, “May’s writing is always at its best when she is writing about the landscape.  May loved Scotland, the Lake District, Cornwall and Devon, as well as Oxfordshire and Oxford.  Her pastoral poetry was among her best work, but circumstances made her a war poet…”

Clara Abrahams, May’s Granddaughter and www.oxforddnb.com who kindly supplied the photographs and gave me permission to put some of May's poems on the exhibition panel.

May’s most famous poem “Rouen” recalling the time she spent working at the Lady Mabell Egerton Coffee Stall at St Sever Station can be found on www.poetrybyheart.org.uk  This has been set to music with Clara’s permission by north-west composer Chris O’Hara and will be performed for the first time by the Manchester Chorale on Saturday, 2nd July 2016 at St. Ann’s Church, Manchester M2 7LF.

Dame Lucy Innes BRANFOOT, who also served at the Coffee Stall, died of bronchitis on 16th March 1916 aged 52 and is buried in St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen, Seine-Maritime, France.

Monday 13 June 2016

Lena Gilbert Brown Ford (1870 - 07. 03. 1918) - American Lyricist

Lena Gilbert Brown was born in Venango County, Pennsylvania, America and attended the Elmira College in New York State.  She married Harry Hale Ford and they lived in Elmira.   After their divorce, Lena moved with her Son and Mother to live in London, where they remained for twenty years.

In London, Lena met Ivor Novello with whom she collaborated to write the lyrics for the song "Keep the Home Fires burning".   Other lyrics by Lena are "We are coming, Mother England", "When God gave you to me" and "God guard you".

On 7th March 1918, Lena and her son were killed during a German air raid on London. They were the first American civilian casualties to be killed in an air raid in London during the First World war.   Mrs Brown was slightly injured during the raid but survived.   The bodies of Lena and her son were returned to the United States for burial.

Lena is included in "Female Poets of the First World War: Volume 1" and her story was also included among the panels of the exhibition Inspirational Women of the First World War held in 2014 at The Wilfred Owen Story museum, which is now in West Kirby Wirral but was previously in Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, UK.
“Keep the Home Fires Burning” was originally published on 8th October 1914 under its original title, “Till the Boys Come Home”.  The lyrics were written by American poet and lyricist Lena Guilbert Brown Ford and the music was composed by Welshman Ivor Novello.  

They were summoned from the hillside
They were called in from the glen
And the Country found them ready
At the stirring call for men
Let no tears add to their hardship
As the Soldiers pass along
And although your heart is breaking
Make it sing this cheery song

Keep the Home Fires burning
While your hearts are yearning
Though your lads are far away
They dream of home
There's a silver lining
Through the dark cloud shining
Turn the dark cloud inside out
Till the boys come Home

[Verse 2]
Over seas there came a pleading
"Help a Nation in distress!"
And we gave our glorious laddies
Honor made us do no less
For no gallant Son of Freedom
To a tyrant's yoke should bend
And a noble heart must answer
To the sacred call of "Friend!"

Keep the Home Fires Burning
While your hearts are yearning
Though your lads are far away
They dream of home
There's a silver lining
Through the dark clouds shining
Turn the dark cloud inside out
'Til the boys come home