Thursday 28 February 2019

Pansy Ommanney (1898 - 1975) – Artist, poet, inventor

Liz Tobin found me a poem about Airships and sent me the link. I ched out the website and contacted Art Lowry, who has researched Pansy.  Art says: “Born in Holywood, Dunfriesshire, Scotland in 1898, Pansy’s parents were Major William Graham Chambers (formerly William Goulay Dunn and from a famous golfing family) and Nina Grace Chambers (the publishing family).

By the time she was three, Pansy and her parents were living at Glenbrittle Lodge, Minginish on the Isle of Skye. The family travelled to Canada in 1911, living on Vancouver Island, before returning to London in 1915. Pansy had three brothers, Robert Laing Chambers (a trooper of the 1st Australian Light Horse who was killed in action at Gallipoli on 18 May 1915) and Murray Goulay Chambers,  and a sister, Nina Iris Grahame Chambers.

On 15th July 1919 Patsy married Patrick Gream Nelson Ommanney at the Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, London. At the time of the marriage Patrick was a Major in the RAF, ex-Lieutenant, RN and former commander of the rigid airship R27.

Pansy was an artist and a poet – probably from a young age. Her verses were published in "The Tatler", "Sphere", "Windsor Magazine", "Chambers’ Journal" and "London Mercury". Much in the same style as the poetry of well-known airship advocate Dame Sybil Grant, a collection of Pansy’s poetry was published in a book called "Tunes On A Barrel-Organ" in the 1920s. As well as poems of love and loss as might be expected, there is one poem with a strong airship theme…

Find out more here:

With thanks to Liz Tobin for finding the link to the Art Lowry's article about Pansy, which has the following poem about airships:

“We! (A Forecast)”

We are the pride of nations
(The world stands by to gaze),
Fearing our power and wondering,
They watch us on our ways.

Silent our strength, untried as yet,
Though we may light world fires :
Questing we ride the elements,
The winds hiss through our wires.

O little ships of ancient days
We watch you down below,
Trade is our job, but war a game
We somehow seem to know.

Where we might help a little ship,
Or watch it sink and die…
Turning, the airship, long and grey,
Slid back across the sky.

Monday 25 February 2019

Mary Elizabeth Boyle (1881 - 1974) - Scottish Poet and Writer

Mary was born in Crieff, Perth, Scotland in 1881.  Her father was a Rear Admiral in the British Royal Navy, who was appointed a Naval Aide-de-Camp to Queen Victoria on 4th August 1890.  Her mother was Agnes Peile Lumsden Boyle.  Mary had the following siblings:  Agnes M. b. 1880, Dorothy Catharine, b. 1886, Archibald Robert b. 11th August 1888 and David E. b. 9th September 1890.  The children were initially educated at home by a Governess.

Mary’s brother, David Erskine Boyle, became a professional soldier. He joined the 2nd Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers and was killed in the early days of WW1 at Le Cateau, near Cambrai on 26th August 1916. David Erskine Boyle is remembered on the Memorial at La Ferte-Sous-Jouarre, Seine-et-Marne, France.

Mary’s brother Archibalde Robert also joined the Army – the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. “Archie”, as he was known, survived the war and was awarded two Military Crosses – one on 23rd June 1915 and the other on 25th November 1916.

Mary’s sister Dorothy married Frank Douglas Browne in Kohat, Bengal, India in 1907.

Mary’s WW1 poetry collections were:  “Aftermath: Poems” (Heffer, Cambridge, 1914) – dedicated to the  memory of her brother, David - and “Pilate in Exile at Vienne” (Heffer, Cambridge, 1915).

Connie Ruzich has posted one of Mary’s poems on her wonderful website Behind Their Lines  here:

Saturday 23 February 2019

Janet Begbie (1897 - 1953) - British poet and writer

Janet Muriel Begbie was born in London in 1897.  Her parents were poet, writer and journalist Edwin Harold Begbie (1871 – 1929) and his wife, Alice Gertrude, nee Seale.  Harold contributed to national newspapers and raised a great deal of money for East End of London charities such as the Salvation Army.  Janet had the following siblings: Joan, Gertrude, Eve and Eleanor.

Janet began writing poetry at an early age, encouraged and influenced by her father.  Harold did not approve of sending girls to school, so his daughters were educated at home.  Their music teacher, Edwin Farwell, was one of the few males allowed into the house to teach the girls.

Janet’s First World War poetry collection, “Morning Mist” was published by Mills and Boon in 1916.   Janet’s younger sister, Joan, also wrote poetry. 

Under the pen-name Elizabeth Croly, Janet wrote and published several books.  She fell in love with her music teacher and they were married in 1926.

Janet died in Poole, Dorset in 1953.

“I shouted for Blood”

I shouted for blood as I ran, brother,
Till my bayonet pierced your breast;
I lunged thro' the heart of a man, brother,
That the sons of men might rest.

I swung up my riffle apace, brother,
Gasping for breath awhile,
And I smote at your writhing face, brother,
That the face of peace might smile.

Your eyes are beginning to glaze, brother,
Your wounds are ceasing to bleed.
God's ways are wonderful ways, brother,
And hard for your wife to read.

With grateful thanks to Janet’s Great-nephew Roger Quin for his help with information about the Begbie family and for permission to use the Begbie family photograph.

Friday 22 February 2019

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 195) – American poet and playwright

Edna was born on 22nd February 1892 in Rockland, Maine, United States of America.  Her parents were Henry Tolman Millay, a schoolteacher, and Cora Lounella Buzelle, a nurse.  Edna’s father became a school superintendent.

She was given the name St Vincent after the hospital in New York, where her uncle's life had been saved shortly before she was born. Edna had the following siblings: Norma Lounella (born 1893), and Kathleen Kalloch (born 1896).

Edna’s parents divorced and the girls’ mother moved with them to live near her aunt in Camden, Maine. Educated at Camden High School, Edna contributed to the school magazine”The Megunticook”.  When she was fourteen, Edna was awarded the St. Nicholas Gold Badge for poetry.  The following year, she had  poems published in the children's magazine “St. Nicholas”, the “Camden Herald” newspaper and in the anthology “Current Literature”. 

Edna went on to study at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, graduating in 1917.  During the First World War, she was a dedicated and active pacifist.  After graduation, Edna moved to live in Greenwich Village, New York. In 1923, Edna was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry – she was only the third woman to win the award.

Edna married Eugen Jan Boissevain (1880–1949) in 1923.  He was the widower of the lawyer and war correspondent Inez Milholland, who Edna had met at Vassar. A self-proclaimed feminist, Boissevain supported her career.

Edna died at her home on 19th October 1950. She was buried beside her husband at Steepletop, Austerlitz, New York.

“To Inez Milholland”

Upon this marble bust that is not I
Lay the round, formal wreath that is not fame,
But in the forum of my silenced cry
Root ye the living tree whose sap is flame.
I, that was proud and valiant, am no more: -
Save as a dream that wanders wide and late,
Save as a wind that rattles the stout door,
Troubling the ashes in the sheltered grate.
The stone will perish;  I shall be twice dust.
Only my standard on a taken hill
Can cheat the mildew and the red-brown rust
And make immortal my adventurous will,
Even now the silk is tugging at the staff:

Take up the song;  forget the epitaph.

Inez Milholland (1886 – 1916) was an American feminist activist and journalist. In 1913, she organised the March for Women’s Suffrage held in Washington, D.C., U.S.A.  Inez led the parade seated on a white horse.

During the First World War, Inez was an official war correspondent for a Canadian newspaper.  She was sent to the Italian Front, where she had access to the front lines.   Inez featured in one of the first exhibitions we held and features in the book of that exhibition – “No Woman’s Land: A Centenary Tribute to Inspirational Women of World War One”, which is available to purchase via Amazon.

The photograph of Inez Milholland on the white horse is from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital IDcph.3b24499.

Photograph of Edna St. Vincent Millay - photographer unknown.

Tuesday 19 February 2019

A poem by Esther Bateman from Newport Pagnell in WW1


I returned to the town of my childhood
When my youth had passed away;
But the old familiar voices
Have altered since that day.
The children I used to play with
Are men and women grown,
And many have gone for ever
Where parting is unknown.
But soon my heart was thrilled by
An old familiar strain,
And I knew not which was stronger,
The pleasure or the pain:
For the dear old bells were ringing
In their old familiar ways.
And they seemed in my heart to echo
As they did in my childhood’s days.

All other things seemed altered
And “changed with changing years,”
But they still speak of hope, and love,
And peace, that calms our fears.
For when they tell of “home, sweet home,”
I think of the home above,
Where soon, with sin and sorrow past,
We’ll meet with those we love.
Those joyous bells, unchanged by time,
How clear and sweet they sound!
Though cruel war and bitter strife
Is raging all around.
Ring out, O dear old bells, ring out!
Send forth your loving call;
Ring out! Sometime, somewhere, somehow,
There’s better life for all.

September 12th 1916

From a very interesting website which has one or two other poems included:

Wednesday 13 February 2019

Marguerite Maude McArthur (1892 - 1919) - British teacher, writer and poet

Reading through the book about Marguerite, I noticed that she wrote poetry.  I wonder if she wrote poetry about the conflict?

MARGUERITE MAUDE McARTHUR, a volunteer with the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA).

Marguerite was born on 25th March 1892 in Kensington, London, UK.  Her parents were Allen Gordon McArthur, a barrister and J.P., who was born in Australia, and Emma Maude Finley McArthur, nee Finlay, who was born in Canada.  Marguerite had a brother, Alexander and a sister, Kathleen.  Marguerite was educated at Norland Place School in Notting Hill Gate, London, Newnham College, Cambridge and then in Dresden in Germany.  She was well travelled and well educated.

When war broke out, Marguerite was visiting family in Canada.  She returned to Britain in October 1914 and immediately volunteered. Marguerite worked in the War Office Translation Bureau for two years due to her language skills. From March 1918 Marguerite worked for the Army Education Service of the YMCA, teaching in Etaples, France.

Marguerite died of pneumonia on 13th February 1919, at the age of 26 and was buried in Etaples Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France - Grave Reference: XLV. B. 7.

After her death, Marguerite’s friend Josephione Kellett put together a book about her which is available here:   I urge you to read it!

Monday 11 February 2019

Elsa Lasker-Schüler (1869 – 1945) – German Poet and Artist

Elsa Lasker-Schüler (1869 – 1945) – German Poet and Artist

The Queen of Expressionism

Elsa was born on 11th February 1869  in Elberfeld, which is now a suburb of Wuppertal, in Germany. Her parents were Aaron Schueler – a banker – and his wife, Jeanette.

In 1894, Elsa married Jonathan Berthold Lasker, who was a doctor.  They settled in Berlin, where Elsa’s first volume of poetry was published in 1902.  Jonathan and Elsa were divorced and in 1903, Elsa married Georg Lewin, a German writer and artist who used the pen-name Herwarth Walden.

Elsa’s poetry collection “Meine Wunder”, published in 1911, established her as the leading female representative of German expressionism.  In 1912,  Elsa formed a close bond with the German poet Gottfried Benn.

Elsa’s son died in 1927.  In 1932, she was awarded the German annual prize for literature - Kleist Prize.  After a short stay in Switzerland, Elsa went to live in Israel in 1934, moving to Jerusalem in 1937.

Elsa died on 22nd January 1945 and was buried in Israel on the Mount of Olives.

Portrait of Elsa by Stanisław Stückgold (1868 – 1933) - Polish painter, born 18th May 1868, Warsaw, Poland, died: 9th January 1933, Paris, France

"The Blue Rider" by Kandinsky, 1903

Elsa’s poem “Als Der Blaue Reiter War Gefallen… (Translation: As the Blue Rider Died…) was a comment upon the death of German impressionist painter and printmaker Franz Marc, who was a member of the expressionist “Blaue Reiter” group of artists – “Blaue Reiter being the title of their magazine.   In 1913, Franz Marc painted a picture called "Tierschicksale", (see below) which seems to predict the slaughter of the First World War.

After Franz Marc's death in March 1916, the following poem was published in “Neue Jugend” Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 11/12, February/March 1917, on page 245.

“Als Der Blaue Reiter War Gefallen…"

Griffen unsere Hände sich wie Ringe:-
Küssten uns wie Brüder auf den Mund.

Harfen wurden unsere Augen,
Als sie weinten: Himmlisches Konzert.

Nun sind unsere Herzen Waisenengel.
Seine tiefgekränkte Gottheit
Ist erloschen in dem Bilde: Tierschicksale.

Translation:  “When the Blue Rider Died”

We joined our hands in shapes of rings:-
And, like brothers, kissed each other on the lips.

Our eyes became harps
Our tears flowed as a heavenly concert.

Now our hearts are orphaned angels.
His deep-drawn godliness
Has been removed from the picture: the fate of the animals.

The Blue Rider Artists (Der Blaue Reiter)

Founded by a number of Russian artists living in Germany - Wassily Kandinsky (left), Alexej von Jawlensky, Marianne von Werefkin - and German artists, such as Franz Marc, August Macke and Gabriele Münter. Their idea was that color and form carried concrete spiritual values. The name "Der Blaue Reiter" referred to Kandinsky and Marc's belief that blue was the most spiritual color and that the rider symbolized the ability to move beyond.

Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky (Russian: Васи́лий Васи́льевич Канди́нский, tr. Vasíliy Vasílʹevich Kandínskiy) (16 December [O.S. 4 December] 1866 – 13 December 1944) was a Russian painter

August Macke (3rd January 1887 – 26th September 1914)

August Macke (3 January 1887 – 26 September 1914) was a German Expressionist painter - one of the leading members of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider).  He was killed during the First World War on the Western Front in Champagne, France, on 26th September 1914.
August Macke self portrait.

Franz Marc (8th February 1880 – 4th March 1916) - German artist and printmaker, was one of the key figures of German Expressionism and a founding member of the Blue Rider group of artists. Drafted into the German Army as a cavalryman when war broke out, by February 1916, he wasn assigned to a military camouflage unit. He was struck in the head and killed instantly by a shell splinter during the Battle of Verdun in 1916.

Portrait of Franz Marc by August Macke

Gabriele Münter (Berlin, 19 February 1877 – 19 May 1962) was a German expressionist painter.  She studied and lived with the painter Wassily Kandinsky and was a founding member of the expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter.

Gabriele Münter portrait by Wassily Kandinsky 1905

Saturday 9 February 2019

Winifred Mabel Letts (1882 - 1972) – British poet and author

Winifred Mabel Letts featured in the very first commemorative WW1 exhibition we produced - Female Poets of the First World War.  The exhibition was held at the award-winning Wilfred Owen Story in Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, UK from November 2012.   

Winifred Mabel Letts was born on 10th February 1882 in Salford, Manchester, formerly in Lancashire.  Her parents were Ernest Frederick Letts, an Anglican church minister and his wife, Mary Isabel, nee Ferrier.  Winifred has the following siblings:  Mary F.S., b. 1877 and Dorothy M., b. 1878.  After the death of Winifred’s father, the family moved to Ireland.

Educated at Abbots Bromley School, Winifred went on to study at Alexandra College in Dublin.  Her career as a writer began in 1907 when  the novels “Waste Castle” and “The Story Spinner” were published.

During the First World War, Winifred joined the Volunteer Aid Detachment and worked as a nurse at Manchester Base Hospitall. She then trained as a medical masseuse with the Almeric Paget Military Massage Corps and worked at Army camps in Manchester and Alnwick, Northumberland.

Winifred’s WW1 poetry collections were “Hallow-e’en, and other poems of the war” (Smith, Elder, 1916) and  “The Spires of Oxford, and other poems” (Dutton, New York, 1917). Her poems were included in 21 WW1 poetry anthologies.

Winifred died on 7th June 1972 at the Tivoli Nursing Home in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland and was buried in Rathcoole, County Dublin.

Sources:  Bairbre O’Hogan, who, as a child, knew Winifred Letts, who was a friend of Bairbre’s Mother.  Bairbre is researching the life of Winifred Mabel Letts and is happy to hear from anyone with queries or information by e-mail to

The photograph of Winifred is reproduced here by kind permission of Bairbre.

Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) p. 198

There is a book of the exhibition held at the WOS "Female Poets of the First World War - Volume One" available via Amazon.

The Award-winning Wilfred Owen Story is at 34 Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH41 6AE. The WOS is open Tuesdays to Fridays from 12 noon until 2 pm. Entry is free.  Please check their website for details:

An exhibition about the WW1 Aftermath and its Legacy is now on display at the WOS.  If you are planning a visit, don't forget to visit the Futility statue in Hamilton Square.

Monday 4 February 2019

Why was poetry so popular during the First World War?

I think the answer to that question lies in the fact that, unlike now when there are so many distractions, there was relatively little for people to do in their spare time in the early part of the 20th Century. For a start, there were no computers and no Internet, no radio or television broadcasts and most people did not have telephones in their homes.  There were several literary magazines that published poetry and newspapers such as “The Daily Mail”, to which the poet Jessie Pope was a regular contributor, also published poems on a regular basis. We know that newspapers and magazines were made available to those at the Front, so people would have been exposed to poetry in a way that we are not.  Music hall entertainers recited poems and monologues on stage. Patriotic poems were especially popular in time of war and during WW1 music halls in Britain were used to recruit volunteers for the armed forces.

Poetry was taught in schools – my Mother, who was born in 1910, often used to quote from poems she learnt at primary school.  People copied out poems into exercise books – I have seen quite a few – and they read or recited poems at family gatherings.

In his book “The Years of Promise”, writer, journalist and poet Cecil Roberts, who worked for the “Liverpool Post” during WW1, has this to say: “In the years preceding the First World War there was a renaissance of poetry in England.   Two events marked the spirit of this time, one was the publication in 1912 of the first volume of “Georgian Poetry” edited by Edward Marsh, which has a phenomenal success; the other was a brave enterprise launched by Harold Munro.”  Roberts was referring to The Poetry Workshop, which opened in Devonshire Street, off Holborn in January 1913.

On Friday, 12th June 1914, Cecil Roberts, hired the Bechstein Hall in Wigmore Street, London W1 for an evening reciting poems he had written.  Tickets were on sale from ten shillings and sixpence (which represents the buying power of about £115 in today’s money) down to two shillings (about £20 today), and the event was a sell-out and a great success.  Incidentally, like the British Royal Family, the Bechstein Hall had a name change during the First World War and it became the Wigmore Hall.

“The Years of Promise” (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1968 ) 

Louise Bogan (1897 – 1970) - American poet

The first woman to hold the title of Poet Laureate in America

With thanks to Connie Ruzich for introducing me to Louse and her work.

Louise was born on 11th August 1897 in Livermore Falls, Maine, United States of America.  Her father, who was of Irish origin, was a clerk in a mill.  Louise was educated at the Girls' Latin School in Boston, where she began writing poetry and reading the first issues of “Poetry: A Magazine of Verse”. This led to Louise going to study at Boston University, after which she moved to New York to pursue a career in writing. In 1916, Louise married a soldier. He was posted to Panama during the First World War and after a short stay in Panama, Louise and her daughter returned to America and moved in with Louise's parents. Four years later she was left a widow. Louise’s older brother, Private Charles J. Bogan, served with the 104th Massachusetts Infantry on the Western Front in France and was killed on 17th October 1918.

In 1920 Louise spent a few years in Vienna, leaving her daughter with her parents.  In Vienna, Louise explored her loneliness and her new identity in verse. She returned to New York City and in 1923 her first poetry collection, “Body of This Death: Poems”, was published by McBride and Company, New York.

Louise married the poet Raymond Holden in 1925 but the marriage ended in divorce in 1837.

In 1927, Louise became poetry editor of “The New Yorker” Magazine.

Louise’s poetry was published in “The New Republic”, “The Nation”, “Poetry: A Magazine of Verse”, “Scribner's”, and “Atlantic Monthly”. “Collected Poems: 1923–1953” won Louise the Bollingen award in 1955 as well as an award from the Academy of American Poets in 1959. She was the poetry reviewer of The New Yorker from 1931 until she retired in 1970.

Louise died on 4th February 1970.

Connie Ruzich's commemorative WW1 poetry website is called Behind their Lines - such a clever title -

From "Fifteenth Farewell"

You may have all things from me, save my breath. 
The slight life in my throat will not give pause 
For your love, nor your loss, nor any cause. 
Shall I be made a panderer to death, 
Dig the green ground for darkness underneath, 
Let the dust serve me, covering all that was 
With all that will be? Better, from time's claws, 
The hardened face under the subtle wreath. 

Cooler than stones in wells, sweeter, more kind 
Than hot, perfidious words, my breathing moves 
Close to my plunging blood. Be strong, and hang 
Unriven mist over my breast and mind. 
My breath! We shall forget the heart that loves, 
Though in my body beat its blade, and its fang.

From “Body of this Death: Poems” by Louise Bogan, published by Robert M. McBridge & Company, New York, 1923.

Photo of Louise Bogan from