Monday 25 March 2019

Cicely Fox-Smith (1882 - 1954) – British Poet

Cicely was born on 1st February 1882 in Lymm, Cheshire.  Her parents were Richard Smith, b. 1843, a Barrister, and his wife, Alice Wilson Smith, nee Wolstencroft, b. 1851.  Cicely had the following siblings: Richard Andrew, b. 1877, Philip Wilson, b. 1879, and Margaret Scott, b. 1880.

Cicely was educated at Manchester High School for Girls from 1894 – 1897, writing poetry and describing herself as “something of a rebel”.   Her first collection of poems - “Songs of Greater Britain” - was published in 1899, when Cicely was sixteen.

Cicely and her sister moved to Canada, where Cicely worked as a shorthand typist for the British Columbia Lands Department.  She spent much of her spare time on the waterfront, which contributed to her knowledge of nautical matters, which was, in turn, reflected in her poetry.

Cicely and her sister returned to England before 1914 and went to live in Hampshire.   Cicely wrote with such authority about the sea that many people supposed she was a man.  In all, she published more than 630 poems in a wide variety of publications.   Cicely also wrote novels, short stories and articles. 

During the Second World War, Cicely lived with her brother Philip and sister Margaret, who was also a writer, in Soberton House, Dreoxford, Hampshire.

At the age of 67, Cicely was awarded a pension by the Government “for services toliterature”.

Cicely died in Bow, Devon, on 8th April 1954.

The WW1 poetry collections of Cicely Fox-Smith were:

“The Naval Crown: Ballads and Songs of the War” (Elkin Mathews, London 1915)

“Fighting Men: Poems” (Elkin Mathews, London, 1916)

“Small Craft and Other Poems” (Elkin Mathews, London, 1917)

“Songs and Chanties 1914 – 1916” (Elkin Mathews, London, 1919)

“Rhymes of the Red Ensign” (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1919)

“Sea Songs and Ballads, 1917 – 1922” (Methuen, London, 1922)

and her poems were published in seventeen WW1 poetry anthologies.

Cahterine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War:  A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978)
“Armed Merchantmen: An Old Song Re-Sung”

By the Liverpool Docks at the break of the day,
I saw a flash packet, bound westward away;
And well did I mark how each new-mounted gun
Like silver did gleam in the first morning sun.

Bound away, bound away, where the wide waters flow,
She's a Liverpool packet - oh, Lord, let her go!

For thieves be abroad on the ocean highway
To harass our traders by night and by day,
But let such attempt her, to take or assail,
They may find to their cost she's a sting in her tail.

She's a crack ocean liner - now catch her who can! -
Her crew are true British and game to a man;
The pirates of Potsdam had best have a care -
She's the Navy's stepdaughter, and touch her who dare!

Bound away, bound away, with a bone in her mouth,
She passes the Bar light, she turns to the south,
A Liverpool packet that stays for no foe -
Safe, safe on her journey, oh, Lord, let her go!

Bound away, bound away, where the wide waters flow,
She's a Liverpool packet, - oh, Lord, let her go!

Cicely Fox Smith

Saturday 23 March 2019

Mary Webb (1881- 1927) – British poet

Mary Webb was one of the poets featured in the first exhibition we produced -  Female Poets of the First World War - which was held at The Wilfred Owen Story in Birkenhead, Wirral in November 2012

Mary was born Mary Gladys Meredith on 25th March 1881 in Leighton,near the Wrekin in Shropshire, eight miles south west of Shrewsbury. Her father was a schoolmaster and he taught her at home before sending her to a finishing school in Southport.

Mary began writing poetry at an early age. She married Henry Bertram Law Webb in 1912 and during the First World War, Mary lived near Pontesbury. She was deeply affected by the events of the First World War and was very worried about her three brothers. In 1925, Mary was awarded the “Femina Vie Heureuse” Award for her book “Precious Bane”. 

Mary suffered ill health and died at St. Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex on 8th October 1927, aged 46. She was buried in Shrewsbury. Her work began to be appreciated after her death – she was referred to as “the neglected genius”. There is now a Mary Webb Society – about which more details can be found on the website at and a school in Shrewsbury – The Mary Webb School And Science College - has also been named after her.

“Like a  Poppy on a Tower"

Like a poppy on a tower
The present hour!
The wind stirs, the wind awakes,
Beneath its feet the tower shakes.
All down the crannied wall
Torn scarlet petals fall,
Like scattered fire or shivered glass
And drifting with their motion pass
Torn petals of blue shadow
From the grey tower to the green meadow

"The Door"

I heard humanity, through all the years,
Wailing, and beating on a dark, vast door
With urgent hands and eyes blinded by tears.
Will none come forth to them for evermore?
Like children at their father's door, who wait,
Crying 'Let us in!' on some bright birthday morn,
Quite sure of joy, they grow disconsolate,
Left in the cold unanswered and forlorn.
Forgetting even their toys in their alarms,
They only long to climb on father's bed
And cry their terrors out in father's arms.
And maybe, all the while, their father's dead.

"To The World"

You took the rare blue from my cloudy sky;
You shot the one bird in my silent wood;
You crushed my rose--one rose alone had I.
You have not known. You have not understood.
I would have shown you pictures I have seen
Of unimagined mountains, plains and seas;
I would have made you songs of leafy green,
If you had left me some small ecstasies.
Now let the one dear field be only field,
That was a garden for the mighty gods.
Take you its corn. I keep its better yield--
The glory that I found within its clods.

Poems  previously published in “Poems and The Spring Of Joy” by Mary Webb (London: Jonathan Cape,1928).

Mary’s WW1 poems were also published in three WW1 poetry anthologies.

English musician Richard Moult has set several of Mary’s poems to music and
these can be found on his 2006 CD “The Secret Joy” released by Cynfeirdd (CYN040).

Saturday 16 March 2019

Maria Dobler Benemann (1887 – 1980) - German poet

Maria Elisabeth Dobler was born on 5th April 1887 in Herrnhut and grew up in Dresden. Her parents were Johannes Theodor Dobler and Marie Elisabeth Dobler, nee Linnich.

In 1906 Maria married Ernst Gerhard Benemann, a bookseller and founder of the Horen publishing house. The couple had a daughter and a son. While living in Worpswede, they become friends with the artist, designer and architect Heinrich Vogeler and with the poets Richard Dehmel, Rainer Maria Rilke, Franz Werfel and the architect Walter Gropius.

Maria’s husband joined the German Army in WW1 and kept a diary recording  his time in Visé in Belgium. The Germans entered Belgium on 4th August 1914, and entered Visé on that day as part of the opening movements of the Battle of Liège. A small group of Belgian gendarmes opposed the advancing Germans and two of their number, Auguste Bouko and Jean-Pierre Thill, were killed in the action, thus becoming the first Belgian casualties of the First World War.  On 7th August, in the Lixhe section of the town, the German 90th Infantry Regiment killed eleven civilians and destroyed eleven houses.

When Ernst’s friends went home on leave, they told Maria that while in the devastated town, her husband had found a piano intact in a bombed out house. He sat down and played the piano. The story inspired Maria to write a poem about the incident. Ernst Gerhard Benemann was killed in 1915.

Maria’s publications were “Wandlungen. Gedichte” Verlag der Weißen Bücher, Leipzig 1915.
“Die Reise zum Meer” Märchen. Kiepenheuer, Weimar 1915.
“Kleine Novellen” Kiepenheuer, Weimar 1916.
“Leih mir noch einmal die leichte Sandale” Erinnerungen und Bewegungen. Christians, Hamburg 1978.

Maria died in Überlingen on 11th March 1980.

Read Maria’s poem "Visé (After a Letter from the Field)": …

Monday 11 March 2019

Alice Williams (1863 - 1957) - Welsh poet, artist and charity worker

Alice Helena Alexandra Williams  was born on 12th March 1863 at Castel Deudraeth, Merionethshire, Wales.  She was the youngest of the fourteen offspring born to David Williams, who was a solicitor and Liberal Member of Parliament for Merioneth, and his wife Annie Louisa, nee Loveday.  Unlike her brothers, Alice did not receive a traditional education but she neverthless became an accomplished poet, writer and artist.

During the First World War, Alice was Vice Chairman of the Merioneth Women’s War Agricultural Committee and also worked for the French Wounded Emergency Fund in London, Paris and Geneva. She wrote and published a number of plays and pageants, among them “Liz”, a propaganda play which was performed all over Wales in 1915 to raise funds for the French Wounded Emergency Fund and another entitled “Brittania”.

With some of her friends Alice set up the Signal Bureau in Paris which gave assistance to people looking for injured, missing or displaced persons.   The French Government awarded Alice the Medaille de la Reconnaissance Française.  In 1917, Alice was made a Welsh Bard, her bardic name being Alys Meirion.

After the First World War, Alice helped to set up the Women’s Institute Movement in Britain and became the President of the Deudraeth WI.  She donated a parcel of land and helped to raise funds for the building of Britain’s very first Institute Hall at Penrhyndeudraeth.  The building was opened by Mrs Lloyd George.  Alice was elected on to the Committee of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes as their first Honorary Secretary and was later elected to the Executive Committee.

Alice then became General Secretary of the Federation, a paid post.  She went on to found “Home and Country”, the official journal of the Women’s Institute, a post which she held until 1920.

The setting up of branches of the Lyceum Club in Paris and Berlin were also due to Alice’s hard work and dedication.  The Lyceum Clubs were set up in the early 1900s for women interested in the arts, sciences, social concerns and in the pursuit of lifelong learning – they are still going strong today.

In 1919, Alice founded the Forum Club, a women’s club in London for Women’s Institute Members. Alice took on the role of Chairman at the Club’s inception and from 1928 to 1938.   As well as accommodation for members and their maids, the club sported a dining room, lounge, photographic dark room, a room that could be hired for exhibitions, a bridge room, billiard room, library and hairdressing salon – a haven for women who, unlike their male counterparts, until then had nowhere similar to go when in London.

An accomplished artist, Alice was a member of the Union des Femme Peintres et Sculpteurs in Paris and of the Union Internationale des Aquarellistes, also in Paris.  She died on 15th August 1957, aged 94.


Information kindly supplied by Professor Stephen Cribari from information held at the Women’s Library, LSE, London;

Friday 8 March 2019

Mary Winifred Wedgwood (1873 - 1963) – British WW1 VAD and poet

Mary Winifred was born on 16th November 1873 in London, UK. Her parents were Ebenezer Wedgwood, a Draper, and his wife Hilda Wedgwood.  Mary’s siblings were Edith Wedgwood, b. 1866 , Ethel, b.1870, Catherine, b. 1872 and Joshua George Engles, b. 1878. The family lived in Kew, Richmond, UK.

During the First World War, Mary Winifred was a volunteer with the 26th Devon Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment from November 1915 until March 1919.  The hospital in which Mary Winifred worked as an unpaid volunteer was housed in Torquay Town Hall.

With thanks to Debbie Cameron for finding Mary Winifred's Red Cross VAD record card.

M. Winifred Wedgwood's WW1 poetry collection, "Verses of a V.A.D. kitchen-maid" was published by Gregory & Scott, Torquay in 1917.

“Christmas 1916: Thoughts in a V.A.D. Hospital Kitchen”

There’s no Xmas leave for us scullions,
We’ve got to keep on with the grind;
Just cooking for Britain’s heroes,
But, bless you! We don’t really mind.

We’ve scores and scores of potatoes,
And cabbages also to do,
And onions, and turnips, and what not,
That go in the Irish Stew.

We’re baking and frying and boiling,
From morning until night;
But we’ve got to keep on a bit longer,
Till Victory comes in sight.

Then there’s cutting the thin bread and butter,
For the men who are very ill;
But we feel we’re well rewarded;
For they’ve fought old Kaiser Bill.

Yes! We’ve got to hold on a while longer,
Till we’ve beaten the Hun to his knees;
And then ‘Goodbye’ to the kitchen;
The treacle, the jam and the cheese.

by M. Winifred Wedgwood

Source:  Catherine W. Reilly "English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography" (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1978)

Wednesday 6 March 2019

Rosaleen Louise Graves (1894 – 1989) – British WW1 poet and VAD nurse

I have always liked the work of Robert Graves, so I was really pleased to discover his sister, Rosaleen was also a poet.

Rosaleen, sister of the WW1 soldier poet and writer Robert Graves, was born in Wimbledon on 7th March 1894.   Her father was Alfred Perceval Graves, who was also a poet. He was the second son of The Rt. Rev. Charles Graves, Bishop of Limerick. (1846 – 1931). Alfred, who was also a poet, was a school inspector. Rosaleen’s mother was Amalie (‘Amy’) Elizabeth Sophie (or Sophia) von Ranke (1857 – 1951), eldest daughter of Professor Heinrich von Ranke MD, of Munich.  Rosaleen’s grandmother was the daughter of Norwegian astronomer Ludwig Tiarks.
Robert and Rosaleen Graves, c. 1920

Reading Rosaleen’s poem “The Smells of Home” in Dominic Hibberd’s anthology “The Winter of the World “ made me wonder if Rosaleen had been a nurse during the First World War, so I contacted the British Red Cross Archives – before their list of WW1 VADs was put on line – and, sure enough, she had.

Rosaleen joined the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment on 17th September 1915 and worked at Chislehurst VAD Hospital, Kent for three months.  She worked at Paddington VAD Hospital in London from April to July 1916 and then in the 4th London General Hospital, where she met Siegfried Sassoon when he was sent there for treatment. Rosaleen was posted to France at the end of 1917, where she worked at No. 54 General Hospital. Rosaleen served until 14th March 1919.   She was awarded a Scarlet Efficiency Stripe.

Rosaleen was a poet and a gifted musician with the ambition of becoming a concent pianist.  However, after the War, Rosaleen trained as a doctor and became a general practitioner.  In the Spring of 1932, Rosaleen married James Francis Cooper at St. Martin’s in London.  The couple had three children.

Among Rosaleen’s published works are “Night Sounds and other poems”, published by Basil Blackwell in Oxford in 1923, “Snapdragons Poems“ by Rosaleen Graves Cooper and “The Silver Mirror. Breton Folk Air”, words translated from the Breton by A.P. Graves and arranged by R. Graves (1928).

Rosaleen died on 3rd August 1989 in Wimbledon, London, England.

I have been trying to discover whether Rosaleen Graves may have met Wilfred Owen.  As Wilfred attended the wedding of Robert Graves in London, I was curious to know whether Rosaleen had been there too but it seems she was unable to get leave.

To this end, I recently asked The Robert Graves Society Facebook Group whether Rosaleen attended the wedding of her brother, Robert, in London in 1918.  I received a lovely reply from Hilaire Wood, a Society member:

' According to Robert's father's diary, quoted by Richard Perceval Graves in The Assault Heroic, p 191: "We were almost the first arrivals but the church filled up. Family (Amy, I and six children, including Perceval and Susie but dear Roz had failed to get leave) CLG, Lily, Rosy... Miss North... and no end of others -" '

Photographs and additional information kindly supplied by Roger Cooper, Rosaleen's son.

Rosaleen's poem "The Smells of Home" was first published in "The Spectator" on 30th November 1918 

“The Smells of Home” by Rosaleen Graves

I shut the door and left behind 
The reek of wounds – the cries
Of “Sister! Sister! – Go Steady Sister! –
The hateful sight of flies 
That come like mourners dressed in black,
And will not be thrust aside,
But over the sheets come prying back
To a hand where blood has dried.

A scented slap of morning wind 
Came suddenly as I stood
The grim things of the ward shut out
By a panel or two of wood.
Oh wind!  Can it be the meadows of France
That you come whistling through?
For these are the smells of my own country
You carry along with you.

The breath of ferns and pale marsh-flowers,
Of meadowsweet and phlox,
Drowsed apricot, of gorse that flames
In the purple shadow of rocks,
The warm, hewn fragrance of red fir
And (smell of heart’s desire!) 
Blue incense from the peat that smoulders
Upon an English fire.

The chilly sweeess of drenched things
At morning when the sky
Shows yellow behind a bird’s dark wings
And threads of mist go by.
Strange air blows cold from another world,
The still fields shine like glass,
A minute goes like a thousand years,
And there are pearls in the grass.

Oh wind!  Can it be the meadows of France
That you come sighing through?
For these are the things of my own country
Whose scent you bring with you.
Dawn on the bog, and burning peat,
A wild sea tattered with foam,
Red heather on the eternal hills –
These are the smells of home.

From: “The Winter of the World: Poems of the Great War” compiled by Dominic Hibberd and John Onions  (Constable & Robinson, London, 2007), page 269

Rachael Bates (1897 - 1966) – British

It is wonderful that the project is on-going.  And it is also wonderful how relatives of the poets contact me.  On 23rd August 2021 I received a message about Rachael and have updated the information accordingly.

Rachael was born on 7th March 1897 in Great Crosby, West Derby, UK, which is now in Merseyside but was in Lancashire at the time of her birth.  Her parents were Joseph Ambrose Bates, a painter and decorator, and his wife, Edith Annie, nee Grimshaw.  The family lived in Cambridge Road Great Crosby (Merseyside), where Rachael worked as a secretary in the editorial department of the newspaper “The Liverpool Daily Post and Echo”.

During the Second World War, Rachael moved to Sawrey in the Lake District.  She died in 1966 and was buried on 18th January 1966 at St. Michael and All Angels Cemetery in Hawkshead, Cumbria.

Rachael’s poetry collection “Danae and Other poems” was published by Erskine Macdonald, London, in 1922.

“The Anachronism” a poem by Rachael Bates

Not here, not here do I belong —
These clanging nights, these iron days
Afford no beauty for my praise.
No inspiration for my song;

Amid the cold, incurious race
That seeks no traffic with the stars
Nor any news of ancient wars,
I have no certain dwelling-place.

But in a ruder, Braver day
Whose kings knew better than to die
Upon their beds contemptibly,
My dreams pursue their glittering way.

Not here, not here, but long ago
Above the crash of splintered swords
I shouted wild, ecstatic words
Across the bitter fields of woe.

And they that heard were doubly men
And leapt into the tide of death
With burning eyes and gusty breath
.And smote and fell and smote again.

What mattered then the myriad laws
Of petty wrongs and feeble right —
Oh, sweeter, sweeter far to fight
And die in some dear, hapless cause !

Not now, not now, but yesterday
You leaned above me and your hair
Fell downward through the golden air
And took fresh beauty on its way;

Across my heart I felt it flow
In broken light, and all your words
Flew down to me like homing birds —
Not here, not here, but long ago !

From “Danae and other poems”, pp 16 - 17

With thanks to Rachael's second cousin John Clark for pointing out that I had previously spelt Rachael's name incorrectly.

Rachael's relative who send me the photograph also sent me an obituary for Rachael, which was published in a local paper: