Today, in a slight departure from the usual posts, I am interviewing modern poet and artist Becky Bishop
Can you tell us a little about yourself please Becky?
I was born in Windsor and have moved around quite a bit, living in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Sussex, Surrey, Devon and in Gloucestershire. I currently live with my grandma near the new forest in Hampshire. I have a degree in Criminology and Psychology and have mainly worked in administration and data entry aswell as doing volunteering within my community. In my spare time aside from reading and writing poetry, I love ballroom and Latin dancing and am a major strictly come dancing fan and also love crafts and enjoy making my own cards and jewellery. I have also been researching my family history for 23 years which started as a primary school project on my war relatives and over the years have found some interesting characters one of whom murdered his great uncle! I also enjoy walking and cycling and exploring historical places and particularly enjoy visiting cemeteries and war graves.
How did your interest in war poetry begin?
My interest in war poetry began when I focused my family history research onto my war relatives as I thought writing poems would be a fitting tribute and way to remember them. During the course of my research I discovered I was distantly related to several war poets such as Julian and Gerald Grenfell and Ivar Campbell which inspired me even more and recently with your help I have discovered a connection to several more war poets such as Patrick Shaw-Stewart, Raymond Rodakowski and Robert Nichols.
You are related to some famous WW1 people aren’t you Becky? Can you tell us a little bit about them please?
Yes over the course of my research I’ve found so many interesting people. As previously mentioned I’ve discovered connections to several war poets but never expected to find quite as many as I have, in addition to the ones mentioned there’s also Edward Wyndham Tennant, Maurice Baring, Nancy Cunard, Margaret Sackville, Evan Morgan, Aimee Byng Scott, Georgina Byng Paget, Celia Congreve and Lady Augusta Gregory. I have found several VC winners such as Francis Grenfell (cousin of Julian and Gerald and whose twin brother Riversdale also died in the war), Maurice Dease, William Congreve, Richard Annesley West along with some in ww2. Other interesting people include Huberht Hudson who was part of Ernest Shakletons expedition in 1914 and who served in both ww1 and 2 , Robert Gregory (son of lady Augusta Gregory) who was an artist and the subject of four poems by Yeats, and Adrian Drewe whose father built Castle Drogo. More recently I have also discovered some foreign relatives some of whom served in the German army and airforce during ww1 and 2 such as Heinrich Prinz Von Bayern who was a decorated army officer. I’ve found so many interesting stories during my research and not just of famous relatives but of ordinary soldiers etc who stories are just as important as the famous relatives.
But the First World War didn’t just involve the fighting men did it? In his book about the amazing American women journalists who visited the war zones of the First World War – “An Unladylike Profession“ – American author and journalist Chris Dubbs tells us that “The First World War forced a profound feminist revolution”. You have some extremely interesting female relatives too, haven’t you? Can you tell us a bit about some of them.
Yes women played an important part in the war too and during my research I’ve found a few who died and served in the two wars. More recently and after being inspired by you to investigate my female relatives more I discovered even more female relatives who served. Dorothea Feilding drove ambulances during the war and was the first woman to be awarded the military medal. Two other relatives, sisters Muriel and Olave Fock were also with a motor ambulance unit during the war. Several relatives set up hospitals - Rosamond Ridley set up a hospital for officers at her home, Sybil Grey and Muriel Paget set up a hospital in Russia. I have found several who worked as VADs such as Dorothy Nina Seymour who was a VAD in France and Russia and others who were commandants of hospitals such as Diana Lily James, Diana Isabel Brougham and Gwendoline Chevenix Trench. I have found numerous female relatives who worked for the Red Cross in some capacity such as in their wounded and missing department, one of whom was Flora Russell a watercolour painter who painted Gertrude Bell. One relative Edith Grant Duff set up a bread bureau for prisoners of war whilst another Edith Schafer set up workrooms for hospitals and was president of prisoner of war packing association. I’ve also recently discovered some suffragettes in the family and also have many interesting women who served in ww2.
I enjoy reading your weblog very much. Do you have any other weblogs/Facebook pages/Twitter pages, etc.?
Thank you, it’s nice to know that people do enjoy my blog and I try to keep it varied and am adding new pages to it. I also have a corresponding Facebook page - Becky’s Poems and Books - where I post details of my books and poems: https://www.facebook.com/BeckysPoemsandBooks/
On Twitter Becky Bishop @BeckysBijoux and the website https://beckyspoemsandbooks.wordpress.com/
I love the well known war poets such as Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves, John McCrae and Laurence Binyon who have provided inspiration for my war poems aswell as my own war poet relatives. Other poets I love are William Wordsworth ( he was the first poet I studied at school when I studied his poem composed upon Westminster bridge), W H Auden (particularly his poem Funeral Blues) and Henry wadsworth Longfellow (particularly the Arrow and the Song) and Pam Ayres. I always enjoy reading any poems though and discovering new poets.
I think you have another book due out shortly, Becky. Can you tell us more about that please?
My next book that will be out very soon is called The Adventures of Bluebell Bunny which is a book for both children and adults. It is a collection of 10 short rhyming stories set around the local woods where I live and inspired by my neighbours pet rabbit, Bluebell. I’ve always loved fairy stories and woodland animal themed stories and for a while have wanted to write some rhyming stories. After a chat with my neighbour and hearing what mischief her rabbit was up to it gave me inspiration for the stories and whilst the stories are made up some do have a ring of truth about them
Once this book is published I plan to write about my female war relatives and once strictly come dancing is back on our screens I will be doing another poetry book based on the new series. I have numerous other books in the pipeline - I am writing up the 96 letters of a ww2 British soldier, at some stage I will do another poetry book for all occasions and also plan to write up some of my war relatives stories into a book. At some point in the future I hope to hold a poetry reading event of my war poems.
Can you read us one of your poems please Becky?
"Shot at Dawn"
Underage I was, when I first joined up to fight
To go and do what I thought was my duty, fighting day and night
Two years have passed now, I’m still a lad, barely eighteen
But I won’t ever forget, the horrors of war I’ve seen
I’ve fought in many battles, risking life and limb,
Each time thinking, the chances of making it out alive are slim
I may only be eighteen but this war is making me feel old
My nerves are constantly on edge, on my mind and body it’s taking a toll
The voices and noises are so loud, as they whirl around my head
And when I try to sleep, all I see are images of the dead
My hands shake and tremble, I can barely hold a gun
But I’ve been passed fit for duty, I’ve got to still face the hun
We’ve been given new orders, we’ve got to go over the top
But when the time comes, I’m frozen on the spot
The gunfire is deafening, I cower in the trench in fear
I try to block it out, running down my cheeks are tears
I don’t know how long I sit there but all goes quiet and my comrades come back at last
And what happens next, seems to happen so fast
For next thing I know I’ve been court martialled, for cowardice they say
But until today I’m no coward, I’ve risked my life each day
I don’t know what happened, today just seemed so tough
It all got too much for me, I’d finally had enough
I tell them that I’m ill, if I was a coward I wouldn’t have signed up underage
My fellow comrades try and support me but it just puts the commander in a rage
No one believes me, a doctor is sent along
He passes me as fit and the trial doesn’t last long
I have no representation, they find me guilty and sentence me to be shot
I write a letter to my parents, telling them I’m in a tight spot
I worry for my parents and family, there’s a stigma to being shot for cowardice you see
I’ll become just a bad memory hidden away, no one will speak again of me
I’m choosing not to be blindfolded, so I can look them in the eye
Facing them with courage, until the time I die
With fellow comrades amongst the firing squad, with bravery I face my execution date
Shot at dawn I was, my pardon came too late
Thank you very much indeed Becky. We look forward very much to your next book.
To find out more about Becky's work and her publications please see her website website: https://beckyspoemsandbooks.wordpress.com/
Lucy London, September 2020