Sunday 30 October 2022

Iris Tree (1897 – 1968) – British Poet, Writer, Artist and Actress

While researching someone else, I stumbled upon some of Iris Tree's WW1 poems and realised that, although she has an Exhibiton Panel, she was not on the weblog so I decided to  put that right 

Iris's portrait byAugustus John
Iris was born in London on 27th January 1897. Her parents were Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree an actor/theatre manager and impresario and his wife Helen Maud Holt who was an actress.  Iris’s sisters Felicity and Viola also became actresses. 

Iris’s Father ran The Herbert Beerbohm Tree Company of performers, of which Basil Hallam ("Gilbert the Filbert" – see below) was a member. Beerbohm Tree also managed The Haymarket Theatre and His Majesty’s Theatre in London, presenting Shakespeare’s work, classic plays, new works and adaptations of novels.  In 1904, Beerbohm founded The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and in 1909 he was knighted  for his services to the theatre,

Iris was a poet, actress and artist’s model.  She was described as ‘an eccentric, a wit and an adventuress’.   One of her friends - another WW1 poet Nancy Cunard - studied with Iris at the Slade School of Art and contributed to the Sitwells’ poetry periodical “Wheels” during WW1.   Her father was a supporter of the War and delivered many patriotic speeches to help raise funds for the war effort.  

According to Vera Brittain, Iris’s father, who delivered patriotic addresses during the First World, died on 17th July 1917, in a London nursing home, following surgery to set a broken leg.  Winifred Holtby was aged nineteen at the time and was nursing there and apparently Beerbohm died in her arms.

 Iris married twice – first to Curtis Moffat, a New York artist, and they had a son - Ivan Moffat, who became a screenwriter.   Iris’s second marriage was to an actor and former officer of the Austrian Cavalry – Count Friedrich von Ledebur-Wicheln.

Iris died on 13th April 1968.

Basil Hallam and the Knuts in WW1

Iris’s WW1 poetry collections was “Poems” by Iris Tree, with illustrationsYou  by Curtis Moffat (John Lane, The Bodley Head, New York, 1920) and she had poems published in seven WW1 anthologies. 

Sources:  Wikipedia, Find my Past, Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) and

“England my England A War Anthology” Compiled by George Goodchild (Jarrold & Sons, London, 1914) to which Iris contributed her poem      “In time of War”:

"In Time of War"

THE days come up as beggars in the street

With empty hands, as summers without sun

That bring no gold of corn. With weary feet

We tread our ways not caring where they run.

The poet’s song all golden in his throat

Turns to a blood-red chapter, rage unfurled ;

The hunter’s horn has made its little note

A trumpet-blast that shall awake the world.

From silent shores where languid tides have swept,

From quiet hills where dreaming people reign

Strange eyes drop water that have never wept,

Men rush to slaughter that have never slain:

For look! The gorgeous armies marching onwards.

And look! The draggled line, the feet that lag,

The burning banner, and returning homewards,

The pallid faces and the bleeding flag !

 From house to house the mournful winds have blown

The dying war-cry in the watchers’ ears,

From heath to hill have borne the weepers’ moan,

Have drowned the drum, have frozen up their tears.

They see the dusty roads of separation,

They see the lonely seas and stranger lands ;

Their children give good bodies for the nation

And yield their swords to death with loyal hands.

Beggar and prince in meeting face to face

Hold the same secret shining in their eyes

The awful terror of a fierce disgrace,

The awful hope that glory may arise,

The hope that like a flame from the black field

Flings up its prophecy on fervent wings ;

Pride in the strength of God whose sword we wield,

And charity the only crown of kings.

 Iris Tree.

You can find more of Iris’s poems here:

Iris's portrait was painted by Welsh artist Augustus John (1878 - 1961). In December 1917 Augustus John was attached to the Canadian forces as a war artist and made a number of memorable portraits of Canadian infantrymen.

Tuesday 25 October 2022

Leonora Speyer, Lady Speyer (1872 – 1956) - American poet and violinist

Leonora Stosch
Born in Washington, D.C., U.S.A., on 7th November 1872,  Leonora was the daughter of Count Ferdinand von Stosch of Mantze in Silesia, who fought for the Union during the Civil War, and his wife, Julia, nee Schayer, who was a writer from New England.  Leonora learnt to play the violin as a little girl.  She then studied music in Brussels, Paris, and Leipzig and went on to play the violin professionally.  

Leonora's first husband was Louis Meredith Howland, who she married in 1894, but they divorced in Paris. In 1902, Leonora married London banker Edgar Speyer (later Sir Edgar), in St. George’s Hanover Square, London. The couple lived in Cavendish Square W, St Marylebone, London until 1915.   Leonora had four daughters: Enid Howland with her first husband and Pamela, Leonora, and Vivien Claire Speyer with Sir Edgar.

Sir Edgar's family were of German origin and, following anti-German attacks on him during the First World War, the couple moved to the United States of America and lived in New York, where Leonora began writing poetry.  She won the 1927 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her collection of poetry entitled “Fiddler's Farewell”.

Here is one of Leonora's poems:

“April on the Battlefields”

April now walks the fields again,

Trailing her tearful leaves

And holding all her frightened buds against her heart:

Wrapt in her clouds and mists,

She walks,

Groping her way among the graves of men.

The green of earth is differently green,

A dreadful knowledge trembles in the grass,

And little wide-eyed flowers die too soon:

There is a stillness here —

After a terror of all raving sounds —

And birds sit close for comfort upon the boughs

Of broken trees.

April, thou grief!

What of thy sun and glad, high wind,

Thy valiant hills and woods and eager brooks,

Thy thousand-petalled hopes?

The sky forbids thee sorrow, April!

And yet —

I see thee walking listlessly

Across those scars that once were joyous sod,

Those graves,

Those stepping-stones from life to life.

Death is an interruption between two heart-beats,    

That I know —

Yet know not how I know —

But April mourns,

Trailing her tender green,

The passion of her green,

Across the passion of those fearful fields.

Yes, all the fields!

No barrier here,

No challenge in the night,

No stranger-land;

She passes with her perfect countersign,

Her green;

She wanders in her mournful garden,

Dropping her buds like tears,

Spreading her lovely grief upon the graves of man.

From “The Second Book of Modern Verse: A Selection from the work of contemporaneous American poets”. Edited by Jessie B. Rittenhous,Editor of “The Little Book of Modern Verse”, 1919.

Portrait of Lady Speyer, 1907
by John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925) 


Leonora is mentioned in

Saturday 22 October 2022

Radclyffe Hall (12 August 1880 – 7 October 1943) - British poet and writer

Radclyffe Hall, 1918

Marguerite Antonia Raclyffe-Hall was born on 12th August 1880 in Bournemouth, Dorset.  Her parents were Radclyffe Radclyffe-Hall and his wife Mary Jane Sager, nee Diehl.  Her father died in 1898, leaving her a considerable inheritance and she did not get on with her mother and, thanks to her father, was able to go her own way. 

Radclyffe spent time travelling and learning and published five books of poetry between 1906 and 1915, when her collection entitled “The Forgotten Island” was published.

During the First World War, Radclyffe apparently worked with the Red Cross but I cannot find any information about her wartime service.

Although the following poem was published prior to the First World War, I feel it is relevant:


Battle of Tanga, 1914
Martin Frost 

Once o'er this hill whereon we stand,

Just you and I, hand clasp'd in hand

Amid the silence, and the space,

A mighty battle rent the air,

With dying curse and choking prayer;

'Mid shot and shell death stalked apace.

Is it conceivable to you —

So much at peace — because we two

Are close together, or to me?

The silent beauty of the noon

Seems like a Heaven-granted boon,

Aglow with tender ecstasy.

A little mist of hazy blue

Is slowly hiding from our view

The city's domes and slender spires,

As thro' a bridal veil the sun

Subdued and shy lights one by one

The virgin clouds with blushing fires.

The wind has fallen; very low

We hear his wings brush past, and know

He creeps away to dream and rest;

How sweet to be alone, to feel

You breathe one longing sigh, and steal

A little closer to my breast.

Is anything worth while but this?

We may not perish for a kiss,

Yet thus it were not hard to die!

War strews the earth with countless dead,

And after all is done and said,

The end is love, and you and I!

Portrait of Radclyffe Hall in 1918 by German-Born British artist Charles Buchel (Karl August B├╝chel) (1872–1950)

German artist Martin Frost (1875-1928) produced about 260 paintings and sketches of the German experience of The First World War. His paintings showing the realism of combat put him in the forefront of German war artists of WW1.  Periodicals at the time heavily promoted Frost's works, bringing to the German public the ordeal of the frontline soldier.

The Battle of Tanga, sometimes also known as the Battle of the Bees, was the unsuccessful attack by the British Indian Expeditionary Force "B" under Major General A. E. Aitken to capture German East Africa (the mainland portion of present-day Tanzania) during the First World War. It was the first major event of the war in Eastern Africa and saw the British defeated by a significantly smaller force of German Askaris and colonial volunteers under Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. It was the beginning of the East African Campaign of World War I, and is considered one of greatest victories of the Schutztruppe in Africa. The British retreat enabled the Schutztruppe to salvage modern equipment, medical supplies, tents, blankets, food and a number of Maxim machine guns which allowed them to successfully resist the allies for the rest of the war.

Friday 14 October 2022

Katherine Mansfield (1888 –1923) – New Zealand born Poet and Writer

Born in Wellington, New Zealand Kathleen Mansfield Beechamp on 14th October 1888, Kathleen wrote under the pen name of Katherine Mansfield.   Her first printed stories appeared in the "High School Reporter" and the Wellington Girls' High School magazine. Katherine moved to London in 1903, where she attended Queen's College along with her sisters. Katherine played the cello, and always thought she would take it up professionally.  

Katherine returned to New Zealand after travelling in Europe between 1903 and 1906, staying mainly in Belgium and Germany.  

Back in London by 1908, Katherine Mansfield's life and work were altered completely in 1915 when her beloved younger brother, Leslie Heron "Chummie" Beauchamp, was killed in action on the Western Front on 6th October 1915, serving as a Second Lieutenant with the South Lancashire Regiment 8th Bn.  Leslie was buried in Ploegsteert Wood Military Cemetery, Belgium, Grave Reference: III. E. 2. 

Katherine and her brother Leslie
New Zealand, 1907

Diagnosed with extrapulmonary tuberculosis in 1917, Katherine died in France on 9th January 1923 at the age of 34.

Here is a poem Katherine wrote following the death of her brother:

“To Leslie Heron Beauchamp”

'Last night for the first time since you were dead 

I walked with you, my brother, in a dream. 

We were at home again beside the stream 

Fringed with tall berry bushes, white and red.

‘Don't touch them: they are poisonous,’ I said. 

But your hand hovered, and I saw a beam 

Of strange, bright laughter flying round your head 

And as you stooped I saw the berries gleam.

‘Don't you remember? We called them Dead Man's Bread!’ 

I woke and heard the wind moan and the roar 

Of the dark water tumbling on the shore. 

Where – where is the path of my dream for my eager feet? 

By the remembered stream my brother stands 

Waiting for me with berries in his hands … 

‘These are my body. Sister, take and eat'

Till We Meet Again

Poem posted by Johan Moors on the Facebook Page Memporial Site for All Commonwealth and Allied Soldiers