Tuesday, 9 April 2013

96th Anniversary of tghe death of Edward Thomas, poet

 (Photo to follow later - blogger playing up).

On this day, the 9th April 1917, Edward Thomas was killed by the blast from a shell in the Battle of Arras.  I will turn to Eleanor Farjeon, who loved him as his patient wife Helen did, to explain what happened, in the words of the Sergeant of Edward's company, whom Helen and Eleanor met when he was on leave from the Front:

The Sergeant recollected: "At the end of the day when the battle was over we had the Huns on the run, and the plain was full of our men shouting and singing and dancing.  We thought we had won the war!  Mr Thomas came up from the dug-out behind his gun and leaned in the opening filling his clay pipe.  One of the Huns turned as he was running and shot a stray shot, and Mr Thomas fell.  It was over in an instant.  I went out to the men and called, "Men, we've lost our best officer."  The cry went up, "Not Mr Thomas?" and there was no more shouting that day.

When Edward fell he was still holding his half-filled clay.  It did not break, and came back to Helen with his other things.  She gave it to Merfyn.

This was the story as nearly I remember it in the Sergeant's own words.  But my memory had misled me about the stray shot, it was a stray shell.  When Helen came to know Edward's Captain, Franklin Lushington, he told her that as Edward stood by his dug-out lighting his pipe, all the Germans had retreated, but a last shell they sent over passed so close to him that thhe blast stopped his heart.  'He told me', Helen writes, 'there was no wound and his beloved body was not injured.  This was borne out by the fact that when the contents of his pockets were returned to me - a bundle of letters, a note-book and the Shakespeare sonnets I had given him, they were all strangely creased as though subject to some terrible pressure, most strange to see.  There was no wound or disfigurement at all.  He just died standing there in the early morning after the battle.'  Captain Lushington told Helen that Edward could have had a job 'back and safe, but he chose the dangerous front observation post.'

Edward Thomas: you are not forgotten, nor ever will be.

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