Tuesday, 8 April 2014

RIP Edward Thomas 1878 - 1917

At 7.30 a.m. on this day in 1917, at the Battle of Arras, Philip Edward Thomas lost his life in the blast from an exploding shell as he was standing at the Beaurains Observation Post.  He is buried in Agny Military Cemetary.  

In Memoriam (Easter, 1915)

The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again. 

Edward Thomas.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

How COULD she do that?

 A quiet corner of Laugharne, a village that ET knew well.

Last week my Edward Thomas Fellowship newsletter arrived, but I was feeling somewhat hornswaggled at the time with this fresh virus, so only settled down to read it earlier on this week.

I have always been a champion of the underdog, I respect honesty in others (and am stupidly honest myself) and I guess the term "what you see is what you get" was written with me in mind.  I am also a Big Softee (the capitals are essential) and my kids used to call me Softee Mummie.  Because of this, I was absolutely horrified to read Richard Emeny's article about the Thomas's friendship with the Ransomes (as in Arthur Ransome of Swallows and Amazons  - et al - fame).  Apparently he and his wife Ivy married secretly for some reason or another in 1909.  ET and Helen were their witnesses.

Anyway, Mr Emeny goes on to write about a time during the First World War (just after ET had joined the Army) when ET's daughter Myfanwy went to stay with Ivy Ransome and her daughter Tabitha, her husband being busy in Russia, as a War correspondent.  Myfanwy wrote letters home to Helen, often asking Ivy how words should be spelt as she wasn't very good at spelling.  But instead of spelling the words that Myfanwy wanted to use, Ivy spelt out  "the most cruel and spiteful criticisms of Mother's looks and behaviour" which, being read by Helen, already distraught and with nerves as taut as piano wires over Edward going to be a soldier, absolutely broke her heart.  Then she gradually realized that a child would never write such awful things and the truth dawned on her. 

I just cannot believe how spiteful and downright nasty that woman was, and to feel SO sorry for poor Helen, who was - at best - ill-equipped to cope with such venom, especially without the support - ANY support, just having ET under the same roof would have helped her - of Edward at this dreadful time.  You may imagine, subsequent parcels of goodies from Ivy (guilty conscience?) were returned unopened, and it will be no great surprise to hear that the Ransomes divorced in 1924, and his daughter Tabitha refused to see him after that (doubtless poisoned by her mother's lies).  Ivy apparently saw herself as a lady, and perhaps had lowered herself to marry Ransome in the first place, hence the secrecy.  Ransome's biographer, Hugh Brogan, wrote that "it was impossible to be a good husband to Ivy". 

Meanwhile, I am sitting here writing this 100 years on, and wishing SO MUCH that I could scoop Helen up and give her a big hug, and tell her not to pay any attention to such a jealous miserable b*tch.  I won't tell you what I'd have liked to say to Ivy!  Ain't life strange?

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Walk around Llyn Llech Owain - a favourite spot for Edward Thomas

You must forgive the prolonged interval since I last posted on this blog.  Unfortunately illness played a part, and I think I had quite over-egged the Edward Thomas cake by putting in so much reading and note-taking before I gave my talk last May.  Now my brain seems to be functioning more clearly, and I have some fresh books about Edward Thomas and his work, and I am gradually taking a deep breath and moving on.

Above is a photo of the area at the edge of Llyn Llech Owain at Gorslas in Carmarthenshire - a favourite walk of Edward Thomas's when he was staying in Ammanford.  Just out of sight to the right is the spring which fills the lake, and it is quite a determined gushing spring at that.  The legend which is associated with the lake is best told in Thomas's own words:

". . . and Llyn Llech Owen, and have wondered that only one legend should be remembered of those that have been born of all the gloom and the golden lilies and the plover that glories in its loneliness; for I stand in need of a legend when I come down to it through rolling heathery land, through bogs, among blanched and lichened crags, and the deep sea of heather, with a few flowers and many withered ones, of red and purple whin, of gorse and gorse-flower, and (amongst the gorse) a grey curling dead grass, which all together make the desolate colour of a "black mountain"; and when I see the water for ever waved except among the weeds in the centre, and see the water-lily leaves lifted and resembling a flock of wild-fowl, I cannot always be content to see it so remote, so entirely inhuman, and like a thing a poet might make to show a fool what solitude was, and as it remains with its one poor legend of a man who watered his horse at a well, and forgot to cover it with the stone, and riding away, saw the water swelling over the land from the well, and galloped back to stop it, and saw the lake thus created and bounded by the track of his horse's hooves; and thus it is a thing from the beginning of the world that has never exchanged a word with men, and now never will, since we have forgotten the language, though on some days the lake seems not to have forgotten it."

I couldn't resist climbing up this little incline, to see the view . . .  It reminded me very much of Canford Heath in Dorset, which I know quite well from years gone by.  Better view from the top though.

It is not at its most welcoming in winter.  Poor peaty soil supports only moor grass, heather and ling and gorse, and a few pine trees.  Since the time ET knew it, the area was planted up with conifer forests (by the Forestry Commission) but this has all been cleared now and improvements for wildlife are being made all the time.  Dormice boxes for one.


The Visitor Centre - which had underfloor heating, and was a nice place to sit and warm up out of the wind.

 Display board telling you something about the site now.

A little bit about the history of this area.

Some of the wild birds regularly seen here.

Some photos of the Dormice and the nesting boxes they are putting up.  The chew-holes in the Hazlenuts are characteristic.

I hope you can read this - some more of the history and archaeology of this area.

The sombre January landscape was lit fleetingly by sun.

I wonder what ET would make of it now?  I am sure he would appreciate the fact that it is now an SSSI, and that steps are being taken to balance the flora and fauna of the area, following the depredation of the Forest Commission plantings.  He would probably hate the "managed" and "controlled" aspects of it though and prefer it wild and unvisited as when he knew it.

Perhaps the last word could go to Walter de la Mare, a good friend of ET's, and whose poems were reviewed by the latter, this included "Sorcery", the first verse of which is here:

"What voice is that I hear
Crying across the pool?"
"It is the voice of Pan you hear,
Crying his sorceries shrill and clear,
In the twilight dim and cool."