Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Killed in Action"

Arlecdon-born poet Thomas Irving James (1914 - 1984)
Photograph courtesy of Maureen Fisher,
Arlecdon History Group, Cumbria

The poetry of the Second World War tends not to be as well remembered in the modern era as that of the Forst World War. Yet, there was still poetry written and published during the Second World War. For example, "Killed in Action" by Thomas Irving James (1914 - 1984), seen in the above photograph, took as its subject a mother receiving word her son had been killed in the war.

For additional information click on 'Comments' below


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

Second World War Poetry

War Poetry from the First World War years (1914 - 1918) is still widely known. In fact, many of the poems written about the 1914 - 1918 war have come to represent the sentiments of war in general. Often the First World War poets were personally involved in the conflict - such as Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen and John McCrae. These three poets lost their lives because of the conflict, addicng a certain poignancy to their poems. War poetry from these years is studied in schools and many of them read out at Remembrance services.

Poets and poetry of the Second World War years (1939 - 1945) are less well known. There were, of course, poets who wrote about the war during these years. One such 'war poet' of the Second World War was the now little known West Cumbrian born poet, Thomas Irving James who was disabled (actually described as a 'cripple' from a time when that term was more widely used). During the war Mr James lived in Wolverhampton and Scotland. One of the poems by Thomas Irving James was 'Killed in Action', written in 1940.

About that time Mr James was being hailed as "... one of the war's poets". This poem appeared in both 'The Edinburgh Evening News' and 'The Whitehaven News'. His poetry also appeared in the national press.

One can recognise the image brought to mind by 'Killed in Action' - the anguish of a mother receiving a telegram giving the news of her son's death. What words of comfort can anyone give to a mother, father, wife or sweetheart of someone bereaved by the fortunes of war? In this poem Mr James as the observer comforts the bereaved mother by having God speak directly to her using the analogy of Christ’s crucifixion at Golgotha and the promise of Resurrection.

In the modern world, where both religious belief and bereavement due to war are not as widespread as in 1940, a poem like 'Killed in Action' might not have a wide appeal. Even so, it has a place in understanding the history of WW2.


Sunday, 10 October, 2010  
Blogger Cathie said...

I, personally, like this one a lot, it was written by Siegfried Sassoon. Here it is :

The Hero
'Jack fell as he'd have wished,' the mother said,
And folded up the letter that she'd read.
'The Colonel writes so nicely.' Something broke
In the tired voice that quavered to a choke.
She half looked up. 'We mothers are so proud
Of our dead soldiers.' Then her face was bowed.

Quietly the Brother Officer went out.
He'd told the poor old dear some gallant lies
That she would nourish all her days, no doubt
For while he coughed and mumbled, her weak eyes
Had shone with gentle triumph, brimmed with joy,
Because he'd been so brave, her glorious boy.

He thought how 'Jack', cold-footed, useless swine,
Had panicked down the trench that night the mine
Went up at Wicked Corner; how he'd tried
To get sent home, and how, at last, he died,
Blown to small bits. And no one seemed to care
Except that lonely woman with white hair.

WW1 again, I am afraid !

Sunday, 10 October, 2010  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

"Killed in Action"

The bluff-hued paper fluttered from her hand,
As, with an anguished cry, she bowed her head
Beneath a grief that none can understand
Save those who mourn a son - a soldier dead.

Words seemed so futile, so inadequate:
I stood in silence, stricken for a space.
Like she whose furrowed cheeks with tears were wet:
The stillness held: a Voice breathed through the place -

"In action too, My only Son was slain
(upon Golgotha's height His foes held sway).
Yet rose He victor over death's domain:
Let this thought solace your distress today."

By Thomas Irving James (1940)

Monday, 04 July, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Brief biography of Thomas Irving James
By Mrs Maureen Fisher, Arlecdon History Group

Extract from: Arlecdon Local History Group (2008),
"Arlecdon a journey through time",
ISBN No.:978 0 9544112 2 0

(Included here with permission):

Write Something Every Day
T Irving James – Author and Poet

There are many unmarked graves in St Michael’s churchyard but somewhere in this quiet place lie members of the James and Irving families. One William Henry James came from Devon in the mid 19th century probably to work in the mining industry while Joseph Irving was groom and gardener to Captain Burdett of Hakodadi. These two families came together through the marriage of Henry James, a miner and Fanny Irving and produced a talented author and poet, Thomas Irving James.

Irving was the eldest son of Henry and Fanny. He was born in Arlecdon on 13th March 1914 and it soon became apparent that he had paralysis of both legs and his left arm. He spent many months in a Liverpool hospital where he developed pneumonia and was not expected to survive. However, he showed a resilience which was to serve him all his life and survived, only to suffer the terrible blow of his father’s death in 1920 from the after effects of a mining accident. Henry James was only 27 years old at the time and as the accident had never been properly reported his wife, Fanny, received no support to bring up her three young children, Irving, Henry and Ilma.

An aunt, who lived on the Isle of Man, wrote to Irving’s mother to tell her about a German doctor, a former Harley Street specialist, who was interned there. He was occasionally allowed out of the camp to treat local people. Mrs James took Irving to see him and for 11 weeks he gave Irving specialist massage, under the watchful eye of a camp guard. He asked for no payment, only a photograph of his young patient, explaining that he was only too happy to be able to help those who were sick.

Monday, 04 July, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Irving showed significant improvement and was able to walk a little although he mostly crawled about on his hands and knees. When he was old enough to attend Arlecdon School, his mother carried him there and back for many years until, at about the age of nine, Irving had surgery at the famous Oswestry Orthopaedic Hospital and was fitted with leg irons which improved his mobility.

Irving began his writing at school where he was taught by the then headmaster, Mr John Kirby. One of his first poems “The Christ Child” was set to music and sung as a carol by the church choir. Other poems appeared in the West Cumberland Times and the Whitehaven News in the sections written by “Denton”.

Mr Kirby continued to encourage Irving throughout his school life and beyond. On one occasion after Irving had shown him a file containing all of his poems, Mr Kirby asked him to compare his work with that of Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth and Gray and to burn the lot if it didn’t reach anywhere near that standard. Irving duly burnt all his early poems except two, “Poem Pastoral” and “To a Bird of Captivity”, both of which appeared much later in his first book of poems, “Stammerings”.

Irving despaired of ever finding work after he left school in common with many of his former classmates. It was the 1930s, a time of great unemployment in the area. The picture of unemployed men shuffling on street corners with no chance of work must have remained in Irving’s mind and led to his writing:

“Will they stand in groups again".

However, after more surgery, his mobility improved but further changes were to take place in Irving’s life. His mother had remarried and his stepfather was offered a job in Wolverhampton through the influences of the Rev. A.J. Wilson, a former vicar of Arlecdon.

The family moved from a quiet country area to a busy industrial town which must have had a depressing effect on Irving and caused him to begin another poem thus:

“Some day I shall arise and leave this town behind
With all its evil smells, its jostling crowds begrimed.”

For a while things appeared to go from bad to worse. Recovery from even more surgery was almost complete when he slipped, while sitting near the fire, and upset a pan full of boiling water over himself. This resulted in severe scalding of his back and right arm and meant that he had to spend another seven months immobilised in bed. A lesser person might have given up but it would appear that Irving used this imposed inactivity to formulate his ideas and poems, one of which explains that he is forced to “stand aloof” and take the role of “curbside critic” (sic) and ends:

“Why seek ye then with pity to intrude
On this my elevated solitude?”

Irving’s fortunes began to improve when he met Robert Moss, a writer, who undertook to train him in journalism. He began to contribute articles to local newspapers and might have continued this occupation but for the Second World War which meant that he was able to obtain work in the inspection department of a Midlands arms factory.

Monday, 04 July, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

After the war he continued to work as an inspector in the Machine Products Department of Marston Fordhouses, later a subsidiary of ICI, where his winning entry in a short story competition resulted in him writing it up into a full length novel, a mystery thriller, “Death after Dinner”. He desperately needed someone to type up the work and a friend introduced him to a Miss Edna Rigby, the lady who later became his wife. Edna prepared all his manuscripts for a further two thrillers and his collections of poetry.

This courageous man’s advice to aspiring writers was:

“Write something, however short, every day. Keep at it and don’t give up, even if you have enough rejection slips to paper Buckingham Palace as I did. If you want to find plots, they’re everywhere – in the papers, in odd scraps of conversation, in people’s lives. If you’re a writer you’ll never be stuck for a story.”

What encouraging advice from a man who overcame such adversity. Perhaps he inherited this stamina and determination from his mother – this young woman left widowed with three children, who thought nothing of carrying her son to and from school, spent many anxious hours at his hospital bedside, nursed him through countless illnesses and still found the energy to support him in his writing during those long periods of recuperation. Fanny Irving is as deserving of our admiration as her talented son.

Thomas Irving James died in 1984 aged 70 years.

With grateful thanks for information provided by Irving’s nephew, Peter and his wife Valerie.

(Thanks also to Maureen Fisher for contributing the above information and the photograph of Thomas Irving James).

Monday, 04 July, 2011  

Post a Comment

<< Home