To Common Folks and Kings

Irish Poet Ledwidge

Memorial to the Irish poet Francis Edward Ledwidge, near to where he fell, Boezinge, Belgium. Hark the bells on every hill.
(Songs of Peace, ca. 1916)
(P. Ferguson image, September 2004)

The Great War Poets: The Known and Unknown

Brooke, Sassoon, Owen, Ledwidge, Graves, Blunden, McCrae, Rosenberg, Kipling..names of some of the Great War’s many poets.

Who has not read a poem of the Great War?…In Flanders Fields the poppies blow…Some better known than others. Some poets famous for a body of work; others for a solitary poem, that, of their body of work, became chosen.

Wilfred Owen

Famed poet Wilfred Owen…What passing bells for these who die as cattle?
(Anthem for Doomed Youth, 1917).
Wiki Commons image.

Today, 4 November 2018, marks the day that famed English poet Wilfred Edward Salter Owen lost his life a hundred years ago at the Sambre-Oise Canal, France. Owen was 25 years of age, a commissioned officer in the Manchester Regiment and a recipient of the Military Cross. At one time, during his military service, Owen was diagnosed with shell shock, and was treated at Craiglockhart, a military psychiatric hospital for officers, in Edinburgh, Scotland. While in hospital Owen met another Great War poet Siegfried Sassoon. It was…a fortunate meeting.

Sassoon was commissioned into the Welch Fusiliers and, like Owen, was a recipient of the Military Cross. While at Craiglockhart, Sassoon encouraged Owen who, at times, required perseverance in order to improve his poetic work and skills. Like all of us at times, Owen needed encouragement. Thanks to the direction and lending hand of Siegfried Sassoon, who Owen much admired, Wilfred Owen became the greatest of the Great War’s poets.

Siegfried Sassoon 1915. Ring your sweet bells; but let them be farewells / To the green-vista'd gladness of the past. (Joy-Bells, 1918) Wiki Commons Image

Siegfried Sassoon 1915…Ring your sweet bells; but let them be farewells / To the green-vista’d gladness of the past. (Joy-Bells, 1918)
Wiki Commons Image

Yet there is another body of work seldom heard and seldom read. This work comes to us from the vast number of amateur poets whose lines also attempted to capture their Great War experience and thoughts. Their work is no less valuable, even when cast aside by critics or fallen to the forgetfulness boneyard of history. How many of us have ever attempted a rhyme?

One poet whose solitary work I  often return to is that of Private Harry Ayres who married Carrie Elsie Marion Mellard, daughter of Chilliwack postmaster Sam Mellard. Harry did not return from his service, overseas with the 47th Battalion CEF, being killed 11 November 1916. Shortly after Harry’s death, his wife and young daughter Edith received his last letter which included the following lines…

A blazier fire at twilight,
A thousand stars ashine,
A searchlight sweeping Heaven,
About the firing line.
The rifle bullet whistles,
The message that it brings,
Of death and desolation
To common folks and kings.
A sentry at his station,
Upon the trenches rim
Has thoughts that draw souls nearer
And you are there with him.

The work includes words I frequently choose to set a subliminal stage for my own clatterings at the keys. Words like…twilightstarsheavensouls, but two lines always recapture my imagination…To common folks and kings – as well as – And you are there with him.

The Vimy Ridge Memorial, France.

On the horizon, the Vimy Ridge War Memorial, France where the name of Harry Ayres is inscribed.
(P. Ferguson image, April 2007)

All of us find meaning in our interests…they are personal…they are spirited…they make us feel…at least something…..happiness or sadness. To Common folks and kings reminds me of the Imperial War Graves Commission’s mission, no distinction made on account of military or civil rank, race or creed. Of the line, And you are there with him, reminds me of every step I take in this research at home and abroad, finding the stories, turning the corner…the known, the unexpected, but all the while in the presence of those we seek…we just need to recognize them.

Words, observation and listening come together…the high ground, the church, the sounding of bells, especially church bells at 11:00 AM, that always take me to the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Together sight, words and sound connectively steeplechase their way through my thoughts. They remind me…..

…..It was the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month that, as the church bells in Shrewsbury were heard celebrating the peace…Wilfred Owen’s loss was, at that time, learned by his mother Susan Owen…via a worded message…the telegram…Upon her son’s marker at Ors Communal Cemetery, France Wilfred’s words…Shall life renew these bodies? Of a truth all death will he annul.

About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was captivated by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Over time Paul became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography, narration and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was inspired when he learned Weir visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. "Gallipoli", the film, led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii, Gallipoli, North Macedonia and Salonika. When Paul first watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests was a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, Paul believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


Leave a Reply