I have uploaded four more war poems by Wilfrid Gibson and one by Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne. They are among those mentioned in my latest article, ‘”War is a business of innumerable personal tragedies”: Wilfrid Gibson, Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne and the First World War’. (Published this month in Dymock Poets and Friends, No 15, 2016, it will be uploaded here later this year).
The Universal God Speaks in Wartime, an anti-war poem published by Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne in 1914, had its meaning transformed by the jingoistic Bishop Basil Wilberforce when he quoted it in a pro-war sermon. (Wilberforce, at least in the printed version of the sermon, also omitted a line spoken by God in the poem: ‘When women and children are affronted and ravished, I am affronted and ravished.’ ) This incident, and its bearing on Gibson Cheyne’s changing views on the war, are discussed in the article.
Two of the newly added poems by Wilfrid Gibson draw directly on his own experiences as a private soldier in the First World War. His initial attempts to volunteer were rejected on health grounds; he eventually joined the army in 1917. The closest he ever came to serving abroad is described in The Fatigue: the most explicitly autobiographical of all his war poems, it is based on an incident described by Gibson in his letters of the time. The Conscript draws on his time as an army medical officers’ clerk, and is unusual for Gibson in its use of religious imagery. The Shells, published during the Second World War, is about a woman factory worker, while Desert Night gives to a weary sentry Gibson’s own memories of the Northumberland landscape of his youth. Despite Gibson’s general anti-war sentiments, his poems too have been interpreted in many different ways.