New in March 2016: more war poems by Wilfrid Gibson and Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne

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.




New in February 2016: Wilfrid Gibson’s ‘Devilswater’

Wilfrid Gibson’s poem ‘Devilswater’,  set to music by James Gillespie, appears on the recently launched Brothers Gillespie CD, Songs from the Outlands. The poem, which refers  to places near Hexham, Gibson’s Northumberland hometown, was influenced by the regional folk tales and Border Ballads he heard from childhood; I think Gibson would have loved the Gillespies’ version, which fits into this tradition. You can find out more and listen to the song on the Brothers Gillespie website. To celebrate the occasion, I have uploaded the poem here.


Up the hill and over the hill,
Down the valley by Dipton Mill,
Down the valley to Devilswater
Rode the parson’s seventh daughter.

Her heart was light, her eyes were wild —
Seventh child of a seventh child —
Down the valley to Devilswater
Rode the parson’s black-eyed daughter.

Down she rode by the bridle-track.
Down she rode, and never came back —
Never back to the Devilswater
Came the parson’s black-eyed daughter.

Up the hill and over the hill,
Down the valley by Dipton Mill,
High and low the parson sought her
Sought his seventh black-eyed daughter.

He tripped as he trod the bridle track,
A bramble tore his coat of black,
And he stood on the brink of Devilswater
And cursed, and called her the devil’s daughter.

* * *

Up the hill and over the hill,
Rode a black-eyed gipsy Jill,
Down the valley to Devilswater
Rode the devil’s black-eyed daughter.

Rode in a yellow caravan,
By the side of a merry black-eyed man;
Down to the bank of Devilswater
Rode the devil’s merry daughter.

Her heart was light, her eyes were wild,
As kneeling down with her little child,
She christened her bairn in the Devilswater —
The black-eyed brat of the devil’s daughter.

Low she laughed as she hugged it tight,
And it clapped its hands at the golden light
That glanced and danced on the Devilswater —
To think she was once a parson’s daughter.

Taken from  Whin, 1918, the version here corrects some errors which crept in when it was republished in Homecoming, 2003. The Brothers Gillespie have made some slight changes for their sung version.

New in July 2015: Michael Gibson article from ‘Eagle Times’. Work in progress: dissenting poets in the First World War

New Upload:
Eagle Art Editor’:  Michael Gibson’s 1998 illustrated account of his time working for Eagle and associated comics and annuals in the nineteen-fifties.

My previous upload of Michael Gibson’s unfinished memoir of his time at Eagle in the nineteen-fifties has been attracting interest from comics fans, so I’m pleased to have located and got permission to upload this earlier piece which includes some of his own artwork for Eagle and its associated comics and annuals.  At present I’ve just  uploaded image scans of the article (kindly provided by Will Grenham of Eagle Times) but hope in future to provide a  fully searchable and accessible version. Many thanks to Will, and to the Michael Gibson estate.

Work in Progress:
‘”War is a business of innumerable personal tragedies”: Wilfrid Gibson, Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne and the First World War’.

I’m currently revising this talk comparing the impact of the First World War on  Wilfrid Gibson and his sister, fellow poet Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne. In 1915, Wilfrid published ‘Battle’, his influential collection of war poems. That same year, he invited the recently widowed Elizabeth to share his home at the ‘Poets’ Colony’ in Dymock. But she and her brother became increasingly estranged as their attitudes to the war began to diverge. The loss of their once close and supportive relationship became just one more of the personal tragedies of war.

Originally given at the ‘New Numbers, New Approaches’ conference at the University of Gloucestershire in June, the revised paper is to be published in a special conference issue of Dymock Poets and Friends.  I will also upload a longer version to my website, together with a selection of the poems discussed.



New in April 2015: Michael Gibson remembers teenage authorship, bomb disposal, and Eagle comics

Michael Gibson (1918-2000), a prolific children’s author, was the art editor of the Eagle comic during the 1950s.  As his niece, I became the lucky recipient of a gift subscription which, arriving earlier than the copies in the shops, made me the envy of my schoolmates (especially the boys). Towards the end of his life, Michael started to write memoirs of his own childhood and his life as a writer, but died before he could finish them. I have now uploaded some edited extracts,and  illustrated them with material from his own collection of books and ephemera. In future I plan to upload further extracts covering his childhood, as well as examples of his own artwork for comics, book covers and story illustrations.

New Uploads:
Michael Gibson Memoirs: First Books and War Work. Gibson remembers his early interest in aircraft, writing his first book while still a schoolboy, and  war work in Gloucestershire as a technical artist and in bomb disposal.

Michael Gibson: working for Eagle. Gibson’s account of his early days working as art editor of Eagle comic in the nineteen-fifties.

New in March 2015: additional resources on Wilfrid Gibson

Last summer the Sunday Mirror,  in an issue commemorating the outbreak of the First World War, printed one of Wilfrid Gibson’s war poems. The accompanying one-paragraph biography  contained seven factual errors. Though I managed to get these corrected in Mirror Online,  other misinformation about Gibson persists on the internet and in print.  He did not ‘come from the south of England’; he did not fight on the Western or any other front; he was a never a ‘social worker in the East End’. It would be interesting to track down the origins of such false statements, and to speculate why they persist. For now, in response to the increasing interest in Gibson’s war poetry,  I have uploaded some basic biographical information, and a timeline, in the hope that  these will be useful to students and others  trying to find reliable sources about his life. I have also added  information about the copyright in Wilfrid Gibson’s work.

I have also fixed the link on the Links and Resources page to Kathy Ferguson’s site Emma Goldman’s Women, which documents little known anarchist women. Please let me know of any other broken links you find on my site.

Coming Soon

Michael Gibson, Wilfrid’s son, became a writer of boys’ adventure stories, and also worked as the art editor on the boys’ comic Eagle. My next upload to the site will include some of his autobiographical writing about these and other aspects of his life.


New in November 2014: collages for Remembrance Day, and book chapter about Helen Lowe.

New Uploads:  For Remembrance Day, I have added links to collages I have made using two of  Wilfrid Gibson’s antiwar poems , Armistice Day 1932, and The Victors.
Text only versions of the poems here.

The Spirit of Resistance: Helen Lowe, 1944-2011 is now available on this site. This short chapter from  Women Against Fundamentalism: stories of dissent and solidarity draws on Helen Lowe’s own words to give a  background to her involvement with the feminist organisation Women Against Fundamentalism.

New in October 2014: Part Two of Anarchism and Feminism in the 1970s

New Upload: I have now added extracts from four more  interviews to  Anarchism and Feminism: voices from the seventies. Women activists discuss anarchism, feminism, and the relationship between the personal and the political:

Marie : I think we have to change what anarchism is.
Angela: Acting non-hierarchically affects every part of our lives.
Ruth: I see my politics as a totality.
Emma: Excuse me comrades, where are all the women?

The interviews can now be downloaded together as a word document.

Recommendation: Pete Grafton,  the author of the excellent oral history You, You & You! The People out of Step with World War II, has now begun to make his latest project available online. Len: Our Ownest Darling Girl: Letters between Mother and Daughter 1939-1950 is based on a cache of letters, photographs and memorabilia bought on eBay; the story of how this became the basis for a book is fascinating in its own right.

New in September 2014: Anarchism and Feminism in the 1970s, plus new publication.

New Upload: Women activists discuss anarchism, feminism, and the relationship between the personal and the political, in extracts from interviews carried out in 1977. Part One of Anarchism and Feminism: voices from the seventies includes:

Notes towards an introduction

Susan:  I really believe in a basic anarchism in all women, because of their experiences.

Rose:  My politics have always come from what I experience, rather than theory.

Louise:  If you’re working towards a free society you have to think about everything.

Carol:  I thought that anarchism had more to offer.

Olive:  Revolution without fun was pointless.

Part Two will follow later this year, with four more interviews.

Just Published:  Women Against Fundamentalism: stories of dissent and solidarity, which includes my chapter ‘The Spirit of Resistance: Helen Lowe 1944-2011‘. I will be uploading the chapter to my website later this year, [added in November 2014] but strongly recommend the whole book, which is available in paperback and as an e-book.

Correction to download link: The Gender Politics of Anarchist History now has a functioning download link. I hope to get a more recent version of this paper online before long.

If you come across any other non-functioning links on the site, please let me know and I’ll get on the case.