Artists Rifles 1914-1918 - The definitive collection of prose, poetry and music of the Great War Artists Rifles 1914-1918 - The definitive collection of prose, poetry and music of the Great War

1 George Butterworth : English Idyll No. 2 5.10
George Kaye Butterworth (1885-1916) was educated at Eton and Oxford, and developed a keen interest in folk song and dance. In September 1914 Butterworth and several friends enlisted in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, although he was soon selected for officer training and gazetted to the Durham Light Infantry. In August 1915 his battalion crossed to France, and in July 1916 took part in the Battle of the Somme. Here Butterworth was awarded the Military Cross, and was killed on 5 August during a successful attack on Munster Alley trench near Pozieres. His temporary grave was lost and his name instead appears on the Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval. His loss was a very great tragedy for English music. So far as is known Butterworth wrote no new music after joining the army and instead devoted his energies exclusively to the martial task in hand. English Idyll No. 2 is a slow and reflective piece written in 1911, and evokes a countryside and landscape as yet undarkened by the stormclouds of war.

2 Siegfried Sassoon : July 31st 1914 3.56
Siegfried Lorraine Sassoon (1886-1967) is one of the major English poets of the Great War. Educated at Marlborough and Cambridge, Sassoon published several volumes of poetry privately between 1906 and 1912, and in August 1914 joined the Sussex Yeomanry as a trooper. After taking a commission in the Royal Welch Fusiliers he saw active service in France at various times between November 1915 and July 1918. A keen hunter of Germans, Sassoon earned the sobriquet 'Mad Jack' and a Military Cross, but threw the ribbon into the River Mersey after becoming disenchanted by the manner in which was war was being conducted. After a period of treatment at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, where he met and mentored Wilfred Owen, Sassoon rejoined his battalion in at the front in May 1918 and shortly thereafter was shot and wounded for the second time. In addition to the war poetry collected in The Old Huntsman (1917) and Counter Attack (1918), Sassoon produced three volumes of prose autobiography which touch on the war, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man (1928), Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930) and The Weald of Youth (1942).

3 Edward Elgar : Carillon 6.57
The leading English classical composer of the time, Edward Elgar (1857-1934) was too old at 57 for military service, but sat on the governing committee of the United Arts Rifles, and was always ready to serve King and Country through the medium of music. This dramatic setting of Carillon by the Belgian poet and playright Emile Cammaerts became an instant bestseller at the beginning of 1915, while later war works included The Spirit of England and Fringes of the Fleet. Best of all is the Cello Concerto of 1919, whose spare orchestration and plangent cadences clearly reveal the disillusioning influence of the war years. But Elgar's view was somewhat skewed. In August 1914 he had written to his friend and benefactor Frank Schuster: "Concerning the war I say nothing. The only thing that wrings my heart and soul is the thought of the horses. Oh! my beloved animals. The men and women can go to hell, but my horses… I walk round and round this room cursing God for allowing dumb brutes to be tortured. Let him kill human beings but how CAN HE? Oh, my horses."

4 Maurice Ravel : Le Tombeau de Couperin (Prelude) 2.53
Fastidious outsider Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) spent two years as a driver with the French artillery before succumbing to frostbite. His war experience informs Le Tombeau de Couperin (1917), a suite for piano in six parts each dedicated to the memory of a fallen friend. Prelude is dedicated to Jacques Charlot.

5 Robert Graves : Dawn Bombardment 0.39
Together with Sassoon, Blunden and Owen, Robert Graves (1895-1985) is recognized as one of the leading Great War poets, and made a further significant contribution to the literature of the war with his memoir Goodbye to All That in 1929. Graves joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers when war broke out as a means of escaping the moralistic confines of his family, and crossed to the Western Front as a subaltern in May 1915. Critically wounded by shrapnel at High Wood in July 1916, he was reported 'died of wounds' and read his own obituary in The Times on his twenty-first birthday. Graves went on to publish three volumes of war poetry (Over the Brazier, David and Goliath, Fairies and Fusiliers), and in peacetime juggled an enviably colourful personal life with a career a historical novelist, academic and poet. In later years he tended to disparage his own war verse, hence Dawn Bombardment from 1938 is probably as close as we can hope to get to a reading by Graves of such a poem, although here the warfare described is emotional.

6 Ralph Vaughan Williams : Prelude (Sinfonia Antarctica) 2.37
Unarguably the most important British composer to see active service in the Great War was Ralph Vaughan Williams. A close friend of both Holst and Butterworth, and a mentor to Bliss, Vaughan Williams was born in Gloucestershire in 1872, and enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps in September 1914, where he was made a wagon orderly on account of flat feet. His Field Ambulance eventually went to France in late June 1916, just ahead of the great Somme offensive. Their destination was the hamlet of Ecoivres, nestling beneath Mont St Eloi some miles behind Vimy, topped by the picturesque ruins of a 7th century Abbey. To the south the thunderous eight-day preliminary bombardment already in progress. It was from the field hospital at Ecoivres that Vaughan Williams set out with his ambulance wagon to collect the wounded, brought back from the line on a military tramway, and there that the contemplative Pastoral Symphony began to take shape in his mind:

"It's really wartime music - a great deal of it incubated when I used to go up night after night with the ambulance wagon at Ecoivres, and we went up a steep hill and there was a wonderful Corot-like landscape in the sunset. It's not really lambkins frisking at all, as most people take for granted."

The sound of a bugler practising at Ecoivres became part of this landscape, and would inspire the long trumpet cadenza in the second movement of the symphony. Very few pieces of Great War music can be pinned to a specific location, and a visit to Ecoivres does not disappoint even today. The presence of the field hospital is betrayed by the large military cemetery, while much of the area remains wooded and little developed. Looking up from the cemetery to the magnificent Augustinian ruins on Mont St Eloi, a legacy of determined German shelling in 1915, and you view a landscape little changed from that seen by Vaughan Williams the following year.

The composer later served in Salonika, and in 1917 was commissioned in the Royal Garrison Artillery, and in December 1918 became the First Army's Director of Music. Vaughan Williams went on to become arguably the most important English classical composer since Purcell, completing nine symphonies (the Pastoral in 1922), six operas and a huge volume of choral and vocal music. After the outbreak of the Second World War RVW broadcast to the nation on the role of the composer in wartime, and did his bit by driving a horse and cart around Dorking, collecting scrap metal and salvage. Muir Matheson, musical director at the Ministry of Information, found him somewhat depressed by his inability to play a fuller part in the war effort. This lead to him scoring several propaganda films, notably 49th Parallel (1941), Coastal Command (1942), The Flemish Farm and The People's Land (both 1943) and Stricken Peninsula (1945), while his superlative music for Scott of the Antartic (1948) spawned his Sinfonia Antartica four years later. The Prelude included here since it offers a musical portrait of men struggling to survive in a hostile landscape, for which RVW must surely have drawn from his Great War experience. His bleak, sometimes disturbing Sixth Symphony (1948) is often interpreted as a response to the Second World War, and of it Sir Malcolm Sargent noted 'I never conduct the Sixth without feeling that I am walking across bomb sites.' Ralph Vaughan Williams died in 1958, having suffered from increasing deafness in his later years, the legacy of his service in the Royal Garrison Artillery.

7 David Jones : In Parenthesis (Pt. 3) 6.12
Although In Parenthesis is rightly considered to be one of the major poetic works of the Great War, it was not published until 1937. David Jones (1895-1974) studied painting at Camberwell Art School before the war, and in January 1915 enlisted in the 15th (London Welsh) Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers, having been rejected by the Artists Rifles and the Welsh Horse. Jones shared a regiment with Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, but unlike them remained a humble private, and never served in the same battalion. He arrived in France at the end of December, and on 11 July 1916 was shot in the leg during an assault on Mametz Wood. He returned to his unit at the beginning of 1917 and took part in the opening stages of Third Ypres (more infamous as Passchendaele), but was invalided home after succumbing to trench fever in February 1918. Among the war poets only Herbert Read spent as long in the front line, yet throughout this period Jones continued also to sketch and draw, although never as an official war artist.

After the war Jones expanded his artistic palette to cover watercolours and copper engraving, including a period with Eric Gill in his craft communities, but was haunted by his war experiences and suffered a breakdown in 1932. For the next five years he virtually withdrew from art, and worked instead in In Parenthesis, the long poetic word-painting which won the prestigious Hawthornden Prize in 1938. The poem is in seven parts and deals with events Jones 'saw, felt and was part of' between arriving in France in December 1915 and the bloody assault on Mametz Wood the following July, progressing from rote training to chaotic battle. A unique and difficult work in an unusual form, In Parenthesis gains much in performance and has been adapted for radio several times.

8 Siegfried Sassoon : Attack 0.59
Main credits as per track two. Attack was written by Sassoon in about October 1917. This reading (from Counter-Attack) is by Sassoon himself and was recorded in the early 1950s. Copyright Siegfried Sassoon. This recording appears by kind permission of George Sassoon.

9 Gustav Holst : Mars, the Bringer of War 6.06
Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was repeatedly rejected for military service on grounds of ill-health, but between 1914 and 1916 composed his deathless astrological suite The Planets, which was first performed in September 1918 and includes the topical Mars, the Bringer of War, written in August 1914. This version was recorded on 22 June 1926 by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Holst himself (WAX 1671/2), and is striking both in its brevity and insistence on certain rhythms which modern interpreters often smooth out. The piece is published by J. Curwen and Sons Ltd. Wartime xenophobia obliged Holst to drop the 'von' element from his name.

10 Edmund Blunden : Concert Party, Busseboom 1.14
Edmund Blunden (1896-1974) published his first volume of poems as war broke out and was commissioned into the Royal Sussex Regiment in August 1915. He was posted to France in the spring of 1916 and went on to spend almost as much time in the front line as David Jones, including spells on the Somme and the 'slow amputation' of Passchendaele, and was awarded the Military Cross. Demobilized in February 1919, Blunden briefly attended Oxford before devoting himself to poetry and literary journalism, and won the Hawthornden Prize in 1922. Like his friend Sassoon he eschewed modernism in favour of a natural, Romantic style, and although a lesser (and less embittered) war poet that Sassoon and Owen his reputation remains secure. His 1928 memoir Undertones of War is also an acknowledged classic of its kind. During the Second World War alleged pro-German sympathies landed Blunden in hot water, and in July 1940 his Oxford home was raided by police. After his superiors at Merton College expressed concerns at the degree of adverse attention, Blunden hastily volunteered his services to the Oxford University OTC, and for the next four years was employed as a map-reading instructor. Three volumes of poetry reflected the darkness of the age, and during the first year of the war Blunden acted as a valuable mentor to his student, Keith Douglas, who went on to become one of the best of the new generation of British war poets. 11 Ernest Moeran : Lonely Waters 6.59
Born in 1894, Ernest Moeran was raised at Bacton in Norfolk, where his father was parish vicar, and schooled at Cromer and Uppingham. Here he developed into a fine pianist and useful violinist, and in 1913 enrolled at the Royal College of Music. When war broke out Moeran returned home, and in September enlisted in the Norfolk Regiment, in which he was later commissioned. In 1917 Moeran crossed to France, where he was attached to the West Yorkshire Regiment, and wounded at Bullecourt on 3 May. For years successive biographers have claimed that Moeran received a severe head wound, which left shrapnel embedded too close to the brain for safe removal, and required the fitting of a metal plate inside his skull. However his army records refer only to a 'small gunshot wound' to the side of the neck, and a piece of shrapnel in his back, later removed. By the middle of August Moeran was declared 'free from any inconveniences' by a medical board and seconded to the Bedfordshire Regiment, at this time on garrison duty in Ireland around Boyle and County Roscommon. It was here that Moeran, attached to the transport section, came to be bewitched by the Irish landscape which would later inform many of his best compositions. In October 1918 he tried out for the newly-formed Royal Air Force, but after two months was returned to a reserve battalion of the Norfolk Regiment, and discharged from the army in January 1919. The composer appeared accident prone for the rest of his life, frequently colliding with objects or falling over, and was often found in varying states of instability or stupor usually blamed on drink, to which he became overly fond. But the case for the critical head wound remains Not Proven. Moeran finally settled in Ireland but from 1947 onwards his mental health began to deteriorate, and by 1950 he had taken to disappearing for periods of time. In a letter to his mother Moeran admitted that his lucid moments had become few and far between, and that he was afraid of being certified insane. On 1 December 1950 a violent storm blew up, during which Moeran was seen to fall into the sea from the pier at Kenmare, and was found dead by a rescue party. The cause of death was given as a cerebral haemorrhage, perhaps the legacy of wounds sustained in 1917, although suicide also remains a possibility. Based on a fragment of a Norfolk folk song, Lonely Waters was first sketched out in 1925 (with a dedication to Vaughan Williams) and remains as darkly enigmatic as its author.

12 Edgell Rickword : Winter Warfare / The Soldier Addresses His Body 2.15
The youngest of the war poets, John Edgell Rickword (1898-1982) enlisted in the Artists Rifles in September 1916, and following officer training was gazetted to the Royal Berkshire Regiment. Initially he was sent to Ireland, but arrived in France in December 1917 and first saw action two months later in the Fleurbaix sector, south of Armentieres. The weather was particularly severe, with biting cold, hard frosts and deep snow, and it was here that the poet was inspired to write Winter Warfare, his best known verse. Twice wounded before the Armistice, Rickword survived the war only to lose an eye following an accident in December. His poems were published in several periodicals at the time, and collected as Behind the Eyes in 1921. In peacetime he became a declared radical and Communist, editing several leading literary and left-wing journals and visiting war-torn Spain in 1938. This recording was made by Edgell Rickword in the early 1970s and issued on a privately pressed 7" 33 rpm single by Plantagenet Productions (Newbury) in the Poet's Choice series. It appears here by kind permission of Dr Jane Grubb and The Carcanet Press Limited.

13 Ralph Vaughan Williams : Pastoral Symphony (2nd Movement) 7.24
RVW credits as per track six. Performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. Published by J Curwen & Sons. 14 Ivor Gurney : In Flanders 3.00
Ivor Gurney was born in Gloucester in 1890, the son of a tailor. His musical talents were recognized at an early age, and in 1911 he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, where he studied composition with Sir Charles Stanford. Although teacher and pupil often clashed, Stanford later wrote that of all his pupils, who included Vaughan Williams, Ireland and Bliss, Gurney was potentially 'the biggest man of them all' while adding that he was also 'the least teachable.' Gurney also began to write poetry, but in 1913, aged 23, he began to show signs of serious depressive illness. His army career was unhappy. Early in 1915 Gurney joined the Gloucestershire Regiment, and went to France in May the following year. In June he wrote home of a 'strafe' which had lasted over an hour: "It left me exulted and exulting, only longing for a nice Blighty that would take me away from all this and leave me free to play the G minor Prelude from the Second Book of Bach. Oh for a good piano! I am tired of this war, it bores me. But I would not willingly give up such a memory of such a time."

Uniquely, Gurney managed to compose some new music, snatching moments of peace and concentration in a disused trench-mortar pit. His setting of By a Bierside by John Masefield in August 1916 is the first of five songs that Gurney is known to have written in the trenches, and was followed in January 1917 by In Flanders. Gurney first saw the poem, by his friend F.W. Harvey, in the 5th Gloucester Gazette in 1915, and completed the score at Crucifix Corner, Thiepval. The poem runs as follows:
I'm homesick for my hills again- Where the land is low
To see above the Severn plain Like a huge imprisoning O
Unscabbarded against the sky I hear a heart that's sound and high,
The blue high blade of Cotswold lie; I hear the heart within me cry:
The giant clouds go royally 'I'm homesick for my hills again-
By jagged Malvern with a train Cotswold or Malvern, sun or rain!
Of shadows My hills again!'

In April 1917 Gurney was lightly wounded, and at the end of the month transferred to the Machine Gun Corps. In August his unit moved from the Somme to Ypres, where the following month he claimed to have been gassed and was returned to England. Gurney never returned to the front, but published two volumes of poetry before the Armistice, Severn to Somme and War's Embers, the latter including his verse masterpiec