Wednesday, July 3, 2013

FW Harvey, Cricket, and Nostalgia

picture a. FW Harvey,
circa 1915
Cricket in the United Kingdom, and in much of the Commonwealth for that matter, is a sport that is often linked with nostalgia for childhood and days gone by. The poet FW Harvey [picture a.] was an avid cricketer, playing in his youth at King's School, Rossal School, and later in life for Gloucester and Yorkley. He even played cricket during World War One while his battalion was on rest from the front lines. For Harvey too, cricket was inextricably linked with nostalgia and a seeking to relive the magic of days gone by. For him, one particular cricket match played while he was a Lance Corporal in 1/5th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment managed to represent two very different versions of an idealised past. 

b. 'Cricket: The Catch', as published in
A Gloucestershire Lad
In early June 1915 the battalion held front-line trenches near Messines in Belgium, before being relieved by a battalion of the Ox and Bucks on the 16th. Moved to a rest area in France, the men entertained themselves as best they could. Harvey worked on material for the 5th Gloucester Gazette, the battalion's now famous trench newspaper, but he also found time to participate in cricket matches, representing the other ranks versus the officers in June (Helm 18). Harvey memorialised this match twice with poetry, with his poem 'Cricket: The Catch' [picture b.] first published in 1915, and years after the war in an unpublished poem recently uncovered in his personal papers titled 'A Cricket Match' [picture c.]. 'A Cricket Match' states in text that it is about the officers versus men match of June 1915 which is chronicled in the Gazette, and also references Harvey having 'made a lovely catch', which implies that 'Cricket: The Catch' was also set during this same match (D12912/3/1/12/13).

The poems tell us that this cricket match represented an idealised past for Harvey in two different ways. In 'Cricket: The Catch', the act of catching the ball takes Harvey mentally from wartime France to 'Childhood that is fled: / Rossall on the shore', which he describes as 'Happy days long dead' (Harvey, 13). Though physically in wartime France, in his mind cricket has taken him back to his days of innocence as a boarder at Rossall School in Lancashire, from the crashing of the guns to the crashing of the waves at the seaside. 

picture c. 'A Cricket Match', GA, FWH, D12912/3/1/12/13
In 'A Cricket Match', Harvey reminisces about the same match, and more so about the adventures he and 'K' had trying to find a carpet to use as a matting to protect the pitch. 'K' is certainly RE Knight, as the poem states he was 'this long while dead'; Knight was killed in action in July 1916. Now in years after the war, the memories of this match and moments prior to it remind him of when 'live enough were you [Knight] that day of June'. The final lines of the poem make Harvey's feelings quite clear:
O God, how vividly it all comes back!
The laughing days of danger and of glee,
Those dear dear friends of mine then free to roam
Laughing at funny things they chanced to see
Who now in dark earth lie and wait for me.
These two poems combine to show us how much of a sentimentalist Harvey was, and that for him cricket was a channel to the past. Later in life he wishes himself back at a cricket match in France; however, during that very match he was wishing himself back to his youth at Rossall School. To some degree this shows that Harvey was never quite content with where he was; while the second poem also shows that later in life Harvey still placed much value on the comradery of wartime, and greatly missed it.

Photos of poems used with permission of the FW Harvey Estate.

1. George Francis Helm (ed.), The 5th Gloucester Gazette, June 1915,  Post-war bound reprint, (Gloucester: John Jennings, [1920])
2. FW Harvey, 'A Cricket Match', [1925], Gloucestershire Archives (GA), FW Harvey Collection (FWH), D12912/3/1/12/13
3. FW Harvey, A Gloucestershire Lad at Home and Abroad, (London: Sidgewick and Jackson Ltd, 1916)
originally published in: George Francis Helm (ed.), The 5th Gloucester Gazette, August 1915, GA, FWH, D12912/8/1/1

Friday, March 22, 2013

Rugby in Afghanistan, Part I

The mid-morning sun beat down on the sweat-soaked soldiers, as dust kicked up by the steady wind circled across an open field. Apache helicopters in the distance conducted search patterns, scanning the area of operations for threats, while F-15's with voices of thunder roared off of the runway at the nearby airfield. Having placed my men in the appropriate tactical formation I, Captain Repshire, prepared to give the orders that would send them into action:

"Crouch! - Touch! - Pause! - ENGAGE!"

The three forwards [linemen] [henceforth I'll translate Rugby terms into American Football terms for my American readers] in each side of the scrum slammed together as I rolled the ball between them and the contest began for possession, feet chopping at the ground to gain a hold on the powdery dust and rocks that were reluctant to cooperate. The ball came out on my side; I picked it up and pitched it with a twist of the wrist to Sergeant 'Doc' Lomelli, who charged for the tryline [endzone]. He passed the ball at the last second before he could be tackled by Captain Erb, an Air Force A-10 pilot whose physically descriptive call-sign was 'Tank' (and had once played college Football).

Me throwing the ball into a line-out.
The ball was caught by Specialist Neal, an unusually gifted athlete who had once been a Football kicker at a junior college. As Chief Warrant Officer Maher from the other team closed on him, he decided to play to his strengths, kicking the ball down-field to gain position. However, he was a bit too good of a kicker for our limited length "pitch", and the ball soared into touch [out of bounds], and struck one of the myriad imperfections in the ground and bounced at a seemingly impossible angle over a tall barbed wire barrier with boldly painted signs pronouncing "DANGER - MINES!"

"F***!" both sides seemed to chant in unison.

Twenty years after leaving the country, the USSR had struck another blow at western forces with its reckless mine-laying.

This was Rugby in Afghanistan.

Early members of the Parwan Rifles RFC,
 making our mean faces. Typical playing conditions.
From April 2009 to June 2010 I was deployed to Afghanistan with the headquarters of the 82nd Airborne Division. I hated it. No true combat arms serviceman (technically those in the cavalry, infantry, artillery, combat engineers, attack aviation and special forces, but we extend the term to those who deserve it, such as combat medics) wanted to be away from "the line" and instead in "the upper-echelons of unreality". I helped to run the Current Operations section, which was the best job a combat arms guy could ask for at that level of headquarters. Current Ops is the section of a headquarters responsible for tracking actions on the battlefield, receiving reports from lower commands, passing on orders from our commanding general, and coordinating all efforts in our area of operations. At least in this role you knew you were supporting those still in the fight, rather than contributing to military bureaucracy with the rest of the staff.

We had servicemen and women from every branch of service attached to Current Ops for the deployment with marines, sailors, and airmen in addition to our soldiers. Many were also from allied nations; Britain, France, New Zealand and Poland being most prominent. Most of the key personnel on my team in Current Ops were combat arms, intentionally placed in Current Ops as we best understood the needs of soldiers in the fight, having been there ourselves. However, we would rather be in the fight, and all had more aggressive, action-oriented personalities. It ate at us like heartburn to monitor our brothers in arms fighting and dying in the mountains of east Afghanistan, while we worked in the relative comfort and safety of the operations center.

We needed a way to get some of that aggressive energy out, and we found exactly what was needed one day when Major Miles of the US Marine Corps and I were talking about Rugby. I had never played but had always had an interest, and he had not played since college, but we realized that Rugby was the perfect way to get some of our guys out of the Joint Operations Center and into some form of action again. Sports have always had a strong place in warrior culture, often seen in popular depictions of British soldiers playing soccer and Rugby in rest areas during WWI, or "Yank" soldiers playing baseball in foreign fields during WWII. Rugby was physical enough to help burn that excess aggressive energy; it was true team sport that would develop cohesion and pride; and it required minimal equipment.

The Parwan Rifles RFC logo, with
the outline of Parwan province in the
background, and an Irish wolfhound,
a fearless dog that protects its people
from wolves.

We decided to form a Rugby club, using the same naming convention used by Britain for its colonial regiments in the 19th century. This used the Afghani province that we were based in, combined with the symbol of the infantry, the branch the majority of our initial players claimed.

On that day, the Parwan Rifles Rugby Football Club was born.

(To be continued.)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Friday, January 25, 2013

Dialect Poetry

In honour of this being 'Burns Night', the 254th anniversary of the birth of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, I've decided to write a short post on dialect poetry as it was used by my current research subject, FW Harvey.

Robert Burns, The Bard of Scotland
Burns was known for his poetry in the Scottish dialect, penning famous stanzas such as this from his 'Address to a Haggis:

'Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!
Aboon them a' yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o'a grace
As lang's my arm.'

For the full poem click here.

Burns cultivated an outstanding ability to express Scottish thoughts in Scottish dialects. FW Harvey, inspired by the dialect poems of Burns and Kipling, did the same thing with Gloucestershire dialects. Harvey was a scholar of the dialects of his native county, often giving lectures and talks on the subject, including BBC programmes to include: 'The Dialects of Gloucestershire and Particularly of the Forest of Dean' (1935), 'Yeoman's English' (1935), and 'The Forest of Dean' (1938). Radio serials written by Harvey such as 'Gunter's Farm' (1935-1936) and 'My Friends the Foresters' (1935) also dealt with and made use of local dialects.

However, perhaps his most remembered and endearing use of Gloucestershire dialect is his poem 'John Helps'. This poem not only demonstrates Harvey's love of Gloucestershire dialects, but also one of his favourite topics, pear cider or perry! The poem in full is below (For anyone entirely unfamiliar with English 'West Country' accents, it may be best for you to read this aloud to figure it out, and perhaps place some emphasis on the r's.):

FW Harvey, The Laureate of Gloucestershire

'John Helps a wer an honest mon;
   The perry that a made
Wer crunched vrom purs as honest
   As ever tree displayed.
John Helps a were an honest mon;
    The dumplings that a chewed
Wer made vrom honest apples
    As autumn ever grewed.
John Helps a were an honest mon,
   And I be sorry a's dead.
Perry and honest men be scarce
   These days, 'tiz zed.'
Perry is a drink which is often associated with the West Country and Gloucestershire, and therefore makes a fitting subject for a poem which also uses that dialect. Just as Burns used his haggis to demonstrate Scotch dialect, Harvey used his Perry for Gloucestershire.
Of course this peom includes another favourite topic of Harvey's, which was dry humour. As dry as a nice, crisp perry perhaps? I'll let the reader decide that for themselves.

-FW Harvey, 'The Dialects of Gloucestershire and Particularly of the Forest of Dean' (1935), The Gloucestershire Archives (henceforth GA), FW Harvey Collection (henceforth FWH), D12912/9/2/3
-FW Harvey, 'Yeoman's English' (1935), GA, FWH, D12912/9/2/25
-FW Harvey, 'The Forest of Dean' (1938), GA, FWH, D12912/9/2/11
-FW Harvey, 'Gunter's Farm: The Story of  Farming Family' (1935-1936), GA, FWH, D12912/9/2/5
-FW Harvey, 'My Friends the Foresters' (1935), GA, FWH, D12912/9/2/6
-Robert Burns, 'Address to a Haggis', accessed at on 25 January 2013
-FW Harvey, 'John Helps', Farewell (London:Sidgwick & Jackson, 1921), p. 32

(n.b.: All sources above from the FW Harvey collection are cited using the currently assigned reference number, which is subject to change as cataloging work continues.)