From the article:

On July 22, 1916, Colonel Crawshay, the commanding officer of the 2nd battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers, sat down to compose a letter. It was the same perfunctory note he had already written so many times in the opening weeks of the Battle of the Somme.

“Dear Mrs Graves,” he began. “I very much regret to have to write and tell you your son has died of wounds. He was very gallant, and was doing so well and is a great loss.”

The Graves he referred to was the young Captain and poet, Robert, struck by an exploding shell a few days shy of his 21st birthday. The shrapnel had pierced his lung, and the Army medics who found him on the battlefield presumed he would not last the night.

Robert Graves in his war uniform
Robert Graves in his war uniform CREDIT: FAMILY ARCHIVE

But 6ft2ins and with a toughness that belied his poetic verse, Graves survived that, and the subsequent jolting hospital train ride to Rouen; even if he arrived in such a terrible state that doctors described him as a “hopeless case”. By the time his obituary appeared in the British press, Graves was homeward bound and healing, writing letters to redress the premature news of his demise.

From that moment until he finally lost his faculties and died aged 90 in 1985, the poet continued to furiously scribble; his work never done. And now, in the same house on the same Spanish island where Graves lived for most of his adult life, his son strives to continue that legacy.

“As far as I’m concerned, what he did during his life didn’t matter as long as his works are remembered,” William Graves says.

William Graves and his father Robert
William Graves and his father Robert CREDIT: FAMILY ARCHIVE

The 76-year-old is striking not only for the startling resemblance to his father (he possesses the same high forehead, full lips and shock of greying hair) but also for the fact that he and his siblings represent the very last surviving direct links to the poets of the First World War. Siegfried Sassoon’s only son died in 2006, while the likes of Richard Aldington and Ivor Gurney never had children of their own in peacetime. Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke were killed during the war.

Of the 16 Great War poets commemorated on a stone in Westminster Abbey, only Graves, and the lesser known Herbert Read and Edmund Blunden, are still survived by their children.

William Graves is tanned and slim from a lifetime spent on Mallorca. Strolling in the afternoon sun past lemon and plum trees in the grounds of the home his father built in 1932, he recollects a treasure-trove of stories of Graves’s eccentricities, celebrity companions, affairs, and cruelty.

Robert Graves's house on the outskirts of the village of Deià
Robert Graves’s house on the outskirts of the village of Deià CREDIT: HEATHCLIFF O’MALLEY

Graves called this place on the outskirts of the village of Deià, high up in the towering limestone range of Serra de Tramuntana, Ca N’Alluny (The Faraway House), but even here he could not escape his demons. The horrors of what he had seen during the war and which he had documented in his 1929 biography, Goodbye To All That, remained seared on his consciousness.

As he became racked with dementia during the last 20 years of his life, he retreated ever closer to the trenches. William recalls his father cowering from loud bangs and putting his stick out to try and halt his wheelchair if pushed too fast.

“The last 10 years he didn’t know who anybody was,” he says.

William, who calls his father Robert, first spotted the start of this decline in 1963 when he received the same letter twice. Soon his father, then in his late 60s, started losing his glasses and struggling to write.

William Graves

It was at this advanced stage of life, William says, when his father began to adopt his “muses”, young international pseudo-intellectuals that he hosted in the marital home.

“He started needing more input for his poems and that is when he started having flirts with young girls,” William says. “So long as they behaved badly then he could write poems.” Did he sleep with them? “He’d just had a major prostate operation so it wouldn’t have done him much good.”

Even before his formidable mind began to be undone, Graves had already passed a colourful life. He married twice; first to painter Nancy Nicholson, who produced four children before he left her for the American poet Laura Riding and eloped to Spain.

In 1936 they were forced into exile by the Spanish civil war. Riding eventually fell for another man and Graves met his second wife, Beryl Pritchard, a dark-haired Oxford University graduate 20 years his junior. During World War Two they rented a house in Devon and had three children, William, Lucia and Juan (who died last year). Their fourth, Tomas, was born in Mallorca in 1953 after they had moved the entire family back at the end of the war.

William, Lucia and Juan in 1951
William, Lucia and Juan in 1951 CREDIT: FAMILY ARCHIVE

William, who has two grown up children of his own, recalls an idyllic youth playing with the offspring of his father’s famous friends. An eight-year-old Stephen Hawking was an early pal – he remembers him delighting in setting off stink bombs – and he once provoked the fury of Alec Guinness after taking his teenage son Matthew to the beach and plying him with strong local wine.

While his father revelled in the exotic company, William remembers his mother as a quiet Victorian presence. “She was very closed,” he says. “If you started talking about anything personal she would start talking about cats. It was that generation.”

What, then, did she make of his muses? “As long as he kept quiet and didn’t rock the boat she didn’t care. Well, she cared, but realised there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it.”

William, who combined his career as a geologist with running a hotel in Deià with his Spanish wife Elena, recalls “vicious” arguments with his father later in life.

Beryl and Robert in 1949
Beryl and Robert in 1949 CREDIT: FAMILY ARCHIVE

In his own autobiographical book, Wild Olives, published in 1995, he describes the bizarre scenario of his father trying to plant marijuana in the hotel to get them into trouble with the local constabulary. “You were either with him or against him,” he says.

When Graves died in December 1985 William says he was “amazed” to learn he had been appointed an executor of his estate. One of his first acts was to publish an anthology of the war poems which Graves had suppressed during his life, deeming them “juvenile” and uninteresting. The Imperial War Museum retains a number of the poems in its archive including one which still bears a muddy imprint of the writer’s thumb.

Following the death of his mother in 2003, the family decided to sell the house to the local government and have it preserved as a living museum to Graves’s life and work, of which William is unpaid director. Today everything remains in situ.

In his study his notes are still attached to the clipboard he used to carry wherever he walked. The ancient coins and Neolithic axe-head Graves once rubbed for inspiration are still on the mantelpiece. The Georgian candlesticks and tins of Colman’s mustard and Cadbury’s Cocoa show that even in exile Graves never lost his innate sense of Englishness.

The poet's headstone
The poet’s headstone CREDIT: HEATHCLIFF O’MALLEY

The village itself, though, has changed beyond recognition. Celebrities followed the bohemians to Deià and Bob Geldof, Michael Douglas and Andrew Lloyd Webber now keep holiday homes in the mountain. Most recently, the Tom Hiddleston series The Night Manager was filmed here.

William says the culture change was enough to make him and his wife sell up their own home in 2007 and move to the Spanish mainland (although they still keep a flat in nearby Palma and his sister Lucia remains in the village).

Modernity wearies, and he does not know for how much longer he will keep coming here and dusting off the ghosts of his past.

But for now, like his father before him, he remains driven to keep his own history alive.

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Event: Edward Fox – An Evening of First World War Poetry

28 April 2016, 6.30pm

Don’t miss the opportunity to see the film, television and stage actor perform a poetry reading at IWM London.

Leading British film, TV and stage actor Edward Fox will be reading his favourite poems of the First World War and talking about what they mean to him. This will include poems by Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Mary Borden, Edward Thomas and other poets caught up in the war.

Edward is famous for his leading roles in major productions including The Day of the Jackal and Edward and Mrs Simpson. He will be joined by Professor Paul O’Prey, editor of First World War: Poems from the Front, published by IWM in 2014 to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War. Professor O’Prey will also launch his new edition of the poems of Laurence Binyon.

Tickets: £20, IWM Members: £15
Ticket includes one glass of wine or soft drink.

To book call: 020 7416 5255 / 5372 .
Unfortunately this event cannot be booked online.


A Poet at War - Penelope Thwaites and Timothy West 25 Oct 2015

Mary Borden Poems of Love and War edited by Paul O’Prey (Dare-Gale Press)Borden foto 4x3

 Suffragette, socialite, novelist, nurse, Mary Borden wrote some of the most remarkable poems of the First World War. Still in her twenties, she used her own money to set up and run a field hospital for French soldiers at the Somme, situated ‘as close to the fighting as possible’. Her poems are spontaneous, passionate reactions to what she saw and did. Although married with three children, she fell in love with a young British officer she met at the Front. The poems she wrote to him while they were both at the war have an immediate and reckless intensity.

Mary Borden is featured in several major anthologies of First World War poetry, but this is the first full book of her poems to be published, 100 years after they were written. Many of these poems are published in book form for the first time, including the love poems.

Borden’s memoir, The Forbidden Zone (1929) is one of the most compelling accounts of Front Line service in the war.

 The book will be launched at the Wimbledon Book Festival on 11 October, by Shirley Williams and Paul O’Prey.

Borden front cover for NIELSEN

The Turning Point

A study tour of the writing and writers of the Battle of the Somme

15-18 October 2016

“Between the opulent Edwardian years and the 1920s the First World War opens like a gap in time. England after the war was a different place; the arts were different; history was different; sex, society, class were all different”. Whilst most who have studied the events of 1914-18 would agree with Samuel Hynes, many would under- stand that the most significant stimulus of change can be narrowed down to the Bat- tle of the Somme which dominated the British sector of the Western Front during the summer of 1916.

Philip Gibbs, who had covered the war for the Daily Chronicle, writing about the Somme in 1919 said, “Modern civilization was wrecked on those fire-blasted fields, though they led to what we called ‘victory’. More died there than the flower of our youth and German manhood. The old order of the world died there, because many men who came alive out of that conflict were changed, and vowed not to tolerate a system of thought which had led up to such a monstrous massacre of human beings who prayed to the same God”.

The Somme saw the deployment of Kitchener’s volunteer army. The men who had rushed to the colours in the summer of 1914 were put to the ultimate test and whilst no one could doubt their bravery it proved to be an army ‘two years in the making and ten minutes in the killing’. At the end of the first day, July 1st, almost 60,000 Brit- ish men lay dead, dying or wounded and with them died the idealism, not only of the war itself but of society in general.

It was, in every sense, the turning point that was to have a massive impact on British society. Our tour aims to examine how the events surrounding this bloody period of the war were interpreted by the poets and writers of the day and by those who have reflected on it since.

The group will travel by luxury air-conditioned coach and will be based in a 3* hotel in Arras, the cost will include most meals & museum entry fees.

Full details of the tour will be available in the autumn of 2015.

To register your interest please email Andy Thompson at:

The War Poets Association

June 2015

Dear Members and Friends,

The War Poetry Review 2014-15, the Journal of the War Poets Association (WPA), edited by the eminent war poetry and First World War scholars Santanu Das and Kate McLoughlin is now available.

The Review is dedicated to the memory of Jon Stallworthy, a great friend of the WPA, who died last November and includes a conversation on War Poetry in which Jon and Santanu took part in 2012 with Andrew Motion and Michael Longley. There are in addition a number of excellent articles by distinguished contributors and the Committee takes this opportunity to thank very warmly the editors for their hard work on the Review and all the contributors for their most welcome contributions.

The Review is being posted to all current WPA members who have asked for a copy and will also be posted on our website: for members who have asked not to have a copy but to see it online.

The WPA Committee will be meeting again in the summer to continue our plan- ning for the Somme visit in October 2016. More detail of where we are on this is set out over the page.

In addition, the Committee is considering a joint event with the Wilfred Owen Association to be held probably in November and when we have something definite on this we will post details on the website.

Please keep in touch with us, via the website and e mail, with your ideas on war poetry and what the WPA should be doing. We are also always looking for support and new committee members with ideas and enthusiasm.

With best wishes for 2015 from the WPA Committee,

David Worthington, Chairman.

The Ballard of Whitechapel and Silver Road



IRON HONEY GOLD: Isaac Rosenberg – An Evening of Words and Music

Sunday 26 April from 7pm – 9pm at The LJS

Presentations of Isaac Rosenberg’s poems and letters

Featuring Michael Rosen, Elaine Feinstein, Lee Montague, Philip Bell, Simon Haynes and Jean Moorcraft Wilson
Click Here for more information