As a rule of thumb poets from World War One tend to spring to mind more than poets from the Second World War.
This year we are remembering the First World War as it is exactly one hundred years since the Battle of the Somme and it is important that we remember the great sacrifices made during those terrible years.
But as I walked along the High Street on a fine August day this was the last thing that I was thinking about.
Hungerford was vibrant and bathed in the bright August light and as I had a little time to kill I decided to pop into the arcade and look at the books. It is a pleasant pastime and you are always likely to find something interesting.
On this occasion I found a first edition of The Collected Poems of Richard Spender which immediately stimulated my interest; I had come across Richard many years ago when studying the poets of World War Two. But for everybody who remembers Wilfred Owen or Rupert Brooke who really remembers Richard Spender?
And because of this I thought I would write this very short article about the poet on the day that I purchased his collected poems.
Richard was born in Hereford on the 27th of June 1921 the youngest of four children. After a period spent in London he moved to Stratford-on-Avon where he was educated.
Initially he was a delicate child but he soon grew stronger and spent his early days roaming the countryside and exploring the river. He grew into a fine athlete and was a keen rower and a boxer and also enjoyed rugby a great deal.
In 1940 at the age of nineteen he found himself planning to go Oxford to study Modern History but this never took place because he, like a great number of young men of his generation decided to enlist.
He was at first in the young soldier’s battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment and then progressed into the Royal Ulster Rifles. At first he was an instructor, but in October 1942 he volunteered to join the Parachute Regiment and soon was on his way to Africa with the 2nd Battalion.
Just over six months later on the night of the 28th – 29th of March 1943 he was killed leading his men in attack against German machine-gun positions in Sedjenane in Northern Tunisia.
He was later buried in the Military Cemetery in Tabarka.
Sadly, like many other young men in the various theatres of war, Richard died at a very young age. But in his short life he left us with some fine poetry which I have always been fond of. However, I am not going to quote any of his poetry in this article as I do not think that I should do so; instead I urge you to either find a book of his poetry or failing that read some of his poems on the internet. His work may not be to all tastes but I am sure that you will admire it.
I did not venture out on that warm afternoon thinking that I would find a book of Richard’s poetry. As normal I walked blindly into the arcade just to see what was there. It is more fun that way.
Indeed I had not read any of Richard’s poetry for many years. I thought of him occasionally if I was reading Second World War poetry but that was all. If I had planned to locate a book of his work in Hungerford on that day then it is likely I would have drawn a blank, but there it was on the top of a pile of books facing the stairs which led to the Rafters Cafe.
I will leave you with the dedication that is to be found in his collected poems.
To my Mother and Father
and to King Edward VI School, Stratford-on-Avon,
because their joint conspiracy gave me
the happiest first twenty-one years of life
that anyone could dream of having.