Where to find F.W. Harvey.

Last weekend I gave a paper on F.W. Harvey at the English Association’s British Poetry of the First World War Conference, held in the beautiful surroundings of Oxford University’s Wadham College. I was approached by several people during the course of the conference; most told me that they were interested in Harvey, but regretted that there is little information to be had on him – at least in comparison to other established poets of the First World War.

One goal of this blog is to make information on Harvey that is gained through my research into Harvey’s papers publicly available. I am writing my PhD dissertation focusing on his papers, which aims to combine biography and literary criticism for a holistic view of Harvey’s life and works as they relate to the war, which I hope (as all doctoral researchers do) to someday publish. Still, I thought it would be helpful here to create a post that can direct readers to other resources regarding the study of Harvey’s life (his poetry is not listed here).

First, there are three published biographies available on Harvey:

Boden, Anthony, F.W. Harvey: Soldier, Poet, Revised edition, (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1998) – This is the best starting place for anyone interested in Harvey’s life.

Davies, Ross, F.W. Harvey: Poet of Remembrance, The War Poets Series, (London: Cecil Woolf, 2009) – A short introduction to Harvey of 36 pages and somewhat hard to find – I finally found a copy at the abovementioned conference.

Townsend, Frances, The Laureate of Gloucestershire – The Life and Works of F.W. Harvey, 1888-1957, (Bristol: Redcliffe Press, 1988) – Also difficult to find. Townsend knew Harvey, and thus this offers a personal insight into the man, though it has some factual errors.

*** It must be noted that none of Harvey’s previous biographers had access to his papers, which were only discovered in 2010 and made available through this project. Had they had them, I know each author would have used them to enhance their research.

Harvey wrote two prose books that give insight into his life:

Harvey, F.W., Comrades in Captivity – A Record of Life in Seven German Prison Camps, New Edition, (Coleford: Douglas McLean [first published by Sigwick & Jackson, 1920]: 2010) – Harvey’s non-fiction account of his time as a prisoner of war, coloured by some of his poems.

Harvey, F.W., The Lost Novel of F.W. Harvey: A War Romance, (Stroud: The History Press, 2014) – A novel found in typescript form in Harvey’s papers, it is a semi-autobiographical, but mostly fictional, account of his early life and wartime service. Rejected by publishers in his lifetime, it has finally found an audience.

On the internet, you can find more information about him here:

The F.W. Harvey Society page: http://www.fwharveysociety.co.uk

Harvey’s Wikipedia page is monitored by me and the F.W. Harvey Society: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F._W._Harvey

Harvey’s personal papers are held att the Gloucestershire Archives, more information here: http://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/archives/article/115544/Frederick-William-Harvey

Harvey is also represented on Twitter and Facebook, accounts that I administer which aim to provide bite-sized bits of information on Harvey, along with Harvey-related news and research:

Twitter, @FWHarvey: https://twitter.com/FWHarvey

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fwharveydcm

I also run a Twitter version of the 5th Gloucester Gazette trench newspaper, which Harvey was the key-contributor to in its early days, @5thGlosGazette: https://twitter.com/5thGlosGazette


‘Will Harvey’s War’

Any readers who follow our social media accounts about Harvey (@FWHarvey on Twitter, and here on Facebook) will probably be aware that Harvey’s “lost novel” has been adapted as a play titled ‘Will Harvey’s War’ at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham as the launch event for the Gloucestershire Remembers WWI community outreach programme (the play runs from 30 July to 2 August 2014). Additionally, the novel has been published internationally by the History Press.

Last night, ITV West Country News aired a piece on the project. It includes an interview with me, the doctoral researcher, but more importantly with the cast and crew at the Everyman Theatre who are preparing to bring the novel to life:

P-HARVEY PKG_ITV2000_Vimeo from ITV Westcountry on Vimeo.


You can also view the video with an accompanying article as posted on ITV’s website here.

This play is one of the most exciting secondary effects of the University of Exeter’s REACT (Research & Enterprise in Arts & Creative Technology) studentship dedicated to preserving and making accessible FW Harvey’s personal papers. It serves as an example of how universities can use collaboration-based outreach programmes to successfully engage with communities, extending the value of academic research beyond academia and into the larger world. The project has already preserved Harvey’s papers at the Gloucestershire Archives, making them available to any researcher – whether they are academic, amateur, or simply casually interested. Now, thanks to this play, an even larger audience in Gloucestershire will learn about Harvey, who was an important figure locally and nationally during the war, that the community was and should still be proud to call a Gloucestershire Lad. The play has extended the reach of one document found in Harvey’s papers to hundreds, and its publication as a novel has the potential to extend its reach to exponentially more.


Harvey’s Pre-war Wartime Poem.

2nd Lt. FW Harvey, circa 1916

2nd Lieutenant FW Harvey, circa 1916 – about the time his collection ‘A Gloucestershire Lad’ was published.

One of the interesting discoveries in FW Harvey’s newly-available papers is that one of his wartime poems, ‘Song of the Road’, which alludes to soldiers on a route march, was actually written in 1913 (full poem here). Scholars have theorised that many of FW Harvey’s wartime poems were actually composed prior to the war, while he was struggling with a career as a solicitor and writing poetry in his spare time. This theory is partially based on the fact that many of his wartime poems are not war poems, but instead pastoral poems about the Gloucestershire countryside. The recent availability of his papers at the Gloucestershire Archives – thanks in part to this REACT project – has provided dated manuscripts which prove that many of his poems published during wartime were actually written earlier.

Still, few might have guessed that a poem which evokes images of soldiers on route-march with such lines as ‘Cheerily upon the road / Tramp we all together / Bearing everyone his load’, and ‘We must bravely tread the way, / Gaily sing together’ was actually written before Harvey’s time in the infantry (Harvey, Gloucestershire Lad, p. 7). Yet the typescript tells us otherwise, being very clearly dated 1913.  The poem was not even edited between its creation in 1913 and its publication in 1916’s A Gloucestershire Lad at Home and Abroad, aside from one minor change with the replacing of the manuscript’s ‘everyone’ with ‘every one’ in publication. (D12912/3/1/7/2) The poem was purely a peacetime creation, by a civilian.

The militaristic imagery – a group moving resolutely down the road carrying heavy loads – shows that Harvey idealised some aspects of military life at least a year before the prospect of going to war became a reality. Harvey would not enlist in the army until 8 August 1914, and he does not seem to have participated in any cadet training while at Rossall School. One wonders what would inspire this poem’s theme, prior to Harvey having any similar life experience. Fortunately, the archives also tell us where his inspiration came from. Some of very images that he used are taken from a newspaper article pasted in a scrapbook that Harvey created in 1909 when he was training to be a lawyer as a solicitor’s clerk. This article has more highlighted sections than most articles in his scrapbook do, indicating that Harvey was more impressed by its content. It was a description of yearly Territorial Army training, and contains the following quote, underlined by Harvey: ‘we tramped scorching miles on dusty roads with empty water bottles.’ (D12912/6/1.) This is clearly the inspiration for the first stanza of Harvey’s poem as quoted above, made particularly clear with the use of the word ‘tramp(ed)’ in each.

Holiday in Khaki from Harvey's Scrapbook 'C'

‘Our Holiday in Khaki’ by A Territorial Officer, unknown publication, found in FW Harvey’s Scrapbook ‘C’, GA, FWH, D12912/6/1

Further statements in the article surely spoke to Harvey and his doubts about his legal career (as discussed in my first post): ‘The tired body moves and the mind rests. Problems and difficulties and doubts cease to exist [Harvey’s underlining].’ (D12912/6/1.) Harvey was pondering the advantages of the soldier’s life over his desk-bound, stressful professional life. Above the final column of the article he wrote the word ‘Romance’. (GA, FWH, D12912/6/1) In Harvey’s day, the word romance was more often associated with an escape from ordinary, mundane life, rather than its use regarding romantic love that we now tend to attach to it. He would later define ‘Romance’ as being ‘wherever men fight the immemorial battle of their fathers and sons. It is there whatever be the results of the battle. It feeds not on achievement, but on hope.’(Harvey, ‘Will Harvey – A Romance’, p. 122.) Harvey was not finding the law to be a career which gave him hope in the age old struggle for the advancement of man, but perhaps soldiering was. This poem was not the result of the war, but instead the result Harvey’s pre-war idealisation of soldiering and his exploration of the need for ‘Romance’ – which for him meant men working together as comrades in a common cause. The poem’s martial imagery simply made it a perfect candidate for inclusion alongside his war poems in A Gloucestershire Lad, three years after the poem’s actual creation.


Bibliography (in order of appearance in article):

FW Harvey, A Gloucestershire Lad at Home and Abroad, (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1916)

FW Harvey, ‘Song of the Road’ (poem typescript), 1913, Gloucestershire Archives (henceforth GA), FW Harvey Collection ( henceforth FWH), D12912/3/1/7/2

A Territorial Officer, ‘Our Holiday in Khaki’, FW Harvey’s Scrapbook ‘C’, GA, FWH, D12912/6/1/1

FW Harvey’s Scrapbook ‘C’, GA, FWH, D12912/6/1/1

Harvey, FW, “Will Harvey – A Romance”, Author’s Manuscript, [1920-1935], GA, FWH, D12912/3/2/1



‘A True Tale of the Listening Post’

(Note: The following was written by JG Repshire for a meeting of the FW Harvey Society that was dedicated to Harvey’s humorous poetry.)

Cover of the ‘Fifth Gloucester Gazette’.

FW Harvey found his fame not through any of the traditional literary mediums, but through a new one that rose from the First World War trenches and quickly captured the public imagination: the trench press. Harvey had the good fortune to be in the 1/5th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment. The battalion’s padre, Captain (Chaplain) George Frances Helm, struck upon the idea to create the first of the famous trench journals, the Fifth Gloucester Gazette. The inaugural issue hit the trenches in April 1915, with Harvey embracing the idea enthusiastically, becoming the journal’s key contributor. By October 1916 The Times Literary Supplement (TLS) had declared the Gazette to be not only the oldest but also ‘the most literary of the British trench journals,’ and quoted Harvey’s ‘In Flanders‘ and ‘The C.O. (With apologies to Herrick.)‘ from its pages as examples of this literary wealth. (TLS, 482)

Humour was used in trench journals to cope with ever-present fear and death. In early August 1915, the then Lance-Corporal Harvey was assistant leader of a night patrol led by Lance-Sergeant Raymond E. Knight, which resulted in the destruction of a German listening post in brutal close-quarters combat. In Harvey’s individual case it even involved hand-to-hand combat. Harvey and Knight earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal and commissions as a result (Note: In the header illustration of this blog, Knight is the soldier depicted in the background).  The next month’s issue of the Gazette included this Harvey poem about nighttime operations, written in a style certainly meant to evoke Kipling’s Barrack Room Ballads:

A True Tale of the Listening Post’


Men are queer things right through – whatever make – 

But Tommy Atkins really takes the cake.


Which said, see in your mind (my point to prove)

Two soldiers, frozen and afraid to move,

On listening patrol. For four dead hours

Afraid to move or whisper, cough or sneeze.

Waiting in wonder whether ’twas the breeze

Moved in the grass, shaking the frozen flowers

Waiting in wonder whether ’twas the breeze

Just then. Germans were out that night, we knew,

With bombs to throw, and so we lay, we two,

With rifle ready at shoulder and… What’s that

Twanging the wire (both heard the sound) – a rat?

Or the Bosch bomber creeping, creeping nigher

To hurl death into the trench behind us? Both

Turned barrels ‘gainst the unknown, ready to fire,

Waiting to fire should it ever take form

Of human body. -Waiting, being loath

To shoot at nothing, making so alarm

And laughter in the trench we guarded. Here

Sounds a hoarse whisper against my ear:

Something it utters- “What is it?” I hiss,

Soft as a serpent: and upon my oath

My comrade covering still the sound, said – this[.]

This, while the unknown stalked, and fear was chilly

Like ice around our hearts- “I say old chap”

(My laughter followed like a thunder-clap)

“Couldn’t I do some beef and piccalilli.[“]

Men are quaint things, the world over, willy nilly.

But R.E.K. – you take the – piccalilli. (D12912/8/1/1)

Photograph of Harvey, early-1915.

What I love about this poem is that Harvey was using it to show that even with his new-found hero status, he did not take himself too seriously. He wanted other Gloucesters to know that despite his recent feats of derring-do, he was prone to the same anxieties and fear of death as everyone else, and was not afraid say so. At the same time, he demonstrated how humour can be used to cope with such trepidation.

He built tension by describing the fear of not knowing if any sound or movement was benign or a warning of incoming death, which other soldiers would certainly relate to. His admission that they were ‘afraid to whisper, cough or sneeze’ is more sinister when one knows – as his trench comrades would – that it was the sound of a German coughing that revealed the listening post that he and Knight led the destruction of, killing three of its eight or so defenders. (D12912/6/6) Harvey and Knight found themselves manning a listening post of their own, wondering if they would be repaid in kind by the enemy. The story becomes an example of the laconic humour soldiers need in order to cope with battlefield conditions, and to be sure, this was a poem written for soldiers more than the audience at home. It may even be that the pause indicated by the hyphen in the last line ‘you take the – piccallili’ was not only meant highlight fact that ‘cake’ does not follow, but also to indicate where a soldier – but not polite civilian society – might include an unprintable adjective.

The poem was also a tribute to Knight, who was able to muster the courage to make a joke at a time when he probably least felt humorous, but when both men needed it the most. Harvey would write two more tributes to Knight: ‘A Cricket Match‘ and ‘To R.E.K. (In Memoriam)‘. Sadly, these would be written posthumously for Knight, as the latter title indicates. Harvey included all three tributes in the manuscript for his second collection, Gloucestershire Friends – Poems from a German Prison Camp, though the publishers would cut all but ‘To R.E.K.’. (D12912/2/1/3/Notebook 2) Fortunately, thanks to the surviving copies of the 5th Gloucestershire Gazette (and post-war reprints) we can still enjoy and appreciate this example of the humour that got men like Harvey and Knight through some of the darkest days of the 20th century.


Sources in order of appearnce in post:

EB Osborn, ‘Trench Journals’, The Times Literary Supplement, (12 October 1916), 482, The Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive online [accessed 5 April 2013].

‘Alarm Through a Cough’, unknown publication, found in FW Harvey’s scrapbook ‘H’, p. 21, 1915, GA, FWH, D12912/6/6

GF Helm, ed. The Fifth Gloucester Gazette, September 1915, GA, FWH, D12912/8/1/1

FW Harvey, ‘Gloucestershire Friends – Poems from a German Prison Camp’ (author’s manuscript), 1917, GA, FWH, D12912/2/1/3/Notebook 2

Where was FW Harvey?

FW Harvey scholars – and those who follow him closely on Twitter – might be aware that at this time 100 years ago, FW Harvey was missing. He had been working as a solicitor at a legal practice in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, primarily acting on behalf of the NSPCC as prosecution against negligent parents. (GA, FWH, D12912/6/1/5) Then, sometime in early-April 1914, Harvey simply disappeared. The incident has not been documented by his previous biographers, who had no access to his personal papers. Fortunately, the new availability of Harvey’s papers at the Gloucestershire Archives has brought this unusual event in Harvey’s life to light.

Article found in Harvey’s “Scrapbook G”, GA,FWH, D12912/6/1/5

It was no secret to those who knew Harvey that he hated the law, and had only gone into the profession due to the urgings of his parents. By 1914 he was established in the practice of John Middleton of Chesterfield. In Harvey’s ‘Scrapbook G’, he kept local newspaper articles detailing his court appearances. Middleton assigned Harvey work on NSPCC cases – the example to the left is typical. Prosecuting negligent parents may sound like a noble cause that one would be proud to undertake; however, it would also have been depressing, and opened Harvey’s eyes to much social injustice. In 1914, Chesterfield was an industrial and mining town where many of the lowest-paid members of the working class lived in squalor. If rearing children became financially impossible, parents had few choices. One of these was to send them to the workhouse rather than keep them; however, that would be a difficult thing to do for all but the most callous of parents. As the article shows, following Harvey’s successful prosecution, the children – all under age 14 – were taken from their parents to a life in the workhouse. The workhouse would have been better than sleeping on a concrete floor in a slum, but it was hardly a life to envy. Harvey was a sensitive man, who had a privileged upbringing in a fine country house in the beautiful Gloucestershire countryside, far removed from the harsh effects of industrialisation occurring in Chesterfield. Harvey was thankful for being born to such circumstances, but always felt compassion for those born to less. Living in a squalid, industrial city, and being an active agent in breaking up families forced into dire-straits by the machinations of industry – and by the bane of ignorance and alcoholism so prevalent amongst poverty-stricken people – certainly had a negative effect on his mental health.

Harvey’s boyhood home, The Redlands, Minsterworth. It was well known for the Harvey’s generosity to guests and even to tramps. Picture courtesy of the FW Harvey Society.

His correspondence bears this out. On 2 March 1914 he wrote a letter to Ivor Gurney during a break work in his office (the letter was on a scrap torn from a Derbyshire roll of electors) stating that he would visit Gloucestershire over Easter and would ‘be able to write again[:] Health good. People kind. Country the most romantic I have seen – for it is Glos: the romance (a more subtil [sic.] and exquisite sort) is less in the country itself, than in the clustered little villages whose windows shine better than stars through the dark orchards that dead men have made and cared for. Oh, when shall I see an apple blossom?’ (GA, FWH, D12912/1/2/9) Stating that he must wait until his return to Gloucestershire to write such words shows that Harvey thought the opposite of Chesterfield.

Harvey’s mother, Matilda, wrote to him on 4 April, anticipating his Easter return. He must have informed her of his misgivings about his current work. She encouraged him to believe that he had done much to help young people, but she hoped that he would ‘not find this too much of a strain’. She added that ‘It is a great and noble work to be able to influence young lives for good. And you dear have an understanding and sympathetic heart’. (GA, FWH, D12912/1/1/7) Harvey had an exceptionally close relationship with his mother. Her advice was meant to strengthen his resolve, but her letter may also have drawn parallels in his mind between his own longing for his distant family, and the families being torn apart by poverty. Harvey’s closest confidant was his brother Eric, who sent a letter at the roughly the same time which stated only ‘Dear old Will, I will pray. You know that I love you. Your brother, Eric.’ (GA, FWH, D12912/1/1/23) Harvey was becoming depressed, and reaching out to his family for comfort.

Eric Harvey’s letter. The Brasenose College (Oxford University) letterhead dates the letter to Eric’s time there in 1913-1914. GA, FWH, D12912/1/1/23

At this point, Harvey’s correspondence received in Chesterfield from his family stops. Soon it is followed by concerned letters from co-workers Barnel Kay, W White, and William Botham on 17, 18, and 24 April respectively, regarding his sudden disappearance. Some Harvey scholars I have talked to have noted that this period of his life was oddly undocumented, but could only speculate where he was, what he was doing, and why.

Fortunately, Harvey left us some clues in his papers.

In his soon to be published “lost” novel, Will Harvey, a War Romance (titled ‘Will Harvey – A Romance’ on Harvey’s manuscript), the eponymous character – loosely based on Harvey himself – finds himself in similar circumstances. It is important to understand that the character ‘Will Harvey’ is a fictionalised version of the real FW Harvey (who was known in reality as ‘Will’ to family and friends), and the narrative is a combination of fact and fiction. Discerning the fact from the fiction is one of the most interesting parts of this research. At this point in the novel, Will is a lawyer in the fictional town of Eccleton, described as ‘just another of those black and accursed towns glorified by Arnold Bennett. Its extreme ugliness was excelled only by its absurd sense of civic importance.’ (Harvey, ‘Will Harvey – A Romance’, p. 131) Note the similarities between the fictional name ‘Eccleton’, and the actual town of Eckington in the article above. The character finds himself sent to deliver a court summons for money due to a client of his firm. Arriving at the appointed address he finds ‘a dazed, anaemic looking woman in the midst of five small filthily dirty children’. (Harvey, p. 133) Will is filled with ‘rage at the universe’, and decides to pay the £9 (about £753.60 today) for them, not out of charity but simply to get out of the situation and out of “sheer disgust at the root of it”. (Harvey, p.134) In return he receives no thanks from his beneficiaries – who he feels have been too dehumanized by poverty to even feel grateful – and only indignation from his employer and client.

Portrait of FW Harvey c. 1920, about the time he is believed to have started writing his novel. D12912/4/2/1

He soon becomes so depressed that he attempts suicide, but botches it. Then he begins an affair with Mrs. Bransbury-Stuart, the wife of an industrialist. For FW Harvey writing post-WWI, she may have represented his perception of industrial England: she is a harlot who uses men for her own advantage, then casts them aside when she is done with them. The character’s affair with her may represent the real Harvey’s own shame in becoming involved with what he saw as a socially-unjust system.

Then, in early 1914, following a personal tragedy, the character does just what Harvey did: he simply leaves without saying goodbye to anyone and never returns. (Harvey pp. 150-151) The character later reveals to his brother and mother that he just ‘walked out of the office, and out of town.'(Harvey, p. 168) He continued walking for days, from village to village, basking in the joys of the countryside, and meeting colorful provincial characters. Most importantly he meets a beautiful gypsy girl who he had once met in his youth. To him, she represents all that is good and pure about the English countryside, in stark contrast to Mrs. Bransbury-Stuart. In the novel, she is destined to be the love of his life, perhaps representing his passion for the Gloucestershire countryside. Will stays with her people for a few days, before continuing his wandering, and eventually returning home. He is saved from his aimlessness by the declaration of war and his chance to enlist.

In reality, FW Harvey’s correspondence shows that after his disappearance from Chesterfield in mid-April, he had returned to his mother’s home in Minsterworth, Gloucestershire by early May. He took no work after returning, being saved three months later from his real-life aimlessness by the war and opportunity to enlist.

Did Harvey really walk straight from his office to a period of wandering about the countryside on foot before returning to Minsterworth? It seems fanciful, though many would say it is in keeping with Harvey’s personality. He was well known for his desire to wander about the countryside with his friends Ivor Gurney and Herbert Howells in their youth. It is also said by many locals that later in life he often took long walks in the Forest of Dean, usually stopping at most pubs along the way for the sake of conversation.

It is probably safe to say that there is some truth to his story about disappearing into the countryside. A letter of 6 May from co-worker John Rawcliffe shows that Harvey finally replied to the letters of his concerned former office-mates, telling them that he gone on “a walking tour”. (GA, FWH, D12912/1/5/10) The letter also states that he had left so suddenly that he forgot his coat in the office, which he was hoping they might return to him.


Bibliography (in order of appearance in article):

Gloucestershire Archives (henceforth GA), FW Harvey Collection ( henceforth FWH), D12912/6/1/5: FW Harvey’s Scrapbook G

GA, FWH, D12912/1/2/9: Letter from FW Harvey to Ivor Gurney, 2 March 1914

GA, FWH, D12912/1/1/7: Letter from Matilda Harvey to FW Harvey, 4 April [1914]

GA, FWH, D12912/1/1/23: Letter from Eric Harvey to FW Harvey, [1913-1914]

Harvey, FW, “Will Harvey – A Romance”, Author’s Manuscript, [1920-1935], GA, FWH, D12912/3/2/1

GA, FWH, D12912/1/5/10 – Letter from John Rawcliffe to FW Harvey, 6 May 1914


Welcome to University of Exeter‘s FW Harvey blog, showcasing some of the research gained by the FW Harvey REACT (Research & Enterprise in Arts & Creative Technology) project. The project is a collaborative effort between the University of Exeter, the Gloucestershire Archives, and the FW Harvey Society and Estate. Exeter University’s appointed doctoral researcher for this project is J. Grant Repshire, supervised by Professor Tim Kendall, Head of English.

The primary collaborative task was for Repshire to work with the Gloucestershire Archives to catalogue and preserve the recently discovered papers of war poet FW Harvey. The thousands of documents in Harvey’s papers included a lifetime of correspondence, poetry manuscripts – many of which are unpublished, BBC radio scripts, many heretofore unseen short stories, and even two unpublished plays and an unpublished novel. Repshire is now completing a PhD dissertation documenting the results of his research on these papers, focusing on FW Harvey’s place as a poet of the First World War.

For more information on FW Harvey, see the FW Harvey Society page here: http://www.fwharveysociety.co.uk/.