Frederick William Harvey was born in Hartpury, Gloucestershire on 26 March 1888 to Howard Harvey, a horse trader, and Cecelia Matilda Harvey (née Waters). Harvey was raised at his father’s estate The Redlands, Minsterworth, where he learned to love the Gloucestershire countryside. He was the oldest of three brothers, Eric, Roy, and Bernard, and a sister, Gladys. He was initially educated at the King’s School, Gloucester, but finished his education as a boarding student at the Rossall School in Lancashire. He had no firm preference for a profession, so his family had him articled as a solicitor’s clerk to the firm of Frank Treasure of Gloucester, where he would prepare for the examinations to become a lawyer. Harvey’s heart was not in these studies; he prefered to spend his time wandering the countryside with his now-famous friends Ivor Gurney and Herbert Howells, discussing poetry, music, and literature. He failed his first law exams in 1911, so his family enrolled him in a ‘crammer course’ in law at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London. He finally qualified as a solicitor in December 1912. He began to practice law in the firm of John Middleton in Chesterfield, though he hated the work so much that he quit with no notice in April 1914.
He enlisted in Gloucester’s Territorial Force battalion, 1/5th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment at the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. The battalion arrived in France in April 1915; shortly afterwards Harvey became a founder of the first of the famous British trench journals, the 5th Gloucester Gazette. The fame of the Gazette even reached to the homefront, bringing his poetry to national attention. Harvey served as a front-line infantryman, and gained a reputation for repeatedly volunteering for night patrols in no-man’s-land. He was soon promoted to lance corporal. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) in August 1915, when a patrol that he was the assistant leader of destroyed a German listening post. His demonstrated bravery and leadership abilities, combined with his education, led the battalion commander to recommend him for a commission. He was made a second lieutenant and returned to England for officer training. He was transferred to the 2/5th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment in July 1916 and returned to the front with them, but was captured during a solo-reconnaissance of the German front lines on 17 August. Prior to returning to France he had arraigned the publication of his first poetry collection, A Gloucestershire Lad at Home and Abroad, which was released in September 1916. It had excellent sales; however, Harvey was not able to enjoy his new-found fame, as he spent the rest of the war in various German prisoner of war (POW) camps. He continued to write poetry as a POW, and was allowed by German POW authorities to mail home poems that were published in September 1917 as Gloucestershire Friends, Poems from a German Prison Camp. Harvey returned home after the war and attempted to live by his pen. In 1919 he published a poetry collection titled Ducks, and Other Verses, followed in 1920 by memoirs of his POW years titled Comrades in Captivity.
In 1921 he married Sarah Anne Kane, and Irish nurse he had met before the war. Sales of his works declined, forcing him to return to the practice of law that same year. He announced his intention to leave the literary world in 1921 with his collection Farewell. Still, in 1925 he published September and Other Poems, and then In Pillowell Woods in 1926. He became involved with BBC radio as early as 1928, and began writing and performing occasional radio programs. He remained involved with BBC radio right up to his last full-year of life, 1956. Many of his poems were set to music by his friends Ivor Gurney, Herbert Howells, and Herbert Brewer.
Harvey served in the Home Guard during the Second World War, and participated in veterans’ organisations that supported Gloucestershire citizens who were in the military.
He continued to practice law throughout his life, but with little financial success – he was famous for waiving fees for those who could not afford them. He loathed the prison system and wished to be seen as a defender of the poor and downtrodden, so he rarely acted as the prosecution.
Following the Second World War, his health began to decline. In 1946 Gloucestershire: A Selection from the Poems of FW Harvey was published – his last poetry collection that he would live to see published. In 1956, BBC radio dedicated a programme solely to his work titled ‘Sing a Song of Gloucestershire’. It was a long-overdue tribute to his contributions to English poetry.
He died on 13 February 1957. He was survived by his widow Sarah Anne, his daughter Eileen Griffiths (née Harvey) and son Patrick. His poetry continues to be anthologised, primarily his First World War poems ‘In Flanders’, ‘If We Return’, and ‘The Bugler’. His most popular poem of all time, ‘Ducks’ is anthologised more than any of his works, and is the poem most associated with his name.