F. W. Harvey

First World War poet's home reveals hidden treasure

Long-forgotten letters, papers and manuscripts detailing the life and times of a heroic First World War poet have been discovered in a house in Gloucestershire which has remained virtually unchanged for 80 years.

During the War, Frederick William Harvey became well known for his poetry and his acts of courage. Despite having trained as a solicitor, he enlisted in the ranks and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal before being made an officer. In 1916 he was captured, and endured a long imprisonment which he later described in his book Comrades in Captivity. There he attempted daring escapes, and wrote remarkable poetry which was published back in England to great acclaim. One particularly enduring poem, ‘Ducks’, has featured in the BBC’s The Nation’s 100 Favourite Poems.

Now, for the first time, F.W. Harvey’s papers are being made available to the public thanks to a major collaborative project between the University of Exeter and the Gloucestershire Archives. Assisted by the expertise of the F. W. Harvey Society, Harvey’s family has decided that the hoard of papers and manuscripts should be preserved and made accessible to researchers. The cataloguing of the collection is a mammoth task that will be made possible through a Research & Enterprise in Arts & Creative Technology (REACT) postgraduate scholarship awarded by the University of Exeter to a doctoral researcher. 

American scholar, Grant Repshire himself a veteran of war in Iraq, is the researcher from the University responsible for cataloguing Harvey’s recently found material into an assessable archive. The collection of papers ranges from text books bearing the stamps of the German censor, in which F.W. Harvey wrote the first drafts of his prisoner poems, to lifelong correspondence with his old comrades.

There are numerous letters from POWs who read Harvey’s book and wrote to him about their own experience of the First World War. This correspondence forms part of this rare and important collection of recently unearthed material.

Professor Tim Kendall, Head of English at the University of Exeter said: “Harvey was significant in his own right as a poet, memoirist and broadcaster, and his correspondence with friends like the poet-composer Ivor Gurney provides a crucial insight into the cultural life of the region in the early part of the century.”

Roger Deeks, Chair of the F. W. Harvey Society, said: “The Archive is a fabulous testament to an exceptional man who lived through extraordinary times. This is a wonderful development that will awaken interest in F. W. Harvey and stimulate awareness of the important developments in literature and music that took place in Gloucestershire.”

Head of Gloucestershire Archives, Heather Forbes, said: “I am very pleased that through this partnership project we will ensure that the records of such a remarkable local man are preserved safely and made accessible for present and future researchers.”

View this story on the ITV Westcountry website.

Date: 8 November 2012