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Tragic Second World War poet 'must not be forgotten'.

Byline: JESSICAWINCH

The nephew of a Midland Second World War poet has spoken of how the family want his papers to be made accessible to the public after they are auctioned at Bonhams later this month.

Richard "Dicky" Spender, from Stratford-upon-Avon, was already a published poet in The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Observer when he was killed in 1943 aged just 21.

The former pupil of King Edward VI School in Stratford died while charging German positions in Tunisia during the Allied invasion of North Africa, code named Operation Torch.

Now his family are putting his collected papers, poems, photographs and letters up for sale, and they're expected to fetch up to pounds 6,000.

His nephew, Michael Spender said: "I am very keen for people to know more about my uncle's poetry, which is very powerful - and his story is a very moving one, I think. I want the papers to be more accessible to the public. I hope they are bought by an institution to provide access to them."

Mr Spender, 56, who lives in Salisbury, said: "One of the things I've been really keen to do is raise his profile as a Second World War poet. They don't get as much attention as the First World War poets.

"He was one of the more prominent poets and in his lifetime he was very well published. That reputation has sort of disappeared and it would be lovely to see him more generally recognised."

He said of his uncle: "I think he was a very charming and interesting character.

A great character."

A fellow officer in Richard Spender's battalion, Victor Dover, recorded many years after Spender died: "His death left a gap of friendship which was never filled. A character who was so much more colourful than fiction."

The Times Literary Supplement recognised the potential of Spender's poetry, writing in its obituary of Spender: "Those familiar with the work of the young soldier-poet will be aware of the loss his death must mean to English literature."

Described as "ardent and eager in his enthusiasm for life", Spender had published a book of poems, Laughing Blood, before his death.

His gravestone is inscribed with lines from his poem 'The Young Soldier': "In High Proud Exultation/ Let Us Repay/ Laughing Blood With Spilt."

Since his death, Spender's work has slipped into obscurity, along with many Second World War poets.

Steve Ellis, professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham, said: "The poets of the previous decade, such as Auden and Stephen Spender, achieved a great deal of notice through their political involvement, and the Spanish civil war... acted as an earlier outlet for these questions around the justice of fighting. The theme had kind of become exhausted."

He added: "The arena of war in the Second World War was too vast to get a handle on in some ways. The poets of the Second World War simply never achieved the prominence in popular memory as writers in the First World War did."

Michael Spender added: "My feeling is the neglect of the Second World War poets has been too great. I feel sure they will get a revival at some point. That was one of the purposes of this sale."

Andrew Currie, a spokesman for Bonhams, said: "This is a one-off opportunity to acquire a substantial archive of the poet's life and work.

"He died, sadly, when he was very young but the fact that he'd been published by so many top names - the Times, the Telegraph, the Observer - and had a book to his name suggests that people who were in a good position to judge rated him highly.

"The work he produced in the months leading up to his death showed a greater maturity and it's easy to see why people made the comparison with Rupert Brooke and mourned the loss of a talent cut so short."

Mr Currie said he believed the archive would appeal primarily to collectors in the UK but said it was "impossible to know" if the collection will stay in the country.

In his letters home, Spender showed a mix of humour, cynicism and worldweariness.

To his parents, he wrote: "There is no need to bother your heads about my skin. Just keep well yourselves, Old Folks, and keep the Home Fires switched on."

Yet four days before his death, he wrote to his brother: "This place is absolute hell. Everybody gets knocked off amid scenes of utter wet cold misery, and still we come up for another bloodbath."

In Parachute Battalion, published on April 3 in the Times Literary Supplement - they did not know Spender had been killed days earlier - he wrote: "One, lonely, grim battalion cut its way/ Through agony and death to fame's high crown/ And wonderingly watch the friendless strength/ Of little men, who die that great Truths shall live."

The collection will be sold at Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts in London on March 27.

Today some silent valley of Tunisia Shall tremble at their stroke from sky unsheathed, And, with the night, perhaps some God looking down With dull, cold eyes, by the near stars will see One, lonely, grim battalion cut its way Through agony and death to fame's high crown And wonderingly watch the friendless strength Of little men, who die that great Truths shall live.

CAPTION(S):

Parachute Battalion: Last poems from England and Tunisia, by Richard Spender Richard Spender was a published poet before he met his death in North Africa in 1943. Above, one of his poems
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 8, 2012
Words:927
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