Finest Hour 147, Summer 2010
By Ronald I. Cohen
Mr. Cohen’s note is extracted from his Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill (3 vols., London: Continuum, 2006), I:554-55. The sixth printing of Into Battle carries the Cohen number A142.1g.
The Grenfell lines ran in the sixth through twelfth printing of Into Battle in May 1947, appearing only in the English edition. The poem was really only appropriate in volumes bearing the title Into Battle, and the British edition was alone in that regard.
Churchill had, from shortly after the first publication of the work, intended to include the Julian Grenfell verse which had inspired his choice of title in the first place. The first five printings had taken place too quickly for him to arrange its appearance and he was so informed by his secretary Kathleen Hill on 24 February 1941.
Churchill wrote to Ettie, Lady Desborough, on 14 March, asking for her permission to include several verses of the poem written by her late son Julian weeks before he fell at Ypres. She approved the request in her letter of 31 March. The earliest printing of Into Battle into which the verses could be inserted was the sixth.
The poem was written in April 1915, two weeks before Grenfell was injured and four weeks before he died. He sent it to his mother with a note saying, “I rather like it.” The poem is ten stanzas in length; the second stanza (the only one of six lines; the first stanza had eight lines and the others four) was chosen by Churchill for the title page.
The first published appearance of the poem, along with Grenfell’s obituary, was in The Times of 28 May 1915, just after his death. A moving poem entitled “Julian Grenfell,” by an unnamed author on behalf of the British Expeditionary Force, was published in The Times of 9 June. The full text, albeit with slightly different wording and punctuation, was published in volume form in Nicholas Mosley’s biography of Grenfell (see below) and is easily found on the web. A moving account of Grenfell’s last days, together with the last four stanzas of the poem, is in Martin Gilbert’s First World War (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1994), 161.
Julian Grenfell: His Life and the Times of His Death 1888-1915, by Nicholas Mosley, first published in 1976, is one of the best biographies of recent times—partly because so much of it is about his mother, the fascinating but maddening Ettie Desborough. It is quite short compared with many modern biographies, and very readably written.
The subtitle, as Mosley explains in a new Preface, “means to convey the idea that Grenfell’s short life was circumscribed by the time into which he was born; that to a young man from his background who grew up in the years leading to the First World War, the style and attitudes of the society around him were such that the chance of death was something almost to be welcomed as a way of dealing with the predicaments that confronted him.’
Julian and his generation seemed to want to die in battle: to help the reader towards an understanding of this is the main theme of the book. It also brings Edwardian society to life, as well as describing in detail his relationship with his mother: this is the strongest element in Julian Grenfell, stronger even than the theme of the welcoming of war.
—PUBLISHER’S NOTE. THE PAPERBACK IS AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON.COM.
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