Rupert Brooke was a famous World War One poet who, for many years, was probably considered the most pre-eminent war poet.
Born on 3d August 1887, Brooke gained a reputation at school for being both artistic but good at sports. In 1906, he won a scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge and became friends with the likes of E M Forster, Virginia Woolf and Cornford.
In 1910 he stood in for his late father at Rugby school and then returned to Cambridge to continue his work on English authors. When he was away from work, he travelled and wrote poetry, and his first collection of poems was published in December 1911 in a book entitled “Poems”.
In 1912, Brooke travelled to Berlin where he wrote “The Sentimental Exile”, although his friend Edward Marsh persuaded him to change the name to “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester”. This was to become his most famous pre-war poem.
Brooke was awarded a fellowship form King’s College in March 1913 for his dissertation on Webster and for the next year he travelled around the world for the ‘Westminster Gazette’, writing 15 articles. When he returned he found that he was very much the centre of attention in London’s literary scene.
However, as war approached Brooke’s friend Marsh - who now worked for Winston Churchill at the Admiralty - introduced Brookes to Churchill and the First Lord of the Admiralty offered to help him get a commission. Brookes was unsure but decided it was his duty, stating: “If Armageddon is on, I suppose one should be there”.
Brookes got a commission in the Royal Naval Division, a land based unit, and he trained until October 1914 when he embarked for France. He was ordered to move into Belgium to help stop the German advance on Antwerp. Brookes and his men were temporarily based at Vieux-Dieu. However, after they had moved out to Belgiam trenches, the chateau was hit by German artillery and the unit was ordered to withdraw after catching a train to Ostend and made their way back to Dover.
Brookes’ writings at this time were very patriotic, and he wrote that fighting the Germans was what God wanted him to do. He particularly felt that the Belgian people had been wronged by the German government and he wanted to play his part in righting that wrong.
Brookes spent November 1916 in Blandford, Dorset completing training. When he wanted doing this, he was writing sonnets. However, on 20th February 1915 he discovered that he was due to set out for Gallipoli and wrote that he had “never been so happy”. However, he and his men never reached Gallipoli.
After various delays that included a visit to the Pyramids, Brookes landed at Lemnos. He fell ill and the medical staff diagnosed an infection caused by a mosquito bite. Despite help from a French medical team, nothing could be done for him and he died on 23rd April 1915.
Three days later, Winston Churchill wrote of him in The Times: “He was all that one would wish England’s noblest sons to be in the days when no sacrifice but the most precious is acceptable."
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