The forgotten war poet on BBC Radio 4





Today is the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War, and radio has done the occasion proud. Highlights? Well, Nobody Told Me to Oil My Boots (Radio 4, Sunday) was special.

Here, Antony Sher told the story of Isaac Rosenberg. A talented artist, he wanted to be recognised as a poet. Instead he wrote some of the most miserable letters home any mother could have been devastated to receive, starting with his experiences at the hands of the anti-Semites and bullies in one of the “bantam” regiments set up to accept cannon fodder too puny to pass the army medical. A pacifist - he only joined up for the seven shillings a month, the alternative being starvation - he then endured two years of a spectacularly wasteful and bloody war, which he described in some truly terrible poetry. Honestly, Rosenberg could not creep up on a simile without garrotting it.

The end to this contradictory man was typical - in June 1918 he opted to return to the line when he could have been on leave, and was killed. A life largely spent doing the exact opposite of what he had mapped out for himself ended in a macabrely appropriate death. Being the hero he was probably never entered his mind.

If Rosenberg's was the story of one man, then The Menin Gate (also Radio 4, also Sunday) was the story of thousands - 54,896, in fact, the soldiers of Britain and her Empire whose names are carved on panels at the memorial built into the city walls of Ypres. Their graves are unknown but, as was said at the memorial's inauguration: “They are not lost. They are here.”
Remembrance weekend was concerned with more than what happened in 1914-18, and there was the chance to compare, by a seemingly unlikely route, the soldier's experience today with that of the past. Smooth Radio, the unfortunately named (it reeks of Smashie and Nicey) music station, had two episodes of Blogs from the Bunker, the potted experiences of combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the observations of their wives and girlfriends. And music, lots of it, most of it awful. But these are the most requested songs on armed forces radio, and if Status Quo's In the Army Now makes the desert nights go more quickly, then who are we to deny them?



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