Poets and WW1 Africa

Poetry is not my favourite literary genre but it seems to be an extremely popular form of expression during times of strong emotion and experience.

Over the years I have tried to remember to note where poems appear about World War 1 in Africa. Those I have found are listed on the Great War in Africa Association bibliography (see Poetry tab). These poems mostly concern the war in Africa written by people who served in one of the African theatres.

However, in December 2020, Kathleen Satchwell shared a collection of poems (part 1, part 2) written by South Africans on the war. These mostly concerned the fighting in Europe although East Africa did get a mention as did the Mendi and carriers. Kathie’s talk was broadly chronological from the outbreak of war through to its conclusion, most of the poems following a style recognised in Britain as produced by the British wartime poets – Rupert Brookes etc.

Kathie illustrated her talk with images she’d come across by a South African artist – this provided a refreshing insight into events that have their own dominant narrative.

Using Jay Winter’s ‘Sites of memory’, Kathie equated poetry to being a site of memory in the same way a physical memorial is. In addition to an event being described or used for inspiration, a poem encompasses a feeling or sense of emotion not always conveyed in a more physical memorial. And, as with there being significance behind why a statue was not erected, there is significance in the topics or themes the war poets did not address – a point Kathie touches on too. If you listen carefully, silences speak very loudly.

Kathie’s talk has added to the collection of poets on and from World War 1 in Africa – no doubt there are many others still waiting to be discovered given the myriad publications in which they appear. In due course, they will be added to the GWAA listing.