Southampton WWII poet discovered after 70 years

Dennis B. Wilson Four volumes of Dennis B. Wilson's poetry has been published

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A former World War II army officer is to have his poems published - almost 70 years after he wrote them.

Dennis B. Wilson thought of some of the verses while sheltering in a slit trench in Normandy.

Others he scribbled down clumsily with his left hand while recovering from a wound sustained during shelling in July 1944.

For years, the poems lay undiscovered until they were read by University of London lecturer Tim Crook.

Now, Mr Crook has hailed the work as "astonishing" and said it should be ranked alongside the texts of World War I poets like Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon.

Mr Wilson, 91, said: "I never thought of myself as a war poet and it's amazing to hear my name mentioned among the names such as Wilfred Owen."

The veteran of D-Day penned the poems in Elegy of a Common Soldier between 1943 and 45.

Mr Wilson, who was born in Oxford and has lived in Southampton for most of his life, served as an officer in the 49th Polar Bear division. He was wounded while with the 1st Battalion Tyneside Scottish Battalion of the Black Watch Regiment (Royal Highland Regiment) in Normandy.

The poems came to light when Mr Crook began researching the espionage books published about Mr Wilson's father, Alexander, who served in the secret service.

Mr Crook was so impressed with Mr Wilson junior's work, which he had casually mentioned in conversation, that he decided to publish four volumes of his poetry, with a fifth planned for later this year.

Mr Wilson said: "I was very lucky because he agreed with me that true poetry should rhyme and should be easy to understand, so he's been willing to publish it."

Extract from Elegy of a Common Soldier by Dennis B. Wilson

Confusion, noise and smoke.

Foul reeking mud and countless shattered bodies oozing blood.

The pain before the final choking breath.

The vile decay, the sickly smell of death, which does not come triumphant or in rest, but suddenly, unheralded and dressed in guise of hedgerow, tree or growing wheat, or lurks amid the flowers beneath your feet.

You seek the friend but lately by your side?

Did you not hear? He called you ere he died

Mr Crook said: "It is quite an astonishing collection. The Elegy will become a significant aspect of literature of the Second World War.

"Like Dennis, my own father John H. Crook, was an infantry officer in the 49th Division, who experienced ghastly and horrible things during the Battle of Normandy and the mental scars remained with him throughout his life.

"He lost close friends and comrades and his platoon was wiped out several times in awful battles between June and September 1944.

"As a society we've had the grieving and haunting reflections of World War I poetry, and culturally we may have forgotten the World War II generation."

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