Touching poetry of Battle of the Somme nurse explored in first ever complete anthology

The first full collection of poems by First World War nurse, Mary Borden, who set up her own field hospital on the front line at the Somme to treat injured soldiers, has been published 100 years after they were written.

Posted: 14 September 2015

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Paul O'Prey's new collection of Mary Borden's poetry will be launched at Wimbledon BookFest.

Although Borden's individual poems have been included in major anthologies in the past, Poems of Love and War edited by Roehampton’s Vice-Chancellor Paul O’Prey is the first complete collection.

It will be launched at this year’s Wimbledon Book Fest at an event with Dame Shirley Williams where the pair will discuss women poets of the First World War.

Paul O’Prey is an acknowledged expert on the poetry of the Great War. His most recent book First World War Poems from the Front highlighted some of the most poignant writing by 15 authors. In this new work he has chosen to focus on one writer in detail.

As a nurse, Borden wanted to help troops ‘as close to the fighting as possible’. In the midst of helping and comforting the barely living, horrendously injured soldiers, she wrote touchingly of her observances and feelings.

Eight lengthy poems are included, such as The Hill:

The earth was naked, and on its naked body crawled things of iron…I saw the iron armies moving, and iron rivers poured through the wilderness that was peopled with an iron host. Lights gleamed down there, a thousand machine eyes winked.

Other poems include The Song of the Mud, Where is Jehovah, The Virgin of Albert and Unidentified, while the book also contains 10 love poems to a soldier.

In his introduction, Professor O’Prey writes: “Mary Borden is one of the most remarkable figures of the First World War, and one of its most compelling writers. What is also remarkable is the fact that her writings about the war have been overlooked for so long.”

An American who moved to London with her British missionary husband, Borden was drawn to the Suffragette movement, but at the outbreak of war volunteered for the French Red Cross. She trained at a typhoid hospital in Dunkirk and subsequently set up her own field hospital. It was here she met her second husband. Borden survived the war, living in France until 1968, but lost much of her fortune in the Wall Street Crash.

Professor O’Prey and Dame Shirley Williams will appear at Wimbledon Book Fest on Sunday 11 October. Dame Shirley’s mother, Vera Brittain, wrote Testament of Youth, one of the most enduring memoirs of the conflict.

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