Easter of this year, 2017, has a special significance in the village of Eastbury. It is the centenary of the death of Edward Thomas, who was killed in action in the First Battle of Arras, France on Easter Monday, 9th April 1917.
Edward Thomas was born in 1878 and married Helen Berenice Noble whilst an undergraduate at Lincoln College, Oxford. On leaving university he worked as a literary critic, countryside writer, novelist and biographer before beginning to write poetry in December 1914.
His 144 poems cover a variety of subjects including nature, rustic encounters, the seasons, the English countryside as well as a range of emotions from romantic love to deep melancholic depression. He is one of 15 Great War poets commemorated in Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey although only eight of his poems make reference to war.
Helen Thomas, not only a wife and widow with three children, Merfyn, Bronwen and Myfanwy, but also an author in her own right, describes the poverty in which they lived and her grief at his early death in her book “World Without End” (London: Heinemann, 1931).
It was Myfanwy Thomas who dedicated her life to her father’s literary genius, who commissioned the memorial window in St. James Church: “in celebration of the lives of Edward Thomas poet and Helen his wife”.
It was installed by T&W Ide Ltd in 1971 and Thomas was described at the window unveiling by Ted Hughes O.M. (Poet Laureate) as the “Father of us all”.
This beautiful window was point engraved by Sir Laurence Whistler (1912-2000) and depicts lines of poetry from some of Thomas’s poems. Sir Laurence, educated at Balliol College, was in 1935 the first holder of the King’s Gold Medal for Poetry and in 1975 the first President of the newly founded British Guild of Glass Engravers; he was awarded OBE in 1955, CBE in 1973 and was knighted in 2000.
Come and see this lovely window and perhaps visit the graves of Helen and her two daughters who are all buried in the churchyard. They lived in Bridge Cottage in Eastbury.
The church has more visitors this year than usual, as lovers of the work of Edward Thomas are going to visit the church to see the window during the course of the year. A booklet is available in the church providing more information about the poet and the window. There is also going to be literary event in the church towards the end of the year. You can view the booklet by clicking on this link or on the image below.
It is generally possible to visit the church of Saint James in Eastbury during daylight hours at any time of the year. However it is best to make an arrangement about a week in advance with one of the church wardens. The contact details for the church wardens is available on the following web site: