Beatrice Gibbs/ Alexandra Etheldreda Grantham

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Beatrice Gibbs/ Alexandra Etheldreda Grantham

Lancaster Bomber over Hamburg- picture in public domain

Thought that it was time to expand about the purposes of this blog. As well as trying to highlight the  whole range of World War 2 poetry that is in danger of being overshadowed and forgotten, it’s also important to encourage further research, trying to discover more about the lives of those who were writing poetry during World War 2.  Looking at two female poets , Beatrice Gibbs and Alexandra Etheldreda Grantham.

The Bomber

“White moon setting and red sun waking.
White as a searchlight, red as a flame
Through the dawn wind her hard way making.
Rhythmless,riddled, the bomber came.

Men who had thought their last flight over,
All hoping, gone, came limping back.
Marvelling, looked on on bomb-scarred Dover.
Buttercup fields and white Down track.

Cottage and ploughland, green lanes weaving,
Working-folk stopping to stare overhead-
Lovely, most lovely, past all believing
To eyes of men new-raised from the dead. ”

-Beatrice R. Gibbs.

( featured in  ‘Shadows of War- British Women’s Poetry of the Second World War’ edited and introduced by Anne Powell. 1999 ).

A poem that attracted me for its simplicity but also intrigued by the theme of a  bomber crew who are out causing havoc to the enemy , and facing colossal odds weighed against their own survival, find solace on reaching the Kent Downs upon their return. The last two lines are almost parodying a hymn with the repetition of ‘lovely’ and the reference to ‘believing’ and ‘new raised from the dead’ .

Beatrice R. Gibb was born in 1894, and is listed as a poet, writer of children’s books, in the index of ‘Shadows of War’.
So far have found little else about her but still searching.

Alexandra Etheldreda Grantham 

Have been liaising with Lucy London, who runs the excellent Female Poets of the First World War blog concerning   Alexandra Etheldreda Marie Sylvia Von Herder born  in Germany in 1870, : A specialist in Chinese history and art, with several books to her name . The biographical details in the  ‘Shadows of War’ anthology .mention a marriage to Captain Frederick William Grantham. and for having the tragic distinction  of having two sons killed whilst serving, one in each World War.

From what I can establish her son  Ltn. Hugo Frederick Grantham,Third Battalion Essex Regiment, died at Gallipoli, on 28th June 1915, and is  buried at Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery. In 1915 Alexandra Grantham’s collection ‘Mater Dolorosa ‘ was published in 1915 and dedicated to his memory.

The second son  was Godfrey Harry Grantham, who was a pilot instructor in the RAF volunteer reserve and was killed  on 21st June 1942 aged 30 , Catherine Reilly, in her ‘English Poetry of the Second World War a Bibliography’ , suggested that perhaps  Godfrey was Alexandra Grantham’s grandson, but the records available on Commonwealth War Graves Commission show that he was indeed her son.


“An hour ago or less this piteous tangled heap
Made up-of metal bits whose scattered fragments
Black trace of flames attacking it with dead leap
An hour ago.

Soared in the blue, triumphant like a star, sheer
Of silver on great wings spread in spirals
To rise and climb o’er midnight clouds of ice and

And he who swept it upwards- slain, never to
The harvest of his dreams, nor wondrous joys to
Of coming home, nor wake again. He laughed
at sleep.
An hour ago.”

( From the aforementioned anthology ‘Shadows of War’ , first appeared in  Alexandra Grantham’s collection ‘Godfrey Grantham’ , published 1942 )

Again  I find the simplicity of the poem appealing. No attempt to write some epic, or to tell some daring truth about the War. A bleak but effective tribute to a son’s memory written by a grieving mother.

Godfrey was buried at St. Wythan’s churchyard . Repton, Derbyshire. The Repton Village World War 2 history group advise :

“Pilot Officer GODFREY HARRY GRANTHAM, 118749. Godfrey was the son of Capt. Frederick William Grantham (formerly of the Royal Munster Fusiliers) and Alexandra E. Grantham, of Abingdon, Berkshire. P/O Grantham died in Magister L8227 in a forced landing at Dalbury Lees/Trusley. His pupil Cpl G.P. Ward of the AAC was seriously injured. Godfrey was born 24 July 1911 and died 21 June 1942. His grave is a tombstone, embossed with the RAF crest and a carved portrait.”

Repton Village entry

Both Hugo Grantham and Godfrey Grantham are commemorated on the Barcombe, Sussex, Roll of Honour.  Not quite sure of their Sussex connection .

Barcombe Roll of Honour

Hoping to consult Alexandra Grantham’s two collections ‘ Godfrey Grantham’ (1942) and ‘ River Roundels’ (1943) in the near future. Also to see if Godfrey Grantham’s paintings are available .

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