Rupert Brooke and the Chiltern Hills

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | November 10, 2019 0

Rupert Brooke

Rupert Chawner Brooke was an English poet known for his idealistic war sonnets written during the First World War, especially “The Soldier”. He was also known for his boyish good looks, which were said to have prompted the Irish poet W. B. Yeats to describe him as “the handsomest young man in England”.

Regular readers will know our enthusiasm for the Vale of Aylesbury and the Chiltern Hills where I lived for many years about 2 miles from Chequers, the Prime Ministers country home. Buckinghamshire is one of the loveliest of the Home Counties – some say the loveliest – and its Chiltern Hills and beech woods, beautiful River Thames and the rolling acres of Aylesbury Vale make it a place for visitors to enjoy. Country walks run between picturesque villages with a host of welcoming pubs. We are overlooked by the Chiltern Escarpment whose edge marks the southern border of the Midlands of England which continue to Wolverhampton and the Quantock Hills. The Chilterns lie only a few miles north-west of London and yet they are an unspoilt area of rolling chalk hills, magnificent beech woods, quiet valleys and charming brick and flint villages. A wonderful mosaic of woods, fields, hedges, sunken lanes and clear streams.

One of the most typical hilltop villages remaining is Dunsmore. This is a hamlet in the parish of Ellesborough, in Buckinghamshire, England. It is located on the hilltop of one of the Chiltern Hills, about 2 miles south of Wendover. It is one of the remotest places in the whole of Buckinghamshire, accessible only by two steep, single-track hillside lanes. The place name is Anglo Saxon in origin, and means literally Dunna’s moor.

Track to Dunsmore

Today the village is extremely picturesque as it is surrounded by mostly National Trust owned woodland. However due to its location it is occasionally cut off because of bad weather or bad road conditions, and retains its small community atmosphere. Central features of the hamlet are the village pond, the village hall and the Church of the Resurrection, Dunsmore. There were two public houses, the Fox and the Black Horse, but these have closed and been converted into residential dwellings in recent years.

The Duck Pond, Dunsmore

Another fan of the Chilterns was the war poet, Rupert Brooke. He was a promising English poet who died young in World War I. Brooke ( 3 August 1887 – 23 April 1915 ), was a popular English poet, famed for his idealistic War Sonnets that he wrote during the First World War. Works such as “The Soldier”, “The Old Vicarage” and “The Great Lover” are much loved throughout the world. Poets have always glorified war, and Brooke did his best to continue the tradition, and sacrifice himself in this effort. His death made him the hero of the first phase of the war and a canonised symbol of all the gifted young people destroyed by the conflict. However, Brooke’s poetry with its patriotic mood and naive enthusiasm went out of fashion as the realities of warfare were fully understood.


Born in Rugby, Warwickshire, he attended Rugby School where his father was a schoolmaster. He later attended King’s College, Cambridge, where he became one of the ‘Cambridge Apostles’, and made friends with members of the Bloomsbury group. Brooke struggled somewhat with his sexuality, which often led to a frustrated and unhappy romantic life.

Princes Risborough

Before WWI he walked regularly in the Chilterns, sometimes with friends. He used to visit the Pink and Lily pub, at Parslow’s Hillock above Princes Risborough, and loved to walk there from Wendover station. Legend has it that the Pink and Lily pub came into being in 1800 when Mr Pink, a butler from nearby Hampden House, and Miss Lillie, a chambermaid from the same house, fell in love and turned a private house at Parslow’s Hillock into the Pink and Lily hostelry. He also wrote a short cheerful ditty about a particularly merry lunch at the Pink and Lily with his friend Jacques Raverat.

Never came there to the Pink
Two such men as we, I think.
Never came there to the Lily
Two men quite so richly silly ;
So broad, so supple, and so tall,
So modest and so brave withal,
With hearts so clear, such noble eyes,
Filled with such sage philosophies,
Thirsty for Good, secure of Truth,
Fired by a purer flame than youth,
Serene as age, but not so dirty,
Old, young, mature, being under thirty.
Were ever two so fierce and strong,
Who drank so deep, and laughed so long,
So proudly meek, so humbly proud,
Who walked so far, and sang so loud ?

When WWI began Brooke joined the Royal Naval Division. The early months of the war inspired him to write some idealistic war sonnets. Later, his tone became more realistic when he wrote Soon to Die.

Pink and Lily pub

Brooke’s visits to the Chilterns inspired him to write the poem called The Chilterns which includes these evocative verses:

The Chilterns

Your hands, my dear, adorable,
Your lips of tenderness
–Oh, I’ve loved you faithfully and well,
Three years, or a bit less.
It wasn’t a success.

Thank God, that’s done! and I’ll take the road,
Quit of my youth and you,
The Roman road to Wendover
By Tring and Lilley Hoo,
As a free man may do.

For youth goes over, the joys that fly,
The tears that follow fast;
And the dirtiest things we do must lie
Forgotten at the last;
Even love goes past.

What’s left behind I shall not find,
The splendor and the pain;
The splash of sun, the shouting wind,
And the brave sting of rain,
I may not meet again.

But the years, that take the best away,
Give something in the end;
And a better friend than love have they,
For none to mar or mend,
That have themselves to friend.

I shall desire and I shall find
The best of my desires;
The autumn road, the mellow wind
That soothes the darkening shires.
And laughter, and inn-fires.

White mist about the black hedgerows,
The slumbering Midland plain,
The silence where the clover grows,
And the dead leaves in the lane,
Certainly, these remain.

And I shall find some girl perhaps,
And a better one than you,
With eyes as wise, but kindlier,
With lips as soft, but true.
And I daresay she will do.

Rupert Brooke (1887 – 1915)

During the First World War, Rupert Brooke was commissioned into the Navy, just after his twenty-seventh birthday, and took part in the Royal Navy Division’s Antwerp expedition. He died on April 23rd, 1915 off the island of Lemnos, in the Aegean, on his way to battle at Gallipoli after contracting pneumonia from an infected mosquito bite. His body is buried on the island of Skyros, Greece.

Brooke was stationed off Tris Boukes Bay, located to the south west of Skyros. Brooke, and the rest of the platoon arrived on the 17th April 1915, and they were waiting for clearance to head off to the island of Lemnos. The following days after their arrival were spent doing a variety of exercises. On the evening of Tuesday 20th April, Brooke became very ill. He has a swelling on his upper lip, caused by an inflammation of a mosquito bite. During the subsequent hours, this inflammation spread, which was later identified as a diplococcal infection – blood poisoning, in simple terms.

On Thursday 22 April, Brooke was moved to a neighbouring French medical ship. He was actually the only patient on board as the ship was actually waiting to pick up injured personal from Gallipoli. On Friday 23rd April, Brooke’s temperature rose and lost consciousness. He died in the late afternoon. A little later in the evening, three fellow officers took a digging party to Skyros, and headed to an olive grove that Brooke and a few others had rested at a few days earlier. Brooke was buried just before midnight.

Rupert Brooke statue, Skyros

Because Brooke’s party were due to set sail the following morning at 6am, the ceremony was very simple. A wooden cross, which was inscribed in Greek, was placed at his grave. The inscription of the cross stated … “Here lies the servant of God, Sub-lieutenant in the English Navy, who died for the deliverance of Constantinople from the Turks”. The grave of Rupert Brooke is often visited by travellers to Skyros. The tomb you see here today is not the original grave but one made after the First World War commissioned by his mother. The grave has an inscription of Brooke’s most famous poem, “The Soldier”, which was written during the last months of 1914.

The Soldier (1914)

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Rupert Brooke is a very celebrated figure in Skyros. As well as his grave in the south, you will also visit the Brooke Square, which is located close to the capital town of Chora. Here you will find the impressive statue, in memory of Rupert Brooke. From this square, you can admire the beautiful panoramic views that stretch out over the coastal towns of Magazia and Molos.


The Skibbereen Eagle

In 1898, to widespread bemusement, a small Provincial Newspaper in an equally small town in the South West corner of Ireland sonorously warned the Czar of Russia that it knew what he was up to and he should be careful how he proceeded for “The Skibbereen Eagle” was wise to his game and in future would be keeping its eye on him! It is doubtful that Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, even noticed the Eagle’s admonitions but as history soon proved he should have paid closer attention to the Eagle’s insightful opinions!

Today, powered by its readers and contributors, from its cyber eyries in Ireland and the centres of the Irish Diaspora The Eagle casts its Cold Eye on Life and Death and much in between.
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