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Lieutenant Nowall Oxland – Portsmouth’s War Poet

Interestingly, I’ve found a young officer with Portsmouth connections who was a war poet- and a little known one at that.

Lieutenant Nowall Oxland was born in 1890. The son of a Cumbrian vicar, he entered Durham School as a Kings Scholar in September 1903. He seems to have performed very well there, becoming monitor and head of school between 1908 and 1910, rowing in the third crew in 1908 and the second crew in 1909, and playing in the Rugby XV in 1907-1909.

In 1909 Oxland left Durham for Worcester College at Oxford University, where he was studying History, showing great promise as a writer of Prose. Whilst at Oxford he played Rugby for Rosslyn Park, Richmond, Middlesex and Cumberland.

Gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in September 1914, he joined the 6th Battalion, Border Regiment, a first-line Kitchener Battalion. With that unit he sailed from Liverpool for Gallipoli in July 1915. Oxland took part in the landings at Suvla Bay on 7 August 1915, and was killed there two days later. He was 24. He is buried in Green Hill Cemetery at Suvla. By the time of his death his parents had retired to Outram Road in Southsea.

Apparently one of Oxland’s poems – Outward Bound – was written on the otward voyage, and published inAugust 1915 after his death:

There’s a waterfall I’m leaving
Running down the rocks in foam,
There’s a pool for which I’m grieving
Near the water-ouzel’s home,
And it’s there that I’d be lying
With the heather close at hand,
And the Curlew’s faintly crying
‘Mid the wastes of Cumberland.

While the midnight watch is winging
Thoughts of other days arise.
I can hear the river singing
Like the Saints in Paradise;
I can see the water winking
Like the merry eyes of Pan,
And the slow half-pounders sinking
By the bridges’ granite span.

Ah! To win them back and clamber
Braced anew with winds I love,
From the rivers’ stainless amber
To the morning mist above,
See through clouds-rifts rent asunder
Like a painted scroll unfurled,
Ridge and hollow rolling under
To the fringes of the world.

Now the weary guard are sleeping,
Now the great propellers churn,
Now the harbour lights are creeping
Into emptiness astern,
While the sentry wakes and watches
Plunging triangles of light
Where the water leaps and catches
At our escort in the night.

Great their happiness who seeing
Still with unbenighted eyes
Kin of theirs who gave them being,
Sun and earth that made them wise,
Die and feel their embers quicken
Year by year in summer time,
When the cotton grasses thicken
On the hills they used to climb.

Shall we also be as they be,
Mingled with our mother clay,
Or return no more it may be?
Who has knowledge, who shall say?
Yet we hope that from the bosom
Of our shaggy father Pan,
When the earth breaks into blossom
Richer from the dust of man,

Though the high Gods smith and slay us,
Though we come not whence we go,
As the host of Menelaus
Came there many years ago;
Yet the self-same wind shall bear us
From the same departing place
Out across the Gulf of Saros
And the peaks of Samothrace;

We shall pass in summer weather,
We shall come at eventide,
When the fells stand up together
And all quiet things abide;
Mixed with cloud and wind and river,
Sun-distilled in dew and rain,
One with Cumberland for ever
We shall go not forth again.

It remains the only well- known poem by Oxland which survives.

Apparently there is a very touching memorial to Nowell Oxland, at St Augustine’s Parish Church at Alston in Cumbria, where his father had been the vicar. Painted panels on the reredos memorial screen depict Oxland’s face, in representations of St Michael and St George. Click here for more information.

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Filed under portsmouth heroes, World War One