During his childhood, Edward acquired a knowledge of Natural History. During long walks he collected butterflies and birds' eggs, and noted details of the trees, flowers and butterflies he saw. These early notes led to published articles at the age of seventeen. The Woodland Life, his first book was published in 1897.
Edward Thomas went up to Oxford in the autumn of 1897, winning a history scholarship to Lincoln College. He married Helen Noble in June 1899. Helen was the daughter of his early mentor James Ashcroft Noble. Their first child, a son, was born six months prior to Thomas's finals. Despite the fact that he was financially dependent on his father and now had a family to support Thomas never deviated from his ambition to write. His father wanted him to enter the civil service.
During the next few years Thomas earned a rather precarious living as a writer. He wrote essays, biographies, topographical books, reviews and introductions, as well as editing anthologies. He felt unfulfilled and stifled by his poverty and family responsibilities, which led to feelings of bitterness, frustration and depression. In order to escape, Thomas would stay with friends or go off on solo walking and cycling tours of England and Wales. Throughout all his problems his wife Helen remained loving and patient.
In 1914 a small group of Georgian poets - Lascelles Abercrombie, Wilfred Gibson and John Drinkwater - were living in and around the north -east Gloucestershire village of Dymock. Occasionally, Rupert Brooke stayed, and the poets wrote for a quarterly magazine, New Numbers, which was published by the group from Gibson's house. The group, along with other poets, became known as 'The Dymock Poets'. The American poet, Robert Frost, and his family arrived in the area in the spring of 1914, and moved into a cottage called 'Little Iddens', near the village. Thomas moved with his family to live next door to the Frosts in late summer 1914, not long after war was declared.
Edward Thomas and Robert Frost became great friends. The two took long walks in the surrounding countryside, and the evenings were spent with the other poets. They ate country food, drank the local cider, played charades cards, and word games. They also sang folk songs and wrote and read prose and poetry. It was during this time Frost, who admired Thomas's prose, encouraged Thomas to write poetry. Walter de la Mare and W H Davies had previously suggested this, but Thomas was doubtful, and had never attempted to. Thomas' respect for Frost and the gathering war clouds, which endangered all he loved finally persuaded Thomas to try writing poetry.
Thomas first poem was written in December 1914. Thomas's 143 poems were written between December 1914 and January 1917 when he went to France. The poems published during his lifetime were published under Thomas's pseudonym, 'Edward Eastaway'.
Between August 1914 and July 1915 Thomas could not decide whether to take his family to live in New England, near the Frosts, or whether to enlist. Finally he decided to enlist, and was passed medically fit in July 1915 and joined the Artists Rifles - the same regiment that Wilfred Owen joined two months later. Thomas was a Lance Corporal 3 months after enlistment, and was instructing officers at Hare Hall Camp, near Romford, Essex. Wilfred Owen arrived there for training in November. Thomas composed over forty poems during the 10 months spent at Hare Hall.
In August 1916 Thomas received his commission in the Royal Garrison Artillery and on September 20th his unit travelled to the Royal Artillery Barracks at Trowbridge, Wiltshire. Following 2 weeks leave Thomas went to Lydd in Kent for further training. Unexpectedly, he was given Christmas leave with his family. He arrived at the mobilisation camp at Codford, Salisbury Plain on January 15th, 1917. On January 29th he wrote to Helen from Southampton saying that once "over there" he would "say no more goodbyes . . ."
The battery arrived at Le Harvre in bitterly cold weather. Thomas spent his first days either overhauling the guns or censoring the men's letters. Thomas wrote to his wife, Helen almost daily for the next three months. The Battery entrained on February 4th, and arrived at Mondicourt on February 6th. On February 9th Thomas and half of the battery were sent to Dainville, where they went into billets on the Arras Road. A few days later Thomas was sent as Orderly Officer to Group 35 Army Artillery at their Headquarters in Arras. On March 9th,Thomas rejoined his battery and spent the next four weeks at Observation Posts at Ronville and Beaurains.
At 7.30 am on Easter Monday, 9th April 1917, the first day of the battle of Arras, Edward Thomas, who was standing at the Beaurains Observation Post, was killed by the blast of a shell which exploded nearby. He lies buried in Agny Military Cemetery.
The register gives the following details
Name: THOMAS, PHILIP EDWARD
Initials: P E
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Second Lieutenant
Regiment: Royal Garrison Artillery
Unit Text: 244th Siege Bty.
Date of Death: 09/04/1917
Additional information: Son of Philip Henry Thomas; husband of Helen Thomas. One of the War Poets.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: C. 43.
Cemetery: AGNY MILITARY CEMETERY (1)
In the cemetery are some beautiful cherry trees, were they planted by accident or design?
THE CHERRY TREES
The cherry trees bend over and are shedding,
On the old road where all that passed are dead,
Their petals, strewing the grass as for a wedding
This early May morn when there is none to wed. (2)
In north west Gloucestershire, is the pretty village of Adlestrop, Thomas was on the way to visit Robert Frost when the train he was travelling in stopped at the village.
Yes. I remember Adlestrop --
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat,
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop -- only the name
And willows, willowherb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. (3)
1. CWGC website
2. A Deep Cry ed Ann Powell
3. Edward Thomas Fellowship website