Here's a virtual movie Captain John Jarmain reading a segment of his best known poem "El Alamein" He a young artillery captain who had survived the Battle of El Alamein he was serving in the 51st Highland Division,when was killed by shrapnel while visiting his men in the Normandy village of St Honorine la Chardonnorette..
In the early hours of the morning of June 26, 1944 John Jarmain, a young artillery captain serving in the 51st Highland Division, was killed by shrapnel while visiting his men in the Normandy village of St Honorine la Chardonnorette.
He was one of the many thousands of British troops who were killed in action while fighting in the bocage country against a determined enemy anxious to drive the Allies back into the sea.
But Jarmain was different from the other anonymous dead. Shortly before his death he had composed a number of war poems, and although these were published in the following year, they were quickly forgotten despite receiving lavish high praise from the critics. He could have been one of the lost poets of the war but thanks to the efforts of James Crowden, himself a writer and a former soldier, Jarmain's war poetry has been made available again in a new volume.
Captain John Jarmain was an unwilling soldier and unlikely army officer. Born in 1911 and educated at Shrewsbury School and Queen's College Cambridge, where he studied mathematics, Jarmain was a pacifist who had the word "atheist" on the dog tags which hung around his neck. "I don't suppose God will take a blind bit of notice," was his ready response to those who thought he was being flippant.
Although not Scots born, Jarmain cared deeply about the men who served under him and he also came to believe that the war was a chance to eradicate the evil of fascism. The conflict certainly hastened his poetic development and, like other war poets who served in North Africa, his work was influenced by the sheer size of the desert arena over which the two opposing armies fought, its absence of definition and the seemingly limitless horizons with few roads or tracks to break up the bare expanse of sand and scrub. At first acquaintance the terrain seemed harsh, barren and inhospitable, but it was also strangely compelling
A year after the decisive Battle of El Alamein, as the victorious 51st Highland Division was advancing towards the Mareth Line, he envisages a time when flowers would grow again in the desert wastes, "where death remains and agony has been".
From the accounts of those who knew him well, Jarmain emerges as a thoughtful and considerate person, albeit one who had a complicated love life. He certainly had all the makings of a writer who would have gone on to become a major literary talent. He left behind the poems which were published after his death, as well as an odd little novel called Priddy Barrow, but the best was obviously still to come. Like the lilies in the desert he enjoyed a short period of creativity before being felled in a minor action that had no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of the fighting in Normandy.
All rights are reserved on this video recording copyright Jim Clark 2013
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