3 March 1878 - 9 April 1917
Phillip Edward Thomas was an Anglo-Welsh writer of prose and poetry. He is commonly considered a war poet, although few of his poems deal directly with his war experiences. Already an accomplished writer, Thomas turned to poetry only in 1914. He enlisted in the army in 1915, and was killed in action during the Battle of Arras in 1917, soon after he arrived in France.
Thomas was born in Lambeth, London. He was educated at Battersea Grammar School, St Paul's School and Lincoln College, Oxford. His family were mostly Welsh. Unusually, he married while still an undergraduate and determined to live his life by the pen. He then worked as a book reviewer, reviewing up to 15 books every week. He was already a seasoned writer by the outbreak of war, having published widely as a literary critic and biographer, as well as a writer on the countryside. He also wrote a novel, The Happy-Go-Lucky Morgans (1913).
Thomas worked as literary critic for the Daily Chronicle in London and became a close friend of Welsh tramp poet W. H. Davies, whose career he almost single-handedly developed.
From 1905, Thomas lived with his wife Helen and their family at Elses Farm near Sevenoaks, Kent. He rented a tiny cottage nearby for Davies and nurtured his writing as best he could. On one occasion, Thomas even had to arrange for the manufacture, by a local wheelwright, of a makeshift wooden leg for Davies.
Even though Thomas thought that poetry was the highest form of literature and regularly reviewed it, he only became a poet himself at the end of 1914. Living at Steep, in East Hampshire, he initially published some poetry under the name Edward Eastaway.
By August 1914, the village of Dymock in Gloucestershire had become the residence of a number of literary figures, including Lascelles Abercrombie, Wilfrid Gibson and American poet Robert Frost. Edward Thomas was a visitor at this time.
The (now-abandoned) railway station at Adlestrop in the Cotswolds was immortalised in a well-known poem by Thomas after his train made an unscheduled stop there on 24 June 1914, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War.
Thomas enlisted in the Artists Rifles in July 1915, despite being a mature married man who could have avoided enlisting, in part after reading Frost's "The Road Not Taken". He was promoted Corporal and in November 1916 was commissioned into the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was killed in action soon after he arrived in France at Arras on Easter Monday, 9 April 1917. Although he survived the actual battle, he was killed by the concussive blast wave of one of the last shells fired as he stood to light his pipe.
Close friend W. H. Davies was devastated by the death and his commemorative poem "Killed In Action (Edward Thomas)" was included in Davies' 1918 collection "Raptures".
Thomas is buried in the Military Cemetery at Agny in France (Row C, Grave 43).
Thomas was survived by his wife, Helen, his son Merfyn and his two daughters Bronwen and Myfanwy.
After the war, Helen wrote about her courtship and early married life with Edward in the autobiography As it Was (1926); later she added a second volume, World Without End (1931). Myfanwy later said the books were written by her mother as a form of therapy to help lift her out of a deep depression to which she succumbed following Edward's death.
Helen's short memoir My Memory of W. H. Davies was published in 1973. Her Under Storm's Wing was published in 1997 and is a collection of writings including the two earlier autobiographies along with various other writings and letters.
Thomas is commemorated in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey in London and by memorial windows in the churches at Steep and at Eastbury in Berkshire.
East Hampshire District Council have created a "literary walk" at Shoulder of Mutton Hill in Steep dedicated to Thomas. Which includes the memorial stone erected in 1935. The inscription includes the final line of his essays: "And I rose up and knew I was tired and I continued my journey."
As "Philip Edward Thomas poet-soldier" he is commemorated with "Reginald Townsend Thomas actor-soldier died 1918" (who is buried at the spot) and other family members at the North East Surrey (Old Battersea) Cemetery.
Thomas's poems are noted for their attention to the English countryside and a certain colloquial style. A short poem of Thomas's serves as an example of how he blends war and countryside throughout his poetry.
On 11 November 1985, Thomas was among 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner. The inscription, written by fellow Great War poet Wilfred Owen, reads: "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."