Sunday, 6 July 2014

Rediscovering "The Footplate Poet"

"There's blood on his hands, there's a stain on his soul,
This arch fiend of despots enacting death's toll"....

The strength of feeling in those lines of poetry written a hundred years ago in condemnation of the German Kaiser as the First World War spread across Europe summed up the sentiments of every community in Britain who watched as their young men left home for the battle front.

Thomas Grey, the man who penned 'The Kaiser', was a retired train driver from Berwick-on-Tweed. He became known as The Footplate Poet, his prolific output of poetry gained him national recognition before his death in 1928 although for decades he has lain virtually forgotten in an unmarked grave in Tweedmouth cemetery.

Now, thanks to painstaking research by Galashiels author Harry Scott, The Footplate Poet's role in wartime Berwick has been brought back into sharp focus. About a dozen of Grey's works feature in Harry's book 'Berwick-on-Tweed - For King and Country' which paints a vivid picture of life in the town and district between 1914 and 1918.

It was while digging for nuggets to include in what was to become his second published work that Harry discovered Grey's powerful verses, and eventually the Borders author was able to make contact with some of the poet's descendants.

Harry explains: "The book tells of the mood of patriotism which swept through all levels of Berwick's society at the outbreak of war. There was a strong feeling of optimism too that the fighting would soon be over, but that hope faded with the ever growing casualty lists and deaths as the conflict dragged on."

'For King and Country' has many stories of how the people of the town and district coped with wartime restrictions, and is illustrated with photographs of those who served their country as well as sketches drawn to encourage local lads to join up.

The scourge of alcohol abuse in Berwick during the war, and the attempts of the authorities to combat and deal with the problem also feature in the book.

As local historian Jim Walker, from Spittal, writes in a foreword to 'King and Country': "This book does not attempt to explain or glorify war, nor does it allocate blame, but rather it records how one town, Berwick-on-Tweed, and its citizens were affected by the ghastly horrors of the 'Great War'".

Harry writes of incidents in the town which reveal the hazards and risks caused by armed soldiers mingling with the civilian population, and there are tales of the heroism of Berwick's servicemen alongside accounts of suffering as they lay wounded on the battlefield or in military hospitals. British prisoners of war describe the cruel and inhumane treatment meted out by their German captors.

For those who would like to learn more about The Footplate Poet, and at the same time enjoy a well researched work containing generous helpings of fascinating information, printed copies of the book, priced at £9.99 and/or a Kindle download version costing £5.99 are available via

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