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David Jones: war poet and genius: by Mike Guilfoyle

It is humbling to think that this 'modern genius' at once painter, poet, essayist, and engraver' lies almost unknown in the Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries(close to the graves of Ernest Dowson & Fernando Del Marmol) even though David Jones is critically acclaimed as one of the five greatest modern writers along with Eliot, Joyce, Woolf and Becket.

David Jones (1895-1974) was born & raised in Howson road in Brockley. At the age of fourteen, he began studying at the Camberwell School of Arts & Crafts(1909-1914) and after being demobilised at the Westminster school of Art. In January 1915 he enlisted as a private in the newly formed 15th London Welsh battalion of the 23rd Foot, Royal Welsh Fusiliers and served at the front until March 1918. He was injured during an attack on Mametz Wood(10-11th July 1916) and subsequently saw action on the Ypres salient at Passchendaele. Suffering from trench foot he was evacuated and spent the rest of the war in Ireland.

He entered the Catholic church in 1921 and became close friends with the sculptor, Eric Gill, exhibiting with the Seven & Five Society. In 1932 he suffered the first of two nervous breakdowns caused partly by his war experience. On reading , All Quiet on the Western Front' he was heard to say, 'Bugger it, I can do better than that' and in 1937 his first epic poem. 'In Parenthesis' (with an introduction by T.S.Eliot) based on his experiences as a private infantryman in the trenches was published. It was celebrated as one of the masterpieces of modern literature, by amongst others W. B. Yates. Described by Thomas Dilworth( David Jones Scholar) as the ' greatest literary work in English on war.'


He later wrote another epic length work, The Anathemata(1952) which W.H. Auden regarded as probably the best long poem in English of the twentieth century. Jones resumed painting and enjoyed a long friendship with the Art Historian, Kenneth Clark, who referred to Jones as 'a remarkable genius'.

He lived for the rest of his life in Harrow , producing lettered inscriptions and collections of more accessible essays on art and culture. He died in 1974 and is buried with his parents in the cemetery. A memorial stone by the celebrated sculptor John Skleton was unveiled in 1975 on the grave. In 1985 David Jones was among sixteen Great war Poets commemorated on a slate stone at Westminster Abbey. He deserves wider recognition(locally and nationally) and readers who are interested can find out more information about his life & works from among other sources that of the David Jones Society