SOMETIMES just a chance enquiry can lead to unexpected discoveries.

And that was the case for husband and wife writers Neil Brinded and Laurie Holmes who together had written a book about the former pupils of Colchester's Royal Grammar School tragically killed in the First World War.

The historic school has a wealth of history which was recently featured in a book by former pupil Trevor Hearn and Neil himself is particularly familiar with it since he has only recently retired after being head of classics there for a number of years.

Now they are hoping to get the word out to the people of Colchester after discovering poet Edgell Rickword's work.

Neil explains : "Laurie and I re-discovered Edgell Rickword when she received, out of the blue, a request from a lady living in Australia for research on ancestor of hers.

"I think it was her great-uncle, who had attended CRGS.

"His name was Gerald Rickword and he was of interest in his own right as he was a local historian who contributed to books on Colchester and also wrote articles for local newspapers.

"He also served in the First World War and did a number of cartoons of life in the trenches."


It was while researching Gerald they came across his younger brother Edgell, who was also a pupil at the grammar school, served with distinction in the Great War and was a war poet and influential literary and political figure.

Neil explains they were sad to have not been able to include Edgell in their book, published just a few weeks before the e-mail but are concerned he may have been forgotten in Colchester.

The couple wanted to speak out about him as the memory of the centenary of the end of the war, marked in November, is still fresh in people's minds.

They discovered Edgell, whose first name was actually John, was born in 1898 and was the youngest of the three sons of George Rickword, Colchester's first Borough Librarian.

The family lived at 38 Wellesley Road and all the brothers, like their father, went on to the attend CRGS.


Neil says : "He was an outstanding student who excelled academically and took an active role in virtually every aspect of school life: from drama and debating, to football, cricket and shooting, and the Cadet Corps, where he showed leadership ability.

"Like many young men of his generation, he enlisted in the army immediately after leaving school, joining the Artists Rifles in September 1916. "In the following year he became a Second-Lieutenant in the 5th Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment."

Having been wounded twice on the Western Front, in October 1918, Edgell volunteered to swim across the haute Deule Canal in order to reconnoitre enemy positions and this information allowed his regiment to take a number of villages in the area as part of the advance which would soon force the German Army to retreat.

He was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery, having been invalided out of the Army, but in January 1919 he developed septicaemia and his left eye had to be removed.

Neil adds : "His experiences at the Front had led him to question the purpose of the war and he later wrote ‘It was not the suffering and slaughter in themselves that were unbearable, it was the absence of any conviction that they were necessary, that they were leading to a better organisation of society.’"


He went on to attend Pembroke College, Oxford, where he met several other soldier-poets, including Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon, who Neil explains was to be a major influence on his poetic style.

He left Oxford after just four terms, disillusioned with his course in French Literature as it omitted the Symbolist poets, such as Rimbaud, in whom he was most interested.

His first book of verse, Behind the Eyes, was published in 1921 and featured six war-poems, including Winter Warfare and Trench Poets, which all often appear in anthologies of First World War poetry.

Neil says Edgell worked as a reviewer for the new Statesman and Times Literary Supplement during the 1920s and published a book, to critical acclaim about Rimbaud.

In 1925 he founded The Calendar of Modern Letters which published new writers such as EM Forster, Aldous Huxley, DH Lawrence and Bertrand Russell.

Throughout his life, and along with with experiences of war and the great Depression, he became increasingly radicalised, says Neil.

"In 1934 he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain.

"In the same year he co-founded and became the editor of Left Review, and from 1944 to 1947 he was editor of Our Time.

"He was now a significant influence on the development of radical thought in Britain."

Edgell Rickword’s involvement in radical politics and literary criticism continued throughout the post-war years, though he left the CPGB in 1956 following the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian uprising.

Eventually he lost his sight almost completely, but continued working on his memoirs up to his death in March 1982.

it is still possible to hear him reading some of his poems Neil says he was also recorded reading some of his poems which can be heard at