In this week’s Dispatches from the Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle considers Drummond Allison, a poet who died in the Second World War
‘Lost Generation’. That was the name Gertrude Stein gave to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and their contemporaries, men who’d lived through the Great War. Of course, many writers were lost in the war themselves, killed in action while still in their twenties (or younger): Isaac Rosenberg, Charles Hamilton Sorley, Wilfred Owen. But the Second World War also produced its own lost generation: born just after the First World War and destined to perish in the Second. Of that generation, it would be those poets who survived the Second World War, or who were excused active service for health reasons, who would go on to achieve wider notice: Charles Causley, Richard Wilbur, and, most of all, Philip Larkin. Yet although Sidney Keyes and Alun Lewis died before, perhaps, their full potential could be realised, Keith Douglas, as I’ve previously observed, was a great poet even by the time he died aged 24 during the D-Day campaign. Drummond Allison was also a very accomplished poet by the time he died, aged just 22, while fighting on the Garigliano. Yet next to Allison’s, Douglas’s small measure of fame looks positively stratospheric.