A UNIQUE collection of poems, pictures, letters and manuscripts, written by a former pupil of King Edward VI (KES) who died fighting in the second world war have returned to the school he loved where they will form part of a future exhibition in honour of his memory.
The large collection of Richard Spender’s work was bought by KES for £4,375 at an auction hosted by Bonhams in London earlier this month and includes several books of his poems that were published such as ‘Laughing Blood’, ‘Parachute Battalion’, a poem entitled ‘Big School’ written exclusively about KES - the same school that educated the world’s greatest playwright.
The collection also includes 17 previously unpublished poems, as well as letters to his mother and father, and poignantly, the Post Office telegram sent to them at their home address on Banbury informing them of their son’s death in action in 1943.
The collection was initially kept in storage by Spender’s brother - Jim Spender - who then passed it on to his son Michael, who was Spender’s nephew and it was he who offered the items to Bonhams.
The manuscripts were bought as a result of donations made - and the determination of - Tony Bird, Chair of the Trustees, at KES. They will be archived and later exhibited with diligent care by Richard Pearson, the archivist at KES.
Richard Spender attended KES from 1930-40, he joined as a six year-old at the prep school and left when he was 18 to fight in the second world war.
School records clearly reveal a pupil of tenacious spirit who excelled in studies and sport. He was Captain of School, gained his 1st XV and 1st IV colours, Company Sergeant-Major of the Cadet Corps, secretary of the dramatic society, secretary of the debating society, and edited the school magazine. He even managed to engrave his name in an historic jacobean table situated in the Guild Hall at KES as hundreds of other pupils have done as well.
His poetry was published in Country Life, The Observer, The Times Literary Supplement, John O’London’s, and The New York Times. Although awarded the Bracegirdle Scholarship in Modern History at St. Catherine’s Oxford, he chose to enlist instead.
“It’s one of the great “ifs” isn’t it?” said KES headmaster, Bennet Carr. “What if Richard Spender had lived? Might he have become as synonmous with literature as Dylan Thomas or JB Priestley, it’s something we will never know, but, we obviously feel a great deal of pride to now have his collection at the school and I’m sure he would be immensely pleased to learn that his work has come home,”
Spender was a platoon commander in C Company of 2 Para Battalion his commanding officer was Johnny Frost who a year later led one of the allied airborne attacks on Arnhem Bridge in Holland, made famous in the 1977 film ‘A Bridge too Far.’
Spender was killed leading his men into battle in 1943 while assaulting German positions in Tunisia as part of Opertion Torch, during the British-American invasion of French North Africa. He was 21.
Spender’s gravestone in the Imperial War Graves cemetery in Tabarka, Tunisia, is inscribed with lines from his poem, The Young Soldier.
He undoubtedly had a great deal of affection for KES where his collected works are soon to be exhibited. The affection is best summed up in a dedication he wrote which appeared at the beginning of one of his books
‘To my Mother and Father and to King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon, because their joint conspiracy gave me the happiest first twenty-one years of life that anyone could dream of having’
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