War Poetry

Digby Bertram Haseler

Army Rank :   Lieutenant
Regiment:   King’s Shropshire Light Infantry
Born:    30th July 1897
Died:   25th October 1978
Age:   81 years

“Digby Bertram Haseler,  was undoubtedly a talented scholar as the HCS Speech Day programme of October 1916 attests: The Bishop’s Divinity Prize, Canon Rashdall’s Greek Prize, Power Memorial Prize, First Class Honours in the Oxford Local Examinations and the Somerset Exhibition (£50) to St John’s, Cambridge.

Born at Kings Norton, Birmingham 30 July 1897, he was the youngest son of a clergyman with an older brother Lesley, a sister and also an adopted cousin Donald; all three boys eventually became clergymen. In 1902 his father was appointed Rector of the parish of Stapleton just outside Shrewsbury and Digby attended the Priory Boys School there prior to his main schooling at Hereford Cathedral School.

Whilst still at school he was already affected by the First World War and writing poetry such as ‘Bill’, written in 1916.

Bill (extract)
I’m only twenty-one an’ ’ere I’m dyin’ in the rain,
An’ curse the God as ever made this  bloody stinkin’ plain!
I’ve never even ’ad a girl (I dunna’ count that w’ore)
An’ ’ere I’m dyin’ in the rain an’ what the ’Ell’s it for?
I dunno’ why I came out ’ Gawd, what’s that I saw?
‘’Looks like three trees on top a hill...but no, they binna’ trees...
’E’s cummun down from the middle one, ’E’s kneelin’ on ’is knees...
’E’s took me up into ’Is arms... ’E’s all a-shinin’ bright. . . .
I uster ’ave a mother onct . . . it’s gettin’ very light! . . .’
An’ so ’is Maker took ’im an’ I took ’im from the fight.
So Bill ’e’s gorn, an’ ’e was all I ever ’ad for friend.
I lays awake o’nights a-thinkin’ ’ow ’e met ’is end.
’E uster fool with women an’ ’e uster drink an’ swear,
But Bill’s a better chanct nor many slackin’ over there,
An’ I wish I ’ad ’im back agen for all ’e didn’t care!

During the war he saw service with the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry in the rank of lieutenant, but on 11 November 1918 he suffered a head injury and was invalided home to hospital in Manchester. Between 1919 and 1922, following his
recovery and the end of war, he completed his degrees at St. John’s, Cambridge.
Digby was small of stature, only 5 feet 6 inches in height and was no athlete but he coxed at Cambridge for Lady Margaret Rowing Club, he recalled that this was his contribution to athleticism!

Following his education he embarked on 5 years of missionary work in Cawnpore, India, where he taught at Christ’s Church College and is described as Warden and Professor of English. In 1928 Digby returned home and entered Theological College at Westcott House, Cambridge. On 26 May 1929 he was ordained Deacon at St. Paul’s, London, and assistant curate at St John at Hackney where he remained until 1935 when he returned to Stapleton and took over the Parish from his ageing father, Rowland.

During WW2 he served with the Home Guard and was appointed Chaplain to the Highfield Army Camp at nearby Church Stretton. 1946 saw a move to be Rector of Moreton, Essex, and in 1949 another move to Brandesburton, E. Yorks where sadly his wife Phyllis died in December that year. In 1953, in order to successfully continue raising his two sons and daughter, he again moved to the parish of Holme on Spalding Moor, East Yorkshire where he died as he intended still a country parson on 25 October 1978.

Digby Haseler was an exceptional man who never lost his faith and was much loved and respected. He was modest with no big ambitions for promotion and he enjoyed his life as a country parson, although he also had success as an ‘after dinner speaker’ with constant requests to speak late into his life.

There is ample evidence of his literary capabilities and although unsuccessful commercially he never ceased writing both prose and poetry. He had published two small booklets which were clearly written whilst still at HCS and were sold at 2d and 6d respectively with profits donated to ‘The Prince of Wales’ relief fund. He also contributed poems and articles to the Cambridge University Magazine. The poem ‘Bill’, written in 1916 at Hereford Cathedral School, was one of 26 war poems printed in a hard cover book.

They say this body of ours is only earth
And dust and ashes built within the womb
For nine miraculous months before our birth
To run our race towards our certain tomb,
When the poor earth shall go back whence it came,
Dust unto dust, though the green trees remain
And the brook sings its merry song the same
Down from the hills to the meadows in the plain.
Even so, if this poor body of mine be laid
In some strange field beyond my native shore
The precious dust of which these limbs are made
Shall make that one plot England evermore.
And from my earth an English rose shall spring
And my grave be sweet with violets blossoming.

Kilworth Camp, Co. Cork, 1918”

Cantabile Girls' Choir Sing Digby's Poem 'Skylark'

In 2014, Hereford Cathedral School’s Cantabile Girls’ Choir commission Michael Neaum to set one of Digby’s poems to music. The Skylark premiered on 18 October 2014 in Hereford Cathedral at a charity concert to raise money for local military charities.

One lark sings over no man’s land.
The batteries roar on either hand,
And very angry guns are they
Now the night turns into day.

One lark sings over no man’s land.
The more they shell the more he sings!
Little bird, can you understand
All the meaning of all these things

It’s a far cry across the sea
To the folk who gave my life to me.
Praise be to God who all good planned
One lark sings over no mans land

> Listen to the Skylark by Michael Neaum - MP3 Player - Click to play

On 17 May 2015 Cantabile Girls' Choir won the Songs of Praise "Senior Choir of the Year" singing the Skylark.

Listen to Cantabile Singing the Skylark on BBC Songs of Praise Senior Choir of the Year competition (watch from 0.21mins for Cantabiles performance)


> Cantabile Girls' Choir sing Skylark in the Cathedral - Radio Interview by Andrew Easton on BBC Hereford & Worcester 18th May 2015


BBC Hereford & Worcester - Nick Haseler son of Digby interview.

The following piece was played on BBC Hereford and Worcester on 2 October 2014. Click to play  Hereford War Poetry - MP3 Player