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Rocky Acres: Robert Graves, Harlech and the Great War

From Planet 215

Mary-Ann Constantine explores the importance of the hills at Harlech to Robert Graves’s poetic imagination and emotional survival.

The facts, then, briefly. That in August 1914, shortly after the outbreak of war, Robert von Ranke Graves, of Irish and German descent, joined the Royal Welch Fuseliers at Wrexham. That he was nineteen, and had just finished at Charterhouse, where he had been deeply unhappy. That after six months as a training officer near Liverpool, he went out to the trenches and saw action at Cuinchy and Cambrin. That in July 1916, a few days after the slaughter at Mametz Wood, he led his company on a night attack near Bazentin, and was seriously wounded by a fragment of a shell which went through his shoulder and tore into a lung; that he was left for dead, indeed officially reported dead, on his twenty-first birthday. That he recovered, and returned to the front, but was eventually invalided out, working as an instructor in training camps to the end of the war. That ten difficult years later, in 1929, he published the extraordinary Goodbye To All That, slamming the door on the war and the dysfunctional, class-ridden society that produced it, and left Britain for good.

In the spaces between these episodes of hell was Eden. In 1898, when Graves was a small child, his mother Amy had bought land just north of Harlech and begun to build Erinfa, the big family house which still looks out across the sea towards Ireland, the home of his father Alfred Perceval Graves, Celtic scholar and poet. The family spent increasing amounts of time there, settling permanently after the war. During the misery of the Charterhouse years those visits to Harlech were pure release. It was from Harlech that Graves joined up, and to Harlech that he frequently returned during leave, most notably with Siegfried Sassoon when both were recuperating from wounds in the late summer of 1916…



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