Willie and Edward Barber – Poems

The Batley News had a regular column for younger newspaper readers, entitled Golden Moments – Aunt Marjorie’s Page for Juvenile Readers. Brothers Willie and Edward Barber joined Aunt Marjorie’s gang, as announced in the 21 June 1907 edition of the paper. Both attended St Mary’s school and they were contributing to the column immediately. Their submissions included childlike humour. But they also wrote poetry beyond their years. I have included some of their compositions here.

Both brothers featured in the 26 July 1907 newspaper column. These poems touched upon life, fate and the future. I have reproduced them below.

GREATEST OF ALL

“O aged man, pray, if you know,
Now answer me the truth –
Which of the gifts that the fates bestow
Is the greatest gift of youth?
Is it the might of the good right arm,
Whereby we shall make our way,
Where dangers threaten, evils harm,
Holding them still at bay?
Is it the never-failing will,
Invincible in might,
Which armed against oppression still
Shall vanquish for the right?
Or is it the heart, thou aged man –
The heart, impassioned strong –
Which shall be blest, as naught else can,
In perfect love ere long?”
The old man smiled; the listening breeze
Grew hushed on the sunlight slope;
The old man sighed: “Ah, none of these;
Youth’s greatest gift is hope.”

Your loving nephew, Edward Barber (9 years), 3 Hamburg Street, Caledonia Road, Batley

His brother wrote as follows:

DON’T STOP

I am sitting alone in my castle,
Sitting alone to spin,
While to-morrow stands on the threshold
Awaiting to come in.
Forever spinning or weaving,
In sunlight or in gloom,
The web is growing in beauty,
Stretching across the loom.
At seasons the task seems heavy,
At others I’m glad and gay,
But always the strands I handle,
Are the golden threads of to-day.
I am sitting alone in my castle,
Weaving my web of fate.
No time to loiter in folly,
For to-morrow stands at the gate.

From your loving nephew, Willie Barber (11 years), 3, Hamburg Street, Caledonia Road, Batley

The 22 November 1907 column included another poem, this time from Edward, now aged 10, as follows:

UNFINISHED STILL

A baby’s boot and a skein of wool,
Faded and soiled and soft;
Odd things, you say, and no doubt your right.
Round a seaman’s neck this stormy night,
Up in the yards aloft.
Most like it’s folly, but, mate, look here,
When first I went to sea,
A woman stood on the far-off strand,
With a wedding-ring on the small soft hand,
Which clung so close to me.
My wife, God bless her! The day before
She sat beside my foot,
And the sunlight kissed her yellow hair,
And the dainty fingers, deft and fair,
Knitted a baby’s boot.
The voyage was over; I came ashore;
What, think you, found I there?
A grave the daisies had sprinkled white;
A cottage empty and dark as night,
And this beside the chair.
The little boot, ‘twas unfinished still –
The tangled skein lay near,
But the knitter had gone away to rest,
With the babe asleep on her quiet breast,
Down in the churchyard drear.

From your loving nephew, Edward Barber, 2, Hamburgh Street, Caledonia Road, Batley

It is a haunting poem speaking of love, loss and remembrance. And quite prophetic in a way. Before the next decade was over so many families of the St Mary’s men would be similarly holding on to mementos of their loved ones taken too soon through the War. Amongst them the parents of Edward and Willie Barber. Both boys were killed in action on 1 and 23 July 1916 respectively. They were aged 18 and 20.

Willie Barber’s Headstone , Authuile Military Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts