Frederick William Harvey

First World War Soldier and Poet

1888 - 1957


A Brief Biography

Frederick William Harvey, known locally as Will Harvey was born at Harpury, Gloucestershire in 1888. His father, Howard was a successful farmer and horse breeder and the family moved to a large Georgian farmhouse in Minsterworth when Will was three years old. Will was educated by a Governess until he was 9 years old when his parents sent him as a day boy to King’s School in Gloucester where he excelled at cricket and football. In 1902, however, his parents decided to send him to Rossall School in Lancashire. He became a respected pupil there for his ability to recite poetry, sing in as a pleasant baritone, and play in the first XI in both football and hockey. He returned to Minsterworth in 1905 unsure what career he wished to pursue. By this time, Will was already composing verse about his beloved Gloucestershire. His mother, Tillie hauled him off to a phrenologist to determine his future. After reading the cranial bumps on his scalp the phrenologist declared that he would be either a musician or a lawyer. That was enough for Tillie: he would study law.

In 1906 Will began his legal studies under Mr. Frank Treasure, a Gloucester solicitor. The law, however did not feed his imagination and many times he escaped his legal duties to sit by the river and follow his poetic leanings. One day, in 1908, while travelling on a Gloucester tram, Will met a young man who had been a contemporary of his at King’s School.. He had not paid him much attention then, but as they were both reading poetry on the tram they immediately fell into conversation. From then on Ivor Gurney and Will Harvey became inseparable friends. Harvey was sent to London to prepare for his legal exams and then on to Chesterfield to complete his legal training. He returned to Gloucester but had not yet completed his legal training

When war was declared in 1914, Will was keen to enlist along with his brother Eric and they were sent to fight in the trenches of France with the 5th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment. Will was a popular soldier and made major contributions of poems and prose to the Fifth Gloucester Gazette, a trench newspaper that preceded the more famous Wipers Times. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for Gallantry and became well known for his bravery as well as his writing After recall to England to receive a commission and do officer training, he returned to the trenches, but was captured in August 1916 while on a daring reconnaissance. For the rest of the war he was a prisoner of the Germans and spent time in several prisoner of war camps where he spent much of this time writing. His most famous poem ‘Ducks’ was composed at this time.

Harvey returned home at the end of the war in 1919. He married Anne Kane in 1921 and lived in Swindon to complete his legal training. He had two children, Eileen Anne (born 1922) and Patrick (born 1925) before settling in Yorkley at ‘Highview’ in 1925. He had an office in Lydney, but became bored with legal work and gave up the office to work as a defence solicitor from his home. A lot of his work was defending the interests of the foresters who came to him and he became known as the ‘poor man’s solicitor’ He would charge very little, and sometimes nothing for the legal services he provided.

In 1920 he published a memoir of his prison-camp experiences, Comrades in Captivity; and in 1921 Farewell, an acknowledgement of his intention to remove himself from the literary world. He had a brief creative union with his great friend and collaborator, Ivor Gurney. Gurney had written "After-Glow" and "To His Love" for Harvey, on hearing of his supposed death in 1916; and "Ypres-Minsterworth" as a gesture of solidarity with him in his captivity. Their reunion was cut sadly short by Gurney's mental breakdown in 1922.

Harvey's gift for oration and his versatile voice and scripting led him to become a popular broadcaster at the BBC, Bristol, where he used his popularity to promote the Forest of Dean, its people and traditions. He furthered local choirs, musicians and young authors such as Leonard Clark. He was friends with the music composer Rutland Boughton, and the local MP, Morgan Philips Price who worked with him to promote the arts and the interests of Foresters.

In later life Harvey craved the comradeship he had found in the trenches and was saddened that the new social order he had expected never appeared. His later poetry of remembrance captured those feelings, but retained the essential humour of his early work and included verse in local dialect.

He died in 1957 and was buried at Minsterworth.