Thursday, 6 October 2016

For National Poetry Day

A poem from Dr Isabella Stenhouse's archive, saved from her time in Malta as one of the first women to serve as a doctor with the British Army:


She will wish her pure strings to be mute—
Heal us, alone, by thy voice!
We are weak—with an arm, or a foot,
‘Tented,’ or bound, to no choice;
Ours are the bandaged eyes,
A-search for the Singer’s face—
Denials, through darkness, arise,
Pierce it with sound, for a space:
O Singer of Life—so, of pain!
Sing ‘Vita’––thy ‘Vita’––again and again

Ah! those were old words, that we’ve read—
‘O Sempre Amore’—that stirred;
And Love’s for us lads, sick in bed,
And Love is the wounded’s last word;
And a warmth drew in from the street,
And we slipped to an English June,
And England and Italy meet,
And touch the same chord of Love’s tune:
O Singer of Love—lift from pain!
Sing thy ‘Sempre Amore’—again and again!

Then he sank to an under key—
‘O Pena’!—O Pain! is it not?
And we fell to a blind reverie—
For we’ve had our pain, God wot!
We were back in the fever and ache,
Or peered in a pal’s dead face,
Or were feeling the lift and the shake,
And the moan in us down to the Base;
O Singer—though sweetest—of pain!
Sing ‘Pena’—thy ‘Pena’—again and again

Then he wrought us—passionate—loud—
‘Guerra, ah Guerra’!—is it War?
For our slack frames stiffened them proud,
And the men, we were once, we saw—
Over and on to a Leader’s sign,
Tightening their teeth on wild breath,
Spilling their blood like the reddest wine,
While they staked for winning or death!—
O Singer of madness and pain!
Sing ‘Guerra’—’thy Guerra’—again and again!

The ward empties to shuffle and drill—
All but two bedridden rows;
But he’s made eyes,—the dryest—to fill,
He’s breathed all our souls to new glows;
And a pale face, still in a trance—
Is away to the glory of things;
And the crutches tap tap to a prance;
While a voice to the hollowness clings—
O Vita dolce, si sovente amara!
O Sempre Amore—Pena e Guerra!—

Valletta, May 10th, 1917 

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Family Tree Magazine's review of The Mystery of Isabella and the String of Beads

Thanks to Karen Clare of Family Tree Magazine for this new review, printed in the magazine last month:

This delightful memoir-cum-family history mystery was borne out of a collection of memorabilia inherited from the author's adored Scottish grandmother who was – unusually for a woman in WW1 – a doctor.
As well as photos and surgical instruments there is a string of glass beads, which apparently came from a grateful German PoW. And so the author embarks on an ancestral road trip to piece together Isabella's story and discover the origin of the beads. Her investigation takes her from Isabella's grand Leith home to France, Malta and Alexandria in Egypt, via an appearance on the BBC's Antiques Roadshow. The narrative is exciting, while the brief fleets of imagination will spark recognition in many family historians, as the author not only retraces Isabella's steps but breathes new life into her remarkable story.
Buy the book.