First World War Poetry Digital Archive

Rupert Brooke: Obituary

Rupert Brooke is dead. A telegram from the Admiral at Lemnos tells us that this life has closed at the moment when it seemed to have reached its springtime. A voice had become audible, a note had been struck, more true, more thrilling, more able to do justice to the nobility of our youth in arms engaged in this present war, than any other more able to express their thoughts of self-surrender, and with a power to carry comfort to those who watch them so intently from afar. The voice has been swiftly stilled. Only the echoes and the memory remain; but they will linger.

During the last few months of his life, months of preparation in gallant comradeship and open air, the poet-soldier told with all the simple force of genius the sorrow of youth about to die, and the sure triumphant consolations of a sincere and valiant spirit. He expected to die: he was willing to die for the dear England whose beauty and majesty he knew: and he advanced towards the brink in perfect serenity, with absolute conviction of the rightness of his country's cause and a heart devoid of hate for fellow-men.

The thoughts to which he gave expression in the very few incomparable war sonnets which he has left behind will be shared by many thousands of young men moving resolutely and blithely forward in this, the hardest, the cruelest, and the least-rewarded of all the wars that men have fought. They are a whole history and revelation of Rupert Brooke himself. Joyous, fearless, versatile, deeply instructed, with classic symmetry of mind and body, ruled by high undoubting purpose, he was all that one would wish England's noblest sons to be in the days when no sacrifice but the most precious is acceptable, and the most precious is that which is most freely proffered.

Winston Churchill, obituary note in The Times (26 April 1915).


  1. The obituary of Rupert Brooke appeared on page 5 of the Monday, April 26, 1915, edition of The Times: "Death of Mr. Rupert Brooke. Sunstroke at Lemnos." The obituary continued: "W.S.C." writes: — "Rupert Brooke is dead&hellip [his] life has closed at the moment when it seemed to have reached its springtime." W.S.C. was, of course, Winston Spencer Churchill. Churchill's portion of the obituary (a eulogy) takes up a little less than half of the total, and is sandwiched between the copy writer's general announcement and later biographical sketch of Brooke. Although, on the surface, it is a tribute to a promising young poet, it's impossible not to sense in Churchill's eulogy an underlying political agenda — especially when considered in the historical context of the Dardanelles campaign which Churchill had helped to conceive and to which he had sent Brooke as part of his own Royal Naval Division (RND).

    In September 1914, Churchill offered Brooke a commission in the RND, and within a month sublieutenant Brooke participated in the evacuation of Antwerp. Back in England over the Christmas holidays, Brooke wrote his famous "war sonnets." In February, he joined the Division's Hood Battalion in preparation for the landings at Gallipoli. Passing through Egypt on his way to Gallipoli, Brooke suffered sunstroke and dysentery. Off Lemnos he contracted blood poisoning from an insect bite on his lip and died two days before the landings, on April 23rd — the birthday of Shakespeare and traditional observance of St. George's Day. Churchill cabled his brother John "endeavour if your duties allow, to attend Rupert Brooke's funeral on my behalf. We shall not see his like again."
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  2. With the Gallipoli landings taking place at that very moment, Churchill was also "comfort[ing] "those who watch[ed] so intently from afar" For one, Prime Minister Asquith whose son Arthur (Oc) was part of the RND. Churchill ends this paragraph: "The voice has been swiftly stilled. Only the echoes and the memory remain; but they will linger." Ironically, Churchill's eulogy would help establish and reinforce the Rupert Brooke myth.
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  3. Churchill is here referring particularly to Brooke's sonnet V, "The Soldier" (the same sonnet that Dean Inge had read at the pulpit of St. Paul's on Easter Sunday).
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  4. While Churchill's eulogy helped further the Brooke mystique, his superlatives worked both ways and likewise helped doom Brooke's reputation by overpraising his "war sonnets" and overvaluing his (supposed) selfless example and sacrifice.
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  5. The Dardanelles campaign finally succumbed to inter-service quarreling and Turkish tenacity, and after a quarter-million casualties, the Allies evacuated the Gallipoli beaches in October of 1915. Churchill tendered his resignation on November 11, 1915 (Armistice Day minus three years). Perhaps the political connection in Churchill's eulogy of Rupert Brooke is merely coincidence&hellip just as it's coincidence that a column appealing for more recruits follows immediately after it.
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Notes by:

English Literature Librarian
Harold B. Lee Library
Brigham Young University