Sunday, 9 December 2018

Timothy Corsellis

                                                Timothy John Manley  Corsellis 
                                 ( 1921-1941)

                                  Timothy Corsellis in 1938, in the Public Domain via Wikipedia 
                          Was reminded of  the work of Timothy Corsellis after finding  two Youtube clips ( linked below) of the actor Timothy Bentinck reading two Corsellis poems ' Dawn after the Raid' and 'Engine Failure'.  Also learnt that Timothy - most known as  David Archer from BBC Radio 4's drama 'The Archers'- was named after Timothy Corsellis, and his father,Henry Bentinck  was friends with Corsellis.

Born on  21st January 1921, Corsellis' father was a barrister-Douglas Corsellis - who lost an arm fighting in the Gallipoli campaign, and died in a flying accident in 1930. Attending Walmer School in Kent, Timothy Corsellis  went on to study at Winchester College.

It is extremely difficult to offer much of an opinion concerning the work of someone who died at the age of twenty. All one can say is that his work that remains shows a great range of topics. The aforementioned  'Engine Failure' concerns RAF training, 'After the Raid'  tackles the impact of an air raid on London. And Tim Bentinck's delivery is superb.  'There Is A Meeting Place in Heaven' is Christian themed. Corsellis also wrote a poem titled 'Stephen Spender' some two weeks before he died, in which he offers his impression of meeting Spender, most probably at the offices of 'Horizon' magazine in 1941.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Timothy Corsellis declined to go to university when leaving Winchester College in 1938. He started work at Wandsworth Town Hall , and registered as a Conscientious Objector in April 1939.  After the fall of Dunkirk, Corsellis asked to be removed from the list of Conscientious Objectors, and took up training with the RAF . However, Corsellis cited a conscientious objection to bombing civilian and felt unable to take up a post within Bomber Command. He received an honourable discharge from the RAF in early 1941 and worked was an Air Raid warden in London, seeing some of the most horrific sights of the Blitz.

In August 1941, Corellis joined the  as 2nd officer Air Transport Auxiliary, which effectively meant flying planes from factories to various RAF bases. On 10th October 1941 , flying from Luton to Carlisle, Coresllis plane accidentally crashed  near Dumfries, and he died instantly.

Have shamelessly drawn on an  article 'From Winchester to War: Timothy Corsellis ( 1921-1941) ,  which originally appeared on the War Poets Association website : Informed that this article was written by Helen Goethals. 
The Winchester College at War website has a different timeline- linked below. 
The Young Poets Network presents the Timothy Corsellis prize for poetry written  by those aged between 18-25 who are appraising World War 2 poets.  Of course any initiative to introduce World War 2 poetry is much welcomed,and the latest new (2018) can be found here

The poem 'What I Never Saw'  looks at the tedium of war in a most  anti-heroic fashion, showing has a large part of war can be 'waiting for something to happen'.

                       What I Never Saw (extract) 

                         What I never saw
                         Were the weary hours of waiting while the
                                                              sun rose and set,
                         The everlasting eye turned upwards to the sky,
                         Watching the weather which said,
                          Thou shalt not fly'.

                         We sat together as we sat at peace
                         Bound by no ideal of service
                         But by a common interest in pornography and
                                             a desire to outdrink one another

                            War was remote;
                          There was a little trouble in Abyssinia;
                          Some of us came from Kenya and said
                         'Why I was on the spot all the while
                          And the Italians sprayed the roadsides with
                                                                   mustard gas'

                           Theirs were the stories of war.

                           Then came the queuing, the recurrent line of
                                                                    pungent men
                           Dressed in dirt with mud eating their trouser legs,
                           The collar that is cleaner than the shirt
                           And the inevitable adjectives.

                           The papers ran out early today,
                           There was no butter for the bread at breakfast,
                           Nobody calls us at dawn
                            We never strain or sweat,
                           Nor do they notice when we come in late.

                            When I was civilian I hoped high,
                            Dreamt my future cartwheels in the sky'
                            Almost forgot to arm myself
                             Against the boredom and the inefficiency
                            The petty injustice and the everlasting grudges.
                             The sacrifice is greater than I expected

Of course there is the irony of the last line 'The sacrifice is greater than I expected' when considering Corsellis' death in a military accident.

                             "I" Always "I"

                            I passively acquiesce in the avalanche of death
                            Under my breath I lose the sincere feeling
                            That while hands are dealing in sin the soul is free.
                            No harm to me, justifying the material deed
                           With the new born seed of a higher emotion,
                           A sudden devotion to a greater thing than imperial expansion

                         "I" always "I" in this turmoil of souls;
                         God above holds millions of lives in his arms
                          Yet the word harm means only one thing to this mind
                         Help me to find an idea successive to soliptic I!
                         Let them all die; one day a bullet inscribed with
                         Shall find the same written upon my heart with shame.

                        Why in the middle of complete conflagration
                         Involving a nation, must the solipsist idea
                        Rise? To conquer fear ? To hide from a wrangling soul
                       The extinction of the whole? Give me part of God's
                       From the centre of unrest make me realise
                       That no man dies; not the souls that once spoke from
                             behind gristle eyes.
                      From 'More Poems From The Forces' edited by Kheidrych Rhys, 1941

Have added this poem simply because it's so curious. It as if Corsellis is writing a philosophy essay, trying to make sense of a being young and caught up in war. Trying to find some greater meaning wrestling with solipsism- 'the self is all that can be known to exist' and as Christian Corellis is trying to reconcile his faith with whilst caught up in a 'complete conflagration'.  I don't think that the poem has great literary merit- but as a section of war memoir it is fascinating.

Thank you to Patrick Villa of the War Poets Association for pointing out a couple of errors in the original post- hopefully now corrected. 


Winchester College Tribute                  

Timothy Bentinck  reads  Dawn After The Raid    on Youtube

Timothy Bentinck reads   Engine Failure              on Youtube

Timothy Corsellis Prize   page maintained by the National Poetry Society /Young Poets Network

Commonwealth Wargraves Commission  entry for Timothy Corsellis

War Poets Association  page on Timothy Corsellis

Further poems found by Corsellis  Interesting blog post about further poems and notebooks by Timothy Corsellis that were featured on BBC Antiques Roadshow in 2012.

A Burnt Ship blog    Companion blog to this one. Poetry & prose related to the Stuart era

World War Poetry website  Further writings by Michael Bully


A biography titled 'The Unassuming Sky, The Life and Poetry of Timothy Corsellis' by Helen Goethals was published in 2012.


  1. Wonderful and interesting author! Thanks!

  2. Thank you Joan.I am in the process of encouraging Helen Goethals, who wrote the biography on Timothy Corsellis, to read over this post to see if anything needs to be corrected or if she has further comments to make.