Easter Monday falls on April 9 this year. Easter Monday also fell on April 9 in 1917. Edward Thomas was killed that day at the Battle of Arras.
In her memoirs, his friend Eleanor Farjeon writes:
When Helen [Thomas] came to know Edward's Captain, Franklin Lushington, he told her that as Edward stood by his dugout lighting his pipe all the Germans had retreated, but a last shell they sent over passed so close to him that the blast of air stopped his heart. 'He told me,' Helen writes, 'there was no wound and his beloved body was not injured. This was borne out by the fact that when the contents of his pockets were returned to me -- a bundle of letters, a note-book and the Shakespeare Sonnets I had given him, they were all strangely creased as though subject to some terrible pressure, most strange to see. There was no wound or disfigurement at all. He just died standing there in the early morning after the battle.' Captain Lushington told Helen that Edward could have had a job 'back and safe, but he chose the dangerous front observation post.'
Eleanor Farjeon, Edward Thomas: The Last Four Years (Oxford University Press 1958), page 263.
Cardiff University Library Archive
On April 10, 1917, Captain Lushington wrote this in a letter to Helen Thomas:
I cannot express to you adequately in words how deep our sympathy is for you and your children in your great loss. These things go too deep for mere words. We, officers and men, all mourn our own loss. Your husband was very greatly loved in this battery, and his going has been a personal loss to each of us. He was rather older than most of the officers and we all looked up to him as the kind of father of our happy family.
He was always the same, quietly cheerful, and ready to do any job that was going with the same steadfast unassuming spirit. The day before his death we were rather heavily shelled and he had a very narrow shave. But he went about his work quite quietly and ordinarily as if nothing was happening. I wish I could convey to you the picture of him, a picture we had all learnt to love, of the old clay pipe, gum boots, oilskin coat, and steel helmet.
. . . . .
We buried him in a little military cemetery a few hundred yards from the battery: the exact spot will be notified to you by the parson. As we stood by his grave the sun came and the guns round seemed to stop firing for a short time. This typified to me what stood out most in your husband's character -- the spirit of quiet, sunny, unassuming cheerfulness.
Ibid, pages 263-264.
Many poems have been written in memory of Edward Thomas. My favorite is by his friend Walter de la Mare. As I have noted before, the poem is remarkable in conveying (in eight short lines) the pain of the loss suffered by those who knew and loved Thomas, as well as something essential about Thomas himself.
To E. T.: 1917
You sleep too well -- too far away,
For sorrowing word to soothe or wound;
Your very quiet seems to say
How longed-for a peace you have found.
Else, had not death so lured you on,
You would have grieved -- 'twixt joy and fear --
To know how my small loving son
Had wept for you, my dear.
Walter de la Mare, Motley and Other Poems (1918).