A Very English Hero
The Making of Frank Thompson
Peter J. Conradi
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Gentle, modest and handsome, a fine poet, proficient in nine languages, eccentric Englishman Frank Thompson made an unlikely soldier. The elder of two sons of a formidable family of writers (his brother would become the radical historian E. P. Thompson), lover of Iris Murdoch, he was an intellectual idealist, a rare combination of brilliant mind and enormous heart.
Despite his mother's best efforts, and the Communist Party line (Iris had herself recruited him), in September 1939 Frank enlisted. Serving first with the Royal Artillery, then Phantom, finally moving to SOE to escape the 'long littleness of life', he documented his wartime experiences. He wrote prodigiously, letters, diaries and poetry, the best of which, the much anthologised 'An Epitaph for my Friends' - for many the landmark poem of the Second World War - gives a taste of what English poetry may have lost when in June 1944, aged twenty-three, Frank was captured, tortured and executed in Litakovo, Bulgaria; a sense of his ability to touch the reader, to speak for his generation, to bear witness to their lost youth. A dictionary he was carrying once stopped an enemy bullet and saved his life; a volume of the great Roman poet Catullus was found on him after his death: Frank fought a 'poet's war'.
Frank's letters still read fresh and alive today, his journals retain a startling intimacy - and it's from these that Peter J. Conradi brings vividly to life a brilliantly attractive and courageous personality, a soldier-poet or scholar-soldier of principle and integrity: a very English hero from a very different era.