F.W. Harvey

Rediscovered World War One novel turned into play

A lost novel by a popular World War One soldier poet has been discovered in a garage and turned into a play which is soon to be performed at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham. F.W. Harvey was best known for his poetry and came to be seen as the voice of the Gloucestershire soldier and later of the prisoner of war.

His wartime publications sold extremely well, and for a time he was much better known than now-familiar contemporaries such as Wilfred Owen, Edmund Blunden and Isaac Rosenberg.

A brown envelope found in a garage revealed what promised to be a novel by Harvey, who it was believed had only written one prose book, a memoir of his captivity in German POW camps. This exciting find was handed over by the F.W. Harvey Society to University of Exeter PhD student Grant Repshire, whose research at the Gloucestershire Archives involved cataloguing and making Harvey’s collection accessible. The family of F.W. Harvey were particularly keen to support the preservation of the papers and ensure Harvey’s legacy.

Repshire found more pages for the unpublished novel distributed among other papers in the collection that, when added to what was already identified, made the novel complete. The novel tells the fictionalised tale of Will Harvey and his journey from a rural Gloucestershire childhood to the frontline trenches of the First World War. It is a sentimental story of a young boy finding love for the first time and being separated from it. It is also a story of how war changes men forever.

Harvey's preface states that he wrote the book to encourage people to remember the war and to try to understand it; claiming that, in his words, 'until the sacrifice is understood and justified our hands are unclean'. War Romance: F.W. Harvey’s Lost Novel is being published to coincide with performances of the play Will Harvey's War at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham from 30th July to 2nd August 2014.

Whilst working on the Harvey papers, Repshire was involved in the Gloucestershire Remembers WW1 project, a goal of which was to create a community play demonstrating Gloucestershire’s role in the war. Repshire thought that Harvey’s novel might be of interest for adaptation as a play and brought it to the attention of the Everyman Theatre’s creative director and playwright Paul Milton. 

Repshire explained:“Paul wrote the script for ‘Will Harvey’s War’ and provided copies for Roger Deeks from the F.W. Harvey Society and myself to read and check for historical accuracy. We agreed that his script was very true to Harvey's style and intent.”

He added:“This adaptation will help the audience in Gloucestershire to understand the county’s own role in the war, but through the eyes of a nationally important figure. Harvey has a unique place as an artist who is not only nationally important, but who also gives special insight into the understanding of one county’s local experience, and into the much neglected experience of the prisoner of war. His novel, and its adaptation as a play touch on all these experiences.”

The Everyman Theatre’s dramatisation of Harvey’s lost novel is an epic tale of Gloucestershire, the battle of the Somme, his capture, and final attempt to escape from Germany. Will Harvey’s War involves professional actors alongside local performers and musicians, from The Cheltenham Silver Band to members of the Everyvoice choir.

Roger Deeks, Chair of the F.W. Harvey Society said:”We think the play is of national importance in that it is a play about ordinary soldiers, their aspirations and experiences. It is particularly important as it deals with the PoW experience.  It also contains some highly imaginative scenes that are used to illustrate redemption, and how good can triumph.”

Will Harvey’s War is at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham on Wednesday 30 July to Saturday 2 August, including a matinée.

There is a pre-show talk on Friday 1 August at 6.30pm by the F.W. Harvey Society about Harvey’s real war, given by Roger Deeks and Grant Repshire. Tickets are free but must be booked through the box office in advance.

University of Exeter's F.W. Harvey blog

Date: 11 July 2014

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