Letters of John Jarmain

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

120 manuscript letters by poet John Jarmain to his wife Beryl with whom he regularly corresponded after being shipped to North Africa and South Italy during the Second World War from June 1942 till November 1943. Some of the letters include drafts of the poems which were later published as a collection, providing an insight into his poetry and the context which inspired it.

The poet's experience of the war includes accounts of his embarkation on the troopship at Liverpool Docks, the sea journey via Capetown to Suez in Egypt, the time spent in the Western Desert learning the desert ways and fighting and Sicily landing. Jarmain records everyday aspects of his life in the desert, from the routine in the training camps to the battlefields. Sand and flies, dust storms and blackouts are mentioned together with the stunning landscape and nature surrounding him which he admires. Numerous are the references to local birds. War context is in the background and fear too, which becomes more vivid when describing air raids.

The letters also throw light on the effects of separation on family life and the soldier's difficulty to communicate with his family in England. Jarmain's attempts to describe his war experience and feelings on paper often encounter obstacles like censorship, precarious writing conditions and slow postal services only slightly eased by lettercards and airgraphs.

Also including 5 copy letters of condoleance and one additional copy letter from John Jarmain.

Administrative / Biographical History

William John Fletcher Jarmain (1911-1944), novelist and poet, was born in Hatch End, Pinner, Middlesex and educated at Shrewsbury School and Queens' College Cambridge where he read Mathematics. After graduating in 1933 he married Eve Houghton and moved to Somerset where they had two children: Mark and Joanna. He lived in Pilton, West Pennard and Street. From 1937 Jarmain taught Mathematics, English Literature and Italian at Millfield School in Street. In 1938 he sought a divorce from Eve. Immediately after war was declared in 1939, he joined up and was commissioned in July 1940. He served throughout the Second World War as a gunnery officer with the 51st Highland Division, part of the 61st Anti-Tank Regiment Royal Artillery, during their campaigns in North Africa and Sicily. He married Beryl Butler in the spring of 1940 before being posted to Scotland where he trained until 1942. Their first daughter, Janet Susan, was born during the war. Jarmain served in North Africa with 242 Battery from August 1942 till May 1943. He fought at El Alamein, Mersa Brega, El Agheila, Homs, Sirte, Buerat, Tripoli, Medenine, Mareth, Wadi Akarit and Enfidaville. After having been promoted major, he commanded 193 Battery and trained in Algeria before the Sicily landing in July 1943. In Sicily he fought at Vizzini, Ramacca, Gerbini and Sferro hills. Jarmain returned to the UK in November 1943. After further training, he took part in the D Day landing and was killed at St Honorine la Chardonnerette, a village in Normandy, by a mortar bomb on 26 June 1944.

His published work includes Priddy Barrows, a novel published in 1944, and Poems, a collection of poems published in 1945.

Biographical information from 'Flowers in the Minefields. El Alamein to St Honorine' by James Crowden.

Arrangement

Chronological order and numbered by Jarmain.

Conditions Governing Access

Usual EUL conditions apply

Other Finding Aids

Listed.

Conditions Governing Use

Usual EUL restrictions apply

Related Material

'Flowers in the minefields : El Alamein to St. Honorine : John Jarmain - war poet : 1911-1944 : a short appraisal of his life and work by James Crowden' Ilminster: Flagon Press, 2012