Born Eveline Jessie Dobell in Gloucestershire, England, poet Eva Dobell was the daughter of wine merchant and local historian Clarence Mason Dobell and the niece of Victorian poet Sydney Dobell.
She volunteered to join the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) as a nurse in World War I with other women of note such as Enid Algerine Bagnold who later wrote “National Velvet” and Vera Brittain, British author of the best-selling 1933 memoir “Testament of Youth” which recounted her experiences during World War I. The VAD referred to a voluntary unit providing field nursing services, mainly in hospitals, in the United Kingdom and various other countries in the British Empire.
Eva Dobell was deeply distressed by the suffering and loss of life she observed during her work with the VAD during the war. Her experiences moved her to take part in the morale-boosting work of writing to prisoners of war and prompted her to write poetry about, among other things, wounded and maimed soldiers.
The major part of her life was later spent in the English Cotswolds, but she also travelled extensively to Europe and North Africa. She helped and encouraged young poets, and campaigned for the protection of both wildlife and the English countryside.
Her poem “Night Duty” is cited as one of many poems by female war-poets and nurses that provide access to an experience rarely shared by male poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.
The pain and laughter of the day are done
So strangely hushed and still the long ward seems,
Only the Sister’s candle softly beams.
Clear from the church near by the clock strikes ’one’;
And all are wrapt away in secret sleep and dreams.
Here one cries sudden on a sobbing breath,
Gripped in the clutch of some incarnate fear:
What terror through the darkness draweth near?
What memory of carnage and of death?
What vanished scenes of dread to his closed eyes appear?
And one laughs out with an exultant joy.
An athlete he — Maybe his young limbs strain
In some remembered game, and not in vain
To win his side the goal — Poor crippled boy,
Who in the waking world will never run again.
One murmurs soft and low a woman’s name;
And here a vet’ran soldier calm and still
As sculptured marble sleeps, and roams at will
Through eastern lands where sunbeams scorch like flame,
By rich bazaar and town, and wood-wrapt snow-crowned hill.
Through the wide open window on great star,
Swinging her lamp above the pear-tree high,
Looks in upon these dreaming forms that lie
So near in body, yet in soul so far
As those bright worlds thick strewn ion that vast depth of sky.
Eva Dobell (January 30, 1876 – September 3, 1963)
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