David Roberts. About me – in brief, with a detailed account following.
I was born in 1942 in Lincolnshire, UK. I live with my wife, Julie, in a village just north of Brighton, Sussex.
I blog about films and TV, places to visit, walks, travel, health, books, politics, poetry, the waste of money and lives caused by successive UK governments’ aggressive attitude to some countries, etc
I run the publishing company, Saxon Books which specialises in war poetry and remembrance poetry. I promote my wife’s singing – website www.julierobertsSingerUK.com.
I have just brought out my collection of poems about love.
More about David Roberts
I was born in 1942 in Lincolnshire, UK, an intellectual and cultural desert. I lived there in the tiny fenland village of Surfleet, near Spalding, until l was almost 18. My father was a motor engineer and car dealer who owned the village garage. He gave up the motor trade and became a smallholder when I was about eleven or twelve years old. He had lapsed as a Methodist preacher before I was born. My mother was a Methodist and sent us to chapel twice every Sunday.
I had an elder brother, Adrian, 11 years older than me and an elder sister, Josene who was 9 years older than me. My sister, Ruth, was born two years after me.
I remember my childhood as a very happy time and this was in spite of my parents being unhappily married, my father’s failing business fortunes and my mother’s occasional suicidal actions.
The year I was born was in the middle of the Second World War. My earliest memory is of the sound of squadrons of bombers flying over our house at night. We had blackouts at the windows. Josene was bathing me at the time and told me they were German bombers and might bomb us but I guess now that it is more likely that they were bombers from one of the very many RAF bases in Lincolnshire flying out on a bombing mission.
From the age of nine or ten I enjoyed developing and maintaining the family vegetable garden. At different times I kept rabbits, sticklebacks, silk worms, chickens and budgerigars. I had regular jobs to do for the family. I mowed the lawns, chopped the kindling for winter and broke up the coal which was delivered in sacks in lumps sometimes almost as big as footballs. I laid the fires during the winter and was responsible for getting the fire going every morning.
I loved the holidays on my grandfather’s farm near Market Rasen – all the animals, riding on the tractors and on the top of loads of harvested wheat, helping in various ways insofar as I was able as a child. The farm was quite backward and still used horses when I first stayed there at the age of seven.
As a teenager I helped on the smallholding and for four years cleaned out the pig sties every Saturday. We had about a hundred pigs.
Me, age ten
I started at Spalding Grammar School when I was ten, the only boy not in school uniform. I was not much interested in sports but I did enjoy rugby when conditions were a bit warmer than freezing and one year I won the junior cross-country. My favourite subjects were English and art.
Teenage years – interests
I enjoyed a number of farm labouring jobs as a teenager. I built my chicken shed from recycled materials and kept chickens for a number of years.
One of my interests was cycling. When I was 13, for about a week I did a solo trip round Derbyshire and when I was 14 did a solo trip from Surfleet and round the perimeter of Greater London, roughly where today’s M25 motorway is.
The next year, when I was 15, I walked/hitch-hiked alone across Ireland from Bantry Bay to Dublin. When I was 16 I hitch-hiked around Normandy.
For a few years or so I was very interested in reading: novels, psychology, political theory, philosophy, world drama, and read Bertrand Russell, Confucius, The Koran, about Buddhism, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Malthus, J K Galbraith, Sigmund Freud, D H Lawrence, John Steinbeck, Albert Camus, James Baldwin, Kafka, Orwell, Harley Granville Barker, Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, and many others I started reading The Sunday Times which was quite a serious paper at that time and introduced me to the contemporary world beyond the village.
We didn’t have a television and during my whole life up until leaving home I had probably not seen as many as half a dozen films. I listened to popular music on the radio, plays, comedy and science fiction serials.
We didn’t have a freezer or fridge, or washing machine. We did have a telephone and a two figure phone number, Surfleet 52.
I took my A-level exams at 17 and in the period up to the exams was writing a full length play, The Last Days, about a rural dysfunctional family. This was performed by Sheffield University Dramatic Society in 1965. The only A-level I passed was English Literature.
Moving from a quiet village to live in London
In October 1960, age 17, I left home to live in London. I had a vague idea of becoming a film director and on arrival in the city I headed for Ealing where I had heard there were film studios.
I had no contacts in London, nowhere to stay, no job to go to. The Ealing job centre advised me to think more practically and sent me off for an interview with the costing department of an engineering firm. I was taken on and worked with good people at a boring job for six months before moving to the sales office of another company, Wolf Electric Tools.
I worked in the sales office for about eighteen months before being promoted. I studied advertising at evening classes.
Me, age 20
At the age of 20 I became a “technical representative” for the company which at that time was the British rival of the American Black and Decker electric tool manufacturer. My territory was Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. I had a company car!
For a time I lived with my brother and my sister-in-law, on the edge of Lincoln.
After several months I moved to Nottingham and was based there for a few years.
Back to education
I didn’t feel there was much social value in the work I was doing so in 1966 I became a student at Brighton College of Education (now University of Brighton) training to become a teacher. In 1970 I gained a B.Ed degree at the University of Sussex.
On the day I arrived at Brighton College of Education I met a young woman called Julie and 18 months later we got married. Our first home was an attic flat in Brighton (well Hove, actually, Palmeira Square) very close to the sea.
Julie and I had three wonderful children, one of whom died tragically at the age of 24.
In 1969 I wrote the words for a rock cantata, New Creation, which was performed at The Dome, a large concert hall in Brighton, the following year with music by my friend, David Fellingham.
In 1972 I wrote the words for a choral rock symphony, Chrysalis, which was also performed at Brighton Dome, again with music by David Fellingham.
I taught at Oathall Community College in Haywards Heath for 24 years. Mostly I taught English, but for quite a number of years I developed and was in charge of an integrated studies course. For many years, in addition to my normal teaching, I was in charge of the school library. – Those years were a rewarding and well-spent time.
Nuclear cruise missiles to be launched from lorries moving around Britain
During this time I was active in protests against nuclear weapons and Britain engaging in aggression overseas. I was one of the first people to write a letter of protest about the planned bringing of nuclear-armed cruise missiles to Britain. My letter appeared in The Guardian. I started an anti-nuclear group in Burgess Hill, the town where I lived and the group had very active and creative members across the counties of West Sussex and East Sussex. I spoke on local radio and many public meetings during this period.
We were contributing to a national campaign which eventually persuaded the government to reverse its decision to bring cruise missile with nuclear warheads to Britain.
NATO bombed Serbia
When I discovered that the relentless illegal bombing of Serbia including Kosovo in 1999 by NATO bombers was aimed primarily at destroying the infrastructure of Serbia I was shocked at the duplicity of our leaders, including Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. The alleged Albanian refugee crisis of this war did not begin until after the first bomb was dropped and was unbelievably brief in duration.
It was a humanly disastrous intervention, a shameful political blunder. Up until this time I had naively trusted in the good intentions of politicians but this was an awakening. Their dishonesty, amorality and often criminal thinking in matters of international relations continue to shock me. All this only possible because the media give minimum coverage and scrutiny of anything the government does under the heading “defence”.
In 2000/2001, with friends, I took part in protests against the bombing of Afghanistan which we were told was to prevent terrorism. Twenty years later the UK and US left Afghanistan. 200,000 Afghans had been killed in those twenty years. The country remained one of the poorest and most repressive in the world. Many Afghans become refugees because their country has been left in ruins.
The protesters were right. The politicians in charge were wrong.
15 February 2003 was a day of unprecedented worldwide protests against the war against Iraq. There were demonstrations in 780 cities, including 145 in America.
The destruction of Iraq
When the British Government talked, in 2002 and 2003, of attacking Iraq I was already in a frame of mind to question our leaders’ claims. In fact, on this occasion tens of millions of people around the world could see that the case for bombing Iraq was entirely phony and immoral so once again I found myself active in a local campaigning group and going on many marches locally and in London.
Writing and publishing
By 1994 I was finding the prescriptive control of the school curriculum and increasing paperwork irksome and exhausting so, I gave up teaching and started a business as a publisher, Saxon Books. My idea was to specialise in books of poetry of the First World War as that was something I had developed an interest in and and which had proved to be a very absorbing subject for my students. I had noticed that for schools the available background material to accompany first world war poems was seriously inadequate so that a proper appreciation the poems could not readily be achieved by students.
First World War poetry anthologies
It took me two years to research and put together my first anthology of First World War poetry which I called, Minds at War – Poetry and Experience of the First World War. A great deal of background material was interspersed amongst the poems, including poets’ letters, biographical notes, historical notes, statements in the First World War media and by politicians of the time. This book has proved very popular and remains one of the largest and one of the most informative anthologies of First World War poetry. It has sold around the world and been reprinted many times.
Following the success of Minds at War I produced a shorter version of this book for use in schools. This was called Out in the Dark, Poetry of the First World War in Context and with Basic Notes. This has also proved very popular and been reprinted many times.
Studying the EU
I spent two years studying the European Union which seemed to me to be very important but not well understood. What was its significance for ordinary people like me? The result of my studies was a 600 page book, The European Union and You, published in 2006. Unfortunately it sold only 45 copies so it was not a lucrative two years work.
Popular war poetry websites
I ran a website about war poetry, www.warpoetry.co.uk from 1999 onwards which became quite popular with about three quarters of a million visitors per year. Not long after I started the website many soldiers who had fought in modern wars such as Vietnam, the Falklands, Kosovo and later Afghanistan and Iraq started sending me poems about their experiences. I was pleased to be able to publish many of these poems on the website.
Worldwide remembrance of the sacrifice of soldiers’ lives
Each November there was a surge in the numbers of people visiting the website. Most of these were interested in finding poems for Remembrance events. This interest encouraged me to research remembrance poetry and include some of the modern poems I’d been sent in a book, Remembrance Poems and Readings – for remembrance events and reflection on matters of war and peace.
warpoetry.co.uk website hacked
A few years ago the website was hacked and effectively destroyed with thousands of files loaded into the site. I recreated it with a slightly modified name but unfortunately the hundreds of links to it which I had acquired over the years did not transfer to my new site. However, this replacement site is now slowly rebuilding support. www.warpoetry.uk
Blogs and poems
I started other websites/blogsites about the issues of war and peace, but more recently have concentrated on on my new blog www.davidrobertsblog.com in which I write about a much wider range of my interests.
I have written a number of poems about and against war. Most of these were either published in a small collection of poems called Kosovo War Poetry or were published on my war poetry website.
My poems set to music
Two of my poems, Infinity and Making or Breaking, have been set to music by Norwegian classical composer, Kim André Arnesen. They were performed and recorded by an American choir and are available on a Naxos CD entitled Infinity. The poem Infinity first appeared in the cantata, New Creation in an earlier form. The treatment of the poem by the two composers is strikingly different. The Arnesen version is scored for choir and solo saxophone and is quite ethereal in nature. The music for this is available from Santa Barbara Music Publishing, Inc. https://sbmp.com
Poems on YouTube
I produced a video poem about the Egyptian Revolution which is posted on YouTube. I could foresee that the euphoria expressed on the streets of Cairo would give way to bitter disappointment.
What you hear on the video may sound an exaggeration of how people felt when Mubarak was overthrown, but if you continue listening after my poem you will hear BBC comments and the comments of Egyptians in the street at the time. – I hope I conveyed my sense of disbelief in their dreams for the future because what has happened since has been tragic. They cheered before the new actors had arrived on stage and that was too soon.
Wilfred Owen’s poem, Dulce et Decorum Est
My reading of Wilfred Owen’s poem, Dulce et Decorum Est (also on YouTube) is proving quite popular (over 100,000 views) – even though I recorded it in a rush and didn’t read it very well in my opinion.
My own poems
I have written a few more poems mainly on the themes of love and death and these may see the light of day in due course.
Poetry about love – another of my interests
March 2023 update. I put together quite a large collection of my poems about love and it is now published. How could you know? Poems about love. Available from Amazon. I hope many people will find it a refreshing, thought-provoking and enjoyable read. If you buy or download a copy I’d appreciate you rating the book on the Amazon website.
For many years I have been interested in international relations and in particular concerned with matters of war and peace, and the reform of the United Nations. For two years I was a member of the Executive Committee of Action for UN Renewal.
I have spoken on international relations at conferences and to interested groups including The Young Fabians, London, Oxford University United Nations Association, and the World Social Forum in London. I have occasionally been interviewed on radio and television.
Lessons from Iraq, the UN must be Reformed (2004) is a pamphlet, written for Action for UN Renewal. The pamphlet is a critique of the Iraq war, the American plans to exploit Iraq, the failures of the United Nations in preventing the war and the exploitation of Iraq. It contains suggestions for reform of the UN. Only available at talks given by me.
YouTube in the pipeline
In addition to the poems I have other videos which I hope to prepare for YouTube eventually, including my walk in The Valley of the Dead in Crete, My 28 Years-old Electric Lawn Mower and Erecting a Folding Caravan.
With Julie in Crete, October 2008
These days (Autumn 2021) – What I do
I still live with my wife, Julie, and put in a little time running Saxon Books, and websites – the War Poetry website, www.warpoetry.uk , www.julierobertsSingerUK.com, and www.davidrobertsblog.com . Currently rememberingwar.com still exists but I can’t actually find the time to keep up with everything. I have twitter and facebook accounts. @RobsDave
In view of my cardiac scare and implanted pacemaker I jog a mile and a half every other day and do an exercise routine the days when I am not out for a jog. I’m a member of a U3A French conversation group and hope to spend more time in France. For many years we spent a month in France in the summer in our caravan. This year, because of covid restrictions, we have spent time in Dorset and The Peak District of Derbyshire instead of going abroad.
Until covid came along I spent a good deal of time organising and promoting concerts showcasing Julie’s singing with pianist, Michael Hinton.
The uncertainties created by corona virus made the planning of concerts very difficult. I organised concerts in the spring, summer and autumn of 2020 only to have them cancelled by renewed lockdowns. However, the success of two brilliant, sold-out concerts, organised by The Cuckfield Music Festival and the NSPCC charity this summer (2021) as the last lockdown was lifted, have encouraged me to think of planning more concerts in 2022 – unless the fluctuating public attitude to public gatherings turns against us again.
Update 2023. Julie, with bass player, Terry Pack, did a sold out concert in Ditchling Village Hall for The British Heart Foundation. Great acclaim. The concert was almost cancelled at the last moment because Julie’s wonderful accompanist tested positive for covid on the morning of the concert. Luckily we were able to secure Mike Hatchard to stand in for Michael Hinton. He did a brilliant job with no preparation! Julie and Michael Hinton did two other concerts in 2022 in the village of Hurstpierpoint and made an appearance in Brighton Fringe Festival in Herbie Flowers’ Jazz Breakfast.
Other interests (2021)
Other interests include economics, psychology, the organisation of societies, justice for criminals who start wars of aggression, banning nuclear weapons, justice for Palestinians, films, art, music, writing occasional lyrics and poems, gardening, swimming, walking, lazing in the sun, and dining with friends and family, travel (travelling mainly in Europe with Julie, and sometimes friends). In recent years (up to 2021) we have travelled a lot with a caravan, first a folding caravan and for the last 5 years a conventional caravan. My recent problems with my heart 2019 (arrhythmia and an ICD pacemaker) and cancer (prostate cancer diagnosed December 2016) have given me a renewed interest in matters of health. Some of these matters are topics in my davidrobertsblog.
David Roberts – My Books
A new kind of anthology of poems of the First World War. Little is published of poetry of the First World War by non-UK writers and few of the thousands of paintings of the First World War are known to the general public. I was invited by the publisher, The Red Horse Press, to compile a book revealing something of what we had all been missing.
The result was We Are The Dead, Poems and Paintings of the Great War, 1914-1918. Published (2012) The poetry is by British, Irish, Australian, Canadian, French and German poets. On almost every page are war paintings by contemporary war artists of the various nations. A great many of these paintings have been hidden in museum vaults for over 90 years, unseen by the general public. It’s an impressive, superbly illustrated and printed, large-format book.
A few copies are left on Amazon where there are some very enthusiastic reviews. I have only my personal copy.
I compiled two very successful anthologies of poetry of the First World War: Minds at War, The Poetry and Experience of the First World War (1996) and Out in the Dark, Poetry of the First World War, in Context and with Basic Notes (1998). Both have been reprinted many times. They are widely used in libraries, schools, colleges and universities in Britain, America and Canada.
Minds at War, Poetry and Experience of the First World War is one of the largest collections of poetry of WW1 – and with extensive background information. Published by Saxon Books. 400 pages. Paperback. 12th printing. £15-99.
Out in the Dark, Poetry of the First World War was specially prepared for students with additional notes. Published by Saxon Books. 190 Pages. Paperback. 11th printing. £10-99.
Falklands War Poetry. The experience of soldiers and sailors from Great Britain and Argentina, plus wives and Falkland Islanders. The suffering of those involved in the First World War has been well documented while the suffering of servicemen and their families, alive today, has been largely overlooked. There are no Wilfred Owens in this book but the experiences of that brief but intense war of 1982 are vividly expressed and deserve wider attention. Published by Saxon Books. 140 pages. Hardback. £14-99
I edited a volume of poetry by British, Argentine and Falkland Islands writers, Falklands War Poetry (2012). Saxon Books. A fascinating and important record of the battle for the Falkland Islands as experienced by British and Argentine servicemen and Falkland Islanders. Heroism, sacrifice, unprovoked violence, suffering, psychological trauma and impressive war poetry.
Kosovo War Poetry is a collection of poems about the 1999 NATO bombing of Kosovo which is often presented by politicians as a “successful” war. It was, in fact, an immensely damaging war carried out in contravention of international law. The introduction and poems give some insight into what happened.
The poems in Kosovo War Poetry are personal reactions to the NATO bombing campaign against Kosovo and the rest of Serbia. It was published by Saxon Books in 2000.
Three poems from this collection have become quite well known, The Pilot’s Testament, Making or Breaking (which has been set to music by Norwegian composer, Kim Andre Arnesen, and the revised version of There will be no peace.
Published by Saxon Books. Small format paperback. 60 pages. £4-99.
Cover image is part of a war memorial sculpture in the British National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, Staffordshire, UK.
I discovered, from the huge upsurge in visits to the modern poems on my warpoetry website in early November each year, that there was a big demand for poems suitable for remembrance events. That’s why I compiled this collection of poems, “thoughts about war and peace” and readings.
I believe Remembrance Poems and Readings -will be invaluable for all who are preparing remembrance and memorial events or reflecting on matters of war and peace.
Remembrance Poems and Readings contains:
Heartfelt poems, prayers, declarations, hymns – not just for remembrance and memorial gatherings but for funerals and occasions of personal loss.
Thoughts on the great issues of life and death, war and peace by such people as Abraham Lincoln, General Eisenhower, William Thackeray, John Galsworthy, John Milton, Sigmund Freud and the Greek statesman and general – Pericles..
There are some moving poems by British and American servicemen.
BOOK ON THE EU (2006)
600 pages. Much of it now out of date, and it is now out of print.
I published two important volumes of French poetry of The First World War. They were translated into English by Ian Higgins.
Except for Lessons from Iraq and my book on the EU all these books can be found on Amazon or purchased through any bookseller. Clicking on the Minds at War Amazon link will take you to the right area of Amazon from where you can can carry out further searches.
My hopes for this blog
I hope that many people will find this blog useful, enriching, thought-provoking.
Some of the big issues I write about seem to me to be of huge importance but too often kept quiet or downplayed by the media and politicians so I hope that younger people who are socially and politically aware, will take up the causes.
I hope eventually that readers will leave comments and join me on facebook and twitter.
You can contact me by clicking on one of the contact buttons at the top or bottom of this, and other pages. All thoughtful comments will be welcomed.