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Newsletter - Midsummer 2014


Wednesday 9 July 2014

Several Norwich DFAS members had booked to attend a study day “It will all be over by Christmas” The Great War revisited in Art, Music and Poetry.

We arrived at the grand Culford Hall and Estate, an eighteenth century mansion set within 480 acres of a beautiful Grade I listed Repton designed parkland. It has been a co-educational boarding and day school since 1972. The study day was intended to show the impact of WWI on several artists, musicians and poets.

In the morning session, Juliet Heslewood introduced us to Lady Butler (1846-1933) who painted battle scenes but “never painted for the glory of war but to portray its pathos and heroism”. Juliet moved on to discuss Paul Nash (1889-1946), a nature lover who was conscripted in 1916 and who felt it was his duty to give the truth about the horrors of war. In some of his later pictures, Nash moved from war scenes to provide a glimmer of hope for future regeneration post war, hinting at the creation of a new world. The final artist discussed in this session was Otto Dix, a volunteer soldier. He painted trenches in the same vein as Paul Nash sketching first and then painting later. His style was influenced by cubism and futurism and, despite being Professor of painting in Dresden, the Nazis found his work degenerate and he was expelled from his post. Dix's paintings show the disasters of war, brutal images such as his work the War Cripples. His depictions of mechanised warfare and post-war Berlin continue to shape our impressions of the Great War and German society.

The second speaker, Tim Porter introduced us to the music of Gurney, Holst, Vaughan Williams and John Foulds. Through playing extracts of these composers' music and referring to some literary texts, Tim tried to convey the musicians feelings of despondency, the loneliness of empty landscapes devoid of men who had gone away to fight and how the composers were haunted by their own war time experiences. Ivor Gurney and Vaughan Williams were both combatants in the Great War.

We felt this was the most interesting part of the day. We were played a short piece from Foulds’ World Requiem that challenged the notion of victory and introduced ideas of pacifism. This was a very controversial multi-faith piece of music first performed in the Royal Albert Hall in 1923 and repeated every year until 1926 when the British Legion no longer gave their support. The Requiem fell out of favour for being too pacifist!

The afternoon lecturer was Alice Foster, appropriately clad in a dress of poppies. Her lecture was devoted to Stanley Spencer who volunteered in 1916. He reconciled the war by obliterating the horrors and although alluding to it in his work, did not tackle it head on. Spencer needed the comfort of spiritual relief. Alice concentrated on the Sandham Memorial Chapel murals in Hampshire.

We all found the day stimulating but the quality of the sound and slides was disappointing. We would have also welcomed a separate session on the war poetry although the speakers did mention a few poems and read a few extracts from Rupert Brooke and Edward Thomas among others.


Summer Garden Party at Plovers Hill
24 July 2014


What could be more delightful than tea on a warm summer afternoon in a charming English country garden? And I’m not talking about an ordinary tea but one of Gail Dicker’s very special afternoon teas!

Cucumber Lane seemed a very appropriate turning off the “M”47 and the signs gave us a very easy journey to our rendezvous. The sun was out but Jan Saunt’s garden provided shady spots and walkways to enjoy her colourful and interesting garden.

The main lawn looks like the turf on which Edwardian ladies may have battled against each other in a “friendly” game of croquet but make sure you don’t hit any balls into the lovingly tended borders! In one of the borders there is a stand of “daylilies” (hemerocallis) that reminded me what a curious spring/summer this has been. Plants have flowered and faded before they would normally have come into flower. My own daylilies (which looked very similar to these) finished flowering two weeks ago. As we visit the rest of the garden I get the feeling that this is not so far advanced as ours; it all looks lovely.

Children must love this garden with its “secret” passages to concealed rooms and it is a lovely setting for the annual garden party as there are several shady areas for enjoying the tea while we chat with friends. The house is over 250 years old and fits the garden perfectly but that does not mean that there is not room for the new. The house has a garden room extension (originally built as an orangery) that is more glass than brick – it even has a glass roof! In the garden there is a very modern waterfall that produces a very relaxing sound. In addition to the main lawn there is also a hidden garden with a bricked area that might have been the site of a well and a large orchard with an impressive watering system. There are also many trees including the huge mulberry tree that was one of the popular areas for tea and some very modern aluminium silver birches! There were many brick paths and when I mention to Jan Saunt how much I liked them, she gave us a brief history of bricks! The house and garden contain bricks from almost every half-century since 1750.

This was a very enjoyable afternoon in a very relaxing garden, very suitable for our “special” tea. Our sincere thanks go to Mrs Saunt and Gail Dicker for respectively providing the setting and the tea, and to Gill Hatton for organising the event.

Tony Davies (guest)

With many thanks to Tony Davies and Paul Venn for the photographs.