This letter was written by Phyllis Gardner to Maitland Radford after the death of their mutual friend, and Phyllis’s lover, Rupert Brooke. It expresses her pain at this loss and her frustration at the war as well as her need to distract herself from painful thoughts. The letter also shows how the war has led her to question her ideas about life and death.
Phyllis Gardner was an artist and graduate of the Slade School of Fine Art. She met Rupert Brooke in 1911 and their relationship was both passionate and volatile, mainly due to their differing opinions on monogamy.
Gardner was part of Maitland’s circle of artistic friends and she wrote to him throughout his time in France during the First World War. Her letters tell of her frustration at not being able to fight and she frequently mentions her desire to be useful. She also laments the effect the war is having on her career as an artist, leading her to take a job designing toys for children.
Telephone Farm Corner,
93, Burgh Heath. Tadworth,
I wonder if you heard about Rupert. (Your mother wrote to me at once because she is an angel.) I hardly know what to say: except that I can’t honestly say I was surprised – sometimes one has queer flashes of foresight: I’ve had so many with regard to him.
I can’t really tell you all about it, not in a letter.
It is difficult to write.
There is a red cross detachment just passing the fence, bugling & drumming. There are I don’t know how many thousand
men encamped close here. I said that when I last wrote, the day before I had that news. It is all very noisy and unpeaceful: They bugle all day & night. We are working very hard at running a restaurant for them. I am glad to have something to work hard at. I want very much to draw, but my ideas are wandering about so, & the things I think are totally [undrawable.] Tell me, you, what do you think becomes of the souls of the dead? Have you ever lost anyone you were on thought-reading terms with? It seems to me that, for a little while at all events – longer times I know nothing of – one can get certain
intuitions – I was for the first few days without any notion, except of the pity & waste & cruelty of it all, & then quite suddenly I was reproved & knew that I was wrong in being so sorry: I didn’t think it, I knew it, as though it were spoken aloud. (They’re cheering down in camp – I am in the west end of the attic)
I could enlarge on this & tell you exactly what I mean, but it would take a long time.
Do write & tell me how you’re getting on : & for heaven’s sake don’t go & catch anything & die. – When I last wrote I tried to be lively & all that but really at the bottom of my heart I knew
about Rupert – I knew, & was sorry, & hadn’t had that last message – I don’t see that I can say any more just now. I sit with the paper in front of me, you know the way. I had a funny little idea the other night: St Peter, at the gate of Heaven, in khaki, with a bayonet, saying “Pass friend all’s well!” It made me laugh a lot although it isn’t really at all funny – It might be more so if I had a profound belief in St Peter guarding the heavenly gates.
Well – so long. Write some time.