Yesterday to mark Armistice Day the BBC Look North (East Yorkshire & North Lincolnshire) regional news programme included a short feature on J.R.R. Tolkien’s convalescence in East Yorkshire during World War One. I wrote a piece for this blog back on 11th of August, so this acts as a sort of sequel to the more detailed information on there. As the programme is only available on BBC iPlayer for 24 hours, and not available outside the UK at all, what follows is a transcript of that one-and-a-half minutes of TV time:
Peter Levy: Now it is estimated that three quarters of a million British servicemen were killed in World War One, but twice as many were wounded, and an estimated 2 million soldiers died from things like disease and malnutrition. Tonight on the programme the story of two remarkable men who suffered illness and injury in the trenches. Their recovery brought them to East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and had a lasting impact. Jo Makel has this….
Jo Makel: The East Yorkshire coast, a frontline in the war under attack from sea and air. Defences were built along it like these at Spurn, and among those guarding the coast a young officer, one J.R.R. Tolkien. He’d survived the Somme, but succumbed to trench fever and his posting near Tunstall was part of his recovery.
Dr Rosemary Wall (University of Hull): Apparently, about half of the battalion who were based here at the coast had been suffering from ill health. So, it was this process of hardening, it was called, when they were sent to this area. At one period when he was more unwell, he was sent down to Easington, where it was a more restful location. So, here [Tunstall] he probably would have been subjected to more physical exercise to try and get him well.
JM: Trench Fever was a painful disease, spread easily among soldiers by infected body lice. Sufferers had fever, headaches, and leg pains. Tolkien’s ill health twice put him in the Brooklands Hospital in Hull, now the university’s Dennison Centre. But those lapses gave him time to write some of the stories, which would be forerunners to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
RW: During that time he was there for three months because there was this policy, they felt that officers if they were sent home didn’t get well, so they needed to be in that hospital environment. So, he had lots of time for writing then, and wrote the basis of what became The Silmarillion.
JM: Tolkien’s experience of war had a lasting impact on his imaginative writing, but for other veterans there were more practical considerations: illness and injury led to complete career changes…
During this brief feature several photos and video-clips were shown to accompany the report: the East Yorkshire coastline, some of the defences at Spurn Point, a photograph of Tolkien in uniform, Dr. Wall being interviewed by Jo Makel on the cliffs, a cannon, soldiers in the trenches, one even carrying a bicycle!, the former hospital building, the plaque in Tolkien’s memory, Dr. Wall and Jo Makel again walking down a path, soldiers marching, and riding horses alongside carts, wounded soldiers, and finally flowers in a meadow which lead on to the next story about Otto Taylor who remained in the area after the war to begin a new career growing and selling flowers, and to found the family business who prospers today.
The report concluded with more footage of marching soldiers, with this voice-over from Jo Makel:
“So, as we remember the solemnity and sadness of World War 1, it’s also uplifting to think of the survivors who turned their own suffering into success.”
I am a self-employed wildlife guide. I take people to beautiful places to learn about their local nature. I’ve been reading Tolkien from the age of 9, and have recently become interested in Tolkien’s time in East Yorkshire during WW1. I completed a Masters degree from the University of Sheffield in the Victorian Ghost Stories of Ellen [Mrs Henry] Wood.