Poet Sir Andrew Motion celebrates Siegfried Sassoon’s link to Edingthorpe Church in Norfolk

Siegfried Sassoon, one of the most famous first world war poets, picked a poppy and a cornflower and left them on a ledge under the lych-gate during a nostalgic return visit to one of Norfolk's most picturesque village churches in 1937.

The lych gate had not been there when Sassoon (1886-1967) spent childhood summer holidays in Edingthorpe, near North Walsham, with his mother and brothers.

It had been built after the Great War to commemorate the rector's son, a lance corporal with the first battalion Norfolk Regiment 9th foot, killed in 1915 when the troop ship Royal Edward was torpedoed in the Aegean.

In his own book of war poetry, Laurels and Donkeys, former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion has written about Sassoon's visit to Edingthorpe Church, and now that modern-day poem is being used to help pay for repairs to the lych gate.

Peter Bowles, the church's fabric officer, contacted Sir Andrew, who once taught creative writing at UEA, and is hoping to sell three copies of Laurels and Donkeys, together with two mounted prints of the individual poem about Sassoon, all of which their author has signed to help the �2,500 appeal.

'We at Edingthorpe are very proud of our links with Siegfried Sassoon and his work and are delighted that such another famous poet as Sir Andrew Motion has agreed to help us with repairs to the lych gate,' said Mr Bowles.

He is inviting people to contact him, via post or email, with bids for a signed book or mounted poem. The successful bidders will be those offering the greatest amounts above an undisclosed reserve figure by the closing date of June 30.

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Mr Bowles is hoping the unusual fund-raiser will appeal to Sassoon's admirers, many of whom make pilgrimages to Edingthorpe, lovers of poetry in general and those with an interest in local history and its literary links.

He will also be writing to the Norfolk regiment asking for donations, and to those listed on the other side of the lych gate, where the names of six Edingthorpe men who died in the second world war were later added.

Over the years water has penetrated joints and other parts of the oak lych gate, causing areas of it to rot, said Mr Bowles. Craftsman Joe Dawes, from Reepham, will carry out repairs which will involve replacing nearly one third of the structure.

The work will complement the re-thatching of the round-tower Saxon church's roof, costing a little over �110,000, finished last summer.

? The contact addresses for bids are: Peter Bowles, Muckle Hill Farm, Spa Common, North Walsham NR28 9AJ, or email: MuckleHill@aol.com

Siegfried Sassoon, decorated for bravery on the Western Front, became an outspoken critic of the conduct of the first world war and much of his wartime poetry describes its horror in graphic and poignant detail.

His 1937 reflections on Edingthorpe were written in a work called 'The Old Century and seven more years'.

He wrote of the church: '...it evokes in me a sense of local England and the centuries behind it, - the harvests it has seen and the pathos of those humble folk, who had toiled and died and had been 'of this parish.''

And he commented, on reading the lych gate inscription: 'Here anyhow was someone who must have remembered that little church on the green rising ground, for his father had been rector for nineteen years and was buried close to the lych-gate.'

Sir Andrew Motion uses poetic licence to set Edingthorpe in Sassoon's native Kent in the poem and merges the poet's past and present. It includes the lines: 'Siegfried clambers down, without the others noticing, and leans his leather elbows on the lych gate. The carved gold lettering says it was built when the war ended in memory of a lance corporal whose father was rector here.... 'Don't let the donkey eat the laurel' their mother tells her children; she knows it is poisonous. Laurels and donkeys. Siegfried agrees, but will not ruin his afternoon, so picks a poppy and a cornflower, lays them on a ledge under the lych-gate, then turns away placidly down the farm lane....'

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