Dear! of all happy in the hour, most blest
He who has found our hid security,
Assured in the dark tides of the world that rest,
And heard our word, ’Who is so safe as we?’
We have found safety with all things undying,
The winds, and morning, tears of men and mirth,
The deep night, and birds singing, and clouds flying,
And sleep, and freedom, and the autumnal earth.
We have built a house that is not for Time’s throwing.
We have gained a peace unshaken by pain for ever.
War knows no power. Safe shall be my going,
Secretly armed against all death’s endeavour;
Safe though all safety’s lost; safe where men fall;
And if these poor limbs die, safest of all.
During his three years at Cambridge University, Brooke became a visible figure in English intellectual circles, Brooke made friends among the Bloomsbury Group of writers, some of whom admired his talent while others were more impressed by his good looks. Virginia Woolf boasted to Vita Sackville-West of once going skinny-dipping with Brooke in a moonlit pool when they were at Cambridge together. He lived in the Old Vicarage, Grantchester.
When World War I began, like most men of his age and class, Brooke immediately volunteered for service in the war. He joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve; the group’s first destination was Antwerp, Belgium, where it stayed through the beginning of 1915. The area around Antwerp was not volatile at this time, though, and the Reserve saw no military action during its entire stay in Belgium. The lull in fighting turned into a fruitful period for Brooke, for it was then that he produced his best-known poetry, the group of five war sonnets titled ”Nineteen Fourteen.”
Brooke’s death was felt throughout his country; Eder states that ”all England mourned the poet-soldier’s death.” In his tribute to Brooke for the London Times as quoted by Delany, Winston Churchill praised Brooke’s ”classic symmetry of mind and body.” ”He was all that one would wish England’s noblest sons to be,” added Churchill, ”in days when no sacrifice but the most precious is acceptable.”
Brooke’s accomplished poetry gained many enthusiasts and followers and he was taken up by Edward Marsh who brought him to the attention of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. He was commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a temporary shortly after his 27th birthday and took part in the Royal Naval Division’s Antwerp expedition in October 1914. He sailed with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on 28 February 1915 but developed Sepsis from an infected mosquito bite. He died at 4:46 pm on 23 April 1915 in a French hospital ship moored in a bay off the island of Skyros in the Aegean on his way to the landing at Gallipoli. As the expeditionary Force had orders to depart immediately, he was buried at 11 pm in an olive grove on Skyros, Greece. His grave remains there today. Another friend—and war poet – Patrick Shaw-Stewart, also played a prominent role in Brooke’s funeral. On 11 November 1985, Brooke was among 16 First World War poets commemorated on a slate monument unveiled in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey. The inscription on the stone was written by a fellow war poet, Wilfrid Owen. It reads: ”My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.”
Brooke’s brother, 2nd Lt. William Alfred Cotterill Brooke, was a member of the 8th Battalion London Regiment (Post Office Rifles) and was killed in action near Le Rutoire Farm on 14 June 1915 aged 24. He is buried in Fosse 7 Military Cemetery (Quality Street), Mazingarbe, Pas de Calais, France. He had only joined the battalion on 25 May.