Image by courtesy of Charterhouse School
Robert von Ranke Graves (1895-1985) was an eminent poet, novelist, mythologist and translator. He attended Charterhouse School from 1909-1914.
He was the son of Alfred Perceval Graves, an Irish writer. His father married twice and had five children by his first wife and five by his second wife, Amalie Elizabeth Sophie von Ranke. Robert was the eighth child born when his mother was 38. His father became an Inspector of Schools in 1874 and Robert had education at six preparatory schools before entering Charterhouse. In the 1901 census the family lived at 1 Lauriston Road, Wimbledon, with a cook, lady nurse, sick nurse, children’s maid and parlour maid. There is a blue plaque on the house.
Graves entered Gownboys House in September of 1909 as a Junior Foundation Scholar under the housemaster, John Edward Judson. At Charterhouse he received bullying due to his German connection, von Ranke, and his friendship with a younger boy, George Harcourt Vanden-Bample Johnstone, whom he met in the choir. He learnt to box at Charterhouse and became both welter and middleweight champion representing the school in the Public School’s Boxing Championship at Aldershot.
The Carthusian, the magazine of Charterhouse, published many of his early poems and 28 were published c1911-1917. In June 1911 his poem, The Mountain Side at Evening, was published and he was invited to join the Poetry Society. In September 1911 Frank Fletcher became headmaster replacing Gerald Henry Rendall. In 1913 Green Chartreuse, a satirical magazine was produced by Robert and others poking fun at the establishment. In his last year he became assistant editor of The Carthusian but was forced to resign due to views expressed.
Graves won an exhibition to St Johns, Oxford but in August 1914 at the outbreak of war, he enlisted, aged 19, in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. In July 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, he was badly wounded and the official military record reported “died of gunshot wounds on July 24th” his 21st birthday, but later reported “wounded on the 20th.” Captain Robert Graves put a notice in The Times on the 5th August to say that although officially reported as died of wounds he was in fact recovering at Queen Alexandra’s Hospital in Highgate. His war records can be seen at The First World War Poetry Digital Archive. In 1916 his first volume of poetry Over the Brazier was published while he was convalescing. In 1917 he wrote Escape and after shell-shock wrote his volume Fairies and Fusiliers.
He became a friend of George Mallory (qv) one of the Charterhouse masters, who took him mountaineering and who was best man at Graves wedding to Nancy Nicholson in 1918. The wedding was attended by Wilfrid Owen (qv), another war poet whom Graves had been introduced to by his fellow officer, Siegfried Sassoon, at Craiglockhart near Edinburgh while Wilfrid was recovering from shell shock.
In 1929 his memoirs Good-bye to All That including life at Charterhouse and the First World War, was published. Graves had a long life and died at the age of 90 in Majorca in 1985. His name is commemorated along with 16 poets on the memorial to the War Poets in Westminster Abbey, with the inscription on the stone by Wilfrid Owen, “My subject is War and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity 1914+1918.”