John Jarmain was born in 1911 and educated at Shrewsbury School and Queen’s College, Cambridge where he read mathematics. After graduating in 1933 he married Eve Houghton, the couple moving to Somerset. Although he spent most of his time writing, lack of income meant that by 1937 he worked as a schoolmaster at Millfield School in Street. In 1938 he began an affair with a younger woman, Beryl Butler, eventually divorcing his wife. He enlisted in the Royal Artillery in September 1939 and married Beryl on 10 May 1940.

Jarmain served in the 61st Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery, attached to the 51st Highland Division. After two year’s training the regiment was sent in convoy to Egypt via Capetown and first saw action at the Battle of El Alamein in October and November 1942. They then took part in a number of hard-fought battles until the surrender of Tunis in May 1943. Much of his best poetry was written at this time, poems which were sent back in numbered airmail letters to his wife.

Jarmain took part in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 then returned to England in preparation for D Day. His battery landed in Normandy on 7 June 1944 and wound up on an exposed salient to the east of Caen. John Jarmain was killed by a fragment of mortar shell on the morning of 26 June 1944 whilst driving down to inspect his troops at dawn. He is buried in the 6th Airborne Cemetery at Ranville.

Professor Tim Kendall, FEA, director of the University of Exeter’s Centre for Literature and Archives, said:

The poets of the Second World War are less well-known than their First World War predecessors, but at their best, they were just as powerful.  In John Jarmain’s work, the mud of the Somme is replaced by desert landscape. Jarmain becomes a connoisseur of sand as he studies its shapes and shifting colours under different climatic conditions.  He is a landscape poet inspired by some of the most hostile and forbidding landscapes ever endured.

A soldier in north Africa experienced war in very different ways from his First World War predecessors. It was a far more mobile war, and many soldiers remarked on the strangeness of enjoying rest and relaxation in Tripoli, Cairo or Alexandria while the battle continued to rage only a day’s travelling away.  Jarmain’s letters also convey the distance between home and the warzone. [BBC History Magazine,]

John Jarmain’s Poems

Prisoners of War on the Salamander Oasis Trust website

Resources for John Jarmain

El Alamein read by WWII veteran Capt. John Day on You Tube

Interview with Jarmain’s daughter after discovery of his letters BBC

Ranville Cemetery

Ranville Cemetery