Keith Douglas was born in Royal Tunbridge Wells in 1920, his parents divorced in 1928 and his father re-married in 1930. Douglas studied at Christ’s Hospital and went up to Merton College, Oxford in 1938. His tutor at Oxford was Edmund Blunden who had a high opinion of Douglas’ poetry which he brought to the attention of T.S. Eliot.
Within days of the declaration of war Douglas reported to an army recruiting centre but did not begin training until July 1940. On 1 February 1941 he passed out from the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and was commissioned into the 2nd Derbyshire Yeomanry at Ripon. He was posted to the Middle East in July 1941.
Douglas served initially in Cairo and Palestine and, finding himself 20 miles inland from the Battle of El Alamein, disobeyed orders and reported to the front. He was posted to A squadron and took part in the 8th army’s victorious sweep through North Africa. He returned to England in December 1943 and took part in the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944. He was killed by enemy mortar fire on 9 June whilst his regiment was advancing from Bayeux. He was buried by a hedge close to where he had died and was later re-buried at Tilly-sur-Seulles War Cemetery 14 km south of Bayeux.
Keith Douglas’s Poems
Simplify Me When I’m Dead on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auObzLzilaw
Resources for Keith Douglas
Alamein to Zen Zem, Keith Douglas’s war memoir
Keith Douglas: Poet to Poet, edited by Ted Hughes (Faber & Faber, 2006)
Keith Douglas: the Complete Poems, edited by Desmond Graham (Faber and Faber, 2000)
Unicorns, Almost, by Owen Sheers – a one-man play based on the life and poetry of Keith Douglas (Faber & Faber 2011)
Keith Douglas: Battlefield Poet BBC Documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5yTX0eWW6s
Photograph of Keith Douglas, WW2 People’s War [WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar]