Timothy Corsellis was born on January 27, 1921 in London. After his father’s death in a plane crash in 1930, he was sent to Winchester College where he began to write poetry: by the time he left Winchester in 1938 he had already written almost 80 poems. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Corsellis did not go on to University but took up a post as an articled clerk in Wandsworth Town Hall.
In April 1939 Corsellis registered as a conscientious objector on religious grounds and on the outbreak of war became an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Warden. However, after the defeat of Dunkirk and the fall of France in May 1940, he applied to be removed from the list of Conscientious Objectors and volunteered for training as a fighter pilot with the RAF.
Though it was to last only six months, his training period in the RAF produced the poems that were to figure in no less than eleven anthologies of war poetry, and on which his reputation still rests […] they bear witness to the painful contrast between the pettiness of service training and the exhilaration of flying. www.warpoets.org/poets/timothy-corsellis-1921-1941/
His RAF career was curtailed in January 1941 when he was assigned to Bomber Command, an assignment he refused on the grounds that his conscience would not permit him to take part in the indiscriminate bombing of civilians. He received an Honourable Discharge from the RAF in mid-February and returned to civilian life. He applied t,o and was accepted by, the Air Transport Auxiliary, but his training was delayed until he received treatment for a problem in his right eye. From February to July 1941, at the height of the Blitz, he worked as a full-time ARP warden before beginning his ATA training in late August 1941. It was during this period that he met Stephen Spender – a wartime encounter that was to have a long literary history.
Corsellis was killed on 10 October 1941 when the aircraft he was flying stalled and crashed near Annan in Dumfriesshire.
That which sets the writing of Timothy Corsellis apart from all the other accounts of the Blitz, can be found in the three poems written during the week beginning on Easter Sunday and which, read in sequence, imitate the Pascal experience of death, resurrection and new hope. www.warpoets.org/poets/timothy-corsellis-1921-1941/
In 2014 the Poetry Society, supported by the War Poets Association and the Imperial War Museums, launched its Timothy Corsellis Prize Competition for a poem responding to the Second World War. This is directed at young poets all over the world aged 14–25, and is for a poem responding to the life and/or work of Keith Douglas, Sidney Keyes, Alun Lewis, John Jarmain, Henry Reed, Timothy Corsellis or Anna Akhmatova, with a short comment (300 words) explaining how the competitor responded to one or more of them.
Timothy Corsellis’s Poems:
Resources for Timothy Corsellis
Helen Goethals, The Unassuming Sky: The Life and Poetry of Timothy Corsellis, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012
Oscar Williams, ed., The War Poets: An Anthology of the War Poetry of the 20th Century, The John Day Company, 1945 (pdf)