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Remembered Today:

Maurice Bowra


Mark Hone

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Reading a review of a new biography of the eccentric (and seemingly pretty unpleasant) Oxford don, wit and bon viveur Maurice Bowra, I came across reference to a supposedly persistent rumour that in the midst of a battle in the First World War he had shot an unpopular colonel. According to the dreaded wikipedia he served in the RFA from 1917 onwards. As he was born in 1898 he would only have been a very young and presumably junior officer himself at the time of the alleged incident. Can anyone else shed any further light on this?

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Mark

Maurice Bowra wrote an autobiography, Memories 1898-1939, published in 1966. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy, but if any Forum member does, they might care to look up what MB himself says about the alleged shooting - I have found Wikipedia so unreliable on so many occasions.

jeremym

(Jeremy Mitchell)

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Mark

Maurice Bowra wrote an autobiography, Memories 1898-1939, published in 1966. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy, but if any Forum member does, they might care to look up what MB himself says about the alleged shooting - I have found Wikipedia so unreliable on so many occasions.

jeremym

(Jeremy Mitchell)

Don't you mean on all occasions? I now will not accept any thing on it without an independent alternative source to corroborate. I've actually found stuff I've written incorporated without acknowledgment and with some words changed to support a view I would repudiate. Mind you there are sometimes some useful photos

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centurion

Yes. fine - I will accept 'all' in place of 'many'. The sad thing is that so many schoolchildren (including my own grandchildren) seem to be hooked on Wikipedia as their prime reference source. I wonder whether this is ever discussed by teachers in their professional bodies or in the Times Educational Supplement.

jeremym

(Jeremy Mitchell)

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As I can only speak for the school I currently attend, Wikipedia is never to be used as a reference source for research papers and such. My professors make that abundantly clear whenever we are given assignments which require doing research. Sadly, the intelligence level of my fellow students is frighteningly low, so I frequently see Wikipedia cited in assignments. :rolleyes:

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Mark and Centurion

A coda to my previous post on Maurice Bowra - I gather that a biography by Leslie Mitchell is due to be published in three days time, on Friday 20 February. MB was a dominant personality in 1930s Oxford, writing unreadable boring verse for publication and unprintable scurrilous doggerel for private circulation. It was fine to be included in his magic circle, as were John Betjeman and Isahiah Berlin, for example, but distinctly chilly if you were not.

jeremym

(Jeremy Mitchell)

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Reading a review of the Mitchell biography occasioned my original post. I presume that the 'shooting-the-colonel' legend is not addressed there from the way that the review referred to it.

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His full name was Cecil Maurice Bowra, and he was commissioned into the RFA Special Reserve on 30 July 1917. He was entitled to the British War and Victory Medals. There is also a file for him at the NA in WO 374/8155.

TR

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The Dictionary of National Biography makes no mention of this rumour but notes that his war service left Bowra a Germanophobe and a detester of all things military.

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I have on my bookshelves a copy of Maurice Bowra's The Greek Experience (1957). It is one of a number of books he wrote on classical Greece. His academic contemporaries used to comment snidely that there was little difference between his various books. A longstanding Oxford joke is that on entering his college Senior Common Room on the day The Greek Experience was published, one of the Fellows greeted him with 'Ah, Maurice! I see you've written your book again'.

jeremym

(Jeremy Mitchell)

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The Dictionary of National Biography makes no mention of this rumour but notes that his war service left Bowra a Germanophobe and a detester of all things military.

Which would have made his Classics work very challenging, since the Germans have always been in the forefront of classical studies. Classics students intending to do post-graduate work are strongly encouraged to learn German.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Maurice Bowra was considerably more distinguished than the impression that is being cast here. He was

knighted in 1951 and he was not merely the "popularising classicist" that many wish to portray. Bowra

wrote authoritatively on a wide range of subjects, such as "Primitive Song" (1962, "The Heritage of Symbolism"

(1967), "Heroic Poetry" (1952), and a title of some interest: "Poetry and the First World War (Taylorian Lectures)"

(1961). His two anthologies of Russian poetry are enriched by his experiences as a traveler in pre-Revolutionary

Russia. It is quite possible that with respect to Classical Greece Bowra may have written "the same book"

several times, but this was far from the extent of his scholarly writing. The recent biographical treatments

of Bowra make clear that his Great War service on the Western Front was horrific and something about

which he could seldom be persuaded to speak. Another Oxbridge don, Nevil Coghill (later an authority on

Chaucer and the Middle English literary tradition), found his Great War experience to be similarly arduous

and hardly formative. Given Sir Maurice's reticence concerning his experiences of war, perhaps the only

answer to this thread's original question is to be found in his service record in WO 374/8155.

Regards Trelawney

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Bowra's service record at the NA contains nothing of note. He was conscripted in March 1917 and was immediately sent for training as an officer. He resigned his commission in early 1919.

TR

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Given the absence of any service record entries addressing a shooting incident and possible charges, court martial, and the like,

it is most unlikely that there is any truth to the rumour. Rumours and fanciful stories abounded in the Oxford and Cambridge

communities as the social currency of students and dons alike; indeed, the larger than life characters like Bowra undoubtedly

inspired the most outlandish and improbable stories--such as shooting a Colonel whom he did not find agreeable. The wits

at Wadham College are still laughing about such stories; after all, ridiculing one's teachers has long been a hallowed tradition in the

public schools and at Oxford & Cambridge. Presenting Bowra as a bumbler who did not even know whom he was supposed to

shoot seems comfortably within such tradition.

Regards Trelawney

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Maurice Bowra had a scintillating circle of friends, to (or at) whom he duly scintillated. If you were outside the magic circle, however, he had no time for you. A huge number of 'Maurice' stories used to circulate in Oxford, many of them bitchy and quite a few malevolent. I heard many of them myself, but never the one about shooting a colonel, but it might well have been part of the canon.

jeremym

(Jeremy Mitchell)

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Does anyone know for sure that it was meant to be a British Lt Col?

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Bowra is quoted on a number of occasions by Denis Winter in "Death's Men" mainly to do with his hatred of the war and the military life in general, but no reference to shooting an officer. All from Bowra's memoirs. If Winter had found something juicy I am sure he would have dished the dirt.

Regards

David

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