Leslie Coulson was an English First World War poet and journalist who tragically lost his life on the battlefields of the Western Front.
He was born on the 19th July 1889 in the Kilburn district of London, the son of a Sunday Chronicle journalist. After a boarding school education in Norfolk he followed his father into newspapers, obtaining a post as a junior reporter on the Evening News. But then, in the August of 1914, came the war and Coulson went to the Army recruiting office immediately, keen to “do his bit”. He enlisted as a private soldier in the infantry regiment of the Royal Fusiliers. After a few short months, and poignantly on Christmas Eve, he boarded a troop ship bound for Malta. He did not know, then, that he would never see the shores of England again.
After Malta he also saw service in Egypt, and then Gallipoli. After the debacle of that peninsular campaign, where allied forces were forced to evacuate the area after heavy losses, came the call to the Western Front. His final, fatal posting, by now holding the rank of sergeant, would be to the Somme battlefield in 1916. Coulson continued to write while serving and, understandably, many of his poems revealed the anger, and often despair, felt by most of those fighting in an increasingly desperate conflict. It was the lot of the infantry soldier to see death and desolation almost every day and one of his most famous poems was inspired by these ghastly sights.
Who Made the Law is a stark observation made by a man forced to question by whose authority so many should be condemned to die such a horrible death. His words are a stinging accusation aimed at the politicians and generals whose decisions brought about, and then perpetuated, the war when the sensible thing would have been to call a negotiated truce. Within this poem Coulson painfully paints a stark picture of the sheer mundanity of the locations where these events took place. In the hedgerows, along quiet village lanes, and in residents’ private gardens – all of which makes what happened seem even more shocking. The poem is reproduced below:
Ironically he was almost spared the trials of front line service as he was taken ill with mumps. It was a severe enough bout to have him hospitalised and it was from his recuperation bed that he wrote the first of his war poems, a piece not surprisingly called A Soldier in Hospital. But, he recovered and had a second chance of survival when he was wounded in Gallipoli. Alas, he recovered from that too and found himself promoted and sent to France. It was not long before he met his end.
Sergeant Leslie Coulson was killed on the 8th of October 1916 at the age of 27. He had been leading his men against a fortified German trench when he was struck in the chest. Although he was repatriated from the battlefield he died of his wounds, in hospital, the next day. His body was buried in the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery established close by, in the town of Méaulte.
His father saw to it that Leslie’s poems should not be forgotten and arranged for From an Outpost and Other Poems to be published in 1917. This collection sold ten thousand copies in its first year.