Timothy Corsellis – a war poet’s struggle with conscience

On 11th December, BBC TV showed original manuscripts of war poet Timothy Corsellis, killed in 1941 at the age of 20, and an art expert estimated their value. Timothy was an airman trained for the Royal Air Force at the time of its crucial need. His plane crashed. Another young life was cut short tragically in the service of his country.

But there’s more to it than that. Timothy Corsellis had decided he was a conscientious objector before the war broke out, so volunteering to fight as a pilot implied challenging his innermost beliefs.

After being assigned to train as a bomber pilot, Timothy asked to be switched to fighter training as he could not countenance indiscriminate pattern-bombing of civilians. Flying fighters would scarcely have put him at any less risk, and he would have still served his country in the front line at the height of the battle.

In response, the RAF gave him an “honourable discharge” and he was set to the lowly civilian task of ferrying military aircraft from one place to another. On one of these flights, his plane stalled and he dived into the ground.

On television, his role as a war hero was presented simplistically. I find him even more admirable knowing that he had to conquer his conscience first, endure rejection by his own side, and then give up his life for his country all the same.

A year before he died, at the height of the Battle of Britain, Timothy Corsellis wrote:

The faces at the window
Smiled back ‘goodbye’
Blood coursing in my breast
Told me it was the last time.
‘Good-bye’ they spoke, and I
“Never again or God knows when”
Death, a word of empty meaning
Comes to pluck me from a great and happy past
Into a vapid future
For life in this twentieth century knows no present
Life moves too fast.

The expert valued the manuscripts at £8,000, but no publisher has ever brought his poems out, even though they are well known in literary circles. It is time for a change of heart. They are part of our cultural heritage, forged at a dramatic moment in history.

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One Response to “Timothy Corsellis – a war poet’s struggle with conscience”

  1. Doug Ramage Says:

    In case you were not aware of it, there was a collection of 100 poems (with biographical narrative) published in July 2012 – “The Unassuming Sky”.

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