H Rex Freston - WW1 War Poet

H Rex Freston ranks among WW1 poets such as Owen, Brooke and Sassoon, but because he perished early in the war, before fulfilling his literacy promise, he remains for the most part unsung. He interrupted his studies at Oxford University to enlist in The Royal Berkshire Regiment and his death meant that he never completed his degree. My research has discovered him to be remembered on the Role of Honour at both his College and in St Andrews church, Clewer in the Diocese of Oxford. Elsewhere there is a paucity of information about him and I was pleased to make more intimate details of Rex Freston known to both of the afore-mentioned bodies and to Windsor Information bureau. Exeter College, Oxford responded as follows : -

Dear David Coleman
Thank you for these interesting details about H Rex Freston. We will add them to our files of biographical information for Exeter College alumni.
Hugh Reginald Freston is listed in the Exeter College register and we have matriculation information (he entered the College Oct 1912) in the Exeter College Archives. He is recorded in our Roll of Honour, which includes his poem The March,
with best wishes

Penelope Baker
Exeter College
Oxford, OX1 3D

In creating this text I hope to introduce him and his works to a wider public and hope that what follows will serve as a tribute to him and to all our armed forces, past and present-day who gave so much for our country and who contributed so much to our heritage.
Rather than compile a list of books and catalogue references, I simply copy here the eulogy composed by his fellow contemporary poet, Russell Markland, who was compiling an anthology of Freston's works when he heard of his death. I would welcome comment and contribution and can be contacted fw24@dial.pipex.com 
I should divulge here that the late Mr Markland was my father-in-law and hence I am fortunate to be privy to some unpublished family comments from the past.  (more details of Russell Markland and his poems can be found below)

An Appreciation by Russell Markland, Phil.B, the poet "Ingersley"
THE POETRY OF H. REX FRESTON. (Sec. Lieut. : 6th Royal Berkshire Regiment). 
Born: 1891. Killed in action, France Jan 24th, 1916. 
One more poetic " inheritor of unfulfilled renown" has been claimed as a victim of  the Great War - Second-Lieut. Hugh Reginald Freston, killed in France on January 24th, 1916. As H. Rex Freston  he  drew attention to his poetry by his book " The Quest of Beauty and other Poems," published by Mr. Blackwell in 1915, and by a sonnet, "April, 1915," in The Times. He had also contributed to " Oxford Poetry" 1914 and 1915"  For Consolation," edited by Dr. Tuting, and many, other journals. 
Before touching on his work it may he as well to mention a few incidents in the brief career of one who was truly a poet, a patriot and a gentleman. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Reginald Freston, of Clewer, Windsor, a family devoted to poetry, and was born at Tulse Hill on July 25th, 1891. He was educated at Dulwich College, and in 1912 proceeded to Exeter College, Oxford, where he joined the O. T. C. some little time before the outbreak of war, and has left in his writings and letters ample proof of his great love for the University. He threw up what promised to be a brilliant career there, resigning his dreams and everything that meant so much to him, to serve his country, and joined the 3rd Royal Berkshire Regiment, obtaining a commission and being gazetted April 22nd,1915.  At the beginning of December he went out to France, attached to the 6th Royal Berkshires, and though the whole war appeared very vividly in all its sadness to such a temperament, yet he wrote most courageously, glad that bis actions might be of use in the world and bravely declaring that beyond leaving parents and friends it meant no sacrifice to him. But when the appointed time came he paid unflinchingly the greatest sacrifice that can be demanded, and at the commencement of a life that was moulded for good he laid all down for England. 

While at the front his thoughts often turned towards Oxford, and in a letter to a literary friend, written on January 5th, he wrote :-" To-day has been fine and sunny, and I have just yearned for Oxford all day long! Oxford in the summer term; the long glorious twilights on the river; with the spires all showing black against the sunset; the fields all grey with evening; the wistful stream; and the far off murmur of the bells ... " 
How Oxford weaves her magic spells around her sons! " 
Rex Freston's poetry often catches the atmosphere of the old place, as in his published poems" Near Oxford" and " Midnight at Oxford," but in some unpublished verses, "Two Nights," shines that spirit of prophecy which he seems of late to have felt, when he writes :- 

"I listened to the bugles, and I hearkened to the bells 
In old Oxford city, a night long, long ago: 
0, the bells were full of music like the sound of fountain wells,
 But the others played a music I never thought to know. 
There's a lilt of martial music and a cry of fountain wells
 In the barrack square to-night beneath the lonely tree: 
And I laugh to hear the bugles, but I weep to hear the bells, 
For I know the bells of Oxford will ring no more for me." 

Notwithstanding these moods of sadness he seems to have found his place in the stirring events of these days, and, while realising the sorrow attendant on war, actually found enjoyment in its thrills, for they spoke to him of " romance." 

In one of his letters he wrote :-" Ideas are in a way so much more real and vivid than realities," and though he longed to travel and looked forward to being sent to Egypt, yet he admitted a longing at certain times for what he deemed the " imaginary" England of his dreams, and then he would feel the inevitable awfulness of war close in upon him, seeing it in its true light. Life was contradictory to him, yet he founded a philosophy on that very fact, for he wrote: "All the world, if you live by this system of ' ideas' rather than , realities' is delightful: it is one sheer dream of romance." He was really fighting for the ideal he valued. The key-note of his moods was that he was doing the thing he loathed for the thing he loved. 
A fine character can be traced in many of his writings, and in " The Quest of Beauty" is found a staunch soul, realising the world around him, but seeing beyond it the everlasting spirit of Goodness, and standing true to that vision. In "Challenge" is a clarion call akin to W.E. Henley's " Invictus " :- 

" Tempestuous hours, you shall not crush 
My soul to silence ere I will! 
Your heavy sadness shall not chill 
Within my breast the ardent flush 
Of hope and love, and all things pure
From high ambition, lofty rage: 
Nor weaken my proud heritage - 
To dream, to do, and to endure! " 

In the sonnet, "Romance," he declares in lovely language, and with truth, his conviction that" to those who dare Romance is never dead." Deep thought is seen in many of his poems, as in that commencing" I sat alone and thought on life and death," yet he could touch a light note. One poem of only four lines runs as follows :-"

 "Not only what you are 
But all that you might be, 
Shall be my guiding star, 
Throughout eternity." 

How simple these lines seem at first, hardly worth noticing, but think upon them and they 'will be found to contain the subject and feeling of a thousand poems. In another place his love for " The Poets" of old time is evinced, especially of those who wrote because they must. The title- poem, "The Quest of Beauty," is typical of his verse and life :- 

"Rode a youth out, young and splendid, underneath the April skies; 
With an easy grace of carriage and adventure in his eyes; 
And he heeded not the foolish, and he heeded not the wise." 

When he returned, his quest justified, "not one could see a white rose lay unfading in his hand." 

The world failed to see beauty, and the thought therein is similar to that contained in " The Youth of Beauty" by Mr. Cecil Roberts, one of the foremost among the younger school of poets to which Rex Freston belonged, and to whom we must look in the future to keep the flame of poetry burning with a true brilliancy and with no murky glare, who while being courageous in their progress have little use for the extravagant and bizarre, and do not ignore the old paths. In" The Youth of Beauty" Mr. Roberts voices the same spirit that breathes in " The Quest !Of Beauty" when he cries :- 
"The dreams endure for ever, the facts of men are weak! " 
It is a coincidence, and a hopeful sign, that these two poems appeared about the same period-and at such a period! 
Rex Freston's poems contain one or two pieces translated from the Persian, and a translation of a poem by President Poincare, " In Old Lorraine." 
Turning to his unpublished poems there is found a strengthening of his firm faith, but with an undercurrent that shows how he realised there were such things as doubt and despair, but these he conquers :- 

"Ah! we who seek the hidden light
 How often shall our eyes mistake 
The evil for the good-and feel 
The cords of safety bend and break." 

This restlessness is very evident in "The Quest of Truth" and a poem he regarded with especial favour, " October 31st, 1915," but which scarcely seems in his happiest vein, though possessing a certain power. In these unpublished poems there is a strong and recurring note of sadness, and the poet seems to be fully aware of the end of his earthly ambitions; yet this is lightened for us by his absolute confidence in a future life, and he rejoiced, notwithstanding the sorrow of the times, that he could see the larger issues and had lived in what he terms" these epic days." 
There is a phrase here and there that recalls a Tennysonian echo, and one or two sonnets would have done no discredit to Rupert Brooke-" the poet I like best just now," as Rex Freston wrote early this year. The following sonnet throws a light on the poet's outlook: 

"Not always do I find myself complain 
Against this harsh new order of the day, 
Where ye must put the old loved things away
 And rise up to embrace new toil and pain. 
For amongst much of loss there lies much gain: 
We have learned new strength from learning to obey
 Necessity; and hearts that used to stray 
Often too selfish are kind again, 
Yet oftentimes to me there cometh one  
With sorrow in his eyes  whom half I know, 
Who loved to paint the flowers and the sun 
In gentle language, musically slow : 
Who grieves to leave his life-work scarce begun, 
Who hoped so much but now must turn and go." 

There is enough  poetry in these two phases of Rex Freston's verse, the published and the unpublished volumes, to prove that had it been granted that he should write a third book after the war, when sorrow and  the shadow on his heart bad been dispelled leaving experience mellowed by the influence of a New Peace, he would have given to the world an even greater poetic gift of more settle strength  tenderness and confidence in eternal goodness. His wish seemed to cry with the voice of Keats :- 

"0, for ten years, that I may overwhelm
 Myself in poesy; so I may do the deed
 That my own soul has to itself decreed," 

But the voice of duty was louder than aught else, and he answered the call. We can but guess what we have lost, but it was ordained that he should follow in the footsteps of Rupert Brooke, Julian Grenfell, Charles Hamilton Sorley and all those fine souls who seemed destined to enrich our poetry, but who fell on the field of battle like their immortal prototype, Sir Philip Sidney, and went into the Great Silence with much of their song unsung-. 
One who knew Rex Freston intimately records that his unsclfishness was hardly human and that " his real friends 
were legion . .. He had the faith and heart of a little child and he loved all young children. .. With faith and perfect trust he could leave this world for the next almost as carelessly as one might walk into the next room." 

Officers and men of his battalion are among those who have lent their tribute of affection to his character. 
Though he shrunk from being thought what is usually called" good" and at times made himself out the reverse (as in the following lines from" October 31st, 1915 "), yet he passed, in the words of Tennyson, "wearing the white flower of a blameless life." 

"After I am dead, 
And have become part of the soil of France, 
This much remember of me : 
I was a great sinner, a great lover, and life puzzled me very much. 
Ah, love !-1 would have died for love! 
Love can do so much, both rightly and wrongly.  
 It remembers mothers and little children, 
And lots of other things.     
O men unborn, I go now my work unfinished! 
I pass on the problem to you; the world will hate you: be brave! " 

Think also of him in the words of Rupert Brooke's fine sonnet, "The Soldier," commencing :-    
" If I should die, think only this of me : 
That there's some corner of a foreign field 
That is for ever England."

It is tempting to quote much of his verse to throw further light on his character, but this must wait until his second book, "The Quest of Truth," appears.* These unpublished manuscripts were in my hands on that fatal 24th of January, lent me by a friend to whom the poet's mother had sent them for perusal at her son's request, and so the news came with a greater shock and a greater realisation of the personality that was gone and of the sweet singer whose voice was mute-that voice that was a power for good. But the things he wrote shall live after him, and be an inspiration for others to seek beauty even as he sought it. He stand" high among the soldier-poets of this age, in a special  niche of his own in that" House of Fame" where the names of all true poets are enshrined for ever. 
                  by Russell Markland, Phil.B, the poet "Ingersley"
*authors note:
The "Quest of Truth" was published posthumously, Freston  never saw the reviews.

To add to these thoughts, as valedictory, I quote "Death", Freston's premonition of his own 

" Suddenly a great noise shall fill my ears,
Like angry waters or the roar of men;
I shall be dizzy,faint,with many fears;
Blindly my hands shall clutch the air - and then

I shall be walking 'neath the quiet skies,
In the familiar land of former years,
Among familiar faces. I shall arise
In that dear land where there are no more tears."

and an extract from a letter from the Officer Commanding, B Coy, Royal Berkshire Regiment ( Princess Charlotte of Wales's ) to Rex Freston's parents

"Your son was killed at about 2.50p.m. on Monday, 24th January. He had gone to inspect a "dug out" which had been shelled. It was just beside the stretcher bearers', "dug out" and he had been talking to them. Several shells came over,one of which struck him. From that moment he was dead, although he breathed a few times - no suffering."

In another life, Rex Freston's heartening grasp of what he feels really counts is clear in a poem "To my mother" found on a leaf torn from his College notebook, written before he went to war.

"To you, all times the same and never old,
I give this book, in hopes that you may find
Some pleasing song to treasure in your mind,
Some tender thought within your heart to fold

And though among these pages there may be
Strange dreams of mine, that now shall make you sad,
'Here he was troubled when I deemed him glad,'
'Here is a sorrow which he kept from me;'

Yet grieve not, dearest, for your little son:
New loves might change, but yours was always true;
When all men failed him he returned to you,
And there found all, for you are all in one.

Attached to this poem was a hasty note to his mother
Dearest Mother,         
I am afraid I wrote this in the middle of doing my logic for tomorrow. Never mind. Don't show it to anybody, for heavens sake, but I shall put it in the front of my first book of verse, and may get it printed alone in some paper first, perhaps in the Pall Mall Gazette, or the Athenaeum,
Now goodbye, dear,
( back to the grindstone),
Best love as ever. from Rex.

The story of a soldier, sourced much from "The Quest of Truth" when the trials of trench warfare obviously pressed heavily upon Freston. Having said this, the lightness of his character continues to come across.  To find more of this true lightness and his joy for life I direct the reader to his earlier poems in "The Quest of Beauty"  
About myself and the foregoing.
 I discovered Rex Freston by accident after sorting through junk in an old suitcase found under the stairs which turned up two handwritten diaries, 1919 and 1922, written by my late father-in-law, Russell Markland. With their fading ink they were hard to decipher but references to letters from a Mr and Mrs Freston aroused my curiosity - the text above is the result. But that is not the end of it !
The trail led my fingers through estates in Cumbria, even to Australia and back, to the founding of a brewery: to Dr Charles Henry Poole LL.D, FW Orde Ward, Emile Cammaerts, Henri M Leon (aka Abdullah Quilliam):on  to heroes of WW2 and still the threads unravel. More clues to this trail are on colemanancestry.blogspot.co.uk  My machete remains sharp.