‘Violent and loving’ poet from Aylesbury subject of major new biography

Book cover of Walking Wounded, a biography of poet Vernon Scannell
Book cover of Walking Wounded, a biography of poet Vernon Scannell

The biography of a renowned poet who grew up in Aylesbury and is described as a ‘loving father, violent drunk and wife-beater is being released next week.

Vernon Scannell, who attended Queens Park School (which is now the arts centre off Walton Road) wrote some of the finest poetry to come out of the Second World War.

Biography Walking Wounded, published by Oxford University Press, draws on his personal diaries, poems, writings, and other writings to offer the first detailed study of his complex life.

Scannell was serious wounded in Normandy shortly after D-Day and biographer James Andrew Taylor looks at the deeper, mental scars from the war that he bore all his life, and of the suffering they caused to him and the people who loved him.

He was, according to Mr Taylor, a wounded D-Day veteran, a serial deserter, a violent drunk, a loving father who abandoned his first child, a boxer and a brawler, a wife-beater, a bigamist, and a passionately romantic lover.

For the first time, the women who loved him tell their stories while his children describe growing up with a father who was funny, affectionate, sometimes violent, and often not there at all.

His fellow poets, including the late Seamus Heaney, Anthony Thwaite, Alan Brownjohn, and Kit Wright, speak of the dedicated stylist, assured performer, and sometimes roistering drunk that they knew.

Mr Taylor argues that psychiatrists today might say he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

He said: “He had a brutal, violent and lonely childhood, and then he was thrown into conflict, facing machine gun bullets and artillery barrages. It’s the classic recipe for post-traumatic stress disorder… His view of warfare isn’t that of the hero, the officer, or the professional soldier, but of the ordinary conscripted man.

“And it was his triumph to turn his experiences into memorable poetry of war, of love, and of the whole range of human experience.”

Mr Taylor is giving a talk about his book at the Queens Park Arts Centre on Friday November 15 from 8pm.

The event will also an introduction given by Sir Henry Aubrey-Fletcher, the Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire.

Mr Taylor is the author of ten books, including biographies of the Arabian traveller Charles Doughty and the sixteenth-century cartographer Gerard Mercator, as well as books on language, literature, poetry, and history.

Walking Wounded is released on Thursday, October 24.