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All the Way Home by Jane Clarke

In April 2017 the Mary Evans Picture Library invited Jane Clarke to write a sequence of poems in response to the Auerbach family archive belonging to Patricia Aubrey and represented by the library. Consisting of family photos, documents and other items, the collection offers a unique insight into how the First World War affected the members of this family, in particular Patricia's uncle, Albert Auerbach, who died in action in September 1918, and her aunt Lucy, who survived the war and lived on into the early 1970s.

Albert Auerbach and his elder sister Lucy were close and, alongside the photos, Albert's letters to Lucy from his overseas postings have been a particular source of inspiration for Jane, giving a detailed insight into the minutiae of a soldier's daily life in wartime.

Aged twenty, Albert joined the University Officers' Training Corps on 1 September 1914, the very first day of the war, as a private in the Royal Fusiliers. On 20 July 1915 he received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st London Regiment, Royal Fusiliers. Albert's first posting was to Gallipoli in November 1915, where he was involved in the evacuation of Suvla Bay and Cape Helles. After a time in Egypt he went on to France, from where he was invalided home with shell shock and dysentery on 3 December 1916. He spent some time in hospital, but returned to France on 20 June 1918. He was killed by a shell at Bouchavesnes, Perronne, on the Somme, in the early morning of 1 September 1918, exactly four years to the day of his joining up.

During the war Lucy worked at the War Office in London, but occasionally travelled to the Worcestershire village of Madresfield, near Malvern, to help with agricultural and dairy work, and no doubt enjoy a welcome rural break from the stresses of wartime London life. A gifted pianist, she made her living after the war by teaching piano.

Albert was posthumously awarded the Military Cross, presented to his mother at Wellington Barracks, London, on 10 July 1919. His sister Lucy made her own personal pilgrimage to the Somme area in September 1920 to see where her brother had fought and died.

November 1918, a time of relief, happiness and peace for some, was a time of tragic bereavement for the Auerbach family who had lost their eldest son just as the war was coming to an end.

Jane Clarke's poetry pamphlet, All the Way Home, was published by Smith|Doorstop in April 2019, with book launch events in Dublin, London and Manchester.

Here are some photos from the London event, which took place at the West Greenwich Library on 9 April 2019, hosted by Irena Hill of In-Words, along with a short film made on the evening.

Video: Anne Creates Media.

Jane Clarke, Patricia Aubrey and Blake Morrison. Photo: Paul Brown.

Patricia Aubrey and Gill Stoker. Photo: Paul Brown.

Jane Clark addressing the audience. Photo: Paul Brown.

Members of the audience under the impressive dome of West Greenwich Library. Photo: Paul Brown.

Jane Clarke holding up a copy of All the Way Home. Photo: Pawel Fesyk.

Gill Stoker addressing the audience. Photo: Pawel Fesyk.

Jane Clarke talking to a member of the audience. Photo: Pawel Fesyk.