Before attending CoHabiting: Contemporary Art, History and Feminism in Brighton, visited the Museum’s War Stories exhibition. An incredibly moving exhibition of personal narratives, explained through individual artifacts, ephemera and relationships to a place. One in particular resonated, the relationship between Sergt-Major George Fulkes and Nurse Betty Donnelly. Meeting when he was brought back from the front-line to recover in hospital.
A poem he published in Pavilion ‘Blues’ expressing his feelings:
A Blue’s Lament, April 1912
May I not, because I’m wounded, say the things I fain would say?
If my eyes should note your beauty, would it be lèse-majesté?
Am I barred from speech impassioned just because I’m dressed in blue?
Is my heart less truly fashioned must I hide my love from you?
Just because my knees are baggy, am I subject for a jest?
Trousers, though turned up to shorted, cover stull a manly breast.
Need I be less fleet to greet thee if ward shoes my feet encase?
Ah, you blush, or is my scarlet tie reflected in your face?
Every dressing, every bandage that about my arm you bind
Is a web of tender memories round my loving heart entwined.
Had I but the magic potion lover’s use, I’d get a jug,
But you dress me with red lotion just enough to soak a plug.
Sleeves that show, when rolled to elbows, arms as white as “lead and zinc”
Feet as small as Cinderella’s press the tap beneath the sink.
Found you trouble or disaster, I would hold by you as light
As the awful sticking –plaster that disturbs my sleep at night.
Every day you fix my dressing, fix it with a safety pin:
Safety – ah, a dozen safeties may not keep my passion in.
Mad with longing I have watched you pinch another sister’s bowl,
And, when spotted, smile a smile that melts into my very soul.
Little hands lose their whiteness if immersed in iodine.
Aether sometimes dims the brightness of the fairest eyes I’ve seen.
Though as far as plus from minus you are form my arching heart
You, where’er you probe a sinus, wound me as with Cupid’s dart.
“Mist expect” you give me early, “mist expect” you give me late,
Too much expectation wearies, pity my unhappy state.
When at lengths, my healing finished you and I for every part,
Think sometimes of how I left you – sound in body, sick at heart.
George and Betty married in 1918.