Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1944, war poet Major John Jarmain, 61st Anti-Tank Regiment, the Royal Artillery, was killed by a mortar shell in France.
Educated at Shrewsbury School and Queen’s College, Cambridge, he read mathematics and won a blue for gymnastics. His first love was poetry, so to supplement his income he took a post as a schoolmaster teaching mathematics, English, literature and Italian at Millfield School in Street.
In September of 1939 he enlisted in the Royal Artillery. Two years later, after hard training in Scotland, he was sent to Egypt and then saw action at the Battle of El Alamein in 1942. He also saw action in a number of battles until the surrender of Tunis in May of 1943, being in exposed positions on the front line: Tobruk, Mersa Brega, Misurata, Leptis Magna, Tripoli, the Mareth Line, Wadi Akrit and Enfidaville.
During this time he wrote what is considered to be his best poetry - wherever he found himself, in dugouts, the desert, on the move, and at night by moonlight. He was a pacifist who had the word "atheist" on his dog tags. "I don't suppose God will take a blind bit of notice," he would say to those who thought he was disrespectful. He took part in the invasion of Sicily in July of 1943, and saw action at Vizzini, Ramacca, Gerbini and the Sferro Hills, after which he returned to England in preparation for D-Day. Major Jarmain landed in Normandy on the 7th of June in 1944, and ended up in an exposed salient to the east of Caen in the Calvados region.
On the day of his death he was driving at dawn through the village of St. Honorine-la-Chardonorette towards Caen to inspect his troops when a mortar shell exploded, killing him. He is buried in the 6th Airborne Cemetery at Ranville, ten kilometres north-east of Caen in Normandy.
Professor Tim Kendall, Director of the University of Exeter’s Centre for Literature and Archives, said: “The poets of the Second World War are less well-known than their First World War predecessors, but at their best, they were just as powerful. In Jarmain’s work, the mud of the Somme is replaced by desert landscape. He is a landscape poet inspired by some of the most hostile and forbidding landscapes ever endured”.
John, from Shrewsbury, was 33 years old and married with five children.