As a solicitor and a soldier, Frederick William Harvey, admitted 1912, broke a few moulds. The Chesterfield practitioner's brief entry in the Law Society's record of service notes only that he 'Served as Lance-Corporal, 5th Batt. Gloucestershire Regt. and awarded the DCM [distinguished conduct medal]. Subsequently gazetted 2nd Lieut, in same Regt.'
The entry does not mention that Harvey survived the opening of the Battle of the Somme but was captured in August 1916 while undertaking a solo reconnaissance of the German trenches - almost incredibly, by daylight. He spent two years in prisoner of war camps. There he discovered a hatred of incarceration - which was to shape his later career as a defence solicitor - and a talent for poetry. His best known verse from this period is Ducks, with its opening line 'From troubles of the world I turn to ducks…’.
As a prisoner, Harvey took part in numerous escape attempts and, according to his 1920 book Comrades in Captivity, acted as a secret and unofficial 'prisoner's friend' preparing defences for comrades facing charges such as theft and destruction of German property. He recalled: 'The Germans certainly had their suspicions of what I was doing, as shown by a remark at one of the courts-martial when [Commandant] Beetz snarled suddenly, 'And these lies have been carefully made up for you by Lt Harvey, I suppose?'
Harvey was repatriated via Holland just before the Armistice. After the war he set up practice in the Forest of Dean, where according to the F.W. Harvey Society he specialised in defending those who could not normally afford legal representation. He sold his practice in the 1930s, gave away most of his money, and became a poet and broadcaster and died in 1957.
Much of Harvey's work is a celebration of his beloved Gloucestershire. But his anthologised Prisoners, written in a PoW camp, starkly brings home the experience in its lines:
’Laugh like old men with senses atrophied, Heeding no present, to the future dead'.
Will Harvey's War opens at the Everyman Theatre Cheltenham on 30 July.