Lancashire Fusiliers of Interest

(or infamous)

Lancashire Fusiliers

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, (1892-1973),
Lancashire Fusilier,
writer and philologist

Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel (1892-1973),writer and philologist, was born on 3 January 1892 in Bloemfontein, Orange Free State, the elder son of Arthur Reuel Tolkien (1857-1896) and his wife, Mabel (1870-1904), daughter of John Suffield. His father and mother both came from Birmingham, but Arthur Tolkien had left England in 1889, and by 1892 was manager of the Bloemfontein branch of the Bank of Africa.

Early life and education

J. R. R. Tolkien's early life bears witness to continuing emotional distress and insecurity, coupled with precocious and idiosyncratic intellectual development. His mother returned to England on a visit in 1895 with her two sons (Tolkien's younger brother Hilary was born on 17 February 1894), expecting her husband to join them later. But Arthur Tolkien died of rheumatic fever in Bloemfontein on 15 February 1896, leaving only a few hundred pounds in shares as support for his widow. For a time Mabel Tolkien economized by teaching her sons herself, and by setting up home in the hamlet of Sarehole, now part of the King's Heath suburb of Birmingham but at that time still outside the city. When her elder son, aged eight, passed the entrance examination for King Edward's School, Birmingham, then located in the city centre, she was obliged to move into town, living in one rented house after another. Her financial situation was not eased by her conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1900, which caused an estrangement from some members of her family; and on 14 November 1904 she too died young, of diabetes, leaving her sons as wards of Father Francis Morgan of the Birmingham Oratory. He arranged for the boys to be boarded, first with a distant relative of theirs and then with an acquaintance of his own. But Tolkien experienced a further painful separation when, at the age of sixteen, he fell in love with a fellow lodger, Edith Bratt (1889-1971), daughter of Frances Bratt, of Wolverhampton, a fatherless girl three years older than himself. When his guardian learned of the relationship, the pair were separated and Tolkien was obliged to promise not to communicate with Edith until he came of age-a promise he kept to the letter.

Meanwhile Tolkien's school-life was unusually happy and successful. He had sympathetic teachers, showed special aptitude for languages, and was introduced, or introduced himself, to Old and Middle English, Old Norse, and Gothic. He also formed strong friendships with other members of an unofficial school literary society. In December 1910 he won an exhibition to Exeter College, Oxford, and went up to the university in 1911 to read honour moderations in classics. In 1913 he achieved only a second class, largely because of the time he had spent on Germanic languages outside the syllabus, and was allowed to change to the honours school of English, a large part of which was concerned with linguistic and philological study. Tolkien's tutor was Kenneth Sisam (1887-1971), but he was taught also by the Yorkshire philologist Joseph Wright. He found this course of study much more congenial, and achieved a first in his finals in 1915. He had also, just after midnight on his twenty-first birthday, while on vacation from Oxford, written again to Edith Bratt, the pair becoming engaged very soon after.

War, The Regiment and Academia

Unlike so many of his contemporaries, Tolkien did not rush to join up immediately on the outbreak of war, but returned to Oxford, where he worked hard and finally achieved a first-class degree in June 1915. At this time he was also working on various poetic attempts, and on his invented languages, especially one that he came to call Qenya [sic], which was heavily influenced by Finnish - but he still felt the lack of a connecting thread to bring his vivid but disparate imaginings together. Tolkien finally enlisted as a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers whilst working on ideas of Earendel [sic] the Mariner, who became a star, and his journeyings. For many months Tolkien was kept in boring suspense in England, mainly in Staffordshire. Finally it appeared that he must soon embark for France, and he and Edith married in Warwick on 22 March 1916.

Eventually he was indeed sent to active duty on the Western Front where he joined the 11th Battalion as a signals officer. From July to October the regiment took part in the battle of the Somme, including the fighting in the battle's later stages around the Schwaben redoubt. One of Tolkien's closest friends from school was killed at the very start of the battle, on 1 July, and another late in 1916. Tolkien, however, succumbed to trench fever on 27 October, and was returned to England the following month where he spent the next month in hospital in Birmingham. By Christmas he had recovered sufficiently to stay with Edith at Great Haywood in Staffordshire.
During these last few months, all but one of his close friends of the "T. C. B. S." (Tea Club, Barrovian Society, named after their school days meeting place at the Barrow Stores) had been killed in action. Partly as an act of piety to their memory, but also stirred by reaction against his war experiences, he had already begun to put his stories into shape, ". . .. in huts full of blasphemy and smut, or by candle light in bell-tents, even some down in dugouts under shell fire." This ordering of his imagination developed into the Book of Lost Tales (not published in his lifetime), in which most of the major stories of the Silmarillion appear in their first form: tales of the Elves and the "Gnomes", (Deep Elves, the later Noldor), with their languages Qenya and Goldogrin. Here are found the first recorded versions of the wars against Morgoth, the siege and fall of Gondolin and Nargothrond, and the tales of Túrin and of Beren and Lúthien.

Throughout 1917 and 1918 his illness kept recurring, although periods of remission enabled him to do home service at various camps sufficiently well to be promoted to lieutenant. It was when he was stationed at Hull that he and Edith went walking in the woods at nearby Roos, and there in a grove thick with hemlock Edith danced for him. This was the inspiration for the tale of Beren and Lúthien, a recurrent theme in his "Legendarium". He came to think of Edith as "Lúthien" and himself as "Beren". Their first son, John Francis Reuel (later Father John Tolkien) had already been born on 16 November 1917.

When the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, Tolkien had already been putting out feelers to obtain academic employment, and by the time he was demobilised he had been appointed Assistant Lexicographer on the New English Dictionary (the "Oxford English Dictionary"), then in preparation. While doing the serious philological work involved in this, he also gave one of his Lost Tales its first public airing - he read The Fall of Gondolin to the Exeter College Essay Club, where it was well received by an audience which included Neville Coghill and Hugo Dyson, two future "Inklings". However, Tolkien did not stay in this job for long. In the summer of 1920 he applied for the quite senior post of Reader (approximately, Associate Professor) in English Language at the University of Leeds, and to his surprise was appointed.

At Leeds as well as teaching he collaborated with E. V. Gordon on the famous edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and continued writing and refining The Book of Lost Tales and his invented "Elvish" languages. In addition, he and Gordon founded a "Viking Club" for undergraduates devoted mainly to reading Old Norse sagas and drinking beer. It was for this club that he and Gordon originally wrote their Songs for the Philologists, a mixture of traditional songs and orginal verses translated into Old English, Old Norse and Gothic to fit traditional English tunes. Leeds also saw the birth of two more sons: Michael Hilary Reuel in October 1920, and Christopher Reuel in 1924. Then in 1925 the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professorship of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford fell vacant; Tolkien successfully applied for the post.

Professor Tolkien, The Inklings And Hobbits

In a sense, in returning to Oxford as a Professor, Tolkien had come home. Although he had few illusions about the academic life as a haven of unworldly scholarship (see for example Letters 250), he was nevertheless by temperament a don's don, and fitted extremely well into the largely male world of teaching, research, the comradely exchange of ideas and occasional publication. In fact, his academic publication record is very sparse, something that would have been frowned upon in these days of quantitative personnel evaluation.
However, his rare scholarly publications were often extremely influential, most notably his lecture "Beowulf, the Monsters and the Critics". His seemingly almost throwaway comments have sometimes helped to transform the understanding of a particular field - for example, in his essay on "English and Welsh", with its explanation of the origins of the term "Welsh" and its references to phonaesthetics (both these pieces are collected in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, currently in print). His academic life was otherwise largely unremarkable. In 1945 he changed his chair to the Merton Professorship of English Language and Literature, which he retained until his retirement in 1959. Apart from all the above, he taught undergraduates, and played an important but unexceptional part in academic politics and administration.

His family life was equally straightforward. Edith bore their last child and only daughter, Priscilla, in 1929. Tolkien got into the habit of writing the children annual illustrated letters as if from Santa Claus, and a selection of these was published in 1976 as The Father Christmas Letters. He also told them numerous bedtime stories, of which more anon. In adulthood John entered the priesthood, Michael and Christopher both saw war service in the Royal Air Force. Afterwards Michael became a schoolmaster and Christopher a university lecturer, and Priscilla became a social worker. They lived quietly in the North Oxford suburb of Headington.
However, Tolkien's social life was far from unremarkable. He soon became one of the founder members of a loose grouping of Oxford friends, (by no means all at the University), with similar interests, known as "The Inklings". The origins of the name were purely facetious - it had to do with writing, and sounded mildly Anglo-Saxon; there was no evidence that members of the group claimed to have an "inkling" of the Divine Nature, as is sometimes suggested. Other prominent members included the above-mentioned Messrs Coghill and Dyson, as well as Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, and above all C. S. Lewis, who became one of Tolkien's closest friends, and for whose return to Christianity Tolkien was at least partly responsible. The Inklings regularly met for conversation, drink, and frequent reading from their work-in-progress.

The Storyteller

Meanwhile Tolkien continued developing his mythology and languages. As mentioned above, he told his children stories, some of which he developed into those published posthumously as Mr. Bliss, Roverandom, etc. However, according to his own account, one day when he was engaged in the soul-destroying task of marking examination papers, he discovered that one candidate had left one page of an answer-book blank. On this page, moved by who knows what anarchic daemon, he wrote "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit".
In typical Tolkien fashion, he then decided he needed to find out what a Hobbit was, what sort of a hole it lived in, why it lived in a hole, etc. From this investigation grew a tale that he told to his younger children, and even passed round. In 1936 an incomplete typescript of it came into the hands of Susan Dagnall, an employee of the publishing firm of George Allen and Unwin (merged in 1990 with HarperCollins). She asked Tolkien to finish it, and presented the complete story to Stanley Unwin, the then Chairman of the firm. He tried it out on his 10-year old son Rayner, who wrote an approving report, and it was published as The Hobbit in 1937. It immediately scored a success, and has not been out of children's recommended reading lists ever since. It was so successful that Stanley Unwin asked if he had any more similar material available for publication.

By this time Tolkien had begun to make his Legendarium into what he believed to be a more presentable state, and as he later noted, hints of it had already made their way into The Hobbit. He was now calling the full account Quenta Silmarillion, or Silmarillion for short. He presented some of his "completed" tales to Unwin, who sent them to his reader. The reader's reaction was mixed: dislike of the poetry and praise for the prose (the material was the story of Beren and Lúthien) but the overall decision at the time was that these were not commercially publishable. Unwin tactfully relayed this messge to Tolkien, but asked him again if he was willing to write a sequel to The Hobbit. Tolkien was disappointed at the apparent failure of The Silmarillion, but agreed to take up the challenge of "The New Hobbit".
This soon developed into something much more than a children's story; for the highly complex 16-year history of what became The Lord of the Rings consult the works listed below. Suffice it to say that the now adult Rayner Unwin was deeply involved in the later stages of this opus, dealing magnificently with a dilatory and temperamental author who, at one stage, was offering the whole work to a commercial rival (which rapidly backed off when the scale and nature of the package became apparent). It is thanks to Rayner Unwin's advocacy that we owe the fact that this book was published at all - Andave laituvalmes! His father's firm decided to incur the probable loss of £1,000 for the succès d'estime, and publish it under the title of The Lord of the Rings in three parts during 1954 and 1955, with USA rights going to Houghton Mifflin. It soon became apparent that both author and publishers had greatly underestimated the work's public appeal.

The "Cult"

The Lord of the Rings rapidly came to public notice. It had mixed reviews, ranging from the ecstatic (W. H. Auden, C. S. Lewis) to the damning (E. Wilson, E. Muir, P. Toynbee) and just about everything in between. The BBC put on a drastically condensed radio adaptation in 12 episodes on the Third Programme. In 1956 radio was still a dominant medium in Britain, and the Third Programme was the "intellectual" channel. So far from losing money, sales so exceeded the break-even point as to make Tolkien regret that he had not taken early retirement. However, this was still based only upon hardback sales.

The really amazing moment was when The Lord of the Rings went into a pirated paperback version in 1965. Firstly, this put the book into the impulse-buying category; and secondly, the publicity generated by the copyright dispute alerted millions of American readers to the existence of something outside their previous experience, but which appeared to speak to their condition. By 1968 The Lord of the Rings had almost become the Bible of the "Alternative Society".

This development produced mixed feelings in the author. On the one hand, he was extremely flattered, and to his amazement, became rather rich. On the other, he could only deplore those whose idea of a great trip was to ingest The Lord of the Rings and LSD simultaneously. Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick had similar experiences with 2001- A Space Odyssey. Fans were causing increasing problems; both those who came to gawp at his house and those, especially from California who telephoned at 7 p.m. (their time - 3 a.m. his), to demand to know whether Frodo had succeeded or failed in the Quest, what was the preterite of Quenyan lanta-, or whether or not Balrogs had wings. So he changed addresses, his telephone number went ex-directory, and eventually he and Edith moved to Bournemouth, a pleasant but uninspiring South Coast resort (Hardy's "Sandbourne"), noted for the number of its elderly well-to-do residents.

Other Writings

Despite all the fuss over The Lord of the Rings, between 1925 and his death Tolkien did write and publish a number of other articles, including a range of scholarly essays, many reprinted in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays (see above); one Middle-earth related work, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil; editions and translations of Middle English works such as the Ancrene Wisse, Sir Gawain, Sir Orfeo and The Pearl, and some stories independent of the Legendarium, such as the Imram, The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son, The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun - and, especially, Farmer Giles of Ham, Leaf by Niggle, and Smith of Wootton Major.
The flow of publications was only temporarily slowed by Tolkien's death. The long-awaited Silmarillion, edited by Christopher Tolkien, appeared in 1977. In 1980 Christopher also published a selection of his father's incomplete writings from his later years under the title of Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth. In the introduction to this work Christopher Tolkien referred in passing to The Book of Lost Tales, "itself a very substantial work, of the utmost interest to one concerned with the origins of Middle-earth, but requiring to be presented in a lengthy and complex study, if at all" (Unfinished Tales, p. 6, paragraph 1).
The sales of The Silmarillion had rather taken George Allen & Unwin by surprise, and those of Unfinished Tales even more so. Obviously, there was a market even for this relatively abstruse material and they decided to risk embarking on this "lengthy and complex study". Even more lengthy and complex than expected, the resulting 12 volumes of the History of Middle-earth, under Christopher's editorship, proved to be a successful enterprise. (Tolkien's publishers had changed hands, and names, several times between the start of the enterprise in 1983 and the appearance of the paperback edition of Volume 12, The Peoples of Middle-earth, in 1997.)


After his retirement in 1959 Edith and Ronald moved to Bournemouth. On 22 November 1971 Edith died, and Ronald soon returned to Oxford, to rooms provided by Merton College. Ronald died on 2 September 1973. He and Edith are buried together in a single grave in the Catholic section of Wolvercote cemetery in the northern suburbs of Oxford. (The grave is well signposted from the entrance.) The legend on the headstone reads:
Edith Mary Tolkien, Lúthien, 1889-1971
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, Beren, 1892-1973

J R R Toliken's son, Michael Hilary Rouel (1920 - 1984),

was awarded the George Medal as an anti-aircraft gunner during the WW2 Blitz"

Sent in by Tracy Hollowood
The Hobbit may never have been written had J R R Tolkien not been bitten by lice at The Somme! He was a Lancashire Fusilier just like my dad.

Hobbit Author found in our Hospital Records

Did you know that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings might owe their existence to an insect? While transcribing name records for our MH106: ‘Military Hospitals Admission and Discharge Registers World War 1’ collection, a member of our Data Entry Team came across a familiar name: J R R Tolkien! It seems that the iconic author, who served with the 11th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers at the Somme in the Great War, was referred to No 11 Casualty Clearing Station from the 75th Field Ambulance with ‘Pyrexia of Unknown Origin’ (the generic term for a fever) on 28th October 1916. Trench fever was caused by the bites of body lice. Tolkien was treated for two days, then transferred to Number 22 Ambulance Train before being sent back home to ‘Blighty’. His regiment had been decimated by the fighting, and following his transfer the Battalion’s ‘D’ Company Headquarters was hit by German mortar fire, wounding a number of personnel, followed by a massive bombardment of their front line. Had Tolkien not been bitten by the humble louse, it is quite possible that he would have died and these incredible, atmospheric works of literature would never have been written.
We are proud to announce that there are now 50,000 searchable MH106 records, including Tolkien’s, on our database. We’re still a long way from digitising all 1.5 million names, but the transcription is progressing nicely thanks to the Data Entry Team’s hard work