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Ivor Gurney (1890–1937)

Ivor GurneyBorn in Gloucester on 28th August 1890, Ivor sang as a chorister at the Cathedral for five years from the age of ten. He started composing music at the age of fourteen, winning a scholarship in 1911 to study under Sir Charles Villiers Stanford at the Royal College of Music.

With the outbreak of war, Gurney enlisted as a private soldier in the Gloucester Regiment. Whilst at the front he began writing poetry seriously (his name appears with fifteen others on a slate plaque in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey commemorating war poets), and he was working on his first book Severn and Somme in 1917 when he was wounded and gassed.

Suffering a serious nervous breakdown in March 1918, and threatening suicide in June, Ivor made something of a recovery and was honourably discharged from the army in October. His friend, Marion Scott, put his illness down to ‘deferred’ shell shock, although Gurney had had a nervous breakdown as early as 1913.

Briefly returning to the RCM, where he was taught by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ivor’s mental problems persisted and in 1922 his family had him declared insane, although he continued to write prolifically whilst in asylums. He died in the City of London Mental Hospital, Dartford, on Boxing Day 1937, aged just forty-seven.

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