War Poet

William Noel Hodgson was the youngest son of Henry Bernard Hodgson, who was vicar of Berwick-upon-Tweed from  1897 to 1914 before becoming the first bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

Noel grew up in Berwick, before gaining a scholarship at the age of twelve to Durham School.

Although he had always wanted to be a writer, he joined the Devonshire Regiment on the outbreak of war, only to be killed in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Known as ‘Smiler’ by his friends, Hodgson used the pen name ‘Edward Melbourne’. His most famous poem is ‘Before Action’, which was published two days before his death.

Noel Hodgson is commemorated, along with his comrades from Berwick, on the war memorial to the left of the altar in Berwick Parish Church.

Before Action

By all the glories of the day

And the cool evening’s benison

By that last sunset touch that lay

Upon the hills when day was done,

By beauty lavishly outpoured

And blessings carelessly received,

By all the days that I have lived

Make me a soldier, O Lord.

By all of all man’s hopes and fears

And all the wonders poets sing,

The laughter of unclouded years,

And every sad and lovely thing;

By the romantic ages stored

With high endeavour that was his,

By all his mad catastrophes

Make me a man, O Lord.

I, that on my familiar hill

Saw with uncomprehending eyes

A hundred of thy sunsets spill

Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,

Ere the sun swings his noonday sword

Must say good-bye to all of this; –

By all delights that I shall miss,

Help me to die, O Lord.


Find out more about Noel Hodgson:


War Poets Association

The Great War