About the Trust
As of May 2012, following the death of Colin McIntyre, last editor of the Salamander Oasis Trust, the Trust has effectively ceased to operate. This website will be maintained for the immediate future to provide a historical record of the Salamander Oasis poets.
The OASIS poets came together in Cairo in World War Two, and published their first selection of wartime poetry there in 1943. Whereas most of the poetry of the First World War was written on the Western Front in France and Flanders - the great majority of it by officers - it was the desert war in North Africa that first inspired many of the poets of World War II.
Later the poetry of the Second World War would be written in battle areas all over the world from EI Alamein to Burma, and from the beaches of Normandy to the islands of the Pacific. It was written by men holding every kind of rank in the three services, many of whom had never written a word in their lives before. And not only were men writing poetry about the war, but members of the three women's services were contributing as well.
After the war, the Salamander Oasis Trust was set up to collect, edit and publish not only the original Cairo poems but selections from all the other poetry written during the Second World War. The one requirement was that it had all been written at the time or soon after by people serving in the Forces between 1939-1945 or, in the case of the Balkans, 1946.
The first collected anthology of all these poems, Return to Oasis was published by Shepheard Walwyn in 1980. It was followed in 1983 by From Oasis Into Italy, by the same publishers. Since then some half-dozen other anthologies have been published, under the auspices of the Salamander Oasis Trust, by a variety of different publishing firms. Poems of the Second World War and More Poems of the Second World War were published by Everyman's Library; and there was a special Schools Oasis of poems chosen with the young in mind.
Over the years some 20,000 wartime poems, diaries, drawings and letters were collected. The original manuscripts, whether used or unused, were deposited at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth Road, London, SE1 with copies held by Reading University. One publisher described the collections as "the autobiography of a generation".
A final Oasis anthology, drawing on poems from the series of anthologies as a whole, was published by Michael Joseph (in hardback) and then by Penguin Books in paperback in 1996 under the title The Voice of War - Poems of the Second World War (£7.99) This anthology is edited by Victor Selwyn, the only one of the five original editors still living.
These World War II anthologies differed from those stemming from the First World War not only by reflecting very different wartime conditions all over the world, but understandably by including a high proportion of poems about the Air - poems about fighter-pilots and those who went on bombing raids allover Europe and elsewhere. There are more poems seen from the Home Front than in that earlier war. There are many poems written by men (and women) from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. There is a poem translated from Basuto. There are poems in the Gaelic by Sorley Maclean and George Carpenter Hay.
The women's poetry reflects their closeness to war as in this one by a WAAF Radar Operator.
An even more harrowing poem is one by another WAAF, Mary Harrison, who worked on the topographical models prepared for bomber crews to identify their targets in civilian towns. She examines her feelings of responsibility for the deaths of children and other non-combatants who would die as a result of the relief maps which she provided.
The Voice Of War opens with a Roll of Honour "In Memory" of seventeen poets who died in World War II. Some of them such as Keith Douglas, John Jarmain, Sidney Keyes, Alun Lewis and Richard Spender had work published before the war, or were known as poets to a small public; others had not been published before the Oasis series began. A Sidney Keyes poem used as a frontispiece in the first anthology says it all:
It is impossible to say what level those who died might have achieved. Several of those whose early work appeared in Oasis anthologies lived on to become established poets and writers. I think of Roy Campbell, Roy Fuller, Hamish Henderson, Sorley Maclean, F. T. Prince, John Pudney, Alan Ross and Vernon Scammell. Among South African contributors one must mention Denis Saunders, who under the pseudonym 'Almendro' was one of the joint founders of Oasis, and also Uys Krige, probably his country's leading poet at the time. Others whose work appeared in the Oasis books became distinguished in later years as politicians, or in the world of entertainment; such as Quintin Hogg and Enoch Powell; and in the latter field, Dirk Bogarde, David Dunhin and Spike Milligan. Perhaps the saddest story is that of Frank Thompson, son of the First World War poet Edward Thompson, who as a Major with GHQ (Phantom Regiment) was parachuted into Yugoslavia to work with the partisans. Captured with a Bulgarian group near Sofia he was tried as a rebel. Notwithstanding being in the King's uniform he was shot as a spy in 1944.