Denis Saunders ('Almendro')

1920 - 2005

The Salamander Oasis Trust is very sorry to have to record the death of one of the three original Editors of the wartime publication "Oasis", which was the precursor of a series of post-war anthologies published under the auspices of the Salamander Oasis Trust. He died in South Africa on 14 July 2005.

The whole idea of publishing war poetry in 1943 came about when Denis Saunders, then an airman with the South African Air Force serving in the Middle East, met up with Victor Selwyn and another Fleet Street journalist, David Burk, who were both writers serving in the British Army in Cairo.

The three thought up the idea of putting together a collection of poetry about the Middle East war, written by those who were there, and to be circulated through army circles at the time. General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, then Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East Force, was persuaded to write a Foreword to the poems the three Editors chose out of the 3,000 sent in by servicemen in the area. What was then primarily an Other Rank and unofficial spare-time initiative proved extremely popular.

As a review in the Palestine Post said at the time: "The poems were written by men under the stress of war in the desert, in the air and on the sea, under the impact of countries and people strangely new to them. The three anthologists have done a very difficult job very well indeed."

After the Second World War had ended, several of the original Cairo poets agreed to set up the Salamander Oasis Trust, and to advertise for poetry not only from the original contributors, but from British servicemen everywhere. This appeal eventually produced more than 20,000 poems and diary items - now deposited in the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth Road, London.

The first post-war anthology Return to Oasis and which was subtitled "War Poems & Recollections From the Middle East 1940-1946" was published by Shepheard-Walwyn in 1980. Denis Saunders who wrote under the pseudonym of Almendro was the first poet featured, with three poems which will follow this obituary note. Others of his poems appeared in several of the succeeding anthologies or in other books in his native South Africa.

Return to Oasis was followed in 1983 by From Oasis Into Italy, which included poetry and diary accounts to include the Italian Campaign and fighting in the Balkans. As more wartime poetry surfaced, J.M. Dent & Sons published Poems of the Second World War (1985) and More Poems of the Second World War (1989). There was also a Schools Oasis and a final Oasis anthology, drawing on poems from all the previous books, published by Penguin Books in 1996 as The Voice of War.

Unlike the better-known poems of the First World War, which were mainly written by officers serving on the Western Front, the Oasis poems were written by all ranks in battle areas all over the world. They included poems by men and women from all over the British Empire. There were poems in the Gaelic, in Afrikaans and Basuto. The one requirement was that all the poetry had been written at the time (or soon after) by people who served in the Forces between 1939 and 1946.

One literary publisher described it as "the autobiography of a generation".

Denis Saunders returned to South Africa where he became a homoeopathic doctor, naturopath and osteopath. His main private interest was in astrology. He had four children, and five grandchildren.

Those of us associated with him in the poetry of World War Two recognise that without Denis Saunders - 'Almendro' - Oasis poetry would never have been born, and would still be being read extensively these Sixty Years later.

Three poems by Denis Saunders are reproduced here.