Victor Selwyn

1917 - 2005

The Salamander Oasis Trust is very sorry to have to record the death of its Editor-in Chief Victor Selwyn who died on Wednesday 26 October. He was 88. Victor was one of the three original Editors of a wartime publication in Cairo called "Oasis". This would prove to be the precursor of a whole series of post-war anthologies published under the auspices of the Salamander Oasis Trust between 1980 and 1995.

Victor Selwyn eventually became Editor-in-Chief as most of those who had joined him in editing the half-dozen anthologies passed on. But he was in every way always the moving spirit of the Trust, to which he devoted his life and his own finances. This major contribution to World War II literature was acknowledged by Victor being made an MBE.

The whole idea of publishing war poetry in 1942 came when the original three - none above the rank of corporal - met in a serviceman's club in Cairo. Two were ex-Fleet Street journalists, the third a South African airman.

Victor Selwyn and his two colleagues then put together a collection of poetry about the Middle East war, chosen from some 3,000 poems submitted by men serving there. General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, their Commander-in-Chief, wrote an introduction and "Oasis" was circulated by the army.

After the Second World War ended, several of the original Cairo poets agreed to set up the Salamander Oasis Trust, and to advertise for poetry from British servicemen everywhere. This appeal eventually produced more than 20,000 poems and diary items - now all deposited in the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth Road, London.

The first post-war anthology Return to Oasis, subtitled "War Poems & Recollections From the Middle East 1940-1946" was published by Shepheard-Walwyn in 1980. This was followed in 1983 by From Oasis Into Italy, by the same publisher, 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 on the Western Front, the Oasis poems were written by all ranks, both men and women, serving in battle areas all over the world.

Victor defined the aims of the Salamander Oasis poetry in his Introduction to the Schools OASIS - Poems of the Second World War published in 1982.

"The Oasis series include only poems by those serving in World War Two and written at the time. This gives the poems their immediacy. Poems, especially from the unknowns, smell of war, an authenticity ensured by the compilers having also been participants in that war, both serving and writing. That is how it was. We were there. The poems, above all, reflect the grass roots nature of World War Two. A literate and aware generation. Uncommercial. Caring, maybe innocent, an unwarlike generation, that had to go to war. Hitler had to be stopped. A better world would come! A Churchillian belief, too: work for all, enhanced welfare and education. ... To the question, am I my brother's keeper, the answer was unequivocally Yes."

Victor Selwyn was born in London during the First World War and served as a foot soldier in World War II, his war ending in Italy. A graduate of the London School of Economics, he went into journalism and wrote articles for Fleet Street papers, on subjects ranging from economics to scientific and medical matters.

In 1976 he founded the Salamander Oasis Trust and co-edited all the half-dozen anthologies, finally ending up as Editor-on-Chief. In retirement he lived in Brighton.