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BRIGGS, Ernest.

"Year Without Spring."

Unpublished typescript account of World War Two service in Papua New Guinea.

1942 Stock Code: 93902
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Unpublished wartime recollections of Papua New Guinea

Compelling and highly-readable epistolary account of army service in Papua New Guinea by the Australian poet, broadcaster and music critic, Ernest Briggs (1905-1967), the letters being addressed to the pianist Harriet Cohen (1895-1967), acclaimed particularly as an interpreter of Bach. The work is unpublished and the only other copy traced is in the Ernest Briggs Collection, Fryer Library, University of Queensland.

Before the war, Briggs was a broadcaster and continuity announcer for a Brisbane radio station; in February 1942 he was "mobilized in the Militia" and "served as a clerk at New Guinea Force headquarters before being discharged medically unfit on 14 December in Brisbane. Briggs's discovery of the works of Yeats, with whom he had previously corresponded, and on whom he later lectured and wrote, transformed his life" and he went on to pubish several volumes of poetry (Australian Dictionary of Biography).

Briggs tends to avoid specific detail, but much of the five months covered in the volume is spent in Papua New Guinea (there is a reference on 20 August 1942 to Port Moresby, and another on 8 September to "rubber plantations at Eworogo Creek"). On 18 July he describes his "new post with the Administrative Section", and later he works at "road-making". Along the way he covers such topics as military food, guard duty, pay-books, hospital, and chaplains. He complains that, having "spent the last fifteen years in the shaping of my soul in the hope of serving my generation as a poet", he has now been "wrenched from all to which I gave my life, and tossed into the army where there are a hundred subtle ways of destroying imagination and sensitivity".

Harriet Cohen inspired a number of composers, amongst them Ralph Vaughan Williams and Constant Lambert; she was the muse and lover of Arnold Bax, and Bartok dedicated the closing six pieces of Mikrokosmos to her. The fine profile portrait of her tipped-in here is inscribed "Ernest, with love, Harriet Cohen"

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Quarto. Contemporary commercial spring-back binder of purple pebble-grain cloth, 297 pp. carbon typescript, loose leaves and their brown card wrappers. Binder worn and somewhat faded, lightly marked from old tape repairs, contents a little toned, overall very good. Two photographic prints – "Harriet Cohen, C.B.E." and "Franz von Vecsey" (the Hungarian violinist) - tipped in, with a third loosely inserted (typed label on back headed "Passager sur Terre"). Tipped in onto the reverse of f.20 is what appears to be the original pencil diagram by "One of the lads, Norman Palfrey", intending to "prove to the rest that a right-angle is not a right-angle". With a few minor manuscript corrections (almost certainly in Briggs's autograph).


Binder worn and somewhat faded, lightly marked from old tape repairs, contents a little toned, overall very good.


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