DAY 41
Becca Magnus

Forgot My Socks

100 days
100 lives
100 words

I forgot my socks. Left them at the rest camp. A trivial thing, socks. Morning greets us with bone-shattering salutations, an iron hail, hailing the end to us. The mulching masses.

“Isaac Rosenberg was a dreamer, artist and poet, who wanted nothing more than to get out of this bloody war. He didn’t fight for King and Country. He fought to get it over with.” Becca Magnus

Creating the Centena

Isaac wasn’t a strong man. In fact, he was physically weak, being recalled from Cape Town on medical rest from to serve. Teetering at five feet tall, he wasn’t a promising soldier. He never flourished on the front line. He couldn’t fight, could barely manage manual labour, and was constantly insubordinate through idle daydreams. His words were his sharpest weapons, and he employed them bitterly.

Most known for his unflinching war poetry, Rosenberg confronted the realities of trench warfare and survival with grimacing grit and a biting turn of phrase. The son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, Rosenberg would have been condemned to a life of tough labour and poverty in the East End, were it not for his artistic talents. After gaining patronage to attend the Slade School of Arts, he studied portraiture while venting frustrations through poetry. Eventually the pen won over the paintbrush.

A prolific writer, Isaac wrote all sorts of letters, both poetic and prosaic, while on the front line. He would send off reams of poetry to his patron, Edward Marsh, the private secretary to Winston Churchill, complaining of his experiences of anti-semitism, tough labour, violence and ridicule while fighting on the front line. He would write to newspapers, debating their critiques of his work. He would kvetch to his mother about the abominable food.

© National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG 4129)

This image from the National Portrait Gallery is licensed under Creative Commons to be used for non-commercial projects (e.g. online in scholarly and non-profit publications and websites, blogs, local society newsletters and family history).

While researching this fascinating man, I first delved deep into his gut-wrenching poetry. The final lines of his final poem, posted to Edward Marsh just days before he died, expresses the futility of war:

“and they see with living eyes
how long they have been dead”

I experimented with writing verse informed by the rhythm of his wider body of work, however, I felt it didn’t express enough of the man himself in the way his letters do.

The act of writing a letter is so human, and his own have a lightness and humour to them, even in the darkness of the trenches, that I found profound and beautiful.
Becca Magnus

In fact, the last piece he is known to have written, was a final letter to Edward Marsh. On March 28th, he writes that he has sourced an “inch of candle”, to send his latest, and possibly greatest poem to his patron. In a cruel twist of fate, he is killed on April 1st, his letter postmarked April 2nd.

In another letter, entirely different from most of his work, he writes about losing his socks. It is entirely out of character for his writing, and yet entirely in character with his person. A day dreamer, a furiously talented writer, a man who can’t keep track of his socks. These two letters informed my decision to blend the two together, to write an alternative final letter, hinting at the horrors of war through mourning another sockless morning.

About the author

Becca Magnus – a brand writer and designer-in-training

Discover More

Lives of the First World War

Read Isaac Rosenberg’s life story on Lives of the First World War

About 26

26 is a group of writers whose purpose is to inspire a greater love of words in business and in life.