Composer honoured at Borders concert remembering Somme dead

Composer Frederick Kelly was billeted in the village of Greenlaw. Picture: Contributed
Composer Frederick Kelly was billeted in the village of Greenlaw. Picture: Contributed
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The work of musicians, writers and artists who died at the Battle of the Somme will be honoured at a fundraising concert tomorrow in the Borders.

Among those remembered will be Frederick Septimus Kelly, a composer and British Olympic gold medallist, who was billeted in the village of Greenlaw, where the concert is being held, for six weeks in 1914 ahead of his deployment to Gallipoli.

The story of Kelly, who died 100 years ago tomorrow during the Battle of the Somme, was uncovered by Hugh Macdonald, former director of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

Mr Macdonald was gathering family history for a eulogy for his mother who died earlier this year and out of curiosity entered the words “Veitch’s grocer’s Greenlaw” into Google – the shop where his mother worked as a 14-year-old. 
“To my astonishment there was a link to Kelly’s war diaries which had only been published in 2014. The reason the shop came up was the link to these diaries.”

Mr Macdonald, co-director of the Lammermuir Festival, said: “He talks about being billeted above Mr Veitch’s shop – which my paternal grandfather eventually bought – and about composing a Christmas piece based on Good King Wenceslas which he played on the church organ for his battalion. That piece still exists. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be brilliant to do something commemorating the artists, musicians, poets and writers who lost their lives, played on the organ Kelly had used’.

“The Gallipoli Sonata which will be played in the concert was a big romantic piece, is a very passionate piece for violin and piano which Kelly wrote in the most horrendous conditions in the trenches.

“He dedicated it to Jelly D’Aranyi, a famous Hungarian violinist. They had played a lot of recitals together, him at the piano.

“When he was killed at the Somme she was absolutely devastated. She had a photo of Kelly on her piano for the rest of her life, up till she died in 1966, aged 72.”

The diaries also describe preparations for war and possible attack, with the entry for Wednesday, 16 December 1914 at “the house over Veitch’s Greenlaw” saying “Pinks told me of a rumour that the Germans were landing a force at Newcastle and that we were to be ready to start at any moment.

“Instead of a much hoped for rest I spent a feverish afternoon preparing for a possible departure.”

Kelly was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for conspicuous gallantry during the evacuation of Gallipoli.

Kelly’s musi,c which was almost forgotten after the war, underwent a revival and an elegy he wrote for his friend, the poet Rupert Brooke, was played at the BBC Proms in 2014.

It is understood that he composed music as a means of blocking out the death and destruction that he experienced in the trenches.

Mr Macdonald said: “Every death in war is a tragedy whether the person was unknown or of some reputation.

“One of the good things about the ‘artists’ is that they leave something behind in that their music or poetry still exists.

“When you play Kelly’s pieces his spirit come alive through the music, a privilege not given to many people.

Kelly, who was born in Sydney to a wealthy family, came to live in England as a young man.

“He mixed with the society set where his friends included the son of Herbert Asquith, the prime minister.

“At the outbreak of war he joined the Royal Naval Division, for land troops. He was also an athlete, winning a gold meal for rowing in the 1908 Olympics

Tomorrow’s concert, called Some Corner of a Foreign Field, will be held at Greenlaw Parish Church at 3:30pm and raise money for the charity Veterans Helping Veterans.