'War-hero' poet Vernon Scannell revealed as wife-beating drunk and serial deserter

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Biography of the poet shows he was a traumatised individual

He was one of the most respected poets of the Second World War, a Desert Rat who went on to be seriously wounded in Normandy and wrote of the "heroic corpses" he saw on the D-Day beaches. But Vernon Scannell also had a darker side, as revealed by a book describing him as a serial deserter who lied about his war record and beat the women in his life.

While he admitted to desertion in his own memoir, Scannell's biographer James Andrew Taylor has uncovered evidence that the poet in fact absconded more than a dozen times – as well as frequently getting into drunken brawls. The new research shows that Scannell spent more than 300 days on the run or in prison during four years of active war service from 1941.

Scannell is known for writing one of the most evocative of war poems, "Walking Wounded". Dating from 1962, the poem described injured soldiers "straggling the road like convicts loosely chained / Dragging at ankles exhaustion and despair."

He also wrote several moving poems about the decisive 1942 battle of El Alamein, even though, according to Taylor, he didn't arrive in North Africa until later. But he did experience the bitter 1943 assault on Wadi Akarit, and it was after this that he deserted, later recalling in his memoir how he was shocked by the sight of fellow soldiers looting corpses, both British and German.

Scannell was court-martialled, sentenced to three years' detention in a military prison, but was released after six months when he volunteered to take part in the D-Day landings. When Germany surrendered, he disappeared again, living as a fugitive until finally he was re-arrested in 1947.

Mr Taylor's book, Walking Wounded: The Life and Poetry of Vernon Scannell, paints a complex portrait of a prize-winning and much-anthologised poet – whose writings were "drenched in humanity", as the literary critic John Carey writes in the foreword – who was haunted by wartime memories of the dying screams of a wounded man.

A German tank commander surrenders to the British at El Alamein in 1942 (Getty) A German tank commander surrenders to the British at El Alamein in 1942 (Getty)  

Mr Taylor has unearthed unpublished material from army records and other sources, and persuaded Scannell's family to speak for the first time. Each of them remembers a tortured individual they could not help but love. Angela Beese, a long-term girlfriend, recorded in her diary: "I think he might kill me, he is so angry." But the next day she wrote: "I can see love once more in his eyes."

Vernon Scannell and former girlfriend, Jo Peters (OUP) Vernon Scannell and former girlfriend, Jo Peters (OUP)

 

She also revealed that she hid from Scannell one night after he punched her in the face. The next morning, he saw her two black eyes and a broken nose but made no comment. "It was as if it never happened," Mr Taylor said. "He was seriously damaged by the war," and it partly manifested itself in violence. Scannell's daughter, Nancy, said her father never laid a finger on his children. But she added: "We were terrified for my mother. He was an aggressive drunk, destructive."

Loved ones also understood his inner torment, which would today be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder. Scannell's former girlfriend, Jo Peters, recalls waking him from nightmares as he sweated and called out. "He remembered the first dead body he had seen… covered with a blanket, and all he could see was the hand," she said. Scannell's daughter Jane said: "We hope Andrew’s book will help explain what made him the man and poet he was."

Girlfriend Angela Beese: 'I think he might kill me' (OUP) Girlfriend Angela Beese: 'I think he might kill me' (OUP)  

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?