Edward Pool: Wounded hero of D-Day who went on to marry the sculptor Elisabeth Frink
He believed he owed his life to a cotton wallet that slowed down a fragment of shrapnel
Monday 01 April 2013
Edward Pool had the misfortune to lose his foot soon after D-Day, and his heart in the 1960s to the sculptor Elisabeth Frink. The crucial role he played in the first hours of the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944 won him the Military Cross; Frink was to sculpt him as the Risen Christ. “Lt Pool's personal example, cheerfulness and bravery were an inspiration to all who served under him”, the citation for his MC says. He was likewise to prove in civilian life a rock for the whimsical artist, until she left him.
Pool parachuted in over Ranville, near Caen, at 00.30 hours on 6 June; and until the following evening, in command of 5 platoon, B Company, the 7th (Light Infantry) Parachute Battalion, preserved the eastern flank of the Allies' bridgehead from the German 716th Infantry Division and elements of the 21st Panzer Division attacking the hamlet of Le Port.
“Lt Pool's platoon were required to hold an outpost on the Western Bridgehead held by the Airborne troops over the Caen canal at Benouville,” the citation records. “He held this outpost for 21 hours on 6 June 1944 during which time he was almost continuously attacked by superior forces… In addition, he led numerous offensive patrols which played a material part in the successful action.”
The battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Richard Geoffrey “Wooden Box” Pine-Coffin, took over the defence of the two bridges, Pegasus and Horsa, over the Caen Canal and the Orne river respectively, from Major John Howard's glider force – the very first troops to land, who had been charged to “hold until relieved”.
Seven Para was itself to be relieved only after delays, as the amphibious forces came up from the beaches. Pool and his platoon, on their outpost, had to hold out until 21.15 hours.
During the next 12 days, from positions east of the Orne, Pool took several German gun emplacements, one single-handed. But on 18 June, as he rushed a machine gun, he was caught by fire from a multi-barrelled mortar. It tore off his left foot and damaged his left leg and hip, leaving 14 pieces of shrapnel in him and deafening him in one ear. He believed he owed his life to the cotton wallet sewn into his battledress trousers by his right hip: “[It] slowed down a fragment of shrapnel which was on its way to go through me, but... only penetrated half-way.”
As an officer he was forbidden to shout “help” for fear of alerting the enemy, but a sergeant found him bleeding. The wound ended his war. His tenacity, courage, and taste for magnificent objects, stayed with him. He took up motor racing, and by 1946 was driving a Type 35 Bugatti, competing in this and in a Lea-Francis TT Hyper. Racing until the mid-'50s, he was elected a life member of the British Racing Drivers' Club.
Pool's prosperity derived from his family's meat business, Edward E. Pool & Co, at Smithfield, of which he was a director. So did the nickname – “the Butcher” – that the gilded Bohemian circle around the rising artist Lis Frink dubbed him with, though Pool had concentrated on the enterprise only after giving up an early effort at farming in Suffolk.
The tall, broad-shouldered, brown-bearded Pool, who met Frink at the house of a mutual friend in Kensington, became the inspiration for her warrior sculptures, such as the series Soldier's Head. Frink's biographer Stephen Gardiner wrote: “1961 was one of her most productive years, and for that perhaps her love affair with Ted gets some credit.”
Pool, who was living alone in a flat on the Fulham Road, became Frink's secret obsession, kept hidden from her then husband, Michel Jammet, with whom she had a young son. A domestic idyll, and a first marriage that had produced two children, had by then vanished for Pool. Frink broke up her own marriage and the couple wed at Wandsworth Register Office in 1964, moving to a house he bought in Putney. This was the year the Risen Christ, a bearded, laurel-crowned, standing figure bearing the Five Wounds of the Passion, and with a fine right leg but an awkward-looking left one, was installed at the new RC Church of Our Lady of the Wayside at Solihull.
Two years later, the couple moved to Corbès near Nîmes. Pool helped to make Frink's sculptures – drilling holes, cutting metal, and suggesting how a piece might be supported – and organised her correspondence and business affairs. He ran the household, helping to bring up her son, Lin, and built the kitchen at their stone home, a complex made for 19th-century silk-industry workers called Le Village.
Pool sold the London meat business, though he remained a consultant to it, and as well as putting his money into Le Village, bought and ran a vineyard at Sebens, south of Corbès.
Yet it was through his sense of duty that the knell was sounded. For the sake of his own two children, whom he sought to make financially secure, he called in an insurance man, recommended by a wartime military colleague. The professional caller at Le Village was, alas for Pool, to be Frink's next lover, then husband. She kept the truth from Pool for two years. Alexander Csaky, a Hungarian count, horseman and hunter, entertained her in London when she visited for her exhibitions, while her husband maintained Le Village.
Pool discovered the affair only when he came to London to view a retrospective show of hers in October 1972. In his distress he had a fall, and snapped the Achilles tendon of his remaining foot, though the injury delayed for only a few weeks Frink's leaving him, in 1973. He stayed in France, selling the vineyard in 1978, and, after Frink sold her studio at Le Village, he lived at Gard, Sauve and Alzon before returning to England. He was to find happiness with Christabel Briggs, a director of Cork Street's Piccadilly Gallery.
Pool was educated at Cheltenham College. He volunteered at 17 as a private in the Middlesex Regiment, before being commissioned into the Royal Irish Fusiliers and joining the Parachute Regiment in 1943. After the war, he instructed Parachute Regiment recruits at Hardwick Hall until it closed, then commanded HQ Company at Aldershot, retiring in 1953. He stayed in the Territorial Army until 1955, leaving with the rank of Honorary Captain.
Edward Gordon Pool, soldier and cultivator: born London 18 December 1922; MC 1944; married three times (one son, one daughter); died London 1 January 2013.
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