Peace loving poet Donald Ward remembered at new Bromley Museum exhibition

PUBLISHED: 12:44 02 May 2013 | UPDATED: 12:44 02 May 2013

Poet Donald Ward was a conscientious objector during World War Two.

Poet Donald Ward was a conscientious objector during World War Two.


In the early 1940s, able-bodied men left in London were either too old, too young or too cowardly to fight in the war – or that is how many people saw it.

Jerry Dowlen and Richard Bowdery at Bromley Museum.Jerry Dowlen and Richard Bowdery at Bromley Museum.

To conscientiously object against the conflict with Nazi Germany was a move that would often see men victimised and abused for their reluctance to fight.

Orpington pacifist Donald Ward spent the war continuing his day job as a postman and becoming a member of the heavy rescue brigade by night – digging through the rubble left behind by bombs.

He created a post-war legacy of poetry, publishing his first volume in 1971 at the age of 62, before becoming recognised as a potent force in literary circles as he continued to produce works.

He died at the age of 93 in 2003, and now, a decade on, two Bromley residents are looking to pay tribute to the peaceful poet with an exhibition at Bromley Museum.

Jerry and Richard with a collection of Donald Ward's poetryJerry and Richard with a collection of Donald Ward's poetry

“Donald taught me an awful lot about what’s needed to be a writer, particularly to be resilient and take the knockbacks because that’s what happened to him,” said exhibition organiser Jerry Dowlen.

“I have started writing now and in hindsight he was a real role model for me.”

Jerry, 65, along with fellow organiser Richard Bowdery, will tell the story of the poet’s life in Orpington when the exhibition opens next month.

Known to many as Ted, Donald’s writing career began late, but his debut collection, The Dead Snake, won an Arts Council award as well as opening the door for him to become a pioneer of the Greater London Council’s dial-a-poem scheme.

His work is known as direct and simple but dealt with serious issues such as his decision to stay at home during the Second World War.

“The tolerance of society during war wasn’t very high if someone wasn’t fighting at the front,” said Richard.

“They would have called him a coward and to sell copies of Peace News was really risking the anger of so many people who had family fighting. It does come across in his poetry, but there’s so much more to him.”

A father of four, Donald quit his job as a postman in 1972 just after publishing his first poems.

His love for the art form had developed during the 1950s and he produced further collections over four decades and published his Summer Night collection to coincide with his 90th birthday.

When Donald died 10 years ago, both Richard and Jerry were left wishing they had asked more questions and delved deeper into the poet’s history. They’re hoping to learn more about the husband and father-of-four by holding the exhibition, and even reconnect with his family.

Jerry added: “As I’ve got older I look back and wish I had asked Donald more about his life, especially about his passionate pacifism.

“We can’t seem to track down any of his family but we had contact with them when he died. I don’t know if they’ve moved away or what, but I’m hoping they get in touch.”

Dove on the Wing opens at Bromley Museum in Church Hill, Orpington, on May 11 and will run until June 9.

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Bromley Times. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Bromley Times