Blog / Reflections on Gallipoli: Frederick Septimus Kelly

Reflections on Gallipoli: Frederick Septimus Kelly

Posted on 5 Mar 2015 by Neall Kriete


Frederick Septimus Kelly was born in Sydney, Australia, into a well-to-do family, but moved to England when he was just 12. A natural sportsman, and especially oarsman, he won a Gold Medal for England in rowing at the 1908 London Olympics. Along with his close friends, the poet Rupert Brooke and the critic and composer William Denis Browne, at the outbreak of the War he enlisted in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve which soon led to active service in the Royal Naval Division. Adapting well to military service, Kelly was destined to win the DSC (Distinguished Service Cross) ‘for conspicuous gallantry’ and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander.

On 20 April 1915, the three friends Kelly, Brooke and Browne set out for Gallipoli, aboard the SS Grantully Castle. But before reaching their destination, off the Greek Island of Skyros, it became apparent that 27-year-old Brooke was gravely ill with septicemia, caused by complications from a mosquito bite. Described by WB Yeats as ‘the handsomest young man in England’, Brooke died on board a French hospital ship on 23 April. How significant his most famous lines then seemed:

If I should die, think only this of me;
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.

That foreign field took the form of a rocky outcrop on Skyros, his close friends Browne and Frederick Septimus Kelly remaining behind after the formal burial to cover the grave with stones and to pay their own private, silent farewells, Kelly later writing in his diary:

‘The body lies looking down the valley towards the harbour and, from behind, an olive tree bends itself over the grave as though sheltering it from the sun and rain. No more fitting resting place for a poet could be found than this small grove, and it seems as though the gods had jealously snatched him away to enrich this scented island.’

Devastated by Brooke’s loss, Kelly immediately began to sketch his Elegy, ‘In Memoriam Rupert Brooke’, continuing to work on it while at Gallipoli itself and also when recuperating in hospital at Alexandria in Egypt, after being wounded twice in combat. The modal tinges of the music refer not just to the Greek location of the grave, but also to Brooke’s own fascination with classicism, while the oscillating passagework from the violins suggests the wind rustling through the leaves of the olive tree bending over the grave.

Kelly eventually survived Gallipoli and in fact was one of the last officers to leave during the Evacuation of December 1915, but the following year he was killed in action during the final days of the Battle of the Somme.

– Martin Buzacott


Reflections on Gallipoli
14–27 March 2015

Richard Tognetti, large-scale theatre specialist, Nigel Jamieson, and one of Australia’s greatest storytellers, Neil Armfield join forces to present this heartfelt exploration of our ANZAC story through music, spoken text and visual imagery, where an Australian’s elegy for his friend brushes shoulders with the words of the father of modern Turkey.

BARTÓK String Quartet No.2: Allegro molto capriccioso
KELLY Elegy for strings ‘In Memoriam Rupert Brooke’
SARISÖZEN (arr. Meurant) Çanakkale Türküsü
VINE Soliloquy (world premiere)
TRADITIONAL (arr. Meurant) Ceddin Deden
ELGAR Sospiri, Op.70
KODALLI Adagio for String Orchestra
MEHVE? HANIM (arr. Meurant) Kaçsam Birakip Senden Uzak Yollara Gitsem
TRADITIONAL (arr. Meurant) Nihavend Longa
VINE Our Sons (world premiere)