Friday 30 November 2018

HIV : Do Cows Give Us Sweet Hope?

Tomorrow is World AIDS Day. More than three decades after HIV was discovered we still can’t develop a vaccine for it, though there are several areas of research that offer hope. Last year one new line of hope came from a surprising source – from the origin of the word “vaccination” itself – cows.

Vaccination also links us back to my article on Monday in which Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu featured. Going back to one of my earlier articles about her we learn that Lady Mary was instrumental in bringing the practice of smallpox inoculation into the West and influencing Edward Jenner’s pioneering experiments in vaccination.

The research with cows which is giving hope of developing an HIV vaccine was undertaken by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and was published in the journal “Nature” in summer 2017. The report’s author was the Director of Antibody Discovery and Development, a young, openly gay, organic chemist called Dr. Devin Sok.

Like an industrious ant Devin Sok has followed a sugary trail that that led him to IAVI and research into HIV and cows.

In 2004 Devin began studying chemistry at Stanford University, earning a bachelor’s degree four years later. With his specific interest in organic chemistry and glycans he went to study for his PhD at Scripps Research Institute.

After a while he seemed to be drifting around the various laboratories with no real focus for the future and he was on the verge of moving to Harvard when someone suggested he have one more look at the labs at Scripps. Devin found one where he could study glycans and have challenging research to follow. The lab was run by Dr. Dennis Burton, co-Chair of the Scripps Department of Immunology and Microbiology. He was also the Scientific Director of IAVI’s Neutralising Antibody Centre. This provided Devin with a definite aim in his research, and he began working on how glycans can help create HIV antibodies.

While at Scripps Devin helped to co-found a group in 2011 of lgbt scientists in the San Diego area called QuEST – Queer Engineers, Scientists and Technical Professionals. It included members from several universities and laboratories around San Diego, including the Scripps Research Institute.

I’ve mentioned glycan several times. What are they? They are also sometimes called polysaccharides. I can’t claim to be any kind of expert in biology but from what I can gather glycans are sugar molecules that coat most animal and plant cells. They act as a sort of shell or envelope and are more complex than the sugar I put in my coffee a few minutes ago. The HIV cells are also coated with these glycans which protect them. Thankfully scientists have found out just about everything there is to know about HIV cells, their structures and DNA. Unfortunately, there are thousands of strains of HIV and each has a different DNA sequence.

Since the 1990s scientists have known that HIV has holes in its glycan envelope. However, HIV evolves quickly and it soon mutates to fill a hole. Scientists have yet to find any means of targeting them and getting antibodies to push their way through them. Denis Sok’s 2014 doctoral thesis was on the subject of finding weaknesses in the HIV glycan envelope.

Glycan holes are just one area of research into a possible HIV vaccine. One other main area is into research into antibodies produced in HIV-infected humans. These have tended to be produced about two years after the patient is infected. However, only about 10-20% of infected people produce them, and as I sad earlier, HIV can mutate to protect itself and the antibodies produced don’t protect the patients against the new mutations. It has also been difficult to replicate these antibodies to make them work for immunisation.

Which is where the cows come in. No, not to provide the milk to go with the sugar in my coffee but because of their immune system.

Devin Sok and his Scripps Institute colleagues have been experimenting with animals that HIV doesn’t effect. They are injected with HIV immunogens (molecules designed specifically to create the production of antibodies) to see if the animals produces the appropriate antibodies. There were some antibodies produced but none of them were anything resembling those produced by the 10-20% of HIV patients.

At Scripps there was a professor carrying out general research on the antibodies in cows and Devin worked with him to find out if cows cold produce the appropriate HIV antibody.

After the cows were given the HIV immunogens they began producing antibodies within two months, a surprising difference to the two years it takes in humans. Even though cows can’t contract HIV they were producing antibodies against it.

Devin’s research elicited a lot of media attention because of the unusual bovine emphasis. The new cow antibody doesn’t produce an answer to the problem of creating an HIV vaccine but it helps us to look into how cows can create the antibodies so much quicker than humans and see if their structure can be replicated in patients.

It’ll be a long time before scientists work out all the answers and solutions. Could the cow antibodies themselves work as a vaccine? Could they attack glycan holes in the HIV envelope? If cowpox vaccination helped to eradicate smallpox could the cow’s HIV antibody help eradicate the virus in humans?

Devin Sok’s continuing research into glycans and antibodies is just one of the many areas that many talented scientists are working on, and it is encouraging that new research provides hope that an HIV vaccine will be possible in our life-time.

Monday 26 November 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays: Part 33) An Enlightenment Triangle

Previously on “Another 80 Gays”: 67) Baron Friedrich von Steuben (1730-1794) suggested the throne of the newly independent USA should go to 68) Prince Heinrich von Hohenzollern of Prussia (1726-1802), the brother of 69) King Friedrich II the Great of Prussia (1712-1786), who fell in love with 70) Count Francesco Algarotti (1712-1764).

70) Count Francesco Algarotti was the same age as 69) King Friedrich II of Prussia and they first met when Friedrich was still a prince. They became lovers and when Friedrich became king he showered Algarotti with appointments and honours, including creating him a Prussian Count. Their relationship lasted for two years though they remained close for the rest of their lives.

Before arriving in Prussia Francesco Algarotti travelled all over Europe visiting many Enlightenment figures. One of his acquaintances was Voltaire, the French philosopher who would also later spend a lot of time at the court of King Friedrich. Voltaire gave Algarotti the nickname “The Swan of Padua” because of the way he seemed to glide from one city to the next.

When Algarotti, who had not yet met King Friedrich, arrived in London in 1736 he was a well-known writer, philosopher and scientist. He was in the process of writing a book called (in translation) “Newtonism for Women” on the theories of Sir Isaac newton. It wasn’t long before Algarotti was made a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Algarotti’s arrival at King Friedrich’s San Souci residence got him out of a love triangle in England. The woman involved was one of the most free-thinking intellectual women of her time, 71) Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu (1689-1762). For more information on Lady Mary go to my two articles on her Extraordinary Life.

The third person in this Enlightenment love triangle was 72) John Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey (1696-1743). It was Voltaire who introduced Francesco Algarotti to Lord Hervey in Paris. Hervey was the son of the 1st Earl of Bristol and was elected a Member of Parliament in 1725. As heir to his father’s earldom he was known as Lord Hervey, one of his father’s junior titles. He wasn’t an actual peer of the realm because he was, basically, only “borrowing” the title until his father died. This is still customary in British peerages.

Lord Hervey was such an important member of the government that the Prime Minister of the day didn’t wait until the Earl of Bristol died before Lord Hervey could enter the House of Lords. So Lord Hervey was “accelerated” to the Lords as Lord Hervey in his own right. His father, the Earl of Bristol, relinquished his title of Lord Hervey to his son, and they sat in the House of Lords together. Lord Hervey, sadly, predeceased his father so never became Earl of Bristol.

Although married with 8 children Lord Hervey was well-known for his camp and effeminate personality. His style of dress was flamboyant, in a style that became known as “macaroni” because it was as fashionable among the aristocracy as was the Italian food they encountered on their Grand Tour of Europe. If you remember the song “Yankee Doodle” and wondered why he put a feather in his cap and called it “macaroni”, that’s why – it was fashionably flamboyant.

Lord Hervey was infatuated with Francesco Algarotti from the moment they met, and it was when Hervey later introduced him to Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu that things started to get “interesting”. Lady Mary was well over 40 years old by then, 20 years older then the two men. Her failed marriage and unhappy family life needed some pleasantness and Algarotti provided it.

The three of them spent a lot of time together in England. Algarotti read his Newton book to them and Lady Mary helped him to improve his English. In September 1736 Algarotti went back to Italy leaving the two English aristocrats heartbroken. They both wrote love letters to him urging him to return. Algarotti, probably conscious of the complications that might arise, gave polite excuses and encouraged them to continue writing.

Lord Hervey was content to bide his time but Lady Mary was truly infatuated. Her letters became more agonising and she made known her intention of visiting Algarotti in Italy. By this time, however, Algarotti was dating a young man from Milan, so you can almost hear the alarm bells going off in his head when he read that letter.

Algarotti visited England briefly in 1737, staying with Lord Hervey for a while before continuing on his graceful travels around Europe. By this time Lady Mary was virtually stalking him and she travelled down to Turin to meet him. This was in 1741, by which time he had met King Friedrich of Prussia and had been created a count. It was obvious to Lady Mary that she couldn’t compete with a king for Algarotti’s affections and gave up trying.

So what became of our Enlightenment love triangle? Lady Mary spent the next 20 years in retirement in Europe before returning home to die in England in 1762. Count Algarotti died two years later in Italy. Lord Hervey predeceased them both in 1743. His final years were clouded by an unhappy marriage, despite having 8 children. He virtually disinherited his wife in his will.

Throughout his short life Lord Hervey attracted much attention for his effeminate appearance and personality. As well as becoming a famous “macaroni” Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu once remarked that there were three genders in England – male, female and hervey. Other slang terms and names were given to him in his lifetime and he was an obvious target for political satire and caricature. Alexander Pope in his satirical “An Epistle From Mr. Pope to Dr. Arbuthnot” made no attempt to hide his contempt for Lord Hervey by portraying him as the castrated youth who was married Emperor Nero, a youth called 73) Sporus (c.51-69).

Next time : We watch Rome burn then go to a pantomime.

Thursday 22 November 2018

JFK : The Queer Conspiracies

History is full of events which become surrounded in myth and controversy and become centres of conspiracy theories. One event which has produced more than any other in the 20th century (apart, perhaps, from Roswell and the aliens) is remembered today – the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Even though a survey carried out in 2017 found that two thirds of the American population believe that the credited assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was not acting alone, many also believe he was set up and didn’t even fire the bullets that killed the president. Several people have been accused of being Oswald’s co-conspirator or alternative assassin. Only one of them was ever put on trial, and that was a gay man from New Orleans called Clay Shaw (1913-1974).

Clay Shaw has been wronged twice. First was his arrest and trial at the instigation of the homophobic District Attorney Jim Garrison. Garrison was one of the many people who considered the official investigation into the assassination that was published by the Warren Commission in September 1964 was a whitewash and that there was a conspiracy to hide the truth.

Highly ambitious and ruthless Garrison seized on the possibility of a conspiracy to frame someone for Kennedy’s death – someone he could put on trial, thereby claiming himself to be a hero for uncovering the “truth”. To justify his own version of events he invented a “homosexual thrill-kill” at the reason behind the assassination.

Cobbling together a theory based on little or no evidence Garrison claimed Lee Harvey Oswald was a bisexual acquaintance of a New Orleans pilot called David Ferrie. During his investigations Garrison also came across the name Clay Bertrand, whom he believed was a gay man in New Orleans. This led him to assume Clay Bertrand was an alias used by Clay Shaw, a well-known businessman in New Orleans. This was all Garrison needed to fabricate his gay thrill-kill theory and prosecute Clay for Kennedy’s assassination.

Clay’s trial began in 1969. Garrison paraded a series of witnesses whose evidence contradicted each other and it took less than an hour for the jury to acquit Clay Shaw of all charges. However, the damage was already done.

Clay Shaw came from a highly respected family and had received high honours for his war service, including the French Croix de Guerre, the US Legion of Merit, and knighthoods from both France and Belgium. He became an influential businessman in New Orleans.

Another two-year trial for perjury he was alleged to have committed at his first trial, again fabricated by Garrison, was eventually thrown out, though by now Clay had used his wealth to pay for his defence. He died in 1974 of cancer. A plaque to his memory was placed on one of the buildings in the French quarter of New Orleans that he had helped to restore with his own money.

Just as his reputation seemed to be restored Oliver Stone (an egotistical homophobe I’ve never l had a high opinion of, I don’t care what anyone else thinks) produced the equally homophobic film “JFK”. Clay Shaw was portrayed as a camp, effeminate gay man who held regular sex slave parties. The truth is the opposite, except that he was a gay man, but he was discreet and anything but camp. The devious legacy Jim Garrison is alive and well in the person of Oliver Stone.

A year ago the “National Enquirer” (the spiritual home of fake news) ran a front page headline declaring “Proof! J. Edgar Hoover Ordered JFK Murder!” J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972), another discreet gay man, was the head of the FBI at the time of the assassination. The “National Enquirer” weren’t the first to think the FBI and Hoover had some part in it, and nothing new was actually presented. It just presented a conspiracy theory to attract attention on the 54th anniversary.

In the 1960s being gay, or even being accused of it, was often used to justify a witch-hunt in many political scandals. The Kennedy assassination was no different. At various stages in its history several suspects have been labelled as being gay, lesbian or bisexual in order to create justification for them to be included in a conspiracy. Even Lee Harvey Oswald and his wife were called bisexual perverts purely on the fabricated links to the New Orleans gay subculture and Oswald’s wife leaving him to live with a female friend.

There will be no end to the publication of new and old conspiracies. One book published back in 1975 was called “Presumed Guilty: Lee Harvey Oswald in the Assassination of President Kennedy”. It was written by a young gay man who had become fascinated by the assassination since he was 14.

Howard Roffman, the teenager in question, bought all 26 volumes of the Warren Commission report and immersed himself in the vast amount of official documents. “Presumed Guilty” was the result of years of his research. It, too, questioned the findings of the Warren Commission.

Howard’s significance to the canon of literature concerning the Kennedy assassination is that he was the first gay man to publish a book on the subject. What he has done since is so different that you’d never guess it was the same man.

At the time “Presumed Guilty” was published Howard was a recently graduated law student. He went on to work in the US Court of Appeals as a law clerk. From there he moved into the world of media and film. And here’s where we make a spectacular leap from President Kennedy that is worthy of inclusion in my “Around the World in 80 Gays” series. In 1980 Howard Roffman became the legal adviser to Lucasfilms. In 1986 he was appointed its Vice President of Licensing and later President of Lucas Licensing. If you have bought any “Star Wars” merchandise since the 1990s thank Howard Roffman. He relaunched the Star Wars merchandising franchise in 1991, effectively creating the modern mass merchandising techniques used by every blockbuster film franchise ever since. Since the Kennedy assassination Howard’s publishing efforts have gone into photographic books – predominantly featuring naked men!

However much of Howard’s “Presumed Guilty” book will be used to further develop the truth, myths and conspiracies into what happened 55 years ago today one thing is certain. There will always be someone who will write a new book, come up with a new conspiracy theory, or finally debunk an old one. We may never know the truth, but let’s hope that any new material, including any new motion picture, will avoid the unjustifiable homophobia that surrounded so much of the original investigations.

Sunday 18 November 2018

Star Gayzing : When Galaxies Collide

You may not feel it, but another galaxy is crashing with our Milky Way.

Intergalactic collisions don’t take a matter of moments, they take billions of years. The effects are virtually imperceptible. In fact, the intergalactic smash that we are involved in at this very moment has been going on for such a long time and at such a slow speed, that nobody knew it was happening until 1994.

The galaxy which is colliding with us has been given the name the Sagittarius Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxy, which I’ll just shorten to Sagittarius galaxy for today (yes, astronomers among you, I do know there’s another galaxy far, far away with a similar name, but let’s keep things simple for today).

Before we move onto a theory proposed by a gay Canadian astronomer about how this Sagittarius galaxy has shaped the Milky Way, where it is in the sky? Obviously, it’s in the same part of the sky as the constellation of the same name. The Sagittarius galaxy, which is too far away to see without a telescope, loops around our Milky Way at almost 90 degrees above and below. The video below shows a speeded up computer simulation of what the collision might have looked like. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand everything mentioned on screen – all you need to see is how the Milky Way and Sagittarius galaxy have collided.

As you can see the Sagittarius galaxy has looped around the Milky Way several times and is still doing so. The main part will arrive back in our area in about 10 million years time.

Astronomers think that the first collision 2 billion years ago helped to create the Milky Way’s spiral arms. That’s not certain, but what is certain is that the Milky Way isn’t as flat as you think, and that gay astronomer I mentioned above thinks that the Sagittarius galaxy is warping our own.

Imagine the Milky Way is a huge vinyl record with a bulge in the middle or a hat with a very wide brim. The edges are very slightly curved – up on one side and down on the other, just as if something was pulling them up and down. This warp was discovered in 1957, decades before the Sagittarius galaxy itself was discovered.

One scientist who is a specialist in researching how galaxies are formed is that gay astronomer, Dr. Jeremy Bailin, currently Associate Professor of Astronomy at the University of Alabama.

In 2003 Jeremy’s research into the Milky Way warp suggested that it was caused by the Sagittarius galaxy as it looped around. By analysing the angular momentum of the Sagittarius galaxy as it is now and the angular momentum of the warped edges on the Milky Way Jeremy theorised that the collision was the cause for the warp. Over the next billion years the warp will flatten out as the Sagittarius galaxy becomes absorbed into the Milky Way (if it ever does). Other astronomers have put forward other theories.

Beyond the outer edge of the Milky Way, as you can also see on the video, is a halo of material stretching out into space (I looks like an enormous M&M). Jeremy Bailin is also studying this halo. His research uses computer simulation like the one above, but the problem is that, at the moment, it’s difficult to create a computational model that accurately represents all the stars, interstellar material and their forces that actually exist. In simulations each star is represented as a “particle” There are billions of stars in a galaxy so a simulation has to use billions of particles to create something reasonably accurate. Jeremy has used supercomputers to develop a new modelling technique using just that – billions of particles.

Two years ago Jeremy was a member of the team involved in another project that compiled a map of our galaxy and its close neighbours as seen from Earth, what they call the full-sky survey. It shows where the hydrogen is located, hydrogen being the most common interstellar element. Just like maps of the Earth which are distorted when flattened out, this full-sky image is also distorted. Those bright blobs in the bottom right are the two Magellanic Clouds, satellite galaxies like the Sagittarius one but closer. They have also been suggested as the reason for the Milky Way warp. Below this image is a more familiar-looking picture of the full night sky.

One final thought. Other scientists have theorised that when the Sagittarius galaxy passes through or close by our Milky Way, as it has done several times, some stars will be pulled out of it and into our own. Our Sun is near the edge of our galaxy and very close to one of the Sagittarius loops. Could it be, those scientists postulate, that our Sun was one of the earliest stars plucked out of the Sagittarius galaxy? Dr. Jeremy Bailin’s research and computer simulation techniques may help to determine the true shape of our galaxy and its closest neighbours. Perhaps, one day, his research will also provide proof, one way or the other, if we are indeed from another galaxy.

Thursday 15 November 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 32) Prussian Blues

Previously on “Another 80 Gays” : 64) Richard Püller von Hohenberg (d.1482) was burned at the stake on the orders of the Mayor of Zurich, whose current successor, 65) Corine Mauch (b.1960), has been nominated as World Mayor, an award for which Hamburg’s 66) Ole von Beust (b.1955) has previously been nominated, and who was Guest of Honour at a parade named after 67) Baron Friedrich von Steuben (1730-1794).

Von Steuben Day is a celebration of German heritage in the USA, notably in New York where the annual parade rivals the larger St. Patrick’s Day parade celebrating Irish heritage. Von Steuben Day was founded in 1957 by members of the German community in New York. The centrepiece is the parade through the streets. In 2006 66) Ole von Beust, First Mayor of Hamburg, was invited to be Guest of Honour at the New York parade.

67) Baron Friedrich von Steuben’s place as a hero of the American Revolution rests on his failure to overcome his debts and accusations of homosexuality in Europe. He wouldn’t have gone to America otherwise, and he had just the right amount of military experience the American army was looking for at the time.

Von Steuben had a glittering military career in the Prussian army. He rose to the rank of Captain and was twice wounded in action. He later became aide-de-camp to the king (more of whom later). At the end of the Seven Year’s War in 1763 the Prussian army was reorganised and von Steuben found himself out of a job, partly due to reports of his homosexuality. Looking around for another military position he settled on the position of Marshal to the Prince of Hohenzollern-Hechingen.

Facing mounting debts and threats to imprison him for his homosexuality von Steuben decided his best chance to improve his lot would be to go to America to join the revolutionaries against the British. Having learnt that Benjamin Franklin was in Paris he went to see him and offer his services. Franklin accepted and von Steuben arrived in America in 1777.

Remembering the USA’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military regarding homosexuality it may surprise you to learn that Benjamin Franklin was aware of von Steuben’s sexuality and informed George Washington. In fact, Franklin was aware that von Steuben was about to be arrested for it and made sure the Prussian general was got out of Europe and into the US as soon as possible.

The revolutionary Continental Army under George Washington was a bit of a shambles. There was little overall strategy and soldiers were largely unaware of the full potential of their weapons. Von Steuben transformed them into a formidable fighting force. He reorganised training practices and introduced standard drills and equipment. He imposed stricter discipline and wrote the definitive manual on military regulations that was still being used twenty years after his death. While serving with the Continental Army von Steuben wore the uniform based on the colours of the British Whig party.

The newly established USA was without a real constitution and permanent government. The question of what kind of head of state they wanted was undecided for a long time. It’s likely that Baron von Steuben came up with the idea of a monarchy. As I mentioned in “Gameof Gay Thrones” von Steuben suggested offering the throne to an old friend of his, 68) Prince Heinrich von Hohenzollern of Prussia (1726-1802).

Prince Heinrich wasn’t entirely convinced a monarchy was appropriate for the USA, or that he was the fight person. No definite offer was made to him and the USA decided to go on the path of an elected president instead (I wouldn’t dare comment on whether this was a better choice or not, but most European monarchies approved of lgbt rights and equality before a certain republic on the other side of the Atlantic).

Whether Prince Heinrich was disappointed or not by not being offered the American crown isn’t known but that didn’t dampen his determination to obtain a throne elsewhere. However, all of his dreams of a throne were dashed. He tried to negotiate the creation of a sovereign principality for himself, which failed. He entered the Polish-Lithuanian election for their throne twice, the same throne that 59) Prince Louis II de Bourbon, Duke of Condé, had also twice failed to secure. Even Empress Catherine the Great of Russia thought about creating the kingdom of Wallachia (in present day Romania) for Heinrich, but this was vetoed by his own brother, 69) King Friedrich II von Hohenzollern “the Great” of Prussia (1712-1786).

Just like Baron von Steuben and Prince Heinrich, King Friedrich was partial to young military officers. His first real love when he was 18 years old was Hans von Katte. Friedrich’s father, King Friedrich Wilhelm I, would none of this kind of behaviour in his family and arrested them both. Hans was executed outside Friedrich’s prison window.

Hans von Katte was one of Friedrich’s many cultured and artistic friends who nurtured the future king’s love of learning during the Enlightenment of the 18th century. He met and corresponded with many philosophers and Enlightenment thinkers, particularly the Frenchman Voltaire.

After he became king Friedrich built a palace called Sans Souci specifically dedicated for the meeting of cultured men (no women were allowed) and Voltaire eventually went to live there. It became the king’s favourite residence. Among the many writers and thinkers who gathered at Sans Souci was 70) Count Francesco Algarotti ( 1712-1764).

Next time : We untangle the affair of the duke’s daughter, the Swan of Padua and macaroni, with a nod to a Roman emperor’s male lover.

Sunday 11 November 2018

Armistice 100: Poems From the Trenches

All over the world today people are standing in silence to commemorate the end of World War I. It’s an occasion for all of us to strive to create a future of peace and tolerance.

The war affected my own family in many ways. My grandmother’s first husband died serving as a nurse on the hospital ship Britannic in 1916. My grandfather was a stretcher-bearer at the Battle of the Somme where he received injuries. He later married the fiancée of his best friend who was killed there. My grandfather’s sister married a man who suffered serious post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of his life.

During many of the remembrance events poems will be read that were written during by people who saw first-hand the horrors of war. The names of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brook (all gay men) are well-known.

One lesser-known war poet who was present at the Somme at the same time as my grandfather was Capt. Fabian Strachan Woodley (1888-1957) of the Royal Munster Fusiliers. Although regarded as more of a Uranian poet Fabian wrote a few war poems at the front line. One was a tribute to his male lover. Fabian was part of the second movement of Uranian poetry. This specific genre concentrated on erotic sentiments towards young boys.

Fabian was born in Clifton in Bristol. His father was a wealthy solicitor and his mother came from a long-established gentry family. He was educated at Cheltenham College and Oxford University. He was a very athletic youth, being a member of Clifton Rugby Football Club.

World War I was declared less than a month after Fabian’s 26th birthday. He joined the army and was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the 8th Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, an Irish Regiment. The battalion was mobilised for war in December 1915 and they were sent straight to the Western Front to the frozen trenches at Loos.

Two months previously the British and German forces had clashed at the Battle of Loos. The British came out worst and criticism was made of the leadership of the British forces in the area. The Commander in Chief was replaced and Fabian’s 8th Battalion was one among many sent to reinforce the front line. Fighting continued throughout the winter. Fabian’s battalion sustained many casualties, the first being on Christmas Eve 1915, the week after arriving there.

In April 1916 the 8th Battalion moved to Hulluch a couple of miles from Loos and were engaged in battle. One soldier later wrote “I saw hundreds dying all around me. I was practically walking on dead bodies all the way. You take no notice of dead bodies out there.”

Fabian Woodley and the 8th Battalion moved back to Loos in June to clear the trenches and strengthen the parapets. German shells were firing at them all the time and there were more casualties. One of them, killed by a shell on 21st June, was Lt. Myles O’Donovan. He was 20 years old.

Lt. O’Donovan was a member of one of the old princely families of Ireland, his father being recognised as the clan chief. Myles and Fabian met before they were both commissioned into the 8th Battalion. In war close friendships develop quickly. No doubt both men were equally close to other battalion members, but Myles O’Donovan seems to have had a special relationship with Fabian Woodley.

Of the many men who were killed in his battalion Fabian wrote only one poem on the death of a specific officer, and that was Lt. Myles O’Donovan. The poem was titled “To Lieut, O’D”. Here it is :

See him standing at the corner,
Cynosure of friendly eyes,
Challenging their kindly sallies,
Combatting with swift replies.

Eyes alight with Life and Laughter,
Brown eyes full of mirth and fun;
Fresh face tanned by months of warfare,
Lithe limbs browned by summer sun.

Suddenly a shell comes screaming,
Through the blue vault overheard,
Strikes – His laughing lips are silent,
All his splendid youth lies dead.

Death! whose arrow countless thousands
And unerring aim have proved,
Could you not have aimed untruly,
Spared for me the boy I loved?

Another hint at the relationship between Fabian Woodley and Myles O’Donovan appears in a building on the O’Donovan estate in County Cork. It is named “Woodley”. It implies that the O’Donovan family recognised the friendship between the two, perhaps even their relationship. There’s no other connection to the name Woodley in the family or the area other than with Fabian. Did Fabian visit the O’Donovans regularly and became friends with Myles before the war?

At the beginning of September 1916 the 8th Battalion moved to the Somme area. With other Irish battalions the 8th attacked the German posts in the Battle of Guillemont in which 265 members were killed. For his part in the action Fabian Woodley was awarded the Military Cross.

In October 1916 the 8th Battalion moved up to Ypres. A month later it was amalgamated with the 1st Battalion because of the loss of troops.

Fabian Woodley left the war as a Captain, and his military legacy attracted attention as recently as May 2017. In that month his war medals came up for auction in Mayfair, London (pictured below). The estimate was £1,000 to £1,200. They sold for £3,400.
After the war Fabian Woodley became a teacher in several public boys schools. He continued to write occasional poetry and published a collection in 1921 called “A Crown of Friendship”. The poems were Uranian in tone, extolling the beauty of youth. Possibly one of the poems was written after a dream Fabian had in which Myles appeared to him. It is called “The Beautiful” (below) and has an air of a reminiscence of lost love. The second verse implies a heavenward journey made through death.

Long years ago there came to me in sleep
The vision of a boy divinely fair;
His eyes were moon-kissed seas, serene and deep,
Elysian blossoms crowned his golden hair;
Light flowed around him, gently fell his voice
Like a soft-singing shower of silver dew.
Long time he gazed, then smiling, spoke “Rejoice!
Seek only Me, for I alone am true!”

Straightaway he fled upborne within a maze
Of mighty wings and music wonderful,
Whilst all the air grew dizzy with the praise
Of voices crying loud, “The Beautiful.”
Heavenward he vanished – but his radiant face
Still haunts me – a pure spiritual joy,
And well I know he makes his dwelling-place
In the clear honest eyes of any boy.