DAVID Jones was commonly held to have written two of the best epic-length poems of the 20th century.

“T.S. Eliot called In Parenthesis ‘a work of genius’,” wrote his biographer, Thomas Dilworth. “W.H. Auden considered it ‘the greatest book about the First World War’.

“The military historian Michael Howard called it ‘the most remarkable work of literature to emerge from either world war’.”

Auden was equally fulsome in his praise of The Anathemata, the second pillar supporting Jones’s reputation as a poet.

An exploration of the anatomy of western culture, it was ‘very probably the finest long poem written in English in this century’, he said.

Those great works grew out of the trenches of the First World War, and in particular the horrors of the Somme.

Having enlisted in 1915, Jones served in the same regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, as Sassoon and Graves.

But unlike his much-celebrated contemporaries, in the 66 years since The Anathemata was published, David Jones has been forgotten in all but the halls of academia – and Bellingham.

There, Freddie Everatt, founder of the local Saint Oswald’s History Society, is keeper of the flame.

Last week, he did his bit in rescuing Jones from obscurity by giving a talk to the University of the Third Age’s Tynedale branch. Hexham Abbey’s Great Hall was packed!

And deservedly so, for the proverbial dust coating his poetry and paintings was swept away with a flourish and many a laugh, thanks to Freddie’s dry sense of humour.

Jones had tried to join the cavalry, he said, but had been rejected because he couldn’t ride.

“He was asked at one point by a Colonel Bell if he had considered being an officer,” said Freddie. “Jones replied ‘no, for I’m quite incompetent. He was told off.

“He was asked which school he’d gone to and after he answered Camberwell Art School, he said Colonel Bell never asked him again.”

Jones was physically wounded on the Somme, but it was the mental scarring that took its toll on him.

He had two nervous breakdowns in the decades afterwards.

Perhaps it was the knowledge that he was on his uppers, in the 1950s, that inspired Stravinsky to request an introduction to the man he so admired for his poetry. A visit to Jones’s tiny flat in Harrow was duly arranged by their mutual friend Sir Stephen Spender.

“Lady Spender went along too,” said Freddie, “so there were three visitors in what was really only a room. “Well, Lady Spender had a large bosom and needed a large turning circle, so it was a squash.”

The bed was absolutely covered in Jones’s papers and the fact he had to pack them away each night, only to unpack them the following morning, puzzled people.

“It turned out he didn’t,” said Freddie. “He slept in his chair.”

Stravinsky came away so impressed by the poet-painter that the trio of visitors decided to set up a trust to support him.

When they approached Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, to be patron, she readily agreed.

The income came as a relief to the man who had spent longer in the trenches than any other major soldier-poet – 117 weeks in total.

Later it was noted that, unlike Wilfred Owen, he had continued to believe ‘the old lie’.

After being wounded on the Somme, he wrote: ‘The trench is still cold and wet; eyes still ache, and hands freeze. But it’s worth it!’

He died in Harrow in 1974.