We Have Our Lives

Isaac Rosenberg
  • Born Bristol, 25th November 1890
  • Died Fampoux, France, 1st April 1918
  • Age27
  • RankPrivate
  • RegimentKing's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment
  • Unit11th Battalion

Isaac Rosenberg

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Isaac Rosenberg is regarded as one of the most outstanding poets of the First World War, and his poem Returning, we Hear the Larks is the source of the name of this project – "We Have Our Lives".

Isaac was born in Bristol to Barnett and Hacha Rosenberg, the second of six children. Barnett and Hacha were Orthodox Jews from Dvinsk, Russia (now Daugavpils, Latvia). The family later moved to the East End of London, where Isaac left school at fourteen and became an engraver's apprentice. Isaac was an avid poet and artist from an early age, but did not earn enough through his work to go to art school. Thanks to the generosity of three Jewish ladies' sponsorship, however, he was able to go to The Slade to study fine art. Here he was a contemporary of artists such as Paul Nash, David Bomberg and Stanley Spencer, the latter of whom spent over a year working as an orderly at Beaufort Hospital in Stapleton during the war.

Isaac emigrated to South Africa shortly before the war, in an attempt to improve his chronic bronchitis. His poetry was critical of the war from the outset, unlike most contemporary poets, who thought it was all rather marvellous.

Money became an increasingly pressing issue for Isaac, and in October 1915 he returned to England to enlist. He was assigned to the 12th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, a bantam battalion for men under the usual minimum height of 5'3". After turning down an offer to become a Lance Corporal, Isaac was transferred to another bantam battalion, the 11th Battalion of The King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. In June 1916, he was sent with his Battalion to serve on the Western Front in France. He continued to write poetry while serving in the trenches, "in conditions that would have silenced a less motivated artist".

Having just finished night patrol, he was killed at dawn on 1 April 1918; there is a dispute as to whether his death occurred at the hands of a sniper or in close combat. In either case, he died in a town called Fampoux, north-east ofArras. He was first buried in a mass grave, but in 1926, his remains were identified and reinterred at Bailleul Road East Cemetery.