William Kersley Holmes was born in England and came to Scotland as a boy with his family, which settled in Dollar. He was educated at Dollar Academy, and took a job in a bank until war broke out, when he joined the Lothian and Borders Horse regiment as a Lance Corporal. He saw action in France and Belgium, transferred to the Royal Field Artillery and was promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. He was in Russia with the ‘ill-fated expedition against the Bolsheviks’. Throughout the war he kept a detailed war diary in which he sketched all aspects of army life. All sides of life in the trenches also appeared in his poetry, collected in Ballads of Field and Billet and More Ballads of Field and Billet, both published in 1915.
After the war his writing led him into journalism and then publishing – he worked as editor for children’s books with Blackie & Son, creating much of the content of the Blackie’s boys’ and girls’ annuals and at the same time contributing many children’s stories to BBC radio. Hundreds of pieces of light verse signed ‘W. K. H.’ appeared in many Scottish magazines and newspapers, and in national ones such as Punch, and Country Life, and he was well remembered for these and for his congenial personality. His other great enthusiasm, hill-walking, also spurred him to write: Tramping Scottish Hills was published in 1947 and On Scottish Hills in 1962, both illustrated by his own photographs.
The war poems that Kersley Holmes published in 1915 are generally cheerful and light-hearted, and as such they must have been ‘a godsend in the trenches’, in the words of a Glasgow Herald reviewer, as well as reinforcing, with a light touch, the picture of hearty camaraderie which anxious mothers and wives no doubt clung to. Reviews of the time commented on the fact that Holmes concentrated on description rather than indulging in the ‘pumped-up patriotism’ that was still prevalent in 1915, and commended his poetry as ‘Workmanlike verse that scores a psychological bull’s-eye in every other stanza.’ (Morning Post ). In among his jaunty, whistling soldiers and comic cooks are the horses he cared for, beautiful and innocent, and descriptions of nature as yet untouched by foul conflict.