Ronald Duncan: his life  


Ronald Duncan was born of Austro-German parents in Salisbury (now Harare, Zimbabwe) in 1914. When World War One broke out Ronald came to South London with his mother and sister while his father who was to follow, died of an illness before he could join them. As a boy Duncan holidayed in Welcombe, North Devon and aged 18 rented a cottage there with the hope of settling one day.

In 1933 he went to Cambridge University to read English with F.R. Leavis at Downing College. After graduating Ronald worked briefly in a mine near Chesterfield and became sympathetic with the strikers’ cause and the politics of peaceful protest. This led to him writing a pamphlet for the Peace Pledge Union in 1936 and he met Benjamin Britten through the pacifist leader Dick Sheppard.

Such connections prompted an invitation to visit the Mahatma Gandhi in India in 1937. On his way back the young traveller called in on Ezra Pound in Italy. The exiled poet became a long time friend as did the British-Hispanist Gerald Brenan who Duncan also met at this time.

During the Second World War Duncan ran a community farm near Bideford in North Devon. His wife Rose Marie was an artist and their son and daughter were born during the war years.

His main home was based at West Mill from 1937 and during that time visitors included Britten, Peter Pears, the singer Kathleen Ferrier, Lord Harewood as well as glamorous actresses of their day, Virginia Maskell and Anna Proclemer.

Duncan farmed, rode, fished, wrote and welcomed his milieu to Welcombe - up until his death in 1982 (at Bideford hospital, 3 June 1982) at the age of 68.


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