Emile Leon Cammaerts (1878-1953) was a well respected Belgian poet but perhaps best known for his biography of King Albert I (1935).
He moved to England in 1908 and married the Shakespearean actress Tita Brand. In 1933 he became Professor of Belgian Studies at the University of London where he stayed until 1947. Emile and Tita had two sons. One of them, Francis Cammaerts, became well known in British Intelligence circles (see more about him below).
Some of Emile Cammaerts' works include :
"Albert of Belgium, defender of right" (1935)
"Belgian Poems : Chants patriotique, et autres poems" (translated in English by his wife Tita Brand in 1916)
"The flower of grass" (1945)
"A history of Belgium from the Roman invasion to the present day" (1921)
"The laughing prophet" (Study of GK Chesterton - 1937)
"Upon this rock" (1943)
"The peace that is left" (1945)
"Through the iron bars, two years of German occupation in Belgium" (1917)
There are also several links between Cammaerts and Elgar. Elgar was asked to nominate something for an anthology (to be called King Albert's Book) which was to be published to raise money for Belgian charities. Elgar's search for a suitable contribution led him to a poem entitled "Carillon" by Emile Cammaerts. Elgar was determined to set the poem to music. Rather than setting it as a choral work, however, he decided instead to provide an orchestral accompaniment over which the poem is recited.
The work was first performed at the Queen's Hall, London in December 1914, with the poem read by Tita Brand, Cammaerts' wife and, coincidentally, the daughter of Marie Brema who sang the role of the Angel in the disastrous first performance of "The Dream of Gerontius". The work is a rousing, even exuberant, piece, making extensive use of bells to replicate the carillon but with some touchingly lyrical passages to reflect the more sombre passages of the poem. It is not a great piece, but it did meet the needs of the moment. Now that moment has passed, it is difficult to imagine the tumultuous reception afforded to the work in 1914. Elgar took the work round the country, using various reciters, including on occasion Cammaerts himself, performing the work in most major towns throughout Britain.
In the following two years, Elgar tried to recapture the success of Carillon with two further accompaniments to poems by Cammaerts - "Une Voix dans le Desert" in 1915 and "Le Drapeau Belge" in 1916. These are in most respects superior works to Carillon - more expressive in capturing the conflicting tensions and horrors or war. "Une Voix dans le Desert" is the more complex work, setting a part of the poem as a delightful song for solo soprano, in marked contrast to the soulful passages of recitation that surround it, while the much shorter "Le Drapeau Belge" shares with "The Spirit of England", the greatest of Elgar's wartime works, the feeling of the tragic inevitability of war.
Emile's son, Francis Cammaerts, was born in England in 1916. He studied at Cambridge University (Masters degree) and ended up teaching first in Belfast and then at the Penge County School for Boys in London. When the Second World War broke out, he registered as a conscientious objector and he was directed to become an agricultural worker. His brother died while in the RAF and Francis changed his mind about pacifism. He was recruited into the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in July 1942. He was captured in France on 11 August 1944 and taken to the French Gestapo headquarters in Digne. You can read his obituary here :