In the early hours of the morning of June 26, 1944 John Jarmain, a young artillery captain serving in the 51st Highland Division, was killed by shrapnel while visiting his men in the Normandy village of St Honorine la Chardonnorette.

He was one of the many thousands of British troops who were killed in action while fighting in the bocage country against a determined enemy anxious to drive the Allies back into the sea.

But Jarmain was different from the other anonymous dead. Shortly before his death he had composed a number of war poems, and although these were published in the following year, they were quickly forgotten despite receiving lavish high praise from the critics. He could have been one of the lost poets of the war but thanks to the efforts of James Crowden, himself a writer and a former soldier, Jarmain's war poetry has been made available again in an exceptionally handsome volume complete with biographical and critical apparatus.

This is a welcome addition to the canon of British war poetry and a reminder that the 51st Highland Division provided a home and inspiration for poets as different as Jarmain, Hamish Henderson and Sorley MacLean, who are recognised as being among the greatest British poets of the second world war.

Like them, Jarmain was an unwilling soldier and unlikely army officer. Born in 1911 and educated at Shrewsbury School and Queen's College Cambridge, where he studied mathematics, Jarmain was a pacifist who had the word "atheist" on the dog tags which hung around his neck. "I don't suppose God will take a blind bit of notice," was his ready response to those who thought he was being flippant.

Although not Scots born, Jarmain cared deeply about the men who served under him and he also came to believe that the war was a chance to eradicate the evil of fascism. The conflict certainly hastened his poetic development and, like other war poets who served in North Africa, his work was influenced by the sheer size of the desert arena over which the two opposing armies fought, its absence of definition and the seemingly limitless horizons with few roads or tracks to break up the bare expanse of sand and scrub. At first acquaintance the terrain seemed harsh, barren and inhospitable, but it was also strangely compelling.

In his poem Sand, which is a paean to the wild beauty of his surroundings, he marvels at the "indigo skies pricked out with brilliant light" while acknowledging the discomfort of the "hot dry-driven sand" which pricks "our eyelids blind".

Then a year after the decisive Battle of El Alamein, as the victorious 51st Highland Division was advancing towards the Mareth Line, he envisages a time when flowers would grow again in the desert wastes, "where death remains and agony has been".

As Crowden points out, this is a reference to asphodel lilies which flower in the desert in springtime, but it is also Jarmain's comment on the anti-personnel mines planted by the Germans in "that crazy sea of sand".

From the accounts of those who knew him well, Jarmain emerges as a thoughtful and considerate person, albeit one who had a complicated love life. He certainly had all the makings of a writer who would have gone on to become a major literary talent. He left behind the poems which were published after his death, as well as an odd little novel called Priddy Barrow, but the best was obviously still to come. Like the lilies in the desert he enjoyed a short period of creativity before being felled in a minor action that had no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of the fighting in Normandy.

On reviewing his original work in 1945, the poet Vita Sackville-West was moved to write that "Among the poets lost to us by the war John Jarmain must take a considerable place. A real loss."

Now that his poems are back in print, it is possible to see how prescient were those words and Jarmain can now take his place among that select handful of poets who did their fighting and their writing in the ranks of the 51st Highland Division.

Flowers In The Minefields: El Alamein To St Honorine by John Jarmain, War Poet, 1911-1944

Edited by James Crowden

Flagon Press, £14.95