No one knows how good a writer James Farrar would have become.

All anyone can say is he was one of the most transcendent literary talents the past century gave us.

Farrar was three months short of his 21th birthday when he was killed in a Mosquito aircraft during World War II.

The former Sutton Grammar School pupil had intercepted V1 flying bombs destined for his home suburb of Carshalton.

When the RAF sent a telegram to his mother, Margaret, it thought its 68 Squadron had lost an accomplished Flying Officer. The loss was to prove much greater.

After his death on July 26, 1944, Margaret uncovered a maroon exercise book, filled with his diaries, poems, short stories and autobiographical sketches.

Inside were the prophetic words "we live by death's negligence".

Out of other pages spilled unmatched descriptions of the marginal countryside around the family home in Dalmeny Road, including the smallholdings at Woodcote, Oaks Park, Clockhouse, Woodmansterne and Chipstead Valley.

Margaret was so determined to save the writings for posterity she taught herself to type.

Having sent her son's work to publishers, it fell under the eye of Henry Williamson, creator of Tarka the Otter.

Thrilled by what he read, Williamson published the manuscript in 1950 as a 242-page anthology, the Unreturning Spring.

He also performed Farrar an invaluable service by arranging the inchoate material into the coherent story of a young man developing under the pressures of world-changing events.

A shorter edition, Spring Returning, followed in 1986, assuring Farrar of his place in the pantheon of authentic voices lost in war.

Seven of the compositions were set to music, and many versifiers derived inspiration from his work of exceptional maturity and skill.

Reviewers were equally enthralled. Richard Church, himself an established poet, wrote: "We are in the presence of genius.

"In almost every page of the book the signs stand out in words in words of fire: and especially in the verses.

"There we recognise at once the touch of creative word-mastery; the quality that Keats had."

The praise was the more remarkable because Farrar composed many of his poems aged 15.

He was unable to make revisions, and had little chance to write during wartime training, regularly committing his thoughts to paper in compulsory church services.

And yet, for all the critical acclaim, Farrar suffered over the years as greater attention was lavished on poets of the Great War.

The neglect pained his mentor, Alwyn "Trubby" Trubshaw, who exhorted everyone with "any literary taste at all to acquire a copy and read it slowly right through".

Trubby, who lived to the age of 99, was immensely proud to have taught Farrar in the fifth and sixth years.

"I say taught English, but it would be truer to say I taught English in his presence only," he remarked.

"He had no need of my teaching. He was a natural born writer."

In 1969, Trubby began a campaign in the local press to revive interest in his star pupil, having searched in vain for the Unreturning Spring in libraries.

Forty years on, little has changed: the book is out of print, with the only two available copies at Sutton Central Library closeted away in the local studies centre.

The James Farrar English Prize, founded by his mother in 1950, is still awarded each year at Sutton Grammar School.

Otherwise Farrar is all but forgotten in the borough he wrote about more beautifully than anyone else.

Perhaps people are uncertain whether to mourn his unfulfilled promise as an irreversible loss to literature, or to exalt his monumental achievements over such a short time.

Perhaps they are unable to recognise the lost world he depicted.

In any case, Farrar has long needed rescuing from oblivion.

Last month the process began when a local author adapted his works into a programme of dramatised readings, entitled Stored Sunlight.

John Monks, with his daughter Shirin and amateur actor Will Harris, performed last month at the Charles Cryer Studio Theatre in Carshalton.

The Poet Laureate Andrew Motion sent his regards, calling Farrar a fascinating and unjustly neglected figure.

The plan now is to bring this genius back from the dead by re-publishing his work on the internet.

Until then, Mr Monks encourages anyone who loves life and good writing to read Farrar, but says they will still look in vain in local libraries.

"This is twice the pity because the Unreturning Spring has proved inspirational to young artists, musicians as well as writers, at the start of their careers.

"I hope our rediscovery of Farrar has delighted and inspired people, and that it will lead to the recognition, in his home borough of Sutton and beyond, that he should be valued as more than a promising talent extinguished by war.

The legacy of his work is of permanent value in itself as well as part of our local heritage."

Farrar deserves the last word.

It is not hard to imagine what he would have thought of the reawakening of public interest in his work.

In a letter home to his mother he once wrote: "I cannot speak of factual matters, but I like to think how lovely it will be when the door opens a little and the sunlight comes in."