Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

REVIEWS: ‘Writings Against the First World War’ & Harveys ‘lost’ novel

In A.Graham, John Wilmot, Reviews on November 11, 2014 at 12:29 pm

“Not Our War: Writings Against the First World War”, edited by AW Zurbrugg. Published by Merlin Press, 2014.
{review by John Wilmot}

The First World War was noted – certainly during that first year of conflict before war-weariness set in – for an upsurge of patriotic excitement and flag waving that, in same cases went beyond mere fervour, often approaching something akin to hysteria. How else could one explain the burning and looting of German shops and property when hostility commenced?

But there was an anti-war movement that stood firm and declared that it was “Not Our War”. This book consists of a range of anti-war writings and declarations. It’s only natural that the majority should come from the Socialist or Anarchist left, or the pacifist movement. Many take the form of lengthy manifestos, from the pens of such committed individuals as Lenin or Keir Hardie. Others though are brief calls from the heart.

The war, of course, split the Socialist movement. Many Labour leaders (no doubt after some soul searching) across Europe chose to support the war, weakening any chances of international solidarity.

But there were many, many, more across the theatre of conflict who maintained their anti-war stance – even in Germany. Eventually, as the carnage took its toll, the unrest in Russia led to the uprising that put Lenin and the Bolsheviks in power in 1917. And, of course, the Easter rising in Dublin in 1916 grew out of Ireland’s anti-war movement and the conditions created by the war. Meanwhile, there were strikes and mutinies across the board.

The quotes are divided into sections which are prefaced by commentaries to introduce each of them. These help to explain the context in which these defiant declarations by those opposing the madness of the conflict were being made. They are, in so many cases, cries of opposition to those who created and fuelled what was essentially an imperialist war.

John Wilmot.

WILL HARVEY’S LOST NOVEL

Forest of Dean poet, F.W. Harvey wrote only one novel, and that was never published in his lifetime.

But then the neglected manuscript came to light, and finally it’s appeared in print – under the title The Lost Novel of F.W. Harvey (published by The History Press, price £12.99).

In many ways it’s a strange novel. It’s semi-autobiographical, taking us through the hero’s childhood with his parents and brother Eric, on to the trenches of the First World War, serving in the Gloucestershire Regiment.

The harsh reality of the conflict has its effect on the young hero. But here the action becomes somewhat surreal. He meets up with a young gypsy girl who disguises herself as a fellow soldier. They are both captured – but after they escape from captivity in a German prison of war camp they head for the Dutch border and freedom, falling in love on the journey – until she leaves him to travel the roads alone again.

Altogether, it’s a bit of a curiosity. There are sections that are lucid and well written, but it becomes increasingly difficult to swallow. And though it does draw strongly on the writer’s own life, the chronology is distorted – and the gypsy lover is wholly fictional (one might almost suggest that she’s a myth).

Will Harvey was taken prisoner during the war – but he never escaped, engaging himself instead in helping to produce a PoW newspaper. Incidentally, the book has also been turned into a play, Will Harvey’s War, which was performed at the Everyman theatre, Cheltenham, at the beginning of August. It possibly came over better on the stage than it does as a book, despite the minimalist stage settings.

Incidentally, the book was turned down by a number of publishers before Harvey gave up on it and buried the manuscript in a desk draw. But it remains an interesting curiosity.

AG

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