The Henry Williamson Society

A Patriot's Progress: Henry Williamson and the First World War

A Patriot's Progress: Henry Williamson and the First World War

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by Anne Williamson. Hardback, Sutton Publishing, first edition, 1998; illustrated.
Book condition: as new.

The publisher's blurb for this first edition reads: 'Henry Williamson is perhaps best known for his Hawthornden Prize-winning Tarka the Otter, yet he devoted a major part of his life and over a million words to fiction which drew closely on his personal experiences during the First World War, including the widely acclaimed sequence of novels A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight. Williamson's time in the trenches affected him profoundly and, like many young soldiers, he was changed utterly by what he saw. This book draws closely on his letters, diaries, photographs and notebooks written at the time to give us a uniquely detailed account of life in the trenches in the First World War. It also affords us a rare insight into the making of a novelist.

'In January 1914 Henry Williamson enlisted into the Territorial section of the London Rifle Brigade, and as Private 9689 was mobilized with the regiment when war was declared on 5 August. After training, he left for France on 5 November and soon afterwards found himself on the Front Line. At Christmas he witnessed the famous Truce, in which soldiers normally fighting greeted each other as ordinary men for a few brief hours; carols could be heard drifting across the wire in the silence. Williamson was commissioned as 2nd lieutenant the folllowing year, and later, as lieutenant, he served as Transport Officer with the Machine Gun Corps, taking part in the attack on the Hindenburg Line in 1917. He was demobilized in September 1919, but along with many young men, he felt a sense of dislocation on returning home. His wartime experiences profoundly affected his thought and writing throughout the rest of his life, and the final chapter describes Williamson's metamorphosis in the post-war period into a writer, his self-identification as one of that "lost" generation, and his return to the battlefields with his wife, Loetitia.

'Here, written to a large extent in the words of this still raw young man whose sensitivities as a writer were only beginning to be realized, is an extraordinarily vivid portrait of what it was like to be a soldier in the First World War and the realities of life in the trenches – "sleeping standing up, cold and wet half way up to our thighs, and covered in mud", amid continuous "quaking and heaving of the earth" caused by the artillery – and on the march – "thirteen miles with full kit, 70 lbs in the hot sun and dust, marching from 7.30–1.30". An immediate, often harrowing account, with rare flashes of humour, this detailed record of a soldier-writer's war will be of interest to anyone studying the history of the First World War and its literature.'

The paperback edition was published in 2004 as Henry Williamson and the First World War. The original title was dropped because of confusion with HW's own The Patriot's Progress.

Product CodeHWS28

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