George Godwin’s book on soldiering in France, WWI

I have already posted three times on George Godwin’s “Why stay we Here?” The postings are dated Feb. 12, 2016; Sept. 9, 2016 and Oct. 13, 2021. This is not a ‘gung ho’ book that glorifies fighting and bravery. It is a book that questions such things as why Canadians are fighting in France and what trench fighting is really like.

To find out more about “Why stay we Here?” visit my website (www.godwinbooks.com) and click on the cover of “Why stay we Here?” Under the heading “Background” you will find a clip of me reading about what Godwin has to say about the wounded of World War One. The clip was filmed in a graveyard in Victoria, British Columbia, on Armistice Day (November 11).

In the following passage Godwin (known as “Craig” in the book) finds himself in a small town in southern England. He and thousands of other Canadians are in training, waiting to be sent to France. During the day Godwin/Craig receives training in a military camp; in the evenings and nights he stays with his wife and small child who have rented a small apartment in town. The passage shows Godwin’s talent for seeing below the surface of things. Visit my website (www.godwinbooks.com) and click on “Why stay we Here?” You will find information on Godwin, “Why stay we Here?”, and a clip of me speaking about this book (specifically on the wounded of World War One).

“A Kentish town of narrow streets, low houses. And everywhere soldiers. No anaemic men, these, drawn from office stools or shop counters. No. But men whose clear eyes have that look in them that comes only in the eyes of those whose horizons have been wide. Men of the prairie, of the mountains, of the timberlands.

Canadians.

Big men, husky men, simple men. Their voices echo in these narrow ways and there is a twang in them. Their friendliness is moving in its childlike assurance. They take their welcome for granted. And in the little shops, where they spend their plentiful dollars, they are greeted with smiles. Landladies with apartments to let refuse all save Canadians living out of camp.

‘The soldiers must come first, nowadays,’ they explain.

And why not, when one can charge them double?

(…)

The war has awakened the little town from a slumber which fell upon it after the Napoleonic wars; it is thriving, growing rich, catering for these burly, bronzed men from Canada.

So there are smiles for the soldiers who swarm into the little, small-ceilinged shops, filling them with their loud voices, with their bulky bodies. But there are two prices, also: one for the inhabitants; another for these generous spenders.

But the little town does not care for them. It likes their money. But it will be glad when they have gone. That is, the last of them, finally. For as the drafts march away with blaring bands, others come to take their place. More and more…

‘Where are you from?’

‘Vancouver, Missie.’

‘Ah, I thought you were American.’

‘American? Hell! I’m a Canuck.’

‘Bur surely Vancouver’s in America, isn’t it?’

‘Say, that’s a good one, Sister, but quit yer kidding…’

Still, whatever he is, this big bronzed fellow who takes such liberties, he is a generous spender, no doubt about that at all. And he has a way of making love. Different it is from that of the local lads, bolder, just a trifle alarming, but very pleasant in the evenings, down by the canal that was supposed to stop Napoleon, down there under the prim willows.” (p. 43)


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