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This article is taken from PN Review 210, Volume 39 Number 4, March - April 2013.

Keith Vaughan Ian Massey

A soldier sits opposite you in the train. His mouth always open a little. Lips that were never meant to feel each other. His hands that you keep looking at - big and straight and generous. His body big and strong, harnessed over like a circus horse with brass and khaki. You felt you could love him? An impossible yearning to protect him - to put yourself between his clean body and the savage mechanism of destruction. Just to save this one fragment of the earth's springtime from being stamped out utterly.

Keith Vaughan, Journal, 22 June 1940

For Keith Vaughan (1912-77), the events of his young life, and especially those of the Second World War, were to define the underlying themes of his art. Aside from the more general experiences of wartime, he was marked profoundly by two events in close succession, the proximity of which can only have been devastating: both were to resonate in his art for the rest of his life. In May 1940, his brother Dick, who had enlisted as an RAF pilot, was shot down and killed over France. Then, working with the St John Ambulance only weeks later, he helped load severely injured servicemen into ambulances as they arrived by train in Kent following their evacuation from Dunkirk.

As a conscientious objector, early in 1941 Vaughan was drafted to serve as a labourer in the Pioneer Corps, based initially in Wiltshire and then in Derbyshire. ...
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