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This review is taken from PN Review 221, Volume 41 Number 3, January - February 2015.

Back in the Haunted Wood Wales on the Western Front, edited by John Richards (Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru/University of Wales Press, 1994, 2014) £19.99
deryn rees-jones, with images by charlotte hodes, And You, Helen (Seren) £14.99
brian turner, My Life as a Foreign Country (Jonathan Cape) £16.99

In 1917, Lieutenant Evans returned from an unnerving night patrol through Flemish woodland and wrote home ‘[after the war] some will avoid woods o’nights like the plague and leave them to poets and lovers’. Each of these books knows that haunted territory where shadow wars continue in the endless present of memory and imagination.

John Richards has retrieved some compelling writing from the obscurity of local history presses and out-of-print memoirs in his anthology Wales on the Western Front. There are unforgettable moments: C.H. Dudley Ward’s description of the west face of the Hohenzollern Redoubt ‘composed of dead men, equipment and a little loose earth’; Aneurin Williams, who had enlisted at fifteen, recalling army rations seventy years later with the enthusiasm of a hungry teenager: custard, cocoa, Tickler’s jam, pork and beans. Evans himself knows how to tell a good story, and his account of his night patrol is memorably eerie. Frank Richards is one of the few writers to make us aware that the war was being fought in a populated country with an existence beyond a place called The Trenches. In retreat from Mons, Richards scrounges food in shattered villages, passes refugee families on the road. Left behind in the confusion, one soldier makes his way to Paris where he is last seen ‘riding in a grand motor car with two French ladies’.

Wonderful as individual items are, the anthology as a whole is underpowered. Given Richards’ intentions – ‘to commemorate the experience of Welshmen on the Western Front’, and to ...


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