Who was Alun Lewis?


This year at Seren you’ll be hearing an awful lot about a man named Alun Lewis. Why? Lewis was the definitive writer of the Second World War, and this year marks the centenary of his birth. If you’d like to keep up to date with any news or events concerning the centenary, you can follow our Alun Lewis Twitter account here.

Alun Lewis 72Lewis was born on the 1st July, 1915 in Cwmaman. He won a scholarship to Cowbridge Grammar School when he was 11, and it was here that he began to write well-crafted, thought-provoking fiction. A bright and sensitive boy, his talent for writing was evident from a young age and didn’t go unnoticed by his teachers; he had several stories, including ‘The Tale of the Dwarf’ and ‘The End of the Hunt’, published in his school magazine, The Bovian.

At 17 he won another scholarship to study History at Aberystwyth University, achieving first class honours, and in 1935 he moved to Manchester to study for his MA with the intention of becoming a teacher. When his training was complete he taught at Lewis Boys’ School in Pengam.

A pacifist by nature, Lewis appeared to have no intention of joining the army when the Second World War cast its shadow over Britain, but he eventually joined the Royal Engineers and later qualified as a Second Lieutenant despite how unhappy military life made him. He was stationed with the South Wales Borderers until December 1942, where he arrived at a new station in Nira, India. In the same year his poetry collection Raiders’ Dawn was published. It would be the only collection published during his lifetime.

Just over a year later, in February 1944, Lewis was moved to Burma. There he and his men fought the Japanese on the front line, despite Lewis’s rank meaning he could have remained at headquarters. Though he missed his wife, his family and his home, and struggled with severe depression, he was determined to fight for what he believed was right.

A month later, on the 5th March, 1944, Lewis was found shot in the head after shaving and washing, and died from the wound six hours later. He was 29 years old. Though it is widely believed to have been a tragic accident, there are others who believe Lewis’s death was a suicide. One thing we can be certain of is that his premature death was a great loss to Welsh, and indeed British, literature.

Perhaps best known for his war poetry, Lewis was also a prolific writer of prose and wrote an abundance of short fiction during his lifetime. 1945 saw the publication of his second poetry collection, Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets. Poems in transit, followed by Letters from India (1946) and In the Green Tree (1948).

As well as reprinting some of Lewis’s finest work, we at Seren also intend to bring you Morlais, Lewis’s unpublished novel!

If Lewis is a writer you’d like to learn more about, then look out for his biography, written by Lewis expert and enthusiast John Pikoulis, which is due to be published this July.

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