Alun Lewis

Alun Lewis

Last updated: 20 November 2008

Alun Lewis died tragically at the age of 28 in 1944, and is considered one of the finest poets of World War Two.

Lewis was born in 1915 in Cwmaman near Aberdare in the Cynon Valley. He won a scholarship to Cowbridge Grammar School at the age of eleven, and another at the age of 17 to Aberystwyth University, where he would study History and achieve first class honours.

Lewis made the decision to enter teaching and moved to Manchester in 1935 to study for his MA. He returned to Aberystwyth for a year to complete his teacher training and when qualified, taught at Lewis Boys' School in Pengam.

As World War Two encroached, Lewis' pacifist inclinations rose to the fore but just a few short months later his attitude had seemingly changed. In 1939 Lewis had met his future wife Gweno, a fellow teacher, and by the close of the year they were engaged.

A year later Lewis joined the Royal Engineers, the decision made because it was a regiment where he was least likely to have to kill during his time in service.

Lewis suffered from severe depression and disliked life in the military, often preferring the company of his men (many of whom were from similar industrial South Wales backgrounds) to that of fellow officers. The desolation he suffered during the early period of his military life is expressed in poems such as The Sentry and All Day It Has Rained.

In 1941 Lewis worked with John Petts and Brenda Chamberlain in producing the Caseg Broadsheets. Also in that year Lewis applied for a commission in infantry, was accepted and moved to Gloucester to train in June. It was around this time that Lewis married Gweno.

Lewis qualified as a Second Lieutenant and was stationed with the South Wales Borderers. His volume of poetry Raiders' Dawn was published in 1942, the only collection of poetry to be published in his lifetime. In December of the same year Lewis arrived at a new station in Nira, near Poona, in India.

In February 1944 Lewis moved to Burma, where he and his men would proceed to the front line to fight against the Japanese. Due to his rank he could have remained at headquarters but he was determined to fight.

Lewis died in curious circumstances a month later, found to have accidently shot himself in the head. It has since been suggested that Lewis committed suicide, but the fact remains that his early death was a huge loss to Welsh literature in English and the wider literary world.

Before his death Lewis enjoyed four years of literary acclaim. A year after Raiders' Dawn was published a short story, The Last Inspection, was published in 1943. A year after his death in 1945 a second collection of poetry, Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets, was released and was followed three years later by a collection of short stories, In the Green Tree (1948).

Lewis' widow Gweno edited a collection of letters sent to her during wartime, published in 1989 entitled Letters to his Wife, which was followed by Collected Stories (1990) and Collected Poems (1994).

Selected bibliography

  • Raiders' Dawn (1942)
  • The Last Inspection (1943)
  • Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets (1945)
  • In the Green Tree (1948)
  • Collected Poems (1994)

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