Alun Lewis is probably one of the best known English-language poets of the Second World War. He was born near Aberdare in the south Wales coalfield and studied at the universities of Aberystwyth and Manchester. He had been interested in writing since he was at Grammar school but proved unsuccessful in his chosen career of journalism, so turned instead to supply teaching.
At the outbreak of war Lewis considered registering as a conscientious objector but he finally enlisted in the army in March 1940. Serving first as a sapper, by the middle of July he had been promoted to lance corporal and in October he wrote one of his most memorable poems, All Day it has Rained, on the Shoulder o’Mutton near Petersfield in Hampshire. It was a paean of praise to the countryside and to World War One poet Edward Thomas. It was also, perhaps inevitably, a melancholy lament for the “landless soldier locked in war.” (Phil Carradice, BBC Wales)
His first book, Raiders Dawn and Other Poems, was shortly published by Allen and Unwin. He married a fellow teacher, Gweno Ellis, just before being given a commission in the South Wales Borderers. In October 1942 he and his unit set sail for India. During a period of leave in the middle of 1943 he met and fell in love with Freda Aykroyd, the wife of a British scientist. Douglas and his unit then went to Burma in February 1944. On the night of 4 March he joined B company in a forward position. Just after 5 am the following day he was found shot in the head near the officers’ latrines, revolver in hand. Despite the suggestion of suicide a formal court of inquiry concluded that it had been an accident.
His second book of poems was published posthumously in 1945. In 1980 Freda Aykroyd edited 39 of his letters written during 1943 and early 1944: A Cypress Walk, by Alun Lewis, Enitharmon Press, 2006. In 1989 Alun Lewis: Letters to my Wife, edited by Gweno Lewis was published by Seren Books.
Alun Lewis’ Poems:
Alun Lewis: Selected Poetry and Prose, edited, with a biographical introduction, by Ian Hamilton (Allen and Unwin, 1966)
Alun Lewis: Letters to My Wife, edited by Gweno Lewis (Seren Books, 1989)
Alun Lewis: A Cypress Walk, edited by Freda Aykroyd (Enitharmon, 2006)