Life and work
Alun Lewis was born on 1 July 1915 at Cwmaman, near Aberdare in Cynon Valley in the South Wales Coalfield. His father and mother were school teachers; and he had a younger sister, Mair and two brothers. By the time he won a scholarship to attend Cowbridge Grammar School, he was already interested in writing. He went on to study at Aberystwyth University and the University of Manchester. Although he was born in South Wales, he wrote in English only.
Lewis was unsuccessful as a journalist, and instead earned his living as a supply teacher. He met the poet Lynette Roberts (whose poem "Llanybri" is an invitation to him to visit her home), but she was married to another poet, Keidrych Rhys. In 1939 Lewis met Gweno Ellis, a teacher, whom he married before the year was out.
After the outbreak of the Second World War Lewis first joined the British army's Royal Engineers in the ranks because he was a pacifist who wanted to help the defeat of fascism. However, he then inexplicably sought and gained a commission in an infantry battalion. In 1941 he collaborated with artists John Petts and Brenda Chamberlain on the "Caseg broadsheets". His first published book was the collection poetry Raider's Dawn and other poems (1942) (in which he makes a reference to Saints Peter and Paul), which was followed up by volume of short stories, The Last Inspection (1942) In 1942 he was sent to India with the South Wales Borderers.
Lewis died on 5 March 1944 in Burma, in the course of the campaign against the Japanese. He was found shot in the head, after shaving and washing, near the officers' latrines, with his revolver in his hand, and died from the wound six hours later. Despite it being a case of suicide, an army court of inquiry charitably concluded that he had tripped and that the shooting was an accident.
His second book of poems, Ha!Ha! among the trumpets. Poems in transit, was published in 1945, and his Letters from India in 1946. Several collections of his poems, letters and stories have been published subsequently.
- Raiders' Dawn and other poems (1942)
- The Last Inspection and other stories (1942)
- Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets. Poems in Transit (1945)
- Letters from India, edited by Gweno Lewis & Gwyn Jones (1946)
- In the Green Tree (letters & stories) (1948)
- Selected Poetry and Prose, edited by Ian Hamilton (1966)
- Selected Poems of Alun Lewis, edited by Jeremy Hooker and Gweno Lewis (1981)
- Alun Lewis. A Miscellany of His Writings, edited by John Pikoulis (1982)
- Letters to My Wife, edited by Gweno Lewis (Seren Books: 1989)
- Collected Stories, edited by Cary Archard (Seren Books, 1990)
- Collected Poems, edited by Cary Archard (Seren Books, 1994)
- A Cypress Walk. Letters to 'Frieda', with a memoir by Freda Aykroyd (Enitharmon Press, 2006)
- Alun Lewis. A Life by John Pikoulis (Seren Books, 1991)
- Poet in Khaki: Alun Lewis and his Combat Writings by Pinaki Roy, War, Literature and the Arts, Vol. 24, No. 1, 2012-13: http://wlajournal.com/24_1/pdf/Roy.pdf
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