There is more poetry associated with the First World War than any other conflict. From the contemporary ‘war poets’ whose popularity endures today to modern-day reflections prompted by the centenary it has proved a rich seam.
And continues to be so. Longbarrow Press has just published a new collection by Sheffield-based poet Rob Hindle, The Grail Roads, which approaches it from a different angle.
It re-imagines the quest of Galahad, Gawain and other knights of Arthurian legend and recasts them as British soldiers on the Western Front.
The writer says he has long been interested in the Grail story and its quest to find glory abroad in order to bring harmony at home and create a land fit for heroes.
“It was a useful strand to tie it in with both national and to some extent nationalistic aspirations,” says Hindle whose day job is working for WEA. “And yet they came back having been defeated in a way. To succeed in the quest you had to die.”
Those who came home felt estranged - survivors of trauma in a modern sense.
“Only since the Iraq war has a condition we know as PTSD become recognised. Only recently has it become blindingly obvious that there must be an effect if you are pulling ordinary people out of working class lives to go off and stab people to death or blow them to bits.”
As we go more distant from the war Rob Hindle believes there has become a tendency to mythologise it.
“Everyone is now dead and it has become material that people can make myths out of. I have no experience of war but I have experienced fear and know that people in fear of their lives do desperate things.”
But there is a personal connection to The Grail Roads. His great-grandfather, Albert Brown, was killed in Somme in 1917 at the age of 37, leaving behind six children.
Two years ago he and his father visited the area. “His body was never found but we found roughly where it was he died and got as close to it we could and walked along a track between the fields,” he recalls.
They pondered what had made him enlist in 1915 in his mid thirties and concluded it was probably a general notion of “doing his bit” perhaps echoing Gawain feeling duty bound to announce the quest to find the Holy Grail.
Another aspect of The Grail Roads is its evocation (and excavation) of the landscapes of northern France and Belgium, of soil turned over and over through centuries of conflict. Farmers in Flanders continue to dig up armaments and other remnants from the Great War and earlier wars. They call it the Iron Harvest.
The Grail Roads continues Hindle's interest in history as a starting point for creative enquiry and engagement, as previously displayed in his earlier collections Some Histories of the Sheffield Flood 1864 and The Purging of Spence Broughton, a Highwayman.
There will be a launch and performance for The Grail Roads in which Rob Hindle is joined by Ray Hearne and Matthew Clegg at DINA, Cambridge Street, on Sunday, November 11, at 7pm. Admission £5/ £3. Advance booking essential via email to email@example.com
The Grail Roads is available from Longbarrow Press at £14.69.