Paul Lay

Do Mention the War

My uncle Fred told a story. A Royal Engineer, he was on leave in the months running up to D-Day and was met off the train at Birmingham by my grandad, Nick. Father and son headed off to a pub at the back of New Street Station. There a man in his late forties came up to my grandad: ‘I know you. Nick, is it? Third Battle of Ypres? We had a fight, remember?’ Twenty-seven years before, they had fought one another in an army boxing match while serving on the Western Front. Nicholas Lay had signed up when he was just 16 – many lied about their age – and became a light infantryman in the Ox and Bucks, surviving the Somme, Ypres and, ultimately, the Great War itself, as did the vast majority of Britain’s fighting men. The question that has always grabbed me is this: what kind of people organised a punch-up as a distraction from the horrors of Passchendaele? Not people like us. 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • RT : Founded in 1979, is a trusted independent source for reviews of new books across a variety of genres. A… ,
    • RT : Here we are - "Shelf Indulgence" by Ed Potten, a wonderful read, well worth your time: @Lit_Review,
    • 'Like going to a party hoping to get away as quickly as politeness allowed and at 4am finding myself still engrosse… ,
    • 'Neville never shed his sense of being the junior, and perhaps least-deserving Chamberlain.' From the archive, Mic… ,
    • 'The erecting and immediate destruction of a series of straw men rather detracts from what is for the most part an… ,
    • RT : A magnificent demolition job on this "acid laced tirade...unpleasantly self-obsessed...self pitying polemic...book… ,
    • 'Seventy years on, the time we have left to gather such first-hand testimony is running out.' John Keay on the sig… ,