And We Go On: A Memoir of the Great War

By Smyth, Hanna | British Journal of Canadian Studies, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

And We Go On: A Memoir of the Great War


Smyth, Hanna, British Journal of Canadian Studies


Will R. Bird, introduction and afterword by David Williams, And We Go On: A Memoir of the Great War (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2014), 242 pp. Paper. £16.99. ISBN 978-0-7735-4396-6.

And We Go On is the 'lost classic' First World War memoir of Nova Scotian Will R. Bird. Originally published in 1930, Bird later recycled much of it to form 60 per cent of his 1968 novel Ghosts Have Warm Hands. Yet Ghosts is well known today, while And We Go On has been out of print for 75 years. How did this happen? David Williams frames the text with an illuminating introduction and after word which seek to answer this question, while demonstrating And We Go On's impact upon subsequent Canadian literature and favourably contrasting it with other First World War memoirs. One of the most intriguing comparisons is that 'unlike the author of All Quiet on the Western Front, who never names a town or geographical site, [Bird] resisted the tendency to generalise, let alone universalise' (p. xii).

The most compelling characteristic of the book is that it is not just Bird's story. It recounts Bird's interactions with a dizzyingly revolving cast of soldiers, and he affords each of them the opportunity to air their philosophies and grievances concerning the war. Most of those perspectives were lost in the subsequent Ghosts, which offered a 'narrow[er] range of voices' (pp. xiii, 236-40), and And We Go On is the richer for it. …

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