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Argument of Kings

By Vernon Scannell



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‘I hope the book will tell readers something about the Second World War—and perhaps all wars— that is not to be found in other accounts of military life. I hope, too, that it might throw a little light on the nature of human courage and its lack, and the terrible uses to which the young are put when the last argument of kings pursues its loud and murderous course.’ From the author’s Preface. First published by Robson Books and launched at the Imperial War Museum some thirty years ago amidst considerable controversy, and long out of print, this ‘classic war memoir’ (TLS) is now republished to tie in with Vernon Scannell’s centenary. Widely considered to be one of the finest poets of the Second War, in this powerful prose book Scannell adopted a novelist’s technique to skilfully recount a story that is both gripping and true, harrowing at times but also with touches of humour that balance the horrors he witnessed and which ultimately led him to desert ‘in a forward area in North Africa’ where he was serving with the Gordon Highlanders. Picked up by the military police, and court martialed, Scannell was sent to one of the harshest penal institutions, a military prison in Alexandria. Released on a suspended sentence he subsequently took part in the D-Day landings in Normandy and was later wounded, ending up in a military hospital near Warrington, where he experienced a romantic interlude of both lyric and comic poignancy. This true story, which often reads like a thriller, is exciting, horrifying at times, and moving, and records an important aspect of war about which little has been previously written and rarely something of the power and originality of Argument of Kings. It is, to quote The Guardian, ‘the voice of the ranks’. The reissue is an important literary event, and coincides with the publication by Smokestack Books of Final Performance: The Collected Later Poems of Vernon Scannell. Scannell published over 170 poems in his final fourteen years. His incisiveness, humanity and dry wit, allied with a formidable mastery of poetic technique, never deserted him. Scannell was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1960 and granted a Civil List pension in recognition of his services to literature in 1981.

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