The Eternal Forest describes the Godwins’ life in Whonnock, B. C. Why Stay We Here? takes up the narrative and the reader follows Godwin as he returns to England, signs on as a lieutenant in the Canadian Army (which paid better than its British counterpart) and makes his way to France. He soon finds himself in the rat-infested trenches and undergoes a crash course in learning how to lead men in war. This is a complex book and difficult to summarize in one page.

I have listed below comments by several readers. Note that the first one dates from 1930, when Why Stay We Here? was first published. It helps to explain why the book disappeared from people’s radar.

If this book had appeared a year or so ago it might have made some stir: for it is well enough written in a jerky, impressionistic style. We have, however, had so many War novels of late dealing with infantry on the Western Front, all more or less similar in tone, that one finds it hard to raise much enthusiasm over another rendering. (The Times Literary Supplement, London, May 15, 1930)

Dr. Robert S. Thomson reads from his uncle”s book “Why Stay We Here?” which is about WW I veterans who survived the great war

Why Stay We Here? has everything one would expect of a novel written by someone familiar with life at the front: powerful descriptions of conditions in the trenches, (…) touching stories of friendships between comrades in arms, and passages that detail the destruction of the French landscape. But what sets the book apart from other Canadian contributions to the genre is the reflective element. Through his characters, Godwin explores religion, morality, human weakness, and a range of other themes. (…) Arguably the finest Canadian novel of the First World War. (Canadian Military History, autumn, 2003)

Godwin’s descriptions of life in the trenches are as good as one will find anywhere: snipers, anti-aircraft guns firing at German planes, a (for Godwin, absurd) church parade in the fields behind the line, clandestine boxing matches, prisoners of war observed up close.

Background

Sample Passage from Hilaire Belloc’s ‘Land and Water’

Further Reviews and Essays