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A Keen Soldier: The Execution of Second World War Private Harold Pringle Paperback – Jan 13 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Canada (Jan. 13 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0676973558
  • ISBN-13: 978-0676973556
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 2.3 x 20.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #704,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

From Amazon

Before there was post-traumatic stress disorder there was shell-shock, the principle cause of Allied desertion during both world wars, and an offence punishable by death. During World War I, 26 Canadian soldiers were put to death, most for "cowardice" or desertion; over the course of World War II only one faced a firing squad, a 23-year-old farmhand from central Ontario. And this solitary judgement, in the view of journalist Andrew Clark, author of A Keen Soldier: The Execution of Second World War Private Harold Pringle, was not only deeply flawed, but also politically motivated.

A Keen Soldier reads as part dark history lesson, part true-crime novel. Clark, through a series of veteran testimonials, family letters, court transcripts, and declassified service records, pieces together Pringle's war experience in Italy, his desertion, the murder he was charged with while a member of a theft ring in Rome, and his subsequent trial and execution. His research is extraordinary, given the dearth of information and a dwindling witness pool, as are the many eye-opening side trips into disgraceful Canadian military conduct overseas. Clark is as adept at bringing long-dead characters to life as he is at re-creating the political circumstances that made Pringle a public relations liability for then Prime Minister Mackenzie King. Throughout it all, he intersperses numerous heartbreaking letters written home by an increasingly despondent, largely abandoned Pringle. All the missives open and close identically: "Just a few lines again To say Im well and in the very best of health. I sure hope and pray this few lines find you all in the best of health.... From your lonesome Son Harold answer real soon." These phrases evolve into a morbid mantra as time runs out on Pringle's life, something Clark exploits to great effect.

Though the writing weakens when Clark's literary aspirations poke through the fabric of the narrative (especially in the book's final paragraphs, in which the author launches into a forced, mostly disingenuous symbolic reading of Pringle-as-Christ-figure, his death as absolution for war--blech), his journalistic instincts are grounded. In the end, he makes a compelling case for Pringle's innocence, a victim of a government that went to great lengths to sacrifice one of its own sons. --Jamie O'Meara --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“...meticulously researched... Instead of a straightforward black-and-white story, Clark offers a personal look at the kid from a small town in Ontario and the relatives and war veterans who were affected by [Pringle’s] troubled life and untimely death.”
The National Post, 11 November 2002

“[A] powerful debut, written in a vivid but admirably controlled style, which only serves to intensify the passion for the truth, and compassion for the soldiers, that burns through its pages.”
The Toronto Star, 10 November 2002

“Using personal correspondence, court documents and interviews with many of the principal characters, Clark masterfully tells the story of Pringle’s final days. …He does a wonderful job of putting the tragic story of this young soldier into a more complete historical context.”
Globe and Mail

“In what may be one of the best biographies of the year, reporter Andrew Clark strips away the darkness around one of the sorriest episodes in Canada’s military history: the execution of a deserter accused of murder under dubious circumstances in the months following the Second World War. It’s a fine detective story, a tribute to the courage of the Canadians who fought in Italy, and a stirring indictment of political betrayal.”
New Brunswick Reader

“Andrew Clark, an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker from Toronto, has pieced together this troubled life through relentless detective work, strong investigative research, and sheer good luck….Clark has shed important and substantial light on [the] tragic episode [of Pringle’s sentence]….A Keen Soldier tells a disturbing story, and Pringle’s case may represent injustice at its absolute worst….By helping to reopen the Pringle file, A Keen Soldier may be a catalyst for the reassessment of a matter that represents an unfortunate footnote to Canada’s superb war effort in Italy.”
The Beaver

“Reading this book is no easy feat, knowing that within its pages a very real young man will die. He is not some fictional hero who lays down his life for his friends in a noble cause, or some diabolical villain who, in the end, gets his just deserts. This is the story of a young man who could easily be the father, brother, friend or husband of any of us. … The execution of Harold Pringle is truly one of the great tragedies of Canadian military history, and Andrew Clark is to be commended for allowing a shaft of light into this dark corner of our country’s past.”
The Telegram (St. John’s)

“With this troubling tale of a Canadian soldier in World War II, Andrew Clark calls into question the ideals that are said to have motivated the Canadian effort in that war — of justice, decency, open-mindedness, and virtue. The enormously sad and sobering story of Harold Pringle is told here with grim panache and poetic flair.”
—Modris Eksteins, author of Walking since Daybreak and The Rites of Spring

“It’s precisely the slow pace and quiet language in this fascinating account of a bizarre Canadian military execution in Italy fifty-five years ago that so powerfully convey war's awfulness and absurdity.”
—Ernest Hillen, author of The Way of a Boy: A Memoir of Java and Small Mercies: A Boy after War

“Andrew Clark has written a heartbreaking book on the quality of mercy. A Keen Soldier gets to the essence of modern warfare — to the faceless, pitiless bureaucracies that wage such war and convey utter disregard for the qualities that make us human. The ‘keen soldier’ is the boy whose soul is lost in every war, no matter what his fate.”
—Jack Todd, author of The Taste of Metal

Customer Reviews

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Helen Goldie on Sept. 14 2009
Format: Hardcover
I really loved this story. Andrew Clark's investigations into this story of Harold Pringle was intriguing because of his own family's first hand recounting of this young man's fate. It led the author on a long journey to get to the real truth of what happened and why. Had Mr. Clark not taken this initiative, this soldier would possibly never have been vindicated, if not before, then after his tragic death. There are also many details of Canada's involvement in WWII that are not mentioned in other Canadian history books.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By mikebee on March 2 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a fabulous and engaging book about the last Canadian soldier to be executed, by Canadians. Andrew Clark weaves a compelling story of tragedy, suffering and humanity and in doing so vividly illuminates the social and military history of Canada in World War Two, warts and all. I hope the CBC or NFB makes dramatizes this story.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on Feb. 27 2004
Format: Paperback
Nominated for the 2003 Governor General's Literary Award for Non-fiction.
Book Description
When award-winning journalist Andrew Clark found the file on Harold Joseph Pringle, he uncovered a Canadian tragedy that had lain buried for fifty years. This extraordinary story of the last soldier to be executed by the Canadian military -- likely wrongfully -- gives life to the forgotten casualties of war and brings their honour home at last.
Harold Pringle was underage when the Second World War broke out, eager to leave quiet Flinton, Ontario, to serve by his father’s side. But few who volunteered to fight “the good fight” realized what horror lay ahead; soon Pringle found himself in Italy, fighting on the bloody “Hitler Line,” where two-thirds of his company were killed. Shell-shocked, he embarked on a tragic, final course that culminated in a suspect murder conviction.
His appeal was reviewed by the highest levels of government, right up to prime minister King. But Private Pringle was put to death -- the only soldier the Canadians executed in the whole of the Second World War. His own countrymen carried out the orders, forbidden to go home before completing this last grotesque assignment, even though the war had ended. The Pringle file was closed and stayed that way for fifty years -- until Andrew Clark uncovered it and began a two-year investigation on Pringle’s life in the army.
A Keen Soldier is a true-life military detective story that shows another side of what many consider our proudest military campaign. Andrew Clark examines the fallout of a crisis that disfigured our national conscience and continues to raise questions about the ethics of war.
Read more ›
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Michael Dorosh on Nov. 2 2002
Format: Hardcover
I've only read through this book once, and it does seem to be a comprehensive look at a little known event in Canadian history. Andrew Clark is a competent writer, but his ignorance of military terminology sometimes shows through. There are also more than a handful of grammatical and typographical errors that are a little jarring - always disappointing to see that sort of thing in this day and age.
Clark also goes off on long tangents, which are arguably necessary to understand some of the main points the book is trying to present. The use of Colin MacDougall's book EXECUTION to substitute for Pringle's mind set or combat record is pretty unconvincing, however, and falls under the heading "wild speculation."
Clark has done a great job in researching this book, and has hit on some great sources, and in a timely manner. I recommend this book for its clear writing, its attempt to approach the subject in a neutral manner (neither condemning nor condoning either Pringle's conduct nor the Army's conduct), and Clark's overall well done attempt to discuss the broader issues - military justice, battlefield psychology, and the criminal underworld of occupied Italy. Clark is obviously no soldier, he is a journalist, but he shows an understanding of some of the soldier issues inherent in the case, and makes good use of secondary sources available to him - and a wide range of them, at that - as well as the aforementioned primary sources.
Clark obviously worked hard on this book, and it shows. My only reservation is that it may be seen as part of the same revisionism that is fuelling efforts to exonerate those soldiers executed for crimes in the Great War - try as we might, how can we really put ourselves into the minds - or hearts - of those who were alive at the time?
Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4 reviews
About this book: Feb. 27 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Nominated for the 2003 Governor General's Literary Award for Non-fiction.
Book Description
When award-winning journalist Andrew Clark found the file on Harold Joseph Pringle, he uncovered a Canadian tragedy that had lain buried for fifty years. This extraordinary story of the last soldier to be executed by the Canadian military -- likely wrongfully -- gives life to the forgotten casualties of war and brings their honour home at last.
Harold Pringle was underage when the Second World War broke out, eager to leave quiet Flinton, Ontario, to serve by his father’s side. But few who volunteered to fight “the good fight” realized what horror lay ahead; soon Pringle found himself in Italy, fighting on the bloody “Hitler Line,” where two-thirds of his company were killed. Shell-shocked, he embarked on a tragic, final course that culminated in a suspect murder conviction.
His appeal was reviewed by the highest levels of government, right up to prime minister King. But Private Pringle was put to death -- the only soldier the Canadians executed in the whole of the Second World War. His own countrymen carried out the orders, forbidden to go home before completing this last grotesque assignment, even though the war had ended. The Pringle file was closed and stayed that way for fifty years -- until Andrew Clark uncovered it and began a two-year investigation on Pringle’s life in the army.
A Keen Soldier is a true-life military detective story that shows another side of what many consider our proudest military campaign. Andrew Clark examines the fallout of a crisis that disfigured our national conscience and continues to raise questions about the ethics of war. And he does so with eloquence and a deep compassion, not only for his subject but for all wartime soldiers -- even the men who executed Pringle and the officer who gave the order to fire.
From the Back Cover
“...meticulously researched... Instead of a straightforward black-and-white story, Clark offers a personal look at the kid from a small town in Ontario and the relatives and war veterans who were affected by [Pringle’s] troubled life and untimely death.” -- The National Post, 11 November 2002
“[A] powerful debut, written in a vivid but admirably controlled style, which only serves to intensify the passion for the truth, and compassion for the soldiers, that burns through its pages.” -- The Toronto Star, 10 November 2002
“Using personal correspondence, court documents and interviews with many of the principal characters, Clark masterfully tells the story of Pringle’s final days. …He does a wonderful job of putting the tragic story of this young soldier into a more complete historical context.” -- Globe and Mail
“In what may be one of the best biographies of the year, reporter Andrew Clark strips away the darkness around one of the sorriest episodes in Canada’s military history: the execution of a deserter accused of murder under dubious circumstances in the months following the Second World War. It’s a fine detective story, a tribute to the courage of the Canadians who fought in Italy, and a stirring indictment of political betrayal.” -- New Brunswick Reader
Advance Praise for A Keen Soldier:
“With this troubling tale of a Canadian soldier in World War II, Andrew Clark calls into question the ideals that are said to have motivated the Canadian effort in that war -- of justice, decency, open-mindedness, and virtue. The enormously sad and sobering story of Harold Pringle is told here with grim panache and poetic flair.” -- Modris Eksteins, author of Walking since Daybreak and The Rites of Spring
“It’s precisely the slow pace and quiet language in this fascinating account of a bizarre Canadian military execution in Italy fifty-five years ago that so powerfully convey war's awfulness and absurdity.” -- Ernest Hillen, author of The Way of a Boy: A Memoir of Java and Small Mercies: A Boy after War
“Andrew Clark has written a heartbreaking book on the quality of mercy. A Keen Soldier gets to the essence of modern warfare -- to the faceless, pitiless bureaucracies that wage such war and convey utter disregard for the qualities that make us human. The ‘keen soldier’ is the boy whose soul is lost in every war, no matter what his fate.” -- Jack Todd, author of The Taste of Metal
About the Author
Andrew Clark is a respected freelance writer and the recipient of a National Magazine Awards’ Gold Medal. His work has most recently appeared in The New York Times and on CBC Radio. He lives in Toronto and is currently working on a documentary for the National Film Board of Canada.
Canadian History Done Well March 2 2004
By mikebee - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is a fabulous and engaging book about the last Canadian soldier to be executed, by Canadians. Andrew Clark weaves a compelling story of tragedy, suffering and humanity and in doing so vividly illuminates the social and military history of Canada in World War Two, warts and all. I hope the CBC or NFB makes dramatizes this story.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Even handed and well researched Nov. 2 2002
By Michael Dorosh - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I've only read through this book once, and it does seem to be a comprehensive look at a little known event in Canadian history. Andrew Clark is a competent writer, but his ignorance of military terminology sometimes shows through. There are also more than a handful of grammatical and typographical errors that are a little jarring - always disappointing to see that sort of thing in this day and age.
Clark also goes off on long tangents, which are arguably necessary to understand some of the main points the book is trying to present. The use of Colin MacDougall's book EXECUTION to substitute for Pringle's mind set or combat record is pretty unconvincing, however, and falls under the heading "wild speculation."
Clark has done a great job in researching this book, and has hit on some great sources, and in a timely manner. I recommend this book for its clear writing, its attempt to approach the subject in a neutral manner (neither condemning nor condoning either Pringle's conduct nor the Army's conduct), and Clark's overall well done attempt to discuss the broader issues - military justice, battlefield psychology, and the criminal underworld of occupied Italy. Clark is obviously no soldier, he is a journalist, but he shows an understanding of some of the soldier issues inherent in the case, and makes good use of secondary sources available to him - and a wide range of them, at that - as well as the aforementioned primary sources.
Clark obviously worked hard on this book, and it shows. My only reservation is that it may be seen as part of the same revisionism that is fuelling efforts to exonerate those soldiers executed for crimes in the Great War - try as we might, how can we really put ourselves into the minds - or hearts - of those who were alive at the time? In the end, Pringle was a criminal and a shirker, and I share the dismay of some combat veterans of the Hasty P's that this book may be seen as an indictment of the Canadian military - who had a very difficult job to do in WW II and were certainly not helped much by characters like Harold Joseph Pringle.
THIS IS A SERIOUSLY GOOD BOOK March 1 2007
A Kid's Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
this is a really good book and I think everyone shold read it, because it's so accurate and well researched etc. and it's really good and amaing and the best book ever, really it's such a good book!


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