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Literary Criticism Drama

Reliving the Trenches

Memory Plays by Veterans of the Great War

edited by Alan Filewod

Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2021
Drama, World War I, Veterans
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2021
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  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Oct 2021
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In Reliving the Trenches, three plays written by returned soldiers who served in the Great War with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in France and Belgium appear in print for the first time. With a critical introduction that references the authors' service files to establish the plays as memoirs, these plays are an important addition to Canadian literature of the Great War.

Important but overlooked war memoirs that relive trench life and warfare as experienced by combat veterans, the three plays include The P.B.I., written and staged in 1920 by recently returned veterans at the University of Toronto. Parts of this play appeared in print in serial form in 1922. Glory Hole, written in 1929 by William Stabler Atkinson, and Dawn in Heaven, written and staged in Winnipeg in 1934 by Simon Jauvoish, have never been published.

These plays impact Canadian literature and theatre history by revealing a body of previously unknown modernist writing, and they impact life writing studies by showing how memoirs can be concealed behind genre conventions. They offer fascinating details of the daily routines of the soldiers in the trenches by bringing them back to life in theatrical re-enactment.


About the author

Alan Filewod is professor of Theatre Studies and director of the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph, Ontario. His research fields include Canadian theatre history, radical political theatre and masculinist performance in war play and re-enactment. His books include Committing Theatre: Theatre Radicalism and Political Intervention (2011), Performing Canada: The Nation Enacted in the Imagined Theatre (2002), Collective Encounters: Documentary Theatre in English Canada (1987), and, with David Watt, Workers' Playtime: Theatre and the Labour Movement since 1970 (2001). He is a past president of the Association for Canadian Theatre Research and of the Association for Canadian and Quebec Literatures/Association des littératures canadienne et québécoise, and is a former editor of Canadian Theatre Review. As a theatre activist he was a member of the Mummers Troupe in Newfoundland in the 1970s, and in the 1980s was a founder of the Canadian Popular Theatre Alliance. Honours include the Ann Saddlemyer Book Prize (twice), the Richard Plant Essay Prize (both from the Canadian Association for Theatre Research), the President’s Distinguished Scholar Award at the University of Guelph, the University of Guelph Distinguished Professor Teaching Award, and the Ontario Confederation of Faculty Associations Teaching Award.

Alan Filewod's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“The plays in Reliving the Trenches, collected and contextualized by Alan Filewod, are vital and exceptional. They offer intimate, challenging, and fractious depictions of Canadian soldiers during World War I, which stand in contrast to the popular and enduring myth of the Great War. There is nobility here, but these soldiers also fight with one another; they argue; they complain. The trenches in these plays are, to quote one of the characters, ‘a hell of a mess.’ That general messiness, along with Filewod’s expansive explanation of their historical and literary significance and his careful research into their reception and textual histories, makes these plays essential reading for anyone looking to understand more about the Great War and its significance in Canada.” —Joel Baetz, author of Battle Lines: Canadian Poetry in English and the First World War (WLU Press, 2018)


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