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Monday, 27 October 2008

C. S. Lewis and the First World War

C. S. Lewis is best known for "Narnia" stories for children that began with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) and finished with The Last Battle (1956).

Lewis attended Malvern College and in 1916 he won a scholarship to University College, Oxford. However, the Master of the College informed Lewis that, with the exception of one boy with health problems, everyone who had won a scholarship had joined the British Army in order to fight in the First World War. As the authors of Famous 1914-1918 (2008) pointed out: "As as Irishman, Lewis could legally have avoided service, there being no conscription in Ireland, but the thought never entered his head: he would serve."

Lewis initially joined a cadet battalion at Keble College. He made friends with a small group of students including Ernest Moore, Martin Somerville, Thomas Davy and Alexander Sutton. Lewis became a commissioned officer in the Somerset Light Infantry. He soon became very close to Laurence Johnson, who had also won a scholarship to Oxford University. All these men, except for Lewis, were killed. In fact, an estimated 25% of all scholarship boys were killed during the First World War.

Lewis was badly wounded during an attack on the German trenches on 14th April 1918. "Just after I was hit, I found (or thought I found) that I was not breathing and concluded that this was death. I felt no fear and certainly no courage. It did not seem to be an occasion for either." When Lewis regained consciousness he discovered that the man standing next to him, Sergeant Harry Ayres, had been killed by the same shell that had wounded him.

After the war he went to live with Jane Moore, the mother of Ernest Moore. He therefore kept the promise he had made in 1917 that he would look after his mother if he was killed in the First World War. He introduced Moore to friends as his mother (his own mother had died of cancer when he was 10 years old).

Moore developed dementia after the Second World War and was eventually moved into a nursing home, where she died in 1951. It was said that he visited her every day that she was in the nursing home.

For several years Lewis corresponded with Joy Davidman, an American poet. The couple were married on 21st March 1956. She died from bone cancer on 13th July, 1960. Lewis wrote about the relationship in his book, A Grief Observed (1961). The relationship is the subject of the film, Shadowlands.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWlewisCS.htm

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