A Keen Soldier: The Execution of Second World War Private Harold Pringle (DO NOT ORDER - Canadian Edition)

Overview

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. ...

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2004-01 Paperback Very Good Text in English (342 pages). Edition published in 2002. Soft cover. Very good condition, tight binding, unmarked pages. Bookshelf T-12. Keywords: ... Military; History; Biography. Read more Show Less

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2004 Paperback Fine Paperback, Like New, clean, tight, unmarked, no spine or cover creases 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 leav. Read more Show Less

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Overview

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 Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“...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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780676973556
  • Publisher: Knopf Canada
  • Publication date: 1/13/2004
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 7.92 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet 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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

1. Caserta

The sun was up over Avellino. Light filled the small valley and fired the branches of the pine and chestnut trees that sprang from the mountains surrounding the town. Vineyards stretched across the Italian countryside, and occasionally a bird broke the silence of the morning quiet with its call. In a ruined castle above Avellino by the main road to Naples, a young Canadian soldier named Harold Joseph Pringle slept in his tiny room on a hard cot. During the Second World War, Canadian soldiers had used the castle to watch for smugglers and black marketeers bringing illegal goods from one city to the next.

At one time, tens of thousands of Allied troops, most of them Canadian, had been stationed in Avellino. By July 5, 1945, however, the war was over and the armies that had raged over Italy were no longer necessary. The Canadians were all gone. In fact, there were only thirty-one Canadians in the entire country. But there was one more task to perform before the final residue of the Canadian army could go home.

Shoot Harold Pringle.

A mile from Pringle’s cell, five Canadian privates dressed in pressed uniforms eyed their watches as they assembled outside their headquarters. It was fifteen minutes to six in the morning, but it was July, so the sun was already shining brightly. The brigadier appeared and gave a nod to a sergeant who was standing by. It was time to get going. The soldiers climbed into two jeeps and drove up the winding road.

The brigadier was a veteran of the First World War, and as they drove it occurred to him that the Canadian army had not executed a single soldier during this entire war. That was a change from the last one, in which 26 Canadian soldiers had been put to death. Over one million Canadians served in uniform during the Second World War, and 92,757 of these men had fought in Italy between 1943 and 1945. Of those, more than a quarter, 26,254, were killed or wounded. Canadians had fought in Japan, Burma, France, Germany, Sicily, Italy, Holland and Africa, and during this time some had fallen on the wrong side of military justice for crimes ranging from theft to rape to murder. Yet not one had been deemed to necessitate a military firing squad. It was, the brigadier thought, a situation that the Canadian brass in Ottawa and London could not abide. So, on July 5, 1945, he and thirty Canadians were to correct this imbalance by turning Harold Pringle into that singular casualty. Harold Pringle, whose name the brigadier had found so innocuous when he had first heard it, would be the only soldier executed by the Canadian army during the entire war. In fact, he would turn out to be the last soldier ever executed by the Canadian army.

The jeep rolled down the dry dirt road. One private whispered to his friend, “Do you suppose he will already be awake?”

Soon the brigadier’s party pulled up beside the old castle and the soldiers dragged themselves out. The brigadier was now shaking. As he and his men approached the castle, the guards who had spent the night outside Harold’s room stepped sheepishly aside. Inside, they found a chaplain from the British army who had been ministering to Harold. He had spent the night sleeping in the same quarters as the sentries. It was five minutes to six in the morning. The brigadier recognized the priest. “You know why we’re here,” he told him. “You can be on hand if you like.”

The men then walked silently past the chaplain to the door of Harold’s cell. The priest called out, “Harold, Harold, son. We are coming in.”

Harold was lying on his cot, clothed, and he began to awaken. He thought, I must have finally fallen asleep. An officer Harold did not know began speaking.

“Private Harold Joseph Pringle, His Excellency the Governor General in council . . .”

The chaplain laid a hand on Harold’s shoulder.

Harold felt a cold tingling buzz up the small of his back. He scanned the room nervously. “Harold, we received word from Ottawa,” said the priest. “They found against you. Your appeal has been denied. So it will be today, this morning.” Harold knew what “it” meant. By eight o’clock this morning it would all be over. Once he was dead, his guards and executioners could all go home. He would never go home.

As the words fell on Harold’s ears, he felt the priest’s hand on his shoulder. He heard the priest ask if he had any requests, any food he wanted.

“Do you want a bit of rum?”

“No, I never cared much for drinking,” he said.

The priest handed Harold a cigarette, which he took and lit. Harold looked east out his barred window and saw the blue Italian sky hug the green banks of the mountains that surrounded Avellino. It was just an optical trick, but the mountains looked surprisingly close. Harold could see details, small trees and shrubs on their cliffs. One of the privates gave him a sheet of army paper and a pencil. Harold sat at a small table, on which lay three prayer books, one volume of the New Testament, and the book True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. His wallet was also there, in it a few snapshots of family and old girlfriends; there was a tin box with his rosary, two medals (which would later be confiscated) and a mirror, badly broken. Harold inhaled deeply and felt the tobacco burn.

He began:

July 5, 1945
C5292 Pte. Harold Pringle
My Darling Mother and Father and Brothers and Sisters,
Well Mother Darling this is going to be an awful surprise to you all and I sure hope and pray that you dont take it too hard. But the papers have just come back from Canada....

From the Hardcover edition.

Read More Show Less

First Chapter

1. Caserta

The sun was up over Avellino. Light filled the small valley and fired the branches of the pine and chestnut trees that sprang from the mountains surrounding the town. Vineyards stretched across the Italian countryside, and occasionally a bird broke the silence of the morning quiet with its call. In a ruined castle above Avellino by the main road to Naples, a young Canadian soldier named Harold Joseph Pringle slept in his tiny room on a hard cot. During the Second World War, Canadian soldiers had used the castle to watch for smugglers and black marketeers bringing illegal goods from one city to the next.

At one time, tens of thousands of Allied troops, most of them Canadian, had been stationed in Avellino. By July 5, 1945, however, the war was over and the armies that had raged over Italy were no longer necessary. The Canadians were all gone. In fact, there were only thirty-one Canadians in the entire country. But there was one more task to perform before the final residue of the Canadian army could go home.

Shoot Harold Pringle.

A mile from Pringle's cell, five Canadian privates dressed in pressed uniforms eyed their watches as they assembled outside their headquarters. It was fifteen minutes to six in the morning, but it was July, so the sun was already shining brightly. The brigadier appeared and gave a nod to a sergeant who was standing by. It was time to get going. The soldiers climbed into two jeeps and drove up the winding road.

The brigadier was a veteran of the First World War, and as they drove it occurred to him that the Canadian army had not executed a single soldier during this entire war. That was a change from the lastone, in which 26 Canadian soldiers had been put to death. Over one million Canadians served in uniform during the Second World War, and 92,757 of these men had fought in Italy between 1943 and 1945. Of those, more than a quarter, 26,254, were killed or wounded. Canadians had fought in Japan, Burma, France, Germany, Sicily, Italy, Holland and Africa, and during this time some had fallen on the wrong side of military justice for crimes ranging from theft to rape to murder. Yet not one had been deemed to necessitate a military firing squad. It was, the brigadier thought, a situation that the Canadian brass in Ottawa and London could not abide. So, on July 5, 1945, he and thirty Canadians were to correct this imbalance by turning Harold Pringle into that singular casualty. Harold Pringle, whose name the brigadier had found so innocuous when he had first heard it, would be the only soldier executed by the Canadian army during the entire war. In fact, he would turn out to be the last soldier ever executed by the Canadian army.

The jeep rolled down the dry dirt road. One private whispered to his friend, "Do you suppose he will already be awake?"

Soon the brigadier's party pulled up beside the old castle and the soldiers dragged themselves out. The brigadier was now shaking. As he and his men approached the castle, the guards who had spent the night outside Harold's room stepped sheepishly aside. Inside, they found a chaplain from the British army who had been ministering to Harold. He had spent the night sleeping in the same quarters as the sentries. It was five minutes to six in the morning. The brigadier recognized the priest. "You know why we're here," he told him. "You can be on hand if you like."

The men then walked silently past the chaplain to the door of Harold's cell. The priest called out, "Harold, Harold, son. We are coming in."

Harold was lying on his cot, clothed, and he began to awaken. He thought, I must have finally fallen asleep. An officer Harold did not know began speaking.

"Private Harold Joseph Pringle, His Excellency the Governor General in council . . ."

The chaplain laid a hand on Harold's shoulder.

Harold felt a cold tingling buzz up the small of his back. He scanned the room nervously. "Harold, we received word from Ottawa," said the priest. "They found against you. Your appeal has been denied. So it will be today, this morning." Harold knew what "it" meant. By eight o'clock this morning it would all be over. Once he was dead, his guards and executioners could all go home. He would never go home.

As the words fell on Harold's ears, he felt the priest's hand on his shoulder. He heard the priest ask if he had any requests, any food he wanted.

"Do you want a bit of rum?"

"No, I never cared much for drinking," he said.

The priest handed Harold a cigarette, which he took and lit. Harold looked east out his barred window and saw the blue Italian sky hug the green banks of the mountains that surrounded Avellino. It was just an optical trick, but the mountains looked surprisingly close. Harold could see details, small trees and shrubs on their cliffs. One of the privates gave him a sheet of army paper and a pencil. Harold sat at a small table, on which lay three prayer books, one volume of the New Testament, and the book True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. His wallet was also there, in it a few snapshots of family and old girlfriends; there was a tin box with his rosary, two medals (which would later be confiscated) and a mirror, badly broken. Harold inhaled deeply and felt the tobacco burn.

He began:

July 5, 1945
C5292 Pte. Harold Pringle
My Darling Mother and Father and Brothers and Sisters,
Well Mother Darling this is going to be an awful surprise to you all and I sure hope and pray that you dont take it too hard. But the papers have just come back from Canada....



From the Hardcover edition.
Read More Show Less

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