Ian McMillan and Tony Husband
The Tale of Walter the Pencil Man is a collaboration between the poet and broadcaster Ian McMillan and several times Cartoonist of the Year Tony Husband. It tells the story, in six-line rhyming stanzas, of a young lad from a Yorkshire pit village who finds himself caught up in the terrible slaughter of the First World War and records the things he sees around him with a pencil and some paper.
Imagine this: A pit village, 1914; A row of houses standing in the cold. A covering of snow has settled on the green A winter sun is shining like fool's gold. Men are standing, talking, in the Queen's Head yard; The air is tight and frosty and the sky is hard. Picture this: a sea of sludge, 1917; You just can't see the army for the dirt. Stumbling through the morning like a war machine Built from fear and trembling, blood and hurt. Look closely though; familiar faces loom through fog. Silence snapped in two by a barking dog. Something links these worlds across the seasons, the years; A long unbroken line from there to there Those Queen's Head boys with nervous laughter, foaming beers Grins like horses, windswept ruffled hair; And those stumbling zombies with faces like screams That populate your night times, infiltrate your dreams. Look closer; see that soldier with the nervous eyes That pit lad with the pencil in his hand Time and pain buzzed round them like a swarm of flies They marched down to the station with the band And the snow fell down like feathers, freezing white Then the train rolled through the farmland in the night. And if this was a film the screen would shake and shift; We'd have a montage of different scenes Some marching, some shouting, a time of endless drift Peeling potatoes, digging the latrines: But always we see Walter drawing as he peels, Drawing as he polishes and right-wheels. All his mates gather round and laugh like drunken fools As he spreads his cartoons across the bed; They didn't teach this kind of art at miner's schools No art at all in fact. Just fear and dread And the knowledge that a life spent down the pit Would see you drop down in a cage to shovel shit...
'No better piece of writing might be inspired by next year's centenary of the start of the War to End All Wars.'
'Visually, this book is a joy - the perfect balance of ink and paper'
'a useful primer to the events of 1914-18'