A Keen Soldier

The Execution of Second World War Private Harold Pringle

Publisher: Vintage Canada
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.


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...
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“...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