Left Field

Issue section: 
(415)

Left Field is a thoughtful and gentle memoir. Born in 1945, David Wilson “had contact at a young age with people who’d led dangerous political lives”, such as the Danish doctor who helped Jews fleeing the Nazis.

His father had radical views and had witnessed the horrors of war and fascism first hand, being one of the first medics to go into Bergen-Belsen camp after liberation, and had shown the young David photographs of the horrifying scenes he had found there.

These early experiences plus his hatred of his life at a boarding school, his acts of resistance to which earned him the nickname “Commie Wilson”, led him to a life of left wing and anti-war activism.

David is probably best known as one of the founders of the charity War Child, set up in 1993 to help children caught up in the conflict in Bosnia. But he also worked as a gaucho, in teaching, making films and writing plays. Regrettably his association with the charity ended when he was sacked in 2000 after turning whistleblower on corruption.

His description of the setting up of the charity and some of its work is inspiring; the mobile bakery which fed over 14,000 people a day over 18 months and the establishment of the Pavarotti Music Centre in Mostar to help children traumatised by war and loss.

David’s obvious good nature and ability to connect with people is demonstrated over and over, from the influential individuals whose support he enlisted in the early days of War Child to the character sketches that he draws regularly throughout the book.

I enjoyed his relaxed writing style and the chapters that veered from the chronology to reflect or add narrative detail, such as the chapter about his divorce from his first wife and his essay about music; how it can be used in resistance and in healing. He comments, “Göring once said ‘When I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun’. I would counter that with, ‘When I hear the word gun, I reach for my culture’.”

One of the final chapters gives a potted history of his political activism from CND demonstrations in the 1960s, through student struggles in 1968 at Essex University, to the Stop the War movement in the early 2000s.

I cannot find fault with his comment, “If like me, you believe there is nothing ‘shared’ about our world, the only place for politics is in the streets, not in a debating chamber full of Right Honourables who barrack and ridicule each other, then go off to have cosy lunches together.”

However his decision to join the Labour Party following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader suggests he has had his faith in the possibilities of electoralism somewhat restored.

This is an enjoyable memoir, reflecting on a compassionate and varied life, and an important reminder of how destructive war is both on individuals and communities, and the important role we can all play in fighting for a better world.