What TE Lawrence was to the Arabs, Colonel PJ Woods was to the people of Karelia, the land lying between Russia and Finland. Woods was posted there in 1918, when the Allies aimed to prevent German occupation of north Russia. The British troops stayed after the end of the first world war, with the new objective of using Karelian help to arrest the progress of bolshevism. Woods, born in Ulster, became the Karelians’ champion, despite some squeamishness about their lack of “any recognition of humane principles in warfare”. He designed their Irish-themed regimental badge and flag, and unsuccessfully petitioned the British to support their fight for independence.
The King of Karelia is in two parts. In part one, Nick Baron gives Woods’s biography, taking in his childhood in Ulster, military service in the Boer and first world wars, political campaigns in the 1920s and involvement with – though not sympathy towards – the far right in the 1930s. Part two is Woods’s account of his Karelian experiences. As both a literary and a historical document, it proves to be worth the revival: a lively, colourful portrait of the muddles and eccentricities of the military campaign and of the harsh beauties of the region.