Poet of the Trenches

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) - who was born in Oswestry on the Welsh borders, and brought up in Birkenhead and Shrewsbury - is widely recognised as one of the greatest voices of the First World War. At the time of his death he was virtually unknown - only four of his poems were published during his lifetime - but he had always been determined to be a poet, and had experimented with verse from an early age. In 1913-1915, whilst teaching at Bordeaux and Bagnères-de-Bigorre in France, he worked on the rhyming patterns which became characteristic of his poetry; but it was not until the summer of 1917 that he found his true voice.

In 1915 Owen enlisted in the British Army. His first experiences of active service at Serre and St. Quentin in January-April 1917 led to shell-shock and his return to Britain. Whilst he was undergoing treatment at the Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, he met one of his literary heroes, Siegfried Sassoon, who provided him with guidance, and encouragement to bring his war experiences into his poetry.

When Owen returned to the Western Front, after more than a year away, he took part in the breaking of the Hindenburg Line at Joncourt (October 1918) for which he was awarded the Military Cross in recognition of his courage and leadership. He was killed on 4 November 1918 during the battle to cross the Sambre-Oise canal at Ors.

Virtually all the poems for which he is now remembered were written in a creative burst between August 1917 and September 1918. His self-appointed task was to speak for the men in his care, to show the 'Pity of War', which he also expressed in vivid letters home. His bleak realism, his energy and indignation, his compassion and his great technical skill are evident in many well-known poems, and phrases or lines from his work ("Each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds" … "The Old Lie: Dulce et decorum est …" ) are frequently quoted.

Wilfred Owen's reputation has grown steadily, helped over the years by Edmund Blunden's edition with a biographical memoir in 1931, and by later editions, biographies and critical analyses by C.Day Lewis, Jon Stallworthy, Dominic Hibberd and others. Modern scholarship regards Owen's work as the most significant poetry to come out of the 1914-1918 war years, and his influence on later generations of poets and readers is widely acknowledged. In 1961 several of his poems were included in Benjamin Britten's War Requiem.

Extract from: www.wilfredowen.org.uk

 

The 5th Battallion

In October 1915, the poet Wilfred Owen enlisted in the Army. He was commissioned into The Manchester Regiment in June 1916, and a year later was posted to the 2nd Battalion in France.
His first action was on January 12, 1917, when he was ordered to take 25 men and occupy a captured bunker. He and his men remained there for three days, in about two feet of water and under heavy shelling. In April 1917, he led an attack on a German trench near Fayet, and was blown into the air by a shell that landed close to him. Diagnosed with shell shock, he was sent back to Britain for treatment.

Owen returned to France in August 1918, rejoining The 2nd Manchesters the following month. On October 2, 1918, he was recommended for the Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty” in the attack on the Fonsomme Line on October 1/2, 1918. After his company commander had been wounded, Owen had assumed command and resisted a heavy counter-attack, personally manipulating a captured machine-gun from an isolated position and inflicting considerable losses.

After a short rest, the battalion again moved forward to attack across the Sambre-Oise Canal. No-one is quite sure what happened to Owen but, according to his friend John Foulkes, he was last seen trying to cross the canal on a raft under German fire. He was killed on November 4, 1918, one week before the end of the war.

Wilfred Owen is buried in a corner of Ors communal cemetery. His grave, together with about 60 other Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones, lies just beyond the graves of the villagers.

 

Extract from: archive.iwm.org.uk/

Wilfred Owen Portrait
Wifred Owen

Badges and Medals

Manchester Regiment

Manchester Regiment

Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen

 

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