Sunday 4 November 2018

Wilfred Owen, killed in action, 4 November 1918

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was born a Shropshire lad on the 18th March 1893, the eldest of four children – sister, Mary and brothers Harold and Colin. Wilfred was educated at the Birkenhead Institute and then Shrewsbury Technical College. He did pass his matriculation exam for the University of London, but not securing a scholarship his parents could not afford for him to attend. Instead, he attended classes at University College, Reading and worked as a lay assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden. He taught English and French in Bordeaux, privately, from 1912. His poetic influences came from the Bible and John Keats and when war was declared he considered joining the French army, but later decided to return to England where he joined the Artists' Rifles for officer training and received his commission as second lieutenant in June 1916 with the Manchester Regiment.

After a number of traumatic experiences Wilfred Owen was diagnosed with neurasthenia (shell shock) and was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital for officers, in Scotland. Here he met Siegfried Sassoon and that relationship transformed Owen's life.

One of the most outstanding pieces of Great War literature has to be Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy where both Owen and Sassoon are brought to life. Barker uses one of Owen's corrected poems, Anthem for Doomed Youth, to create a conversation between the pair in Regeneration. The third book, The Ghost Road, tells of Owen's tragic death on the 4th November 1918, just one week before the Armistice was signed.

On the 1st October 1918 Owen led units of the Second Manchesters to storm a number of enemy strong points near the village of Joncourt and was awarded the Military Cross for his courage and leadership, but was not gazetted until the 15th February 1919.

Owen was killed in action, aged just 25, on the 4th November 1918 during the crossing of the Sambre-Oise canal and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant the day after his death. His parents received the sad news on Armistice Day. He is buried in Ors Communal Cemetery, France.

His poetry lives on and some of his famous works are used in many different ways; in schools, on memorials, as insignias. Only five of Owen's poems were published before he died.

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
from Anthem for Doomed Youth, 1917