Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen – The Poetry

By 1909 Wilfred Owen was a pupil-teacher at the Wyle Cop school in Shrewsbury and two year later he passed the matriculation exam for the University of London. Unfortunately first class honours were required for a scholarship and this he did not achieve, which meant he was not eligible for a scholarship and family finances were low so Wilfred now needed to complete his education by a different route. In return for free lodging, Wilfred worked as lay assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden near Reading. He also attended classes at University College, Reading, in botany and later lessons in Old English. The time spent at Dunsden parish led him to become disillusioned with the Church. In 1913 Wilfred began work as a private tutor teaching English and French at the Berlitz School of Languages in Bordeaux, France, and then later in July 1914 with a Catholic family as a tutor to their two boys. With the dark shadows of war beginning to envelop Europe many of his contemporaries prepared for a future fighting in the Services. But Wilfred did not rush to enlist – it is said he even considered enlisting with the French army but he did return to England. On 21 October 1915, Wilfred finally joined up and enlisted with the Artists' Rifles Officers' Training Corps.
For the next seven months, he trained at Hare Hall Camp in Essex. On 4 June 1916 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment. The War now was to change his life dramatically in a series of sharp, traumatic shocks; he fell into a shell hole and suffered concussion; he was blown high into the air by a trench mortar, and spent several days lying out on an embankment in Savy Wood amongst (he thought) the remnants of a fellow officer. Soon afterwards, Owen was diagnosed as suffering from shell shock and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh for treatment. It was while recuperating here that he met and befriended fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon. This encounter was to again transform his young life. In November he was discharged from Craiglockhart and judged fit for light regimental duties. He spent a contented and fruitful winter in Scarborough, and in March 1918 was posted to the Northern Command Depot at Ripon where he composed a number of his poems, including “Futility” and “Strange Meeting”. His last birthday, his 25th, was spent quietly at Ripon Cathedral. At the height of summer 1918 Owen returned to active service. On 1 October 1918 Owen led units of the Second Manchesters to storm a number of enemy strong points near the village of Joncourt. For his courage and leadership in the Joncourt action, he was awarded the Military Cross, an award he had always sought in order to justify himself as a war poet, but the award was not gazetted until 15 February 1919.
Germany was now struggling to contain the Allies advance and the end of the war was now in sight. However for Wilfred he would not live to see Europe at peace. He was killed in action on 4 November 1918 during the crossing of the Sambre–Oise Canal, one week before the signing of the Armistice. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant the day after his death. His mother received the telegram informing her son’s death on November 11th, Armistice Day, as the church bells were ringing out the end of hostilities.
47 printed pages


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