Shropshire History

Wilfred Owen

Return

to Index

 

 

1893 – Born at Plas Wilmot in Oswestry, of mixed English and Welsh ancestry. This was his grandfather’s house and the whole family lived there.

 

1897 – The whole family moved to Shrewsbury in the Abbey Foregate area. The house they lived in there was called Wilmot House (after Plas Wilmot).   

 

1900 – The family moved to Birkenhead when Owen’s father Thomas was appointed stationmaster at Woodside station. Wilfred was educated at the Birkenhead Institute and the family lived at three successive homes in the Tranmere district.

 

1907 – The family moved back to Shrewsbury and Owen went to Shrewsbury Technical School, later known as the Wakeman School, where he became a pupil-teacher.

 

1911 – Owen went to the University of London and, in return for free lodging, worked as lay assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden near Reading. During this time he attended classes at University College, Reading in botany and Old English. His time spent at Dunsden parish led him to disillusionment with the Church, both in its ceremony and its failure to provide aid for those in need.

 

1913 - He worked as a private tutor teaching English and French at the Berlitz School of Languages in Bordeaux and later with a family.

 

1915 – In October, he enlisted in the Artists' Rifles Officers' Training Corps and trained at Hare Hall Camp in Essex until December 1916.

 

1917 –He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment and was sent to France in January. During his time there, he fell into a shell hole and suffered concussion, was blown high into the air by a trench mortar and spent several days lying out on an embankment in Savy Wood amongst the remains of a fellow officer. He was diagnosed as suffering from shell shock and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh for treatment. Here he met Siegfried Sassoon. In November he was discharged and judged fit for light regimental duties at Scarborough.

 

 

1918 - In March, he was posted to the Northern Command Depot at Ripon and in August he returned to the front line. In October he was awarded the Military Cross, the citation reading “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the attack on the Fonsomme Line on October 1st/2nd, 1918. On the company commander becoming a casualty, he assumed command and showed fine leadership and resisted a heavy counter-attack. He personally manipulated a captured enemy machine gun from an isolated position and inflicted considerable losses on the enemy. Throughout he behaved most gallantly”. Owen was killed in action on 4th November during the crossing of the Sambre–Oise Canal, exactly one week before the signing of the Armistice. News of his death arrived at his parents' house in Shrewsbury on Armistice Day

 

Owen is regarded as the leading poet of the First World War, known for his war poetry on the horrors of trench and gas warfare. Two examples are shown below.


Anthem For Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

 

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned out backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.