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  • Christina Drummond

War Poet Second Lieutenant Wilfred Owen MC, The Manchester Regiment

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1918, the war poet Second Lieutenant Wilfred Owen MC of the Manchester Regiment, was killed in action during a British assault on the German-held Sambre Canal on the Western Front. The son of a railway employee, he had worked as a lay assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden near Reading for room-and-board in order that he could attend classes at University College, Reading. From 1912 he worked as a private tutor teaching English and French at the Berlitz School of Languages in Bordeaux in France. After the Great War broke out, he returned to England to enlist in the Artists’ Rifles Training Corps, and found himself on the front lines in January, 1916. He was commissioned in the Manchester Regiment later that year. He wrote: "I came out in order to help these boys—directly by leading them as well as an officer can; indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them as well as a pleader can.” In 1917 he was blown up by a trench mortar and spent several days in an unconscious state on an embankment, lying with the remains of one of his fellow officers. Soon after being found he was diagnosed as suffering from neurasthenia and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh for treatment. When judged fit for light regimental duties, he was posted to the Northern Command Depot at Ripon, and in July of 1918 he returned to France of his own volition, although he could have stayed on home-duty. In August he returned to the front line and in October led units of the Second Manchesters as they stormed 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, His war poetry was considered shocking, its realism the opposite of the public perception at the time - now he is considered the greatest of the war poets. Renowned Welsh Dylan Thomas wrote: “A volume of his poems was to show, to England, and the intolerant world, the foolishness, unnaturalness, horror, inhumanity, and insupportability of war, and to expose, so that all could suffer and see, the heroic lies, the willingness of the old to sacrifice the young, indifference, grief, the soul of soldiers ...he is a poet of all times, all places, and all wars. There is only one war: that of men against men.” His mother received the death-notice telegram as the local church bells were ringing out to celebrate the end of the war. Wilfred, from Oswestry in Shropshire, was 25 years old.

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