You are here:   Features > Angry anthems of a doomed war poet
 

In June 1916 he was commissioned into the 5th battalion Manchester Regiment, based near Guildford. He found it, he confessed, stranger than when he had arrived in Bordeaux.

It is due to the complete newness of the country, the people, my dress, my duties, the dialect, the air, food, everything . . . The generality of the men are hard-handed, hard-headed miners, dogged, loutish, ugly. But I would trust them to advance under fire, and to hold their trench.
 
At the beginning of 1917, he was shipped off to France and posted to the 2nd battalion Manchester Regiment. This was a regular battalion, a distinction that Owen greatly prized:

It is a huge satisfaction to be going among well-trained troops and genuine “real-old” officers . . . here is a fine heroic feeling about being in France, and I am in perfect spirits. A tinge of excitement is about me, but excitement is always necessary to my happiness.

The real war soon tempered his enthusiasm. On January 16 , 1917 he wrote to his mother:

I can see no excuse for deceiving you about these last 4 days. I have suffered seventh hell. I have not been at the front. I have been in front of it. I held an advanced post, that is, a “dug-out” in the middle of No Man’s Land.

He went on to describe the mud, the shelling, the machine gun bullets, the inevitable casualties. The 2nd Manchesters endured extreme cold for several weeks, moving in and out of the line. In mid-March Owen fell into a deep dug-out while doing his rounds in the dark, and was sent to hospital suffering concussion and exhaustion. Returning after three weeks, he took part in a bloody but successful assault at Savy Wood. As he wrote to Susan:

Twice in one day we went over the top, gaining both our objectives. Our A Company led the Attack, and of course lost a certain number of men. I had some extraordinary escapes from shells and bullets. Fortunately there was no bayonet work, since the Hun ran before we got up to his trench . . . Never before has the Battalion encountered such intense shelling as rained on us as we advanced in the open . . . The reward we got for all this was to remain in the Line 12 days . . . A big shell lit on the top of the bank, just 2 yards from my head. Before I awoke, I was blown in the air right away from the bank!
View Full Article
Tags:
 
Share/Save
 
 
 
 

Post your comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.