November 4th this year marks the centenary of the day that Shropshire poet and soldier, Wilfred Owen, fell in battle in 1918, the last year of the First World War. This important anniversary will be marked in his home county by a series of events over the 100 days leading up to the centenary of the Armistice on 11th November. Details can be found in the events brochure together with ideas of related places that can be visited during the period.
Wilfred Owen was born in 1893 at Plas Wilmot near Oswestry and lived in Birkenhead and Shrewsbury, where his family received news of his death as the bells were ringing out on Armistice Day. He served as a Lieutenant in the 2nd Manchester Regiment, winning the Military Cross for bravery in action. His poetry is now widely regarded as among the best to be inspired by the horrors of the Great War. Today two volumes of his hand-written verse are to be found in the vaults of the British Library alongside the greatest writers in the English language such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Lennon & McCartney.
Over the last three years Shropshire communities have been working in partnership to deliver an extensive and ambitious programme of heritage and arts activities to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council, England.
This programme will conclude in a large-scale commemoration this year of the 100th anniversary of Wilfred Owen’s death. With a focus on Shrewsbury and Oswestry, Shropshire’s Wilfred Owen 100 will remember him with poetry readings, a First World War Film Festival, music, talks, new artworks, themed guided walks and much more. These events will help us reflect on the huge impact of the Great War and the unique achievement of one of Shropshire’s most renowned sons.
Shropshire Remembers website – www.shropshireremembers.org.uk
Twitter – @WilfredOwen100
Facebook – www.facebook.com/WilfredOwen100Shropshire/
Shropshire Tourism Site – www.visitshropshire.com
Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) – who was born in Oswestry on the Welsh borders and brought up in Birkenhead and Shrewsbury – is widely recognised as one of the greatest voices of the First World War. At the time of his death he was virtually unknown – only four of his poems were published during his lifetime – but he had always been determined to be a poet and had experimented with verse from an early age. In 1913-1915, whilst teaching at Bordeaux and Bagnères-de-Bigorre in France, he worked on the rhyming patterns which became characteristic of his poetry; but it was not until the summer of 1917 that he found his true voice.
In 1915 Owen enlisted in the British Army. His first experiences of active service at Serre and St. Quentin in January-April 1917 led to shell-shock and his return to Britain. Whilst he was undergoing treatment at the Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, he met one of his literary heroes, Siegfried Sassoon, who provided him with guidance, and encouragement to bring his war experiences into his poetry.
When Owen returned to the Western Front after more than a year away, he took part in the breaking of the Hindenburg Line at Joncourt (October 1918) for which he was awarded the Military Cross in recognition of his courage and leadership. He was killed on 4th November 1918 during the battle to cross the Sambre-Oise canal at Ors.
Virtually all the poems for which he is now remembered were written in a creative burst between August 1917 and September 1918. His self-appointed task was to speak for the men in his care, to show the ‘Pity of War’, which he also expressed in vivid letters home. His bleak realism, his energy and indignation, his compassion and his great technical skill are evident in many well-known poems, and phrases or lines from his work (“Each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds” … “The Old Lie: Dulce et decorum est …”) are frequently quoted.
Wilfred Owen’s reputation has grown steadily, helped over the years by Edmund Blunden’s edition with a biographical memoir in 1931, and by later editions, biographies and critical analyses by Cecil Day Lewis, Jon Stallworthy, Dominic Hibberd and others. Modern scholarship regards Owen’s work as the most significant poetry to come out of the 1914-1918 war years and his influence on later generations of poets and readers is widely acknowledged. In 1961 several of his poems were included in Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem.
With thanks to The Wilfred Owen Association for use of this biography.