By Dominic Hibberd
Last updated 2011-02-17
Owen wrote these words in a planned preface to a book of poetry that he never saw in print. He died on 4 November 1918, on the battlefield at Ors. The news of his death reached his parents, Tom and Susan Owen, on 11 November 1918: Armistice Day. A single volume of his work, entitled Poems by Wilfred Owen, was published in 1920 by Chatto & Windus. It was edited by Owen's friend and mentor Siegfried Sassoon, whose influence on him was profound. The collection earned Wilfred the posthumous accolade of 'the poet of the war'.
Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was born 18 March 1893 in Oswestry, Shropshire. After his school days he took a four-year course as a pupil-teacher. Then in 1913, he spent two years in France, as a language tutor.
War was declared in August 1914 and in 1915 Wilfred wrote to his mother, 'I don't want to wear khaki ... But I now do most intensely want to fight.' In October he volunteered and was sworn into the Artists' Rifles. Eight months later he was commissioned as second lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment, and in December 1916 he left for the Western Front.
After a last luxurious night in a Folkestone hotel, Owen was quickly plunged into the realities of active service, and suffered the horrors described - only three weeks later - in a vivid letter to his mother.
In May 1917, Owen was diagnosed with shell-shock, and he was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital, near Edinburgh, in June. Here he met Siegfried Sassoon. On 22 September of that year Owen sent a final version of his poem 'The Sentry' - as heard here in audio extracts - to Sassoon, who made sure that it was eventually published.
Wilfred Owen was awarded the Military Cross following his actions on 1-2 October 1918 at Joncourt on the Beaurevoir-Fonsomme Line. Confirmation of the award came after his death.
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