By Dominic Hibberd
Last updated 2011-02-17
In the Platoon on my left the sentries over the dug-out were blown to nothing. One of these poor fellows was my first servant whom I rejected. If I had kept him he would have lived, for servants don't do Sentry Duty. I kept my own sentries half way down the stairs during the more terrific bombardment. In spite of this one lad was blown down and, I am afraid, blinded.
This was my only casualty.
This man would have lived, if Owen had accepted him as a servant: 'If I had kept him he would have lived, for servants don't do Sentry Duty.' Many soldiers agreed that 'fate' or luck determined life or death in the trenches, but officers could not escape the weightiness of any decisions they took.
During his year of training Owen had been taught that an officer, while determining action, had to think first of his men; yet he had also to maintain the appearance of an infallible role model, whose authority could not be undermined. Like many subalterns, he considered himself a father to his men.
Owen instructed his own sentry to stand in comparative safety half-way down the dug-out steps - although still the man was wounded. The blinded sentry turned first to his officer - 'O sir, my eyes - I'm blind - I'm blind, I'm blind!' - a telling testimony to Owen's leadership: he had already won the respect of his unit.
If Owen had shown distress at the man's injury he would have failed the entire group. Instead he coaxed and reassured. A scout was sent 'To beg a stretcher somewhere,' and Owen fulfilled his formal role without revealing his horror.
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