iPlayer Radio What's New?
Image for Bleached Bone and Living Wood

Listen now 30 mins

Listen in pop-out player

Last on

Thu 10 Nov 2011 11:30 BBC Radio 4

Duration:
30 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 10 November 2011

On 4 November 1918 the poet Wilfred Owen was killed at Ors in northern France. Seven days later as bells rang out the Armistice, his parents received the tragic telegram. And then Owen's final letter to his mother, written on 31 October in the cellar of a forester's house, arrived.

For nearly a century the house remained a nondescript, red-brick building. Now it's been transformed by the British artist, Simon Patterson, into a stunning work of art. Neither museum nor memorial, it's a startling white tribute to Owen's life and poetry.

Patterson was first approached by the Mayor of Ors seven years ago. Jacky Duminy, having discovered an important English poet was buried in his cemetery, sought local recognition. The community, helped by the county council, the regional tourist board and Lille-based Art Connexion, finally raised the funds to achieve Patterson's ambitious vision: entirely French funding for a British artist to honour a British poet.

Leaving untouched the cellar where Owen sheltered with his men, Patterson gutted the interior of the house, creating a huge space in which Owen's poems are projected onto glazed walls, while spoken by Kenneth Branagh, and in French by Philippe Capelle. In the cellar the same actors read the poignant last letter home.

Christine Finn first saw the house as a building site; she returned for the preview for the local community, who are the custodians of the artwork. She met Simon Patterson, and the architect Jean-Christophe Denise, who helped realize Patterson's dream. Peter Owen, Wilfred's nephew, initially sceptical about the project, was bowled over by the finished house. The Belgian novelist Xavier Hanotte showed her Owen's grave in the village cemetery and the canal where he fell.

Producer: Marya Burgess.

  • The Foresters' House before transformation (Photo credit: J-C Denise)

    The Foresters' House before transformation (Photo credit: J-C Denise)

  • The Foresters' House being transformed (Photo credit: J-C Denise)

    The Foresters' House being transformed (Photo credit: J-C Denise)

  • The cave/cellar where Owen wrote his last letter home (Photo Credit: Simon Patterson)

    The cave/cellar where Owen wrote his last letter home (Photo Credit: Simon Patterson)

  • The Mayor of Ors, Jacky Duminy (Photo credit: Christine Finn)

    The Mayor of Ors, Jacky Duminy (Photo credit: Christine Finn)

  • The Foresters' House (Photo Credit: Simon Patterson)

    The Foresters' House (Photo Credit: Simon Patterson)

  • The Foresters' House (Photo Credit: Simon Patterson)

    The Foresters' House (Photo Credit: Simon Patterson)

  • The Foresters' House (Photo Credit: Simon Patterson)

    The Foresters' House (Photo Credit: Simon Patterson)

  • Interior of Forester's House (Photo Credit: Simon Patterson)

    Interior of Forester's House (Photo Credit: Simon Patterson)

  • The people of Ors at the private view (Photo Credit: artconnexion)

    The people of Ors at the private view (Photo Credit: artconnexion)

  • The people of Ors visit the house for the first time (Photo Credit: artconnexion)

    The people of Ors visit the house for the first time (Photo Credit: artconnexion)

  • Plaque on bridge near where Owen was killed (Photo credit: Simon Patterson)

    Plaque on bridge near where Owen was killed (Photo credit: Simon Patterson)

  • The Sambre-Oise Canal where Owen died (Photo Credit: Simon Patterson)

    The Sambre-Oise Canal where Owen died (Photo Credit: Simon Patterson)

Broadcasts

Featured in...

  • Poetry on 4

    A selection of programmes and clips relating to poets and their poetry.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.