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Wilfred Owen's First Encounter with the Reality of War

On 30th of December 1916 Wilfred Owen, having completed his military training,  sailed for France.

No knowledge, imagination or training fully prepared Owen for the shock and suffering of front line experience. Within twelve days of arriving in France the easy-going chatter of his letters turned to a cry of anguish. By the 9th of January, 1917 he had joined the 2nd Manchesters on the Somme – at Bertrancourt near Amien. Here he took command of number 3 platoon, "A" Company.

He wrote home to his mother, "I can see no excuse for deceiving you about these last four 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.We had a march of three miles over shelled road, then nearly three along a flooded trench. After that we came to where the trenches had been blown flat out and had to go over the top. It was of course dark, too dark, and the ground was not mud, not sloppy mud, but an octopus of sucking clay, three, four, and five feet deep, relieved only by craters full of water . . ."

Source of text above
The above is a brief extract from Out in the Dark.

Owen's letter goes on to tell the story of how one of his sentries was blinded, an experience which is the basis of his poem The Sentry. There is much more about Wilfred Owen in Out in the Dark, and more still in Minds at War

See main index for more information about these books.

© David Roberts and Saxon Books 1998 and 1999. Free use by students for personal and educational use only.  

Extract from Wilfred Owen's letter ©  Oxford University Press 1967.

Three statements by Wilfred Owen give an indication of his
mental agitation

1. "The people of England needn’t hope. They must agitate." Letter 19 January, 1917, shortly after arriving at the front line in France. This was an uncharacteristic political comment.

2. "I am more and more a Christian. . . Suffer dishonour and disgrace, but never resort to arms. Be bullied, be outraged, be killed: but do not kill." Letter to his mother, May 1917.

3. "All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true poet must be truthful."

More about Wilfred Owen's psychological journey

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