Learning Curve, The Great War
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Useful notes: Source1
Extracts from the war service record of Wilfred Owen, a lieutenant in the British Army and a war poet, 1917-18
(Catalogue ref: WO 138/74)
  • Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) is one of Britain's most famous poets.
  • He was born in Shropshire and brought up in Birkenhead near Liverpool. By the age of 17 he was writing experimental poetry, but failed to win a place at the University of London. Instead, he went to France to teach English in Bordeaux.
  • He enlisted in the Artists' Rifles in October 1915. He received his commission to the Manchester Regiment (5th Battalion) in June 1916 and spent the rest of the year training in England.
  • In January 1917 he was posted to France. After heavy fighting, he was caught in a shell-explosion and suffered shellshock, so was evacuated to Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh. Shown here is a report of the incident.
  • In hospital he met another war poet, Siegfried Sassoon, who encouraged his writing. During this period, Owen wrote some of his most famous poems including 'Dulce et Decorum Est', 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' and 'Strange Meeting'.
  • He returned to France in August 1918. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery, but was killed on 4th November - just a week before the fighting stopped. The news of his death reached his parents on 11 November 1918, the day of the Armistice. Shown here is the official notice of his death.
  • Owen and the other war poets are still controversial today. Their work has often been used to show that soldiers were poorly treated and that they did not believe in the war they were fighting. In reality, the feelings of the poets and most other soldiers were far more complex than this. The great majority were appalled by the horrors of the Great War. However, the majority also believed that they were fighting in a just cause and that war was a necessary evil. This helps to explain why Owen (and other poets) wrote bitter words about the war, but returned to fight in the trenches with great bravery.
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