By the end of the First World War in November 1918 a whole generation of young men had been slaughtered, and the world they had known was at an end. This year Stony Stratford will hold special services, a procession and dedications to show its respect and to mark the centenary.
If you haven’t read the astonishing, powerful poetry of a young Shropshire born man, Wilfred Owen, you really should. Owen went through the war, dying almost as the guns fell silent. Dulce et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth are among his best known poems.
Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Published in 1917
Wilfred Owen was born on March 18 1893 in Shropshire, and died on November 4 1918 in France. He was only 25 when he died, but he left behind a legacy of remarkable poetry.
He was an unusual character. By the end of the First World War, he had become not only their advocate but a military hero, while abhorring war. He is a soldier’s poet.
Following the horrific experience of having to take shelter from German artillery fire on the side of a railway embankment. Owen was trapped there for days, lying amid the remains of a popular fellow officer. It triggered shell-shock. He was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh. There he met another patient fellow officer and poet, Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon had been sent to Craiglockhart for publishing a letter criticising the conduct of the war. Sassoon was a great influence on Owen and contributed greatly to the development of his work as a poet.
Once recovered, Owen was determined to return to the front. Sassoon begged him not to go, and even threatened at one point to stab him in the leg to prevent him. But Owen was determined. He was a superb soldier and had developed huge love and respect for his men.
In one attack, in which he captured a German machine post and scores of prisoners almost single-handed, he wrote to his mother with the extraordinary expression that he “fought like an angel”. The events earned him a Military Cross.
The last letter home, written at the end of October 1918, described how he was sheltering with his men in the cellar of a forester’s cottage in northern France, before an attempt to cross the canal that marked the front line.
Crowded into the smoky little room – he wrote he could hardly see by the light of a candle only 12 inches away – the men were laughing, sleeping, smoking or peeling potatoes. “It is a great life,” he wrote. “You could not be visited by a band of friends half so fine as surround me here.”
There is a book featuring Owen’s remarkable poetry in the Butterfly Loft, which you welcome to read.
If you book accommodation in Milton Keynes make sure it’s at the Butterfly Loft. To stay here contact us.