10 May 1917

Posted: 11/05/2017 20:57 | News Home

10 May 1917


Wilfred enjoyed 40 days being assessed at Gailly, where he went for a ride along the Somme Canal in a steam barge, on the 10th May, which inspired the later poem:

                                      Hospital Barge

                   Budging the sluggard ripples of the Somme,
                   A barge round old Cérisy slowly slewed.
                   Softly her engines down the current screwed,
                   And chuckled softly with contented hum,
                   Till fairy tinklings struck their croonings dumb.
                   The waters rumpling at the stern subdued;
                   The lock-gate took her bulging amplitude;
                   Gently from out the gurgling lock she swum.


The lock was right next to the hospital at Gailly, while Cérisy was a mile East along the dead straight canal.

Category: General

May Day, 1917

Posted: 01/05/2017 21:02 | News Home

One day, around 18th April, Wilfred was almost killed by a stray shell, while asleep near Savy: “One wet night, when we lay up against a railway embankment, a big shell lit on top, just two yards from my head…I was blown in the air right away from the bank,” as he wrote to his mother. He goes on to say that he was in a small hole, covered with corrugated iron, the remains of his erstwhile friend Lieut. Gaukroger scattered near-by. In fact Gaukroger had been killed in the Savy Wood attack on 2nd April, over a fortnight earlier, but it is possible that the shell disinterred his body, which his military file says was buried “in the vicinity of Savy”, before it was transferred to Savy British Cemetery after the war. Also Owen was in the line 9 days, not 12; clearly the explosion that concussed him a second time had confused his memory. This was one of the symptoms noticed by his CO, on May 1st, along with his being “shaky and tremulous and his conduct peculiar.” So when Colonel Luxmore handed over the Regiment to his temporary replacement, the “odious” Major Dempster, 1st May, the Medical officer sent him down to Gailly again. He arrived the next day.

Gailly was now a specialist hospital for Shell-shock cases, of which there were some 20 officers and 400 other ranks. They were now labelled with “neurasthenia”, which covered a range of symptoms: shaking, gibbering, stuttering, unable to walk. As Wilfred hinted in a letter home, part of his problem stemmed from concussion, but the doctor was also “nervous about my nerves”. He is confident however: “Do not suppose for a moment that I have had a ‘breakdown’. I am simply avoiding one.” And he describes the Nerve Specialist Dr. Browne, as a ‘kind of wizard’.

Category: General

Wilfred Owen in action at Savy Wood, April 14th 1917

Posted: 14/04/2017 11:39 | News Home

14 April 1917

After only two days at Beauval, Wilfred moved up to Savy Wood to prepare for another attack. 14th April, his battalion advanced north-east to assault trenches north of St.Quentin. Reaching exposed ground, their colonel took them on a detour via Selency to the village of Fayet, thence to Squash Valley where they rested prior to the attack. With Wilfred’s A company leading, they advanced over a ridge and came under heavy fire, with 30 casualties, before dropping down into the safety of Fig Wood. Having regrouped, they climbed a long hill to the Dancourt trench on the crest, relieved to find the Germans had just fled. This attack was the origin of his poem “Spring Offensive” …

        ‘…So, soon they topped the hill, and raced together
        Over an open stretch of herb and heather
        Exposed. And instantly the whole sky burned
        With fury against them; earth set sudden cups
        In thousands for their blood; and the green slope
        Chasmed and deepened sheer to infinite space.

        Of them who running on that last high place
        Breasted the surf of bullets, or went up
        On the hot blast and fury of hell's upsurge,
        Or plunged and fell away past this world's verge,
        Some say God caught them even before they fell…’

Wilfred’s attack was praised by his Colonel: “The leadership of the officers was excellent…” but, he writes to his mother, “the reward we got was to remain in the line for 12 days… I did not wash my face, nor take off my boots, nor sleep a deep sleep…”

Category: General

Baberton Golf Club revealed as place where Owen, Sassoon and Graves met

Posted: 12/04/2017 22:23 | News Home

University lecturer Neil McLennan has discovered that war poets Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves met at Baberton Golf Club in Juniper Green, Edinburgh.

McLennan searched libraries and archives for clues to solve the mystery of where the men met, which had remained unknown for 100 years. The answer was found in letters from 1917 at Southern Illinois University.

Full article on the BBC website
(11 April 2017)

See also: The Edinburgh Evening News (11 April 2017)

And for a press release click here.

Category: General

Wilfred Owen in action, April 1917

Posted: 03/04/2017 14:21 | News Home

Wilfred soon started to recover from his fall. After a week he sent his youngest brother Colin a sonnet dedicated to him called “With an Identity Disc”, which ends:

    “But let my death be memoried on this disc.
    Wear it, sweet friend. Inscribe no date nor deed.
    But let thy heart-beat kiss it night and day,
    Until the name grow vague and wear away.”

These lines are inscribed upon the Western Front Association’s memorial plaque on the bridge over the canal at Ors.

Wilfred enjoyed relaxing beside the Somme river and canal, which lay alongside the Gailly hospital encampment. He hitched into Corbie to replace the watch he had lost in his fall, and when he left, 30th March, to Amiens, to replace his revolver, before hitching and walking east to find his regiment, along roads blocked by the retreating Germans, who had laid waste to the countryside. The highlight of his journey was his last night, spent with the Lemaire family, who all took him to their hearts, treated him like a hero and greatly revived his spirits.

Arriving 3rd April, he learnt that he had just missed the battalion’s victorious attack on Savy, capturing a quarry, hill (dubbed Manchester Hill) and 6 German heavy field guns.

He was at once sent to fortify the new front line with trenches and wire, expecting a German counter-attack. He described this tour to his mother:

“…We stuck to our line 4 days (and 4 nights) without relief, in the open, and in the snow. Not an hour passed without a shell amongst us. I never went off to sleep for those days, because the others were far more fagged after several days of fighting than I fresh from bed. We lay in wet snow. I kept alive on brandy, the fear of death, and the glorious prospect of the cathedral Town (St.Quentin) just below us, glittering with the morning…"

On Easter Day, 10 April, he returned to camp at Beauval for 4 days rest and witnessed the shooting down of a German plane.

Category: General

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