On this day in 1893, the English poet and soldier was born in Shropshire. Owen is famous for his poetry depicting his experiences in the First World War, especially the horrors of trench and gas warfare which he experienced first hand. His grim portrayal of war was contrary to the optimistic public perception of war. Owen was good friends with fellow World War One poet Siegfried Sassoon whom he met whilst they were both in hospital for shell shock. Perhaps Owen’s most famous poem is ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’. In the last lines of this poem Owen laments the “old lie” of the dictum “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” which is Latin for ‘How sweet and honourable it is to die for one’s country’. Owen was killed in battle in 1918 aged 25 exactly one week before the signing of the Armistice. He was outlived by his friend Sassoon who died in 1967.
This year when we commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, we must remember Owen’s haunting words and understand the horrors these soldiers experienced. This centenary celebration is in danger of succumbing to the increasing trend to mythologise Britain’s role in the so-called ‘Great War’. Documentaries and commemorations have tended to feature the war as something heroic and noble. This could not be further from the truth – the First World War was a pointless war, it did not have the moral fervor and mission of the Second World War against the Nazis. Men like Owen died due to a mishandling of a diplomatic crisis, and his poetry serves as a reminder of the tragic futility of the fighting.