A Letter from Wilfred Owen to his mother, Susan Owen
Advanced Horse Transport Depot
4 February 1917
I have no mind to describe all the horrors of this last Tour. But it was almost worse than the first, because in this place my Platoon had no Dug-Outs, but had to lie in the snow under the deadly wind. By day it was impossible to stand up or even to crawl about because we were behind only a little up ridge screening us from the Bosches’ periscope.
We had 5 Tommy cookers between the Platoon, but they did not suffice to melt the ice in the water-cans. So we suffered cruelly from thirst.
The marvel is that we did not all die of cold. As a matter of fact, only one of my party actually froze to death before he got back, but I am not able to tell how may have ended in hospital. I had no real casualties from shelling, though for 10 minutes every hour whizz-bangs fell a few yards short of us. Showers of soil rained on us, but no fragments of shell could find us.
I had lost my gloves in a dug-out, but I found 1 mitten on the Field; I had my Trench Coat (without lining but with a Jerkin underneath). My feet ached until they could ache no more, and so they temporarily died. I was kept warm by the ardour of life within me. I forgot hunger in the hunger for Life. The intensity of your Love reached me and kept me living. I thought of you and Mary without break all the time. I cannot say I felt any fear. We were all half crazed by the buffeting of the High Explosives. I think the most unpleasant reflection that weighed on me was the impossibility of getting back any wounded, a total impossibility. All day impossible, and frightfully difficult by night.
We were marooned on a frozen desert. There is not a sign of life on the horizon and a thousand signs of death. Not a blade of grass, not an insect; once or twice a day the shadow of a big hawk scenting carrion.
I suppose I can endure cold, and fatigue, and the face to face death, as well as another; but extra for me there is the universal pervasion of Ugliness. Hideous landscapes, vile noises, foul language, even from one’s own mouth (for all are devil ridden). Everything is unnatural, broken, blasted; the distortion of the dead, whose unburiable bodes sit outside the dug-outs all day, all night, the most execrable sights on earth, In poetry we call them the most glorious, But to sit with them all day, all night … and a week later to come back and find them still sitting there in motionless groups THAT is what saps the ‘soldierly spirit.’
A Letter from Wilfred Owen to his brother, ColinOwen
13th Casualty Clearing Station
14 May 1917
The sensations of going over the top are about as exhilarating as those dreams of falling over a precipice, when you see the rocks at the bottom surging up to you. I woke up without being squashed. Some didn’t. There was an extraordinary exultation in the act of slowly walking forward showing ourselves openly.
There was no bugle and no drum for which I was very sorry. I kept up a kind of chanting sing-song:
Keep the Line straight!
Not so fast on the left!
Steady on he Left!
Not so fast!
Then we were caught in a Tornado of Shells. The various ‘waves’ were all broken up and we carried on like a crowd moving off a cricket field. When I looked back and saw the ground all crawling and wormy with wounded bodies, I felt no horror at all but only an immense exultation at having got through the Barrage. We were more than an hour moving over the open and by the time we came to the German Trench every Bosche had fled. But a party of them had remained lying low in a wood close behind us, and they gave us a very bad time for the next four hours.