Wilfred Owen's poem 'The End' was read at dawn beside the canal where he fell on 4 November 1918 (Photo: Centenary News)

Centenary tribute to Wilfred Owen on the Sambre-Oise Canal

Posted on centenarynews.com on 07 November 2018
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On Sunday November 4, Centenary News joined a commemorative procession in northern France, honouring the poet and soldier, Wilfred Owen, 100 years to the day after he was killed in action in one of the last battles of the First World War.

This was a well-attended tribute, drawing large numbers of visitors from Britain and further afield, as well as the local French community.

In the darkness of an autumn morning, we gathered at the site of the forester’s house near the village of Ors - now a commemorative centre - where Wilfred Owen spent his last hours.

First, the Scottish lament Flowers of the Forest was played on a violin made in 2014 from the wood of a tree at the former Craiglockhart Military Hospital in Edinburgh. It was there that  Owen was encouraged to pursue his writing by fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon in 1917 while both men were recovering  from shell shock.

A procession then followed in the footsteps of Owen and  soldiers of the Manchester Regiment to the banks of the Sambre-Oise Canal, pausing at CWGC Ors British Cemetery amid the first glow of daylight.

Ors British Cemetery: Wreaths were laid by representatives of the village of Ors and the Hauts-de-France region, in memory all those who fell (Photo: Centenary News)

Shortly after seven o’clock, rockets were fired, simulating the noise of battle as British troops crossed the canal on 4 November 1918, at the start of the final Allied offensive of the Great War.

As the smoke drifted away with the morning mist, the procession lined up on the banks of the canal.

Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘The End’ was read during a ceremony at the place where he fell, and also his last letter to his mother,  written from the cellar at the forester’s house at Ors, that served as his shelter before the battle: "...There is no danger down here, or if any, it will be well over before you read these lines……"

It was not to be. 100 years ago, Susan Owen received that letter a week later, together with the telegram bringing news of her son’s death, as the Armistice took effect on November 11.

Wilfred Owen's grave at Ors Communal Cemetery, where he lies together with soldiers from the Manchester Regiment and other units who were killed on 4 November 1918. On the Centenary, a ceremony was also held here at sunset (Photo: Centenary News)

Reporting from Ors by CN Editor

Images: Centenary News