Wilfred Owen

4 November 1918

On 31 October 1918 as the war was coming to its close, the British Army was preparing to make an assault on the Sambre Canal to the east of Le Cateau. Amongst those present was the British war poet: Wilfred Owen, who was a Lieutenant in the 2nd Manchester Regiment.

Owen wrote home to his mother, from his dug out at Ors, how everything was going well, and that the war would be well over by the time she received the letter. A few weeks earlier he had been able to write how he had won the Military Cross by capturing a German machine gun and and scores of prisoners.

"I only shot one man with my revolver (About 30 yards!);
The rest I took with a smile."

On the 4th November 1918 the assault began, but attempts by the Royal Engineers to bridge the canal were prevented by German machine gun positions on the far side and by heavy artillery fire. Casualties amongst the engineer ran high and the canal remained unbridged.

In the light of that failure the British tried using rafts, but they too were ineffectual.

Standing at the edge of the canal encouraging his men to fashion together planks, Owen was hit, and killed.

At the point his men were attacking, the canal was never breached, and in fact his unit eventually crossed by a road bridge a few kilometres further south.

On his gravestone in the communal cemetery at Ors are the words from his poem 'The End'

Shall life renew
These bodies?
Of a truth
All death will he annul.

The original has a question mark at the end of the last line as well. The change being made by his mother. She had heard of his death, as bells pealed out across the country to mark Armistice day a week afterwards.

Wilfred Owen's Grave

Wilfred Owen's Grave at Ors Communal Cemetery.

There are two cemeteries at Ors, so be sure to visit the village one up near the Railway Station.

It is sign posted from the centre of the village.

Ors Communal Cemetery Ors Communal Cemetery

Up at the top on the right looking towards the canal lies a small Commonwealth Cemetery. There you will find Owen's grave alongside two of the four Victoria Cross winners from that day:

Lt Col James Marshall of the Irish Guards; and

2nd Lt James Kirk, from Owen's Regiment, the 2nd Manchesters.

The second cemetery in the village is a little further out. Return to the village and turn left following the signs for the British Cemetery. The cemetery sits in the middle of a field - beware of the cows which can sometimes be bulls!

Here you can find many of the engineers who were trying to put the pontoons and bridges across the canal that morning.

Ors British Cemetery Ors British Cemetery

Heading back into the village turn left and within a hundred metres you will reach the canal and the lock gates.

At the 1962 Coventry Festival the composer Benjamin Britten presented his War Requiem to the world. A choral work which mixes the Latin Requiem Mass and the war poems of Wilfred Owen to powerful effect.

Britten's War Requiem Britten's War Requiem
 

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