The somme

The making of a poet: Wilfred Owen’s ‘autobiography’ in letters

Here is the opening of a sonnet written by Wilfred Owen in the spring of 1911: ‘Three colours have I known the Deep to wear;/ ’Tis well today that Purple grandeurs gloom.’ Owen was 18 and had just been on a pilgrimage to Teignmouth in Devon, where his hero John Keats had once stayed. The kindest thing to say about this poem is that it is heavy with the influence of Keats. Six years later, in a seaside hotel requisitioned by the army and waiting to be sent back to the Western Front, he begins a poem like this: ‘Sit on the bed. I’m blind, and three parts shell.’ This

The carnage of the Western Front was over surprisingly quickly

This book does not mess about. It tells the story of the fighting on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918, just like it says on the tin. It offers a proudly traditional military history, from the opening skirmishes, through the titanic clashes of the Marne and Verdun, the Somme and Ypres, on to the often overlooked Allied sweep to victory of the Hundred Days. It describes what happened when, where and why. There is no discussion of why the war was fought in the first place or of what the men thought they were fighting for. The war here, as it was for that generation, is simply an inescapable