At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month …
… the Armistice ending the ‘Great War’ (WW1) was signed. The poet Wilfred Owen was among the British Imperial Forces dead, estimated at 1,225,914 (GB + Ireland total: 994,138, of a pre-war population of just over 46 million. French losses constituted about 4.3 percent of the country’s population. And always the wounded and maimed were more numerous). It is perhaps significant that some of Owen’s finest poems, whose savage/poignant counterpoint is used with such power to lament the ‘war to end all wars’, were added to the Mass in Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem (1962). Britten’s towering and heartrending requiem was commissioned for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral, finally rebuilt – to plans by architect Basil Spence – after its destruction by enemy bombs in the Second World War.
Wilfred Owen was killed in action on 4 November 1918 during the Battle of the Sambre. His mother was told of his death on 11 November 1918, while church bells were pealing out all over the land in celebratory clangour.
It is always too late for some. All the more reason for us to remember them, with respect and compassion as well as gratitude.
by Wilfred Owen
Move him into the sun –
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it awoke him, even in France,
Until this morning, and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now,
The kindly old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seeds –
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?