Holographic manuscript of Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen
LETTER TO SUSAN OWEN — APRIL 25, 1917
by Wilfred Owen
To Susan Owen
My own dearest Mother,
Immediately after I sent my last letter, more than a fortnight ago, we were rushed up into the Line. Twice in one day we went over the top, gaining both our objectives. Our A Company led the Attack, and of course lost a certain number of men. I had some extraordinary escapes from shells & bullets. Fortunately there was no bayonet work, since the Hun ran before we got up to his trench. You will find mention of our fight in the Communiqué; the place happens to be the very village which Father named in his last letter! Never before has the Battalion encountered such intense shelling as rained on us as we advanced in the open. The Colonel sent round this message the next day: ‘I was filled with admiration at the conduct of the Battalion under the heavy shell-fire…. The leadership of officers was excellent, and the conduct of the men beyond praise.’ The reward we got for all this was to remain in the Line 12 days. For twelve days I did not wash my face, nor take off my boots, nor sleep a deep sleep. For twelve days we lay in holes, where at any moment a shell might put us out. I think the worst incident was one wet night when we lay up against a railwav embankment. A big shell lit on the top of the bank, just 2 yards from my head. Before I awoke, I was blown in the air right away from the bank! I passed most of the following days in a railway Cutting, in a hole just big enough to lie in, and covered with corrugated iron. My brother officer of B Coy., 2/Lt. Gaukroger lay opposite in a similar hole. But he was covered with earth, and no relief will ever relieve him, nor will his Rest be a 9 days’ Rest. I think that the terribly long time we stayed unrelieved was unavoidable; yet it makes us feel bitterly towards those in England who might relieve us, and will not.
We are now doing what is called a Rest, but we rise at 6.15 and work without break until about 10p.m. for there is always a Pow- Wow for officers after dinner. And if I have not written yesterday, it is because I must have kept hundreds of letters uncensored, and enquiries about Missing Men unanswered [remainder missing]
Wilfred Owen, Collected Letters, pp. 452-453 (London: Oxford Univ Press, 1967); edited by Harold Owen & John Bell.