Schedule for Wilfred Owen on the Western Front: 2 – 5 November 2018
On this tour we shall use Owen's verse and letters to follow his two tours of duty on the Western Front and to help us understand how those experiences affected him and the enormous impact they had on his writing. We shall start in the northern area of the Somme battlefield: on the Serre Road and on the Redan Ridge where, in January 1917, Owen first came to understand the grimness of trench warfare in winter and the demands of leadership. We shall continue to the area in front of St Quentin and the Hindenburg Line where Owen's battalion was deployed in March and April 1917 and where he was involved in the attack that would later become the subject of the poem 'Spring Offensive'. We shall visit the spot where, after many escapes from shells and bullets and a fall that concussed him, his nerve finally gave way. When he returned to France in September 1918 the Allies were advancing rapidly, and we shall follow the 2nd Manchesters' progress through the Hindenburg Line to their attack on the Beaurevoir-Fonsomme Line at Joncourt where Owen's conduct in battle led to the award of his M.C. We shall visit the Forester's House (now the Wilfred Owen Centre) from which he wrote his final letter on the night of 31 October 1918, and on 4 November 2018 we shall stand on the canal bank at Ors, where, a hundred years ago, Owen met his death.
Friday 2 November
Tuesday 16 January 1917
It was, of course, dark, too dark, and the ground was not mud, not sloppy mud, but an octopus of sucking clay 3,4 and 5 feet deep, relieved only by craters full of water …
Sunday 4 February 1917
… in this place my Platoon had no Dug-Outs but had to lie out in the deadly wind. By day it was impossible to stand up or even crawl about because we were behind only a little ridge screening us from the Boche's periscope.
Arriving in France in the early afternoon, we shall travel to the Somme to visit the Serre Road and the Redan Ridge in order to trace Owen's movements when he joined the 2/Manchesters in this sector in January 1917 and, in particular, his experiences in the front line about which he wrote letters home and which were the inspiration for two important poems, 'The Sentry' and 'Exposure'. We shall then travel to our hotel in Cambrai.
Saturday 3 November
14 May 1917
There was an extraordinary exultation in the act of slowly walking forward, showing ourselves openly.
We shall start the day at Bouchoir, where, on 1 March 1917, Owen re-joined his battalion after a three-week Army Transport course at Abbeville. Two weeks later he sustained a fall which brought on concussion and he was sent to a casualty clearing station to recover, thus missing the battalion’s renowned capture of what came to be known as 'Manchester Hill'. We shall follow the subsequent action on 14 April, the battalion's attack on Dancour Trench near Fayet, north-west of St Quentin. Owen took part in this engagement and it was the inspiration for the poem 'Spring Offensive'. The battalion remained in the line for some days afterwards and we shall proceed to the spot on the railway embankment in Savy Wood where a shell exploded near Owen one night, precipitating his mental collapse at the end of the month. We shall end the morning with a half-hour walk along the canal bank from Gailly, the site of No. 13 Casualty Clearing Station, where Owen was sent on both 14 March and 30 April. Our walk will end at Cerisy, the spot which inspired the poem 'Hospital Barge'.
4 October 1918
I came out in order to help these boys – directly by leading them as well as an officer can; indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them as well as a pleader can. I have done the first.
After lunch we shall visit the iconic Riqueval Bridge, where 46th Division broke through the Hindenburg Line to cross the St Quentin Canal on 29 September 1918, enabling Owen's 32nd Division to leapfrog through and advance towards the Beaurevoir-Fonsomme Line, the third and final German fortification. We shall move on to Joncourt Village and the ridge beyond it which 2/Manchesters successfully stormed on the 1 and 2 October, the action in which Owen's bravery, initiative and leadership led to the award of his Military Cross.
Sunday 4 November
Thursday 31 October 1918
It is a great life. I am more oblivious than, alas! yourself, dear Mother, of the ghastly glimmering of the guns outside, and the hollow crashing of the shells. … Of this I am certain you could not be visited by a band of friends half so fine as surrounds me here.
The plans for the commemoration of the centenary are not yet finalised, but we shall participate fully in the events of the day. We shall certainly be on the canal bank at Ors at 6.30 a.m., the time, as close as we can know, to the moment when Owen was killed in the last action of the 2/Manchesters before the Armistice, the storming of the Sambre-Oise Canal. Other events during the course of the day will include an ecumenical service in the church at Ors, a reception at the Mairie and an evening commemoration in the village cemetery, where Owen is buried.
Monday 5 November
In the morning we shall visit the Wilfred Owen Centre for a performance of readings by a group of contemporary poets of their contributions to a new Anthology of Reconciliation compiled in honour of Wilfred Owen. After an early lunch, we shall travel to Calais for our journey home.
For further details and for bookings, please contact: Battle Honours Ltd, Suite L, Astonbury Farm Business Park, Aston, Stevenage, Herts, SG2 7EG
Tel: +44 (0)1438 880725
Please register your interest in this tour as we expect a high level of demand.