On the day: Visitors to the beach listened Carol Ann Duffy’s poem The Wound in Time as an audio reading, performed by Folkestone poet Faith Warn.
Later in the day the Harbour Arm’s Mole Café, served free cake, with access to the Folkestone and District Family History Society Archive. The Pandemonium Drummers from the London 2012 Olympic Ceremonies also performed at the Harbour Arm.
The portrait revealed on this beach was:
Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, M.c.
Date of Death: 04/11/1918
Lieutenant Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, MC (18 March 1893 – 04/ November 1918)
One of Britain’s most celebrated war poets, Wilfred Owen’s short career was directly inspired by the conflict – he composed nearly all his works from August 1917 to September 1918, many published posthumously. He first left for the front from Folkestone on December 29 1916, having written a letter in the Metropole Hotel the previous day. In the final hours before his final embarkation from the town in 1918, Owen swam in the sea and described the experience in a letter home.
Owen was born in Oswestry, on the Welsh border of Shropshire, and became known as a studious scholar, including of poetry. Having failed to win a university scholarship, he became an unpaid assistant to an Oxfordshire vicar in return for tuition.
At the parish, Owen became disillusioned with the church’s attitude to the poor and needy, a depth of feeling for others that informed his later writing. He returned home in 1913, seriously ill with a respiratory infection. After months of convalescence, Owen spent time in France as a tutor. He returned to England in September 1915 uncertain as to whether he should enlist. Later that year he finally joined the Artists’ Rifles before receiving a commission in the Manchester Regiment in June 1916.
In December 1916, he left for France with the Lancashire Fusiliers, facing the horrors of mud, gas and shellfire that were to inform his verse. In March he was hospitalised for brain concussion and again between May and June due to severe headaches, eventually diagnosed as shell shock. Owen was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital, Edinburgh, where he met Siegfried Sassoon, already established as a poet, who inspired Owen to continue writing.
Owen returned to France in September 1918 and a month later was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry during an attack on a well-defended position that caused so many casualties among officers that he took command and held the line. He was killed in action in November during a battle to cross the Sambre-Oise canal at Ors, described as being “on a raft in the teeth of a murderous enemy fire” when he was shot dead one week before Armistice. His mother received the telegram informing her of his death on Armistice Day, as the church bells in Shrewsbury were ringing out in celebration.
The suffering he endured and witnessed can still be felt today in his poems such as ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, ‘The Sentry’ and ‘The Show’.