“The war to end all wars” 100 years on

Among the many moving ceremonies to mark the centenary of the Armistice, a series of portraits of casualties of the first world war were stencilled in the sand around Britain, the project is called “Pages of the Sea”, which is a quotation from a poem from the Caribbean poet Derek Walcott, and now incorporated in a new commemorative poem by Carol Ann Duffy. You can read it on the website for the project, which is here, and see many photographs.

This is a portrait of Wilfrid Owen.

A sand portrait of the poet Wilfred Owen on Folkestone beach

Wilfrid Owen left from Folkestone, the beach where this portrait is found, twice, to go to the front.

He was killed after his second departure, on the 4th of November 1918 just a few days before the declaration of the end of the war, his mother could hear the bells ringing in celebration of the Armistice when she received the telegram one week later informing her that her son was dead. In high school in England we were set a Wilfrid Owen poem to study, much of which I still remember:

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
* This is a quotation from Horace “it is sweet and decorous to die for one’s country”


About Keith Barrington

I am a neonatologist and clinical researcher at Sainte Justine University Health Center in Montréal
This entry was posted in Neonatal Research. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to “The war to end all wars” 100 years on

  1. rdavidgegmailcom says:

    Thanks so much for this Keith.

    God bless


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