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Centenary of Wilfred Owen’s last birthday remembered at Ripon Cathedral

23 March 2018


The war poet Wilfred Owen, who died in action, aged 25, on 4 November 1918

The war poet Wilfred Owen, who died in action, aged 25, on 4 November 1918

RIPON CATHEDRAL marked the centenary of the war poet Wilfred Owen’s last birthday before his death in 1918 with a dedicated evensong on Passion Sunday.

Owen stayed in Borrage Lane, Ripon, between March and June 1918, convalescing from shell shock. Instead of a sermon, four of the poems that he composed during that time were recited in front of the high altar by the vice-chairman of the Wilfred Owen Association, Sam Gray.

Extracts from his letters to his mother were read, including his description of how he passed the afternoon of his 25th birthday, on 18 March, in quiet contemplation in the cathedral. After the service, a pilgrimage trail around the cathedral, based on his life and poems, was launched.

The Dean of Ripon, the Very Revd John Dobson, said: “We are proud to mark the cathedral’s connection with Wilfred Owen, 100 years to the day that he spent time here on his last birthday, and, given the sombre na­ture of his work, it is very fitting that we should be doing this on Passion Sunday, as we prepare for Holy Week.”

During his time in Ripon, Owen composed or revised several poems, including “Strange Meeting” and “Futility”, but he found his army base too noisy, and so took rooms in a cottage close to the cathedral.

Despite the effects of his injuries, which exempted the young Second Lieutenant from front-line duties, he returned to France in July 1918, and died in action on 4 November — exactly a week before the Armistice, and only a month after winning a Military Cross for his courage and leadership during an attack on an enemy strongpoint.

His mother wrote later: “Oh, how he hated war and all its horrors, but he felt he must go out and share it with his boys. His nature never changed.”

Mr Gray said: “We have recited his poems and letters at other places, and Ripon is the final stop in my centenary tribute to recite all his poems in the places they were writ­ten. I have visited the cottage in Borrage Lane, and have erected a blue plaque to record that he wrote there.”

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