100 Heroes: Wilfred Owen

The gay man who chronicled the First World War.

100 Heroes: Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen was an English poet and soldier.

Owen was one of the leading poets of the First World War.

His war poetry on the horrors of trenches and gas warfare was heavily influenced by his mentor Siegfried Sassoon, and stood in stark contrast both to the public perception of war at the time and to the confidently patriotic verse written by earlier war poets such as Rupert Brooke. Among his best-known works – most of which were published posthumously – are “Dulce et Decorum est”, “Insensibility”, “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, “Futility”, “Spring Offensive” and “Strange Meeting”.

Early life

Owen was born in 1893 in Shropshire.

He was educated at the Birkenhead Institute and at Shrewsbury Technical School, before going on to study English at the University of Reading.

From 1913, Owen was working as a private tutor in France. When the First World War broke out, he returned to England.

War service

Owen enlisted in 1915.

In action, he was caught in the blast of a trench mortar shell.

Owen was diagnosed as suffering from shell-shock. He was sent to a war hospital in Edinburgh. It was in the hospital in Edinburgh that Owen met Siegfried Sassoon.

Discharged from hospital, by 1918 Owen had returned to active service in France. He was awarded the Military Cross for his courage and leadership.


Owen was killed in action in November of 1918.


Owen is regarded as one of the greatest poets of the First World War.

He had been writing poetry for some years before the war. The Romantic poets Keats and Shelley influenced much of his early writing and poetry.

Owen’s friendship with Siegfried Sassoon also influenced his writing.

Only five of Owen’s poems were published before his death – more were published posthumously.

As a gay man, homoeroticism is a central element in much of Owen’s poetry. Sassoon had introduced Owen to an influential circle of gay men in the literary world.

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