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Wilfred Owen

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Wilfred Owen

by John Gunston
bromide print, 1916
5 3/8 in. x 3 3/8 in. (138 mm x 88 mm)
Purchased, 1993
Primary Collection
NPG P515

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • John Gunston (circa 1860-1946), Photographer. Artist of 1 portrait.

This portraitback to top

Owen enlisted in the army in 1915 and was commissioned into the Manchester Regiment in 1916, an event celebrated by his uncle in this photograph of him in his new uniform.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Writers, p. 83
  • Clerk, Honor, The Sitwells, 1994 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 14 October - 22 January 1995), p. 53 Read entry

    Osbert was introduced to Owen (1893-1918) in September 1917 by Robert Ross, who in turn had been asked to look after the neurasthenic poet by Siegfried Sassoon. Over the next few months Osbert and Owen exchanged letters and poems and met on several occasions. Osbert recalled in particular a summer afternoon in 1918 when, together with Sassoon and Owen, he had listened to Violet Gordon Woodhouse playing the harpsichord and eaten raspberries at Swan Walk. The idyll was short-lived. Owen returned o France and was killed a week before the armistice.

    The chapter devoted to Owen in Osbert's Noble Essences is illustrated with a detail from the photograph by the poet's uncle. Osbert records his and Owen's aversion to the war: 'a link of nonconformity that in those years bound thogether the disbelievers with almost the same force with which fath had knitted together the early Christians'.1 Owen had been asked to contribute to the 1918 edition of Wheels, but was posthumously published in the following, fourth cycle, which was dedicated to his memory. After corresponding with Owen's mother Edith began the task of editing Owen's war poems for publication and was disappointed when the project was taken over by Sassoon.

    1 Osbert Sitwell, Noble Essences, 1950, p 89.

  • Crane, David; Judd, Alan, First World War Poets, 2014, p. 41
  • Judd, Alan; Crane, David, Character Sketches: First World War Poets, 1997, p. 26
  • Moorhouse, Paul; Faulks, Sebastian (essay), The Great War in Portraits, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 27 February - 15 June 2014), p. 113 Read entry

    Poet Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) was born in Oswestry, Shropshire. From 1913 to 1915 he taught English in Bordeaux. Returning to England in October 1915, he enlisted in the army and, following training, crossed to France on 29 December 1916. In March 1917 he was involved in fierce fighting at the Somme and suffered shell shock, which forced him to withdraw from the battle. The poems on which his reputation is based were written between August 1917 and September 1918, although only four were published during hs lifetime. Pronounced fit for general service, he returned to the front and was killed on 4 November 1918, one week before the Armistice.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 474
  • Tinker, Christopher, Speak its Name! - Quotations by and about Gay Men and Women, 2016, p. 79

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1916back to top

Current affairs

As war drags on with heavy losses conscription is introduced with the Military Service Act. Conscientious objectors who refused to fight were compelled to do non-military war work, and some were jailed.
British Summer Time is introduced, putting the clocks forward an hour during the summer in order to capitalise on daylight hours.

Art and science

C. Hubert H. Parry sets William Blake's poem, Jerusalem, to music popularising the poem and tune as a patriotic English anthem. On hearing Edward Elgar's orchestrated version in 1922, King George V suggested that it replace God Save the King as the National Anthem.


The Irish Citizen Army starts a Nationalist rebellion in Dublin: The Easter Rising.
Massive losses are suffered on the Western Front at the battles of the Somme and Verdun.
The Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire (1916-18) led by Prince Faisal is assisted by T.E. Lawrence, who became known as Lawrence of Arabia.

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