Owen's story

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was born to Tom and Susan Owen in Oswestry, on 18 March 1893. In early 1900 they moved to the Wirral Peninsula, when Tom was appointed Station Master at Woodside Station in Birkenhead. The 1901 Census shows them at their first home, a semi-detached house at 7 Elm Grove, Higher Tranmere. Then later they lived in nearby 14 Wilmer Road and 51 Milton Road.

From the house in Elm Grove it was only a short walk for Wilfred to The Birkenhead Institute (BI) School in Whetstone Lane. Wilfred was first registered at the BI when he was 7 years old, on 15th January 1901 as Pupil Number 102. His parents paid a fee of £2/14/0d (£2.70p). He seemed genuinely happy and fulfilled in Birkenhead. He enjoyed school life, and his teachers said of him that he was “obsessed with the necessity to equip himself scholastically”, and that he was “a very favourite pupil indeed”. He was always proud of his school. He read widely and was already fascinated by the expressive possibilities of poetry

My subject is war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity
— Wilfred Owen

During holidays, he enjoyed swimming at the Argyle Street or Livingstone Street public baths (the latter having been opened in 1900) and horse riding on the beach at the popular resort of New Brighton. The Owens were actively involved in the community during their time in Birkenhead. The area was clearly a significant influence on the life of the young poet. The birth of his “poethood” was in 1903-4, clearly during the time he was here. Wilfred’s uncle Edward Quayle lived in the village of Meols, where Wilfred spent many holidays. The Owen family continued to live in Birkenhead until he was 13 years old, when his father took up work in Shrewsbury.

When the First World War broke out, Wilfred was working as a tutor to a family in France, where he saw some of the soldiers wounded in the conflict. In September 1915, Wilfred returned to the UK and joined The Artists Rifles Officers’ Training Corps.

After various training sessions, he was commissioned into The Manchester Regiment on 4 June 1916.

He suffered shellshock in August 1917, then came the now famous meeting at Craiglockhart Hospital with the poet Siegfried Sassoon, who was to be so instrumental in making Wilfred into the iconic figure he has undoubtedly become.

Wilfred Owen was killed in the early hours of 4 November 1918 on the Oise-Sambre-canal bank. He is buried in the churchyard at Ors