Day 28 Alnwick to Newcastle upon Tyne


My mum came from Blyth, where the torch is today. My dad was a Londoner. If he’d not been posted up to the anti-aircraft batteries which were helping to guard the entrances to the Tyne, they’d never have met and there’d be no Charlie.

I know you should never live your life thinking “What if?” but there are times I like to contemplate key moments in history (I don’t count my birth among them) and wonder what might have happened had things turned out differently. What if Hephaistion hadn’t died when he did? Would Alexander have gone on to further glories and not turned a bit loopy? What if Wilfred Owen had survived the war? What more would have come from his pen?

Owen isn’t just one of the great war poets, his work speaks of the love and respect he had for his men, it speaks of true Christianity from someone who was disillusioned with the church and its teachings, and – in some cases – it speaks obliquely of that love which couldn’t speak its name. If anyone argues with that point of view, point them at “Who is the God of Canongate?” which is clearly about rent boys.

Owen met Siegfried Sassoon at Craiglockhart when they were both recovering from shell shocked. Sassoon’s  suggestions for amending “Anthem for Doomed Youth” can still be seen on the manuscripts. Owen had fallen for Sassoon big time. For the evidence of that we have the letter he wrote him:

I hold you as Keats+Christ+Elijah+my colonel+my father-confessor+Amenophis IV in profile.

What’s that mathematically?

In effect it is this: that I love you, dispassionately, so much, so very much, dear Fellow…

From “Wilfred Owen, a Biography” by Jon Stallworthy

Frustratingly, we know there were other letters, which were destroyed and for which Owen’s mother was grateful. Wouldn’t it be great to read them?

Some view that Owen went back to France – Scott Moncrieff (who may well have been Owen’s lover in a an embarrassing romantic encounter had possibly been trying to get him a job in England – because Sassoon had been injured and sent home and he had to somehow take his place.


6 responses »

  1. A lovely, thoughtful post today, Charlie. You continue to entertain and to give us plenty to think about :). You’ve recalled for me an old friend of ours who lived around there but whom we lost touch with, and also the Pat Barker trilogy that I loved reading so much. Have a good weekend!

  2. Lovely post, Charlie. There are so many what ifs associated with the Great War, not least amongst them the great works we missed from Owen and also Ellis Evans who was killed at Passchendaele and whose bardic name was Hedd Wyn – blessed peace.

    Ei aberth nid â heibio – ei wyneb ‘His sacrifice will not be passed over – his dear face
    Annwyl nid â’n ango’, Will not be forgotten,

    “key moments in history (I don’t count my birth among them)”
    Would you settle for ‘red letter day’?

  3. Own worried all the time, about being good enough, I think. I wish we could have seen him grow in confidence and as a writer into his vigorous and contented sixties.

    And yet, as Elin says, there were so many. Who knows what our world would have been like if all those men,(or most,) had lived into the old age they deserved.

    Then again, no great War, no follow on war, no Charlie? (Or some other Charlie?) We can never know.

    • Hear hear for Owen living on into old age.

      Interesting you saying about Owen worrying about being good enough. That’s not an impression of him I got. Next time I reread his biography I’ll look at it with a different slant.

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