Holographic manuscript page for Wilfred Owen’s poem Dulce et Decorum Est. The title is part of a line from an ode by Horace, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”, which means “it is sweet and right to die for your country”.


by Wilfred Owen

To Susan Owen

Thurs. 31 October [1918] 6:15 p.m.
[2nd Manchester Regt.]

Dearest Mother,

I will call the place from which I’m now writing ‘The Smoky Cellar of the Forester’s House’. I write on the first sheet of the writing pad which came in the parcel yesterday. Luckily the parcel was small, as it reached me just before we moved off to the line. Thus only the paraffin was unwelcome in my pack.  My servant & I ate the chocolate in the cold middle of last night, crouched under a draughty Tamboo, roofed with planks. I husband the Malted Milk for tonight,  & tomorrow night. The handkerchief & socks are most opportune, as the ground is marshy, [fn1] & I have a slight cold!

So thick is the smoke in this cellar that I can hardly see by a candle 12 ins. away, and so thick are the inmates that I can hardly write for pokes, nudges & jolts. On my left the Coy. Commander snores on a bench: other officers repose on wire beds behind me.  At my right hand, Kellett, a delightful servant of A Coy. in The Old Days radiates joy & contentment from pink cheeks and baby eyes. He laughs with a signaller, to whose left ear is glued the Receiver; but whose eyes rolling with gaiety show that he is listening with his right ear to a merry corporal, who appears at this distance away (some three feet) nothing [but] a gleam of white teeth & a wheeze of jokes.

Splashing my hand, an old soldier with a walrus moustache peels & drops potatoes into the pot. By him, Keyes, my cook, chops wood; another feeds the smoke with the damp wood.

It is a great life. I am more oblivious than alas! yourself, dear Mother, of the ghastly glimmering of the guns outside, & the hollow crashing of the shells.

There is no danger down here, or if any, it will be well over before you read these lines.[fn2]

I hope you are as warm as I am; as serene in your room as I am here; and that you think of me never in bed as resignedly as I think of you always in bed. Of this I am certain you could not be visited by a band of friends half so fine as surround me here.

Ever Wilfred x


1. The Ors Canal was some 70 feet wide bank to bank, except at the locks, with an average depth of 6-8 feet. All bridges had been demolished or prepared for demolition. Low ground on both sides of the canal had been inundated by the Germans; most of iti was swamp. The Germans held the eastern bank.

2. Strong patrolling continued till zero hour for the IX Corps attack, 5:45 a.m. 4 November. 14 Brigade crossed; 96 Brigade, which included 2nd Manchesters, was not successful. The engineers got a bridge across, but the area was swept with shell and machine-gun fire. Two platoons made the crossing, but the bridge was then destroyed. The remainder of the battalion crossed at Ors, where 1st Dorsets had secured a crossing. Wilfred Owen was killed on the canal bank on 4 November. One other officer (Second-Lieutenant Kirk, posthumously awarded the VC) and twenty-two other ranks were also killed; three officers and eighty-one other ranks were wounded; eighteen other ranks missing. A week later, the war was over.

Wilfred Owen, Collected Letters, pp. 590-591 (London: Oxford Univ Press, 1967); edited by Harold Owen & John Bell.

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