On this day in 1918, Susan Owen (center in picture) received word that her son, Wilfred, had been killed the previous week while fighting with his unit in the Battle of the Sambre. She thus might have read the words of his death while listening to the bells of the town church peal the news of the Armistice that ended World War I. Peace had come for Britain, if not perhaps for her.
She likely feared such a telegram. Wilfred’s letters to her rarely tried to conceal the situation at the front. One, from 1917, said that:
I can see no excuse for deceiving you about these last 4 days. I have suffered seventh hell. I have not been at the front.
I have been in front of it.
I held an advanced post, that is, a ‘dug-out’ in the middle of No Man’s Land.
Those fifty hours were the agony of my happy life.
Every ten minutes on Sunday afternoon seemed an hour.
I nearly broke down and let myself drown in the water that was now slowly rising over my knees.
No death is preordained, of course, but those of a frontline soldier in World War I came closer than most. One of Wilfred’s poems may have suggested to Susan that her son was at rest, of a sort, while all around people loudly celebrated. At a Calvary Near Ancre:
The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.
Or perhaps not.