Text by Chris Bent
Whilst teaching in France during 1915 and with conscription imminent, Wilfred Owen decided he should join up. He initially joined the 2nd Artist’s Rifles Officer Training Corps on the 20th October, 1915. For the next seven months he received his training at Hare Hall Camp, Gidea Park, Essex.
Then on the 4th June 1916 he was informed of his commissioning to the 5th battalion of the Manchester Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant. The Regiment were training at Milford Camp at this time.
On the 18th June, 1916 Owen took the train from London to Milford and then by car to the camp. Whilst the battalion were based at Milford camp, the officers quarters were set apart to the west of Witley North Camp. He was stationed in Block E1.
It was twelve days into his time at the camp that the worst single day for deaths and casualties in British Military history occurred. That was the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st 1916, a date that still resonates with us to this day. Little did Owen know that within six months it would be the location of his first experiences of the Western Front.
Owen (seated on the ground second from the right) and his fellow officers of the 5th Manchester’s at Witley in 1916.
Training at Witley was over by the 24th September 1916 when the battalion moved to Oswestry, Southport and Fleetwood. On the 11th December 1916 he received his orders to proceed overseas and was in France by the end of the year.
Acknowledgement for use of images to: http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/permitteduse