War Poets

Two well known First World War poets had close connections with what was then the Municipal Borough of Wimbledon. Robert Graves grew up near Wimbledon Common and attended various local schools. Wilfred Owen, made regular visits to Wimbledon where his uncle, John Gunston, was a successful butcher with several shops in the area. The two young men never met in those early years, although the Graves' home at 1, Lauriston Road was no more than a five minute walk from 3, Clement Road where Owen often spent his holidays with his cousin and close friend, Leslie Gunston.

When war broke out, Robert Graves immediately volunteered for active service. In July 1916, when serving as Captain in the Royal Welch Fusliers, he was gravely wounded by a shell fragment through the lung during the Battle of the Somme. He was officially reported to have died of his wounds. However he gradually recovered and, apart from a brief spell back in France, spent the remainder of the war in England.

Wilfred Owen joined up on 21 October 1915. Commissioned into the Manchester Regiment, he trained in England for over a year before being sent on active service to France. After four months of heavy fighting, he suffered from shell shock and returned to Britain for treatment.

It was while Owen was being treated at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, that he and Graves first met. Robert,already an established war poet, was visiting his friend and fellow poet, Siegfried Sassoon, who introduced him to Owen. Greatly impressed by Owen's writing, Graves took him under his wing and provided him with the guidance and encouragement to bring his war experiences into his poetry. 

Owen returned to the Western Front in September 1918 and in October won the Military Cross for bravery. Tragically he was shot and killed on 4 November, just a week before Armistice Day.

Robert Graves published his first volume of poems, Over the Brazier in 1916. Wilfred Owen whose Anthem for Doomed Youth is one of the greatest First World War poems, died before this and most of his other works were published. Despite the fact that Graves developed an early reputation as a war poet, it is the poems of Owen that have captured the public's imagination.

Graves, who lived until 1985, was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1961, however it is his prose description of the war years in his autobiography, Goodbye to All That, for which he is best remembered. This memoir, which draws on his own experiences to illustrate the trauma of war and its subsequent effect on British Society, was published in 1929. It was soon established as a modern classic.