Dulce et Decorum

100 years ago, the Great War was in its dying week.  Wilfred Owen was killed on the 4thof November.

All the commanders-in-chief agreed the war was over–but on the ground, the struggle went on, and on.

I wrote a novel, Justice Hall, about a young officer, and included sections of his war-time journal:

Justice Hall, by Laurie R. King

Chapter 26

From the War journal of Lt. Gabriel Hughenfort

30 October

Word today that they’ll move up our ship date to France, that it might be before Christmas even. The men are keen but I can see why the higher ranks worry. Without a really solid training, most of these boys won’t have a chance. And I say boys because most of them are ’way younger than me. A couple of them can’t be sixteen, no matter what they told the recruiting officer. Of course, there’s the old duffers too, conscripts forty and more. How are they expected to carry a full pack through the mud and still be fit to shoot? Children and old men. They’ll be issuing rifles to women before much longer.

Christmas Day

            Behind the lines, but not far. We can smell it now, and my men are acting the way I feel, like a horse at the scent of smoke, jumpy and white-eyed. Lots of jokes, most of them dirty. They’re shelling up the line, our guns or theirs, making the earth quiver like a fractious horse. A few days here, then up to the Front. I pray God I not disgrace my family.



  1. Merrily Taylor on November 8, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    Never can read “Justice Hall” without tears in my eyes at some point. Once attended a lecture by a prominent military historian on the Western Front in WWI. I came away thinking that the generals on both sides should have been tried as war criminals. They employed no “tactics” other than throwing thousands of young man at one another over a few hundred feet of ground, over and over, with no gain whatsoever.

  2. Sally Warthen on November 9, 2018 at 10:20 am

    This has my vote as the most chilling of his poems:

    So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
    And took the fire with him, and a knife.
    And as they sojourned both of them together,
    Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
    Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
    But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
    Then Abram bound the youth with belts and strops,
    And builded parapets and trenches there,
    And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
    When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
    Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
    Neither do anything to him. Behold,
    A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
    Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

    But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
    And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

    • Laurie King on November 10, 2018 at 9:38 am

      And yet, I remember being unmoved by Owen in high school. With the Vietnam war going on. How was that possible?

      • Sally Warthen on November 12, 2018 at 9:14 am

        I only discovered him by singing Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem 20 years ago. It’s full of his poetry (and devilish to sing).

      • Maer on November 24, 2018 at 10:50 am

        How can we remain unmoved by Owen in our younger years, with wars going on when we first read it?

        In my opinion, it was simply because we were young.

        I remember reading Owen in high school and being transfixed by the imagery in “Dolce et Decorum Est”, but at the time, it was the shivery watching-a-horror-movie sort of grue. I felt safe despite reading it. It was an exercise for my head. The war wasn’t quite real despite the geopolitical tension of the Cold War in the 80s.

        40 years later, as a mother of two teens, my perspective has changed to something far more visceral and personal: this poem could very well describe *my* kids … and my horror is now real.

        We must forgive ourselves the naivete of our youth, which shielded us from the depth of Owens’s truth, and in our wiser years take care of those we love by passing on to them the benefit of our older, wiser, perspective.

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