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A few days after the battalion was finally relieved, his colonel noticed that Owen was behaving oddly, and he was returned to hospital with what was labelled neurasthenia. He enlarged on the horrors of “the Stunt” at Savy Wood to his sister Mary:

You know it was not the Bosche [sic] that worked me up, nor the explosives, but it was living so long by poor old Cock Robin (as we used to call 2/Lt Gaukroger), who lay not only near by, but in various places around and about, if you understand. I hope you don’t.

His brother Colin received a long and extraordinary letter dated May 14, 1917:

The sensations of going over the top are about as exhilarating as those dreams of falling over a precipice, when you see the rocks at the bottom surging up to you. I woke up without being squashed. Some didn’t. There was an extraordinary exultation in the act of slowly walking forward, showing ourselves openly. There was no bugle and no drum for which I was very sorry. I kept up a kind of chanting sing-song: Keep the Line straight. Not so fast on the left! Steady on the left! Not so fast! Then we were caught in a Tornado of Shells. The various “waves” were all broken up and we carried on like a crowd moving off a cricket-field. When I looked back and the ground all crawling and wormy with wounded bodies, I felt no horror at all but only an exultation at having got through the Barrage.

The second part of this letter consists of a lengthy cod-Biblical litany, a sort of satire on the evangelical Christianity in which Owen no longer believed. In a letter to his mother, he points out the hypocrisy of Christians of all nations who support the war and think God is on their side.

I am more and more Christian as I walk the unchristian ways of Christendom. Already I have comprehended a light which will never filter into the dogma of any national church: namely that one of Christ’s essential commands was: Passivity at any price! Suffer dishonour and disgrace . . .  Christ is literally in no man’s land. There men often hear his voice: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life — for a friend. Is it spoken in English only and French? I do not believe so.
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