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The war was clearly coming to an end, though the Germans resisted ferociously. The Manchesters moved up to the line of the Sambre Canal in anticipation of an assault crossing. On  October 31, Owen wrote his last extraordinary letter to his mother:

. . . So thick is the smoke in this cellar that I can hardly see by a candle 12 ins. away, and so thick are the inmates that I can hardly write for pokes, nudges & jolts. On my left the Coy. Commander snores on a bench: other officers repose on wire beds behind me. At my right hand, Kellett . . . radiates joy & contentment from pink cheeks and baby eyes. He laughs with a signaller, to whose left ear is glued the Receiver; but whose eyes rolling with gaiety show that he is listening with his right ear to a merry corporal, who appears at this distance away (some three feet) nothing but a gleam of white teeth & wheeze of jokes. Splashing my hand, an old soldier with a walrus moustache peels & drops potatoes into the pot. By him, Keyes, my cook, chops wood; another feeds the smoke with the damp wood. It is a great life. I am more oblivious than alas! Yourself, dear Mother, of the ghastly glimmering of the guns outside, & the hollow crashing of the shells. There is no danger down here, or if any, it will be well over before you read these lines. I hope you are as warm as I am: as serene in your room as I am here . . . Of this I am certain: you could not be visited by a band of friends half so fine as surround me here. Ever  Wilfred  x

At 0545 hrs on November 4 the attack commenced on the heavily defended canal. The bridge-building engineers were all killed or wounded, and the Manchesters took what cover they could. New attempts were made to cross using duckboards, and it was as he moved around encouraging his men that Owen was killed. The Manchesters’ attack was a bloody failure. Only two platoons got across the canal before the duckboard bridge was destroyed by shelling. One other officer and 22 other ranks were also killed. Three officers and 81 other ranks were wounded, 18 other ranks missing. The canal was crossed a mile or two away by another regiment and the advance continued. A week later came the ceasefire; on the same day Susan Owen learned of Wilfred’s death.

The profound friendship that Owen reveals in his letters goes a long way to explain how these troops could advance into such murderous peril, though they knew the wretched war was nearly over. There was also discipline and, after four years of slaughter, dogged professionalism to carry them on. English poetry may not yet have been fit to speak of them, but Wilfred Owen’s last letter, and their own actions on the Sambre Canal, spoke most eloquently.
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