In 1917, the renowned poet Wilfred Owen, known for his poignant work ‘Dulce et Decorum Est,’ sojourned in Scarborough at the Clarence Gardens, now The Clifton Hotel on the town’s North Side. Adding to the tragedy of his short life and demise was the news of his death, reportedly reaching his family in Shropshire as church bells chimed on November 11, 1918, signaling the cessation of hostilities.
Less commonly known is Owen’s lively social side during his time in Scarborough. He reveled in boisterous nights with friends, frequented the theatre, and indulged in lavish dining experiences featuring champagne and oysters, notably at the Crown Hotel, according to The Scarborough News.
Wilfred Owen had two stints, each lasting three months, in Scarborough. Initially sent after receiving treatment for trauma at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, where he met fellow poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon, Owen was stationed at the Clifton Hotel, requisitioned for officers on the north side.
After leaving in February/March to prepare for his return to the Front in Ripon, he returned to Scarborough and was stationed at Burniston Barracks before heading back to the battlefields of France, capturing the horrors in poems like ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’, ‘Mental Cases,’ and ‘Dulce et Decorum Est.’
During Owen’s November 1917 arrival as an officer with the Manchester Regiment, he was billeted at the Clarence Gardens Hotel, now the Clifton Hotel. His stay lasted until March 1918, and he returned in June to prepare for redeployment to France, stationed at Burniston Barracks.
In the final year of his life, Owen, grappling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), spent considerable time in Scarborough on active duty. While the prevailing practice was to keep those with “shell shock” away from the Front, the dire need for ground forces in 1918 prompted the redeployment of soldiers like Wilfred.
Clarence Gardens, where Owen resided in 1917, served as the officer’s mess, with Owen shouldering responsibilities as the mess secretary, engaging in a myriad of clerical duties.
Owen’s disgust at the war’s futility and profound empathy for the men he led are vividly expressed in his poems, the Gazette & Herald reported. Dr. Charles Mundye, head of academic development in the Department of Humanities at Sheffield Hallam University and president of the Robert Graves Society, will delve into these aspects in an upcoming talk.
Dr Mundye said: “He escaped from this and other duties into his turret bedroom where he wrote and drafted the poems that were growing in his consciousness.
“This was where the first of his poems to be published, Miners, developed out of a vision in the glowing coal not only of the bodies of men killed in the mines but of the bodies of soldiers killed underground with the Royal Engineers’ Tunnelling Companies during the war.”