In this blog Rowena talks to fellow contributors to the War Girls anthology including Melvin Burgess and Anne Fine about the impact of first world war poetry and fiction and why finding out about the first world war remains significant for a new generation
Remembering the first world war, with its poems and poppies, is somehow part of being British. I'm not talking about the actual events: very few people can remember those now. I mean the powerful words and harrowing pictures which bring home the reality of that war.
But why bother remembering? Isn't there enough violence today without fretting over the past? Well, yes and no.
When I was a reporter with Reuters, I witnessed the end of Ethiopia's 30-year civil war, and wrote about the terrible human toll of other conflicts as well. But seeing modern warfare first-hand didn't erase the horror I'd felt when reading Wilfred Owen's first world war poems at school. His haunting images of life and death in the trenches will stay with me forever.
Berlie Doherty told me about a similar experience when she was a girl. "It wasn't until I was a teenager, loving poetry, that I read the likes of Wilfred Owen and began to comprehend the utter horror, waste and devastation of those years. In Owen's time men and boys wanted to fight: it was a glorious thing to be fighting to save our country from the enemy. Nothing of that came over to me the sentiment of 'Pro Patria Mori' ['To die for one's country' - a phrase in one of his most famous poems] seemed a horrifying con trick. Owen's poetry took me into the very heart of the crime that was war."Continue reading...