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Oxford University World War I Poetry Digital Archive - A Site Worth Visiting

Updated on March 20, 2011

The Great War

November 14, 2009

Horrible as it was, World War I inspired a generation of writers and poets.

While they probably would have ultimately been drafted into the war as a result of Great Britain eventually having to resort to conscription to fill the ranks of its fighting forces, most of those young men who gained renown as poets and writers, eagerly embraced the war in the beginning.

Throughout history war has always had a certain appeal, especially for young men, as it offers the opportunity for adventure, heroism, glory, action, etc. Patriotism and the defense of one's homeland also trigger emotions in young men that entice them to join the cause.

Finally, there is the fact that, especially in times of national emergency, donning a uniform adorned with medals for bravery is a great way to attract young women.

Artillery turret at Ft Vaux on the Verdun World War I Battlefield in France.
Artillery turret at Ft Vaux on the Verdun World War I Battlefield in France.

For various reasons, including rising nationalism and the long period of relative peace in Western Europe that proceeded the war, the prospect of a major war was appealing to many young men, especially wealthy, educated young men.

This was true not only in England, but in other nations in Europe as well as in the United States.

The sharp contrast between the idealistic visions of war which motivated the rush to enlist and the stark reality of the actual war with its disease, rats, mud and mass slaughter on both sides probably played a big role in the literary output that resulted from the war.

Wilfred Owen - One of the Poet's Featured on the Oxford Site

British Poet Wilfred Owen in his World War I uniform (public domain photo courtesy of
British Poet Wilfred Owen in his World War I uniform (public domain photo courtesy of

Oxford University's World War I Digital Archive Site

Oxford University has now created a digital archive which makes available the works of these poets, including the original drafts of their poems, photographs, letters and other memorabilia.

The collections page currently contains photographs of ten poets - Edmund Blunden, Vera Brittain, Ivor Gurney, Robert Graves, David Jones, Roland Leighton, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon and Edward Thomas.

Clicking on a photograph takes you to a biographical page for that poet with links to their poetry and other materials relating to them.

This material alone is great for researchers and lovers of the poetry of these people as the collection brings together for viewing in one place material, the pieces of which are scattered throughout the world in various public and private collections. Included in the collection are items to which access has previously been very restricted due to the fragile condition of the media.

Digital Archive is More than Just Poetry

Now, anyone in the world with access to a computer and the Internet can view, in one place, all of the original drafts of the works of these poets along with their letters and journals from the same period.

However the Oxford collection goes way beyond simply making available the original drafts of the wartime poetry along with letters and diaries from this period for these poets. The site has also brought together military records of these men as well as film footage, photographs, audio recordings, newspapers and other text material relating to the British experience in the war itself.

This not only allows poetry lovers to view the original manuscripts of the poems but view them within the larger context of the war in which they were written. Of course, this additional material which, like the manuscripts of the poetry, has also been assembled from collections in public and private collections all over the world.

This makes the site an ideal resource for not only poetry lovers, but also scholars, researchers, educators and the general public who are interested in original material about other aspects of the war and this period.

WW1 - Hell in the Trenches

A Great Resource for Teachers

Teachers will find it especially useful as not only is all of the material available to download and use for private or educational purposes without restriction (however, permission is required for commercial use which is why I haven't posted any of the material here), they also have a section (click Education link on menu bar) with suggestions and materials for teachers.

A Great Site to Visit

Oxford's The First World War Digital Archive is a fascinating site where anyone who is interested in any aspect - the poetry, the history, the artifacts, photos, sound recordings, etc. - of this period in history will find something to view and enjoy.

YouTube Video Describing Creation of the World War I Poetry Digital Archive


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    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Wonderful stuff - I love the poetry that came out of that senseless war. Thanks for sharing

      Love and peace


    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 8 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Storytellersrus - Thanks for your great comment and for at least putting in the title of your Hub about your friend Sir Alec Nesbitt and his World War I site and basement museum. With the title I was able to find your Hub quite easily.

      I not only enjoyed your Hub but also his site. Here are links to your Hub "What Went Wrong in 1914" ( ) along the links for Sir Alec Nesbitt's "Witness History in HO Scale" ( ) home page and his story page ( ) describing his miniature Orient Express train ride through the area that was the scene of World War I.

      Both your Hub and Alec Nesbitt's site are fascinating and informative and I recommend them to all.

      Thanks again.


    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      This is fascinating. World War 1 seems to get little press. I hope you don't mind if I refer you to a hub I wrote called "What Went Wrong in 1914". In it, I share the story of an Oxford friend of mine who has created a museum piece detailing events on June 28, 1914. He spent 30 years researching and fashioning this work of art and with all of the information above, you would really "get it!"

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 8 years ago from south Florida

      Chuck - as a researcher (and writer) you are non-pareil. Very thorough hub.

    • Vladimir Uhri profile image

      Vladimir Uhri 8 years ago from HubPages, FB

      Chuck this is great information and god news. Thanks.