The Royal Mint commemorative WW1 coin programme finishes this centenary year, with a £2 circulating coin for the Armistice. Stephen used Wilfred Owen’s words from his poem ‘Strange Meeting’ in the design he submitted. ‘From one who lost his life, we have his heartfelt reaction to war with these lines,’ says Stephen, ‘not unhelpful, silly, jingoistic nonsense.’
The coin’s ground on which the lettering sits was scanned from clay embedded with soil from where Owen was killed in Flanders just a week before the end of hostilities. Owen was a soldier in the Manchester Regiment and in 2012 Stephen made the journey from Manchester to Ors where Owen is buried in the village graveyard (see photos below). The coin will be released by the Mint sometime later this year. The edge inscription will carry Owen's dates.
It seems that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sudden hall,
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.
With a thousand pains that vision’s gface was granied;
Yet no blood reached there from upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
‘Strange friend,’ I said, ‘here is no cause to mourn.’
‘None’, said the other, ‘save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil boldly, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery;
To miss we the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now…’