While George Orwell is better known for his novels, the first work he ever published was a poem. Written when he was only 11 years old, ‘Awake! Young Men of England’ appeared in the local newspaper Henley and South Oxfordshire Standard on 2 October 1914. The poem was published under Orwell’s real name, Eric Blair – he only adopted the pseudonym George Orwell in the 1930s.
During the years of the First World War, Orwell was a student at St Cyprian’s, a preparatory boarding school outside Eastbourne. Despite his young age, he was already determined to become a well-known writer. Orwell’s poem, written in three quatrains, shows the influence of the patriotic language and glorification of war that characterised the recruitment campaigns aimed at young men during the Great War.
Your Country Needs You
‘Awake, Young Men of England!’ appeared on the back cover of the newspaper, next to a long list of names of local men who had enlisted. During the first months of the war the army successfully recruited hundreds of thousands of volunteer soldiers, but the numbers of men willing to enlist began to decline soon afterwards. In 1916, conscription (compulsory enlisting) was imposed for the first time on all single men aged between 18 and 41.