Composing the War Requiem occupied Britten on and off throughout 1961. He seems to have begun thinking seriously about the work in late January or early February of that year. At this stage he re-read his copy of Wilfred Owen's poetry, and wrote out selected passages in one of his old school exercise books. He also copied out the Latin words of the Requiem Mass, with arrows to show how the texts would be woven together.
In 1963, Britten said of writing the War Requiem: 'The ideas come quickly enough but it is more difficult to find the right notes to fit them ... Its conception and formal plan came almost at once; discovering the notes was the real problem.'