Craiglochart and the War Poets: Literary Walk 21st October 2013

Craiglochart:

Thuntitlede former Craiglochart Hydropathic, was requisitioned as a hospital for shell shocked army officers during the First World War.  Now part of Edinburgh’s Napier University, Craiglochart holds an archive of First World War material and is home to a permanent exhibition known as the War Poets’ Collection.  Famously, it was at Craiglochart that Wilfred Owen met Siegfried Sassoon, an association which is commemorated in the Owen and Sassoon wings of the main university building.

For further information about the exhibition, the history of Craiglochart and for a number of interesting links, visit the excellent War Poets’ Collection website:

http://www2.napier.ac.uk/warpoets/

The website also contains details of opening hours and contact details for the collection’s curator, Catherine Walker.    It’s possible to visit the collection at any time during term time on a guided or self-guided basis.

For Sassoon’s memories of “Slateford War Hospital” – Sassoon associated Craiglochart with the nearest railway hospital –see the semi-autobiographical Memoirs of Geroge Sherston, and   in particular the third volume, Sherston’s Progress.

Sassoon, who had written a public letter of complaint about what he considered to be the unnecessary prolonging of the war, stayed at Craiglochart for political rather than medical reasons.  He was a patient of Dr W H R Rivers, whose leading role in the treatment of shell shock or neurasthenia, and whose friendship with Sassoon, is evoked in Pat Barker’s recent trilogy Regeneration.  Writing in Sherston’s Progress, Sassoon does not create a particularly favourable impression of Craiglochart. “The place”, he wrote, “had the melancholy atmospheres of a decayed hydro”. It was, though, redeemed by “its healthy situation and pleasant view of the Pentland Hills”. The doctors “did everything possible to counteract gloom”.  Sassoon enjoyed golfing and went on walking expeditions in the Pentlands with Dr Rivers.

Owen wrote some of his best known poetry at Craiglochart including Dulci et Decorum Est.  As part of his recuperation, he also taught at Tynecastle School:

“I think one of the most humanly useful things I am doing now” he wrote to his mother on 27th September 1917, “is the teaching at Tynecastle School”.

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After he left Craiglochart, Owen continued to take an interest in the Tynecastle School magazine.  He was also aware of RL Stevenson’s Edinburgh connections.  Whilst he was at Craiglochart he read Stevenson’s unfinished novel St Ives, its setting based on nearby Swanston village.

Suggested reading:

  • Wilfred Owen Collected Letters, Ed. Harold Owen and John Bell, OUP 1967
  • Sassoon, Siegfried, Memoirs of George Sherston, Faber, First Published 1937
  • Barker , Pat, Regeneration, Penguin, 1991,  – also The Eye in the Door and the Ghost Road  forming the “Regeneration Trilogy”
  • Stevenson, RL, St Ives, 1897, published posthumously, may be available in public libraries.

Another fascinating website, set up by Centre for the Study of Modern Conflict at the University of Edinburgh’s Department of Conflict in collaboration with Edinburgh City Libraries , is Edinburgh’s War 1914-1918.  The site includes a section devoted to Edinburgh War Hospitals.  Visit:

http://www.edinburghs-war.ed.ac.uk/newsandevents/war-hospitals

Dulci et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.untitled

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