INSTALLATION SAYS THANK YOU TO EDINBURGH’S WAR POETS

25/10/2018 Laura Hayward

A striking 32-metres-long red thread containing the words of War Poet Wilfred Owen has been unveiled at Edinburgh Napier University’s Craiglockhart Campus to mark the start of the 2018 Poppy Appeal.

It is one part of a nationwide network of installations which will highlight how the legacy of the First World War is woven through the fabric of our nation today. The public is being encouraged to say “Thank You” to the generation who served, sacrificed and changed our world.

The Thank You movement is a collaboration between Poppyscotland, The Royal British Legion and Legion Scotland. To mark the start of this year’s Poppy Appeal, a six-metre-high installation was unveiled at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Numerous threads lead from this focal point to poignant locations across the UK with each containing a message from the First World War generation. The Edinburgh thread is the only one in Scotland and recognises the contribution of the “War Poets” who were treated at Craiglockhart during the First World War when it was a military psychiatric hospital.

Wilfred Owen arrived at Craiglockhart Hospital on 26 June 1917 after being invalided home, severely traumatised by his experiences of front-line trench warfare. Whilst recuperating there, Owen met Siegfried Sassoon, who had been sent to the hospital following his declaration against the continuation of the war after serving on the front.

As well as their formal treatments with medical staff, patients at Craiglockhart were encouraged to be as active as possible. Captain Brock, Owen’s doctor, encouraged him to write and edit The Hydra, the hospital magazine. But it was through the poetry he produced at Craiglockhart that Wilfred Owen created his literary legacy. Encouraged by Sassoon, Owen began to write the poems that he was to become most famous for, composing his most iconic works including Anthem for Doomed Youth. Lines from this poem appear on the thread that sits at the main entrance to Craiglockhart, which is now home to Edinburgh Napier University. The thread reads:

“Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds”

Speaking at the unveiling of the Thank You installation Poppyscotland Chief Executive Mark Bibbey said: “The First World War was devastating for the generation who lived through it, but it also left legacies that positively impact our lives today, from poignant poetry to ground-breaking social change and pioneering innovations.

“Millions of men, women and children played their part, both on the front line and on the home front, and we must never forget their sacrifice. We must also continue to support those in our Armed Forces community who still need our support today, and that is why this year’s Scottish Poppy Appeal is so vital. We can only continue to provide our life-changing services with the ongoing generous support of the Scottish public.”

Neil McLennan, Chair of Scotland’s War Poets’ Corner, added: “This year we say ‘Thank You’ to a generation whose sacrifice will never be forgotten. Our ‘memories’ of war are shaped by those who, in the depths of chaos and conflict, were able to create literature and images that 100 years on give us an invaluable insight to the horror of war.

“The contribution of airmen, seamen, soldiers, those at home and war poets are remembered this Armistice. Interest in Wilfred Owen’s poetry greatly increased during the Vietnam War era when the world faced a potential World War Three. We live in turbulent times and so turn once again to Owen and the war poets to reflect on the pity of war, but also the supreme sacrifice to defend democracy.”

Catherine Walker MBE, Curator of Edinburgh Napier University’s War Poets Collection, said: “It’s a great honour that Edinburgh Napier University’s historic Craiglockhart Campus will feature as part of this national campaign which aims to thank those who, 100 ago, gave their lives in service of their country.

“It is poignant that the words of Wilfred Owen feature on the ribbon installed at Craiglockhart Campus. He received treatment for shellshock at Craiglockhart Military Hospital, but sadly died, upon his return to conflict, just one week before the Armistice in 1918.

“It was during his time at Craiglockhart Military Hospital that he met Siegfried Sassoon, who is credited as a major influence with regards to Owen’s development as a poet. Works by both poets feature heavily within our War Poets Collection and their words continue to resonate acutely with many generations with regards to horrors and futility of war.”

The Thank You installation will be left in position until the 23rd November, when a permanent memorial to the War Poets will be unveiled at Makars’ Court, in central Edinburgh.