Craiglockhart War Hospital March 1917 Image courtesy of Edinburgh Napier University
The month of March includes two important dates in the calendar for the War Poets Collection at Craiglockhart Campus, as we mark the birthday’s of the celebrated poet Wilfred Owen (born 18th March 1893) and the eminent psychiatrist and anthropologist, Dr William Rivers (born 12th March 1864)
At our Craiglockhart campus, the original building was used as a military hospital during the First World War. The hospital treated around 1801 officers, suffering mostly from neurasthenia , or war neurosis, between 1916-1919. Neurasthenia was more commonly known at the time as shell shock.
Craiglockhart old frontage
Those of you who studied English literature at school may be familiar with Wilfred Owen, the WW1 soldier-poet, as his works are taught not only in the UK but in many other countries around the world. 2nd Lt. Owen was to become one of the leading poets of the First World War. He was treated at Craiglockhart War Hospital for shell shock during the summer months of 1917. Wilfred was in the care of Dr (Capt.) Arthur Brock, who treated his patients using ergo-therapy, or the “work cure”. More than a century later, the University’s Occupational Therapy students provide us with a contemporary link to Dr Brock’s work.
Wilfred Owen Bust. Sculpture by Anthony Padgett.
Many of Wilfred Owen’s poems, such as Anthem for Doomed Youth and Dulce et Decorum Est were drafted or composed whilst he was a patient and he edited six issues of the hospital magazine, The Hydra. Wilfred Owen recovered his health and returned to the Front but was killed on active service on the 4th November 1918, just one week before the Armistice was declared.
The recently discovered missing copies of The Hydra magazine.
One of the most recognised names in English anthropology and psychiatry is that of Doctor William H R Rivers, born in Chatham, Kent on 12th March 1864. William Rivers qualified as a doctor from the University of London and St Bartholomew’s Hospital at the tender age of twenty-two, the youngest graduate until recent times. You may recognise the hospital, as the Duke of Edinburgh was treated there for a heart problem recently. Rivers lectured at the University of Cambridge and was a polymath, being involved in the fields of ethnography, anthropology, medicine and psychiatry.
Dr Rivers joined the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War and was appointed Senior Psychiatrist at Craiglockhart War Hospital. Dr (Capt.) Rivers was an extremely popular member of the medical team at the hospital, using dream analysis and the talking cures to help his patients. He is best known in literary circles as being the doctor who treated the poet Siegfried Sassoon at Craiglockhart. Dr Rivers returned to academia after the war but died in June 1922.
You can find out more about both these men in the War Poets Collection at Craiglockhart (University Covid-19 restrictions apply at the moment) or visit our website at www.napier.ac.uk/warpoets
By Catherine Walker