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The War Poets Collection: Siegfried Sassoon and Dr Brock

The War Poets Collection: Siegfried Sassoon and Dr Brock

We greatly value the Library’s War Poets Collection, housed at our Craiglockhart campus, and this week we’d like to highlight two anniversaries connected with the Collection. Read on to find out more about The War Poets Collection: Siegfried Sassoon and Dr Brock.

Siegfried Loraine Sassoon

Siegfried Loraine Sassoon was born in Kent on 8th September 1886 and signed up for active service on the very day the UK declared war on Germany – 4th August 1914. Sent to the Western Front, he soon earned himself the nickname “mad Jack”, such was his exceptional and reckless bravery on the battlefield. In fact, Sassoon’s actions were so inspiring that he was awarded the Military Cross in 1916.

Nevertheless, Sassoon developed a bitter and abiding opposition to the War and was threatened with court-martial for writing an anti-war declaration that was read out in Parliament. Afterwards, he was sent to Craiglockhart, then a military psychiatric hospital, for treatment for what was then known as shell shock.
It was at Craiglockhart that Sassoon met fellow poet Wilfred Owen in 1917. Through mutual encouragement, their poetry flourished, and today they’re regarded as two of the greatest artists to emerge from World War I.

Sassoon survived the Great War and continued writing for the rest of his life. We have copies of his collected poems which you can access by logging into LibrarySearch

John Arthur Brock

Local lad, John Arthur Brock was born on the 9th of September 1878 in Kirkliston, just outside Edinburgh. After qualifying as a medical doctor, he worked for spells in Vienna and Berlin before returning to his native city.

Dr Brock was one of the doctors who treated the soldiers at Craiglockhart Hospital for shellshock, or neurasthenia as he called it. The characteristics of neurasthenia, he believed, were “dissociation, disintegration and split personality” and the way to treat it was holistically, specifically by reintegrating patients with their environment and restoring community links. This often meant hard physical work.

In volume 60 (2005) of the Journal of the history of medicine and allied sciences, David Cantor quotes Siegfried Sassoon remembering that Dr Brock “pushed his patients out of bed in the dark cold mornings and marched them out for a walk before breakfast. Rumour has it that they bolted themselves into lavatories and bathrooms (the bolts had been removed) but he was wise to that”. (Department of Documents, Imperial War Museum, London).

Brock retained a life-long interest in the treatment of psychiatric illnesses. In 1925 he moved to North Queensferry and established a convalescent home for nervous patients.

The War Poets Collection further Information

To find out more about The War Poets Collection: Siegfried Sassoon and Dr Brock, visit the collection online on our special collections website. You can also visit the collection at our Craiglockhart Campus, but please check access times in advance.

Read more about the War Poets on our blog:

War Poets Collection: Remembering Siegfried Sassoon

The Poet and the Doctor, Craiglockhart War Hospital 1917 (War Poets Collection)

Let’s leave the last words of this piece to Sassoon:

Does it Matter?
Does it matter – losing your legs?…
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When the others come in from hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.

Does it matter – losing your sight? …
There’s such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.

Does it matter – those dreams from the pit? …
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And the people won’t say that you’re mad;
For they’ll know that you fought for your country
And no-one will worry a bit.

Collected Poems 1908-1956, Faber & Faber, 2002.

By Lesley McRobb

The Poet and the Doctor, Craiglockhart War Hospital 1917 (War Poets Collection)

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

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.

Image of Hydra Magazine

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

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