Craiglockhart’s War Poets and the Legacy of Remembrance
The War Poets were a group of writers who emerged during and after World War I, capturing the horrors and emotional turmoil of the battlefield in their poetry. This group, which included iconic figures like Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Rupert Brooke, played a pivotal role in reshaping the public’s perception of war and its consequences. Craiglockhart War Hospital, (now home to The Business School), served as a crucial sanctuary for many of these poets, offering them a place to heal both physically and mentally, and ultimately influencing the way Remembrance Day is observed.
The poetry of the War Poets is characterized by its poignant and often bleak portrayal of war. These poets, who had experienced the horrors of trench warfare firsthand, sought to convey the grim reality of battle. Wilfred Owen, for example, wrote “Dulce et Decorum Est,” a searing condemnation of the glorification of war. In this powerful poem, he dispels the notion that it is sweet and proper to die for one’s country, instead revealing the agonizing truth of a gas attack on the front lines.
Craiglockhart’s War Poets
Siegfried Sassoon, another prominent War Poet, criticized the war and its leaders in his poetry. His poem “The General” is a scathing indictment of the military leadership responsible for the needless sacrifice of young soldiers. These poets gave voice to the trauma and disillusionment experienced by countless soldiers and conveyed it to the world through their verses.
Craiglockhart War Hospital became a refuge for Officers suffering from “shell shock,” now recognized as a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many experiencing psychological trauma, including Owen and Sassoon, found themselves at Craiglockhart for treatment and convalescence. The hospital provided a supportive environment where they could share their experiences, reflect on the brutality of war, and use writing as a form of therapy. The camaraderie and shared suffering among the patients at Craiglockhart fostered a creative atmosphere that encouraged them to express their anguish through poetry.
Remembrance Day, originally known as Armistice Day, was established to commemorate the end of World War I and honour the soldiers who had fallen in battle. However, it wasn’t until the work of the War Poets that the day took on a deeper meaning. The poets’ verses, with their unflinching portrayal of the war’s toll, influenced the way people viewed the sacrifices made by soldiers. Their poetry moved Remembrance Day beyond a mere commemoration of the armistice to a day of reflection on the human cost of war.
The most famous War Poem, “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, contains the iconic lines: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row.” The image of poppies growing amidst the graves of fallen soldiers became a symbol of Remembrance Day. This poem, along with the works of Owen, Sassoon, and others, helped create a more profound and empathetic understanding of the impact of war on soldiers and society.
Today, Remembrance Day is a time to not only remember the fallen but also to reflect on the experiences of those who served in times of conflict. The War Poets and the atmosphere of healing and creativity at Craiglockhart War Hospital played a crucial role in reshaping this commemorative day, making it a solemn occasion that acknowledges the emotional and psychological scars carried by veterans.
The War Poets, Craiglockhart War Hospital, and Remembrance Day are intrinsically linked through their shared influence on how we perceive and honour the legacy of war. The poignant poetry of the War Poets, the healing environment of Craiglockhart, and the solemnity of Remembrance Day have collectively deepened our understanding of the human cost of conflict, ensuring that the sacrifices of soldiers are never forgotten.
By Ian Sudlow McKay
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