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