The World War One Poet, Wilfred Owen will be known to many. His poems, Anthem for Doomed Youth & Dulce Et Decorum Est often quoted by those who I tell that I have a research interest in 2nd Lt. Wilfred Owen.
Owen had joined the war in late 1915 and first saw action early in 1917. He found himself twice evacuated to Casualty Clearing Stations early in 1917. The first as a result of a fall into a cellar which had been shelled. On the second occasion he was blown up himself and awoke next to the remains of another Lt. who had been directly hit by an incoming shell. After a period of recuperation at Stationary/General Hospitals in France he was sent back to the UK. From the receiving hospital (Welsh Hospital, Netley) he was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital, Slateford, Edinburgh. This was one of the six specialist hospitals set up to treat “shell-shock” officer victims. He arrived in Edinburgh on 26th June 1917. During his time there he was treated and, as part of his treatment, worked at Tynecastle High School.
In 2007 I had taken up the Head of History post at Tynecastle High School. The headmaster’s log at the school gives a detailed day by day account of school activities almost like a Captain’s log. My predecessor, Andrew Savage had dome some initial work on the school’s history and the log book fascinated me.
On 24th September 1917 the Headmaster’s log noted:-
“During this week arrangements have been made whereby several of the officers from Craiglockhart Hospital are taking classes in certain subjects for some of the pupils. This has been done with the consent of the board. As far as arranged at present 2 classes in map reading, 2 in Physical Exercise, 2 in Signalling, 1 in First Aid and 1 (twice a week) in English Literature are being taught by the Officers each of whom is an expert in his own subject. The classes meet for 3 / 4 hour each afternoon and not more than one period is devoted to each class.”
Owen’s diary on 25th September notes:-
“This morning I gave my first lesson of course of English Literature in a big school in Edinburgh! I had 39 boys, who seemed most intelligently attentive.” (See Bell, John Collected Letters of Wilfred Owen OR for original copy, Harry Ransom Centre, University of Texas).
I became interested in the history of the school and the First World War. I was also interested in Owen.
This sparked my interest in the fact that Owen had been teaching at the school however what else had he been doing during his time in Edinburgh. Where did he go? Who did he meet? What was he seeing, reading and being influenced by? How did Edinburgh impact of his poetry?
My first foray in this this area was after a piece of research done with the students looking at the schools’ fallen. However I had also pursued some further investigation and analysis of Owen’s time in Edinburgh and the influence of Edinbrugh on him.
The article in many ways can be described, as Owen’s early poetry was, as juvenilia.
Since then I have published in the following journals:-
Wilfred Owen Association on Wilfred Owen’s Pentland Hills- the Pentland Hills are known for their literary links with Alan Ramsay, Robert Ferguson, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. We can now add Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon to that list. Both walked there frequently.
A much shorter version of my work can be found at:-
In November 2016 I spoke about Wilfred Owen and Scotland at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. My lecture was the final event in a National Gallery Exhibition which had been travelling the country.
In January 2017 I had a significant research find which was reported in many national newspapers and hit international news including BBC and Yahoo news:-
The above find was shared with literary scholars from across the world when they gathered in Aberdeen for the First World War: Fiction and Imagination Conference. I had been asked by Professor Hazel Hutchison to speak at the conference and had chosen the topic of The Secrets and Dreams of Wilfred Owen. However the Conference was a great opportunity to share my new research find.
Following this I was asked to speak at the May Festival and here presented an overview of my broader work on Owen in Edinburgh.
Further journal articles will be added here, sharing some of my research into Owen’s time in Edinburgh, the recovery he made in Scotland and how it influenced his work.
The Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship (Siegfried’s Journal) and the Wilfred Owen Association (Wilfred Owen Association Journal) have accepted another two articles from me. And there are more to come later this year.
I chair the Wilfred Owen’s Edinburgh 1917-2017 Committee. The Committee was formed in 2013 when I first floated the idea that we should mark Owen’s arrival in Edinburgh and his time here. This committee of arts, culture, education and veterans charities has collectively supported a number of events for 2017, the 100th anniversary of Owen being in Edinburgh. More details of all our events planned can be found at:-
As part of our events we recreated Owen’s arrival in Edinburgh 100 years on – on 26 June 2017. A full account of it can be found here:-
The event was covered again by almost all national media outlets including the BBC.
More details of the press coverage can be found at the Napier link above or also by joining our FaceBook site: Wilfred Owen’s Edinburgh or by searching and sharing on twitter #Owen1917
In August I will deliver the RSE lecture at Craiglockhart, a great honour and privilege to speak at the start of a week of events to mark Owen and Sassoon meeting. These events include the rescreening of Regeneration and also the National Maker launching a new poem on Owen and Sassoon.
The event report has now been uploaded can be found here:-