The shell-shocked poets of Craiglockhart war hospital

The shell-shocked poets of Craiglockhart war hospital

Friday, 25 July 2014

Craiglockhart is the setting for Pat Barker's Regeneration, but why was the hospital so significant? Nicholas Rice investigates.

Craiglockhart was a hospital used by the military during World War One for soldiers who were suffering from shell shock as a result of fighting on the Western Front.  It is one of the more widely acknowledged hospitals of its kind, famous as being the meeting place of two of the most highly regarded war poets – Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.

A LITERARY ENCOUNTER

Attending as patients at Craiglockhart in 1917, Sassoon was supportive and encouraging of Owen’s poetry, helping to promote it among literary circles. The pair developed a close friendship, with some evidence suggesting they were involved romantically. 

Sassoon and Owen had different doctors. Sassoon was treated by Dr Rivers and Owen by Dr Brock, with each of them subscribing to different approaches to treating shell shock. Rivers favoured psychoanalysis and the importance of talking therapy, while Brock prioritised keeping patients active. Their treatment here influenced the poets’ work by encouraging them to express themselves creatively. Many of Owen’s poems were written at Craiglockhart, including ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’.


“(They were) both shell-shocked, both young officers. The one in awe of the other ... Owen certainly looking up to Sassoon. Two men with a single mind, but above all else with a great creative spark that left with us the emotions of the time through their poetry."
 James Boyle, Broadcaster and Ex-Chairman of the City of Literature Initative 

 


 

 

SHELL SHOCK

Shell shock was the term then used to refer to soldiers who were so traumatised by the experience of war that they suffered a range of both physical and psychological problems that made them unable to fulfil the responsibilities expected of them on the frontline. 

Some people thought the condition was imaginary and used by cowards who were too afraid to continue fighting on the Western Front. However, as the war progressed, the condition forced people to look at the condition and mental health differently. These were healthy young men in distress with symptoms that made life incredibly difficult.

Much of the work at hospitals like Craiglockhart was experimental and formed the basis for changing attitudes toward mental health.  Today we recognise ‘shell shock’ as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Some 80,000 men are reported to have received treatment for the condition during the war, but modern estimates suggest that this figure may have been much higher.

REGENERATION

Craiglockhart had a profound impact on Sassoon and Owen as well as the legacy of their work. In Pat Barker’s Regeneration, Craiglockhart is one of the main settings; the novel documenting Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen’s meeting and experiences there. In the play, adapted by Nicholas Wright, it again features as the main setting and is the basis for the stage set design by Alex Eales. 


Regeneration opens at Royal & Derngate, Northampton, where it runs from 29 August to 20 September 2014. It then tours to York, Edinburgh, Bradford, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Richmond, Wolverhampton, Darlington and Blackpool where it concludes on 29 November.

Regeneration premiered on 2 September 2014 (previews from 29 August) at Royal & Derngate, Northampton, where it continues until 20 September 2014. It then tours to York, Edinburgh, Bradford, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Richmond, Wolverhampton, Darlington and Blackpool where it concludes on 29 November.