Originals of Wilfred Owen-edited magazine found

ORIGINAL copies of a magazine edited by war poet Wilfred Owen while he recovered from shell shock in Scotland have been found after a near decade-long search.
The three 'lost' copies of The Hydra have been found after a decade-long search. Picture: Malcolm McCurrachThe three 'lost' copies of The Hydra have been found after a decade-long search. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
The three 'lost' copies of The Hydra have been found after a decade-long search. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

Three copies of “The Hydra”, the magazine of Craiglockhart War Hospital, now part of Edinburgh Napier University, have been donated to institution.

Owen contributed to and edited the publication, which also printed new work by fellow patient and war poet, Siegfried Sassoon.

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Craiglockhart Hydropathic, a hydrotherapy centre in the early 20th century, was requisitioned by the War Office as a hospital for officers suffering from neurasthenia, or shell-shock, where they were treated by the famous psychiatrist WHR Rivers, who specialised in the condition.

Wilfred Owen pictured in 1920. Picture: Wiki CommonsWilfred Owen pictured in 1920. Picture: Wiki Commons
Wilfred Owen pictured in 1920. Picture: Wiki Commons

The two great poets met at the hospital, in a leafy Edinburgh suburb, in the summer of 1917 and developed a close friendship.

The university established a War Poets Collection in 1988 in memory of that heritage, but until now the permanent exhibition has relied on photocopied Hydras supplied by Oxford University.

Now, nearly 10 years on from a public appeal for the originals, the lost copies have been found.

They have been donated to Edinburgh Napier by the relative of another former patient who succeeded Owen as Hydra editor following the latter’s return to duty.

The university believes no other collection in Scotland, including the National Library of Scotland, hold copies of two of the three donated Hydras - numbers four and five of the New Series.

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Librarian Catherine Walker who had devoted much of her career to curating and maintaining the exhibition, said today/yesterday [TUES]: “This is most welcome news and means so much for the collection.

“Having original copies back in the building where the magazines were written is a thrill and very fitting as we approach August and the centenary of Britain going to war.”

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The meeting of Sassoon and Owen at Craiglockhart led to a friendship and literary partnership that critics say was responsible for some of the finest war poetry ever written.

Historian Dr Janet Morgan, Lady Balfour of Burleigh, said: “Meeting Sassoon and working together on The Hydra was a turning point in Owen’s development as a poet.

“Horror brought these men to Craiglockhart; their meeting gave us a handful of fragile but resilient poems that have for a near hundred years evoked the terror and pity of the Great War.

“These original copies of The Hydra commemorate that encounter; they are also a reminder of the generous and cultivated approach to medicine practised by the doctors at Craiglockhart and the atmosphere of imaginative sympathy in which art was created and minds began to be healed.

“This gift to Edinburgh Napier, a delicate and eloquent commemoration, honours all those who were at the Craiglockhart Hospital.”

The Hydras will go on display in the War Poets Collection exhibition later on this year.

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Ms Walker added: “The Hydras are fascinating documents and allow us glimpses of the daily lives of the men who found themselves sent to Craiglockhart.

“We already have photocopies of Wilfred Owen’s editorials on display, including the September 1st issue from 1917, where he comments, ‘Many of us who came to the Hydro slightly ill are getting dangerously well,’ as, of course, the men would indeed be sent straight back to the Front when they were deemed to have recovered.

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“They are fascinating primary sources, and so it is a real pleasure to be able to house original copies in the Collection.

“We are truly surprised and delighted that they have been donated to us, particularly at this important time.”

Owen and Sassoon’s friendship continued past their hospital stay.

Sassoon sent a copy of his poem Counter Attack to Owen who had returned to serve in the trenches.

Owen died on 4 November 1918 aged 25 - tragically the last week of the war - and in one of his final letters wrote to Sassoon on 19th October: “My nerves are in perfect order. It is a strange truth: that your Counter-Attack frightened me much more than the real one: though the boy by my side, shot through the head, lay on top of me, soaking my shoulder, for half an hour.”

The No.6 edition of The Hydra, New Series remains missing, north and south of the border.

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James Boyle, chairman of the National Library of Scotland, said: “It’s thrilling to hear of the return of the three copies of The Hydra to Edinburgh after almost 100 years. However, the search for a copy of edition number 6 dated 7 July, 1917 goes on.”

He joked: “Come to think of it, Indiana Jones and the Lost Hydra would make a great movie.”