Historic Scotland Commemorative Plaque for Wilfred Owen
I am delighted to report that our application to Historic Scotland to have a commemorative plaque for Wilfred Owen at Tynecastle High School has met with success. The plaque was unveiled on the 21st August by the Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop with representatives from Historic Scotland and the press in attendance. Also present at the ceremony were some of the students and staff who will be going on the school battlefields trip next month.
Why Wilfred Owen should be commemorated at Tynecastle High School
Wilfred Owen’s First World War poetry has stood the test of time and continues to engage and move students in the present day. His unflinching portrayal of the visceral realities of combat send a powerful message to our young people about the dreadful physical and mental toll of conflict. His work is characterised by his anger at the cruelty and waste of war which was strongly influenced by his experiences on the Western Front during World War I. Wilfred Owen’s legacy to us, through his poetry, is a better understanding of the nature of battle during World War I on the Western Front. Wilfred Owen’s association with Tynecastle High School had long been known about but remained unmarked.
Owen was diagnosed with neurasthenia (or shell shock) on 25th June 1917 which was attributed to his experience of heavy fighting on the Western Front where he had been since January that year. He was evacuated to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh where he met the poet Siegfried Sassoon, also a patient, who shared Owen’s views on the horror and futility of war and who became a friend and mentor to Owen.
In September 1917 the hospital began, as part of their recuperation programme, to send patients to assist with Boy Scout troops and a small number of officers were released to teach at Tynecastle High School. Wilfred Owen wrote to his mother during this time about his experiences of teaching English Literature at the school saying that teaching here was ‘one of the most humanly useful things I am doing now’. In scholarly circles it is widely believed that he was working on the poem ‘Anthem for doomed youth’ during this period and many believe that some of his inspiration may have come from working with children whose fathers and brothers had fallen and the loss of innocence that ensued.
Wilfred Owen had further insight into the impact of WWI on the home front as his technical teaching colleagues at Tynecastle left to work in munition factories or to serve at the front and Home Economics staff trained soldiers in field catering and domestic chores. Owen taught students whose families in the local Gorgie / Dalry community had already experienced loss and injury of their own and even more poignantly by 1917 Tynecastle High School was beginning to have its own student fatalities. So far research has uncovered the names of 14 Tynecastle High School students and one teacher who died during World War I. Close relationships were formed with students in Owen’s care – a field trip to the Pentlands and other areas of the city associated with Robert Louis Stevenson (Owen was studying ‘St Ives’ with the class) described in another of Owen’s letters alludes to a great bonding experience. Another example of Owen’s popularity with Tynecastle students was evidenced by an account of the students making Christmas cards for him during a return visit to the school in December 1917, his army address having been put up on the board by Mrs Fullerton. This was to be Owen’s last Christmas as he was killed on November 4th 1918 whilst leading his men across the Sambre canal near Ors just a week before the ceasefire on the Western Front and the signing of the armistice.
Owen is widely regarded as one of the most talented poets of World War I.