'Lost' Hydras donated to War Poets' collection in Edinburgh

Hydra Three copies of The Hydra: the magazine of Craiglockhart War Hospital have been donated to Edinburgh Napier University

Original copies of a magazine edited by poet Wilfred Owen while he recovered from shell shock in Scotland have been found after a decade-long search.

Three copies of The Hydra: The magazine of Craiglockhart War Hospital have been donated to Edinburgh Napier University.

Owen contributed to and edited it, which also printed new work by fellow patient Siegfried Sassoon.

Circumstances brought together the two poets in the Edinburgh suburb, Craiglockhart, in the summer of 1917.

The university's Craiglockhart Campus, a hydrotherapy centre in the early 20th century, was requisitioned by the War Office as a hospital for WWI officers suffering from neurasthenia, or shell-shock.

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

The Hydra Three copies of The Hydra have been donated to Edinburgh Napier University

Now, nearly 10 years on from a public appeal for the originals, the "lost" copies have been found and donated to Edinburgh Napier University 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.

Librarian Catherine Walker, said: "This is most welcome news and means so much for the collection.

Craiglockhart's cures

Wilfred Owen
  • Patients were encouraged to write for The Hydra as ergotherapy - cure by functioning.
  • Many of Wilfred Owen most famous poems, like Dulce et Decorum est, were written while he was a patient at Craiglockhart.
  • Another treatment offered was the 'talking cure'. Dr William Rivers was an early adopter of Sigmund Freud's methods.
  • According to William Rivers, the methods employed at Craiglockhart were viewed with suspicion by some military commanders.

"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."

The meeting of Sassoon and Owen at Craiglockhart led to a friendship and literary partnership that critics said 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.

The Number six edition of The Hydra, New Series remains missing, north and south of the border.

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