War poet honoured by Commemorative Plaques
21 August 2014
Wilfred Owen, arguably the most well-known of Britain’s First World War poets, was commemorated today with the unveiling of a plaque in his honour, at the Edinburgh school he taught at whilst recovering from ‘shellshock’ in 1917.
He is one of 11 historic figures to be recognised as part of this year’s Historic Scotland Commemorative Plaques Scheme, which celebrates the Year of Natural Scotland.
Owen, who was killed in November 1918 - just days before the Armistice - briefly taught English Literature at Tynecastle High School in 1917, as part of rehabilitation programme for treatment he was undergoing for Neurasthenia (or ‘shell shock’), at the nearby Craiglockhart War Hospital. Owen’s tenure at the school has long been known but, until now, has been unmarked.
Owen, along with fellow Craiglockhart patient Siegfried Sassoon, is regarded as the finest English-speaking poet of the First World War. His single volume of published work, which includes ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ and ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, is characterised by his anguish at the cruelty and futility of war, which he experienced first-hand during his time on the Western Front.
His poetry still engages and moves readers to this day, and is given added resonance this year by the Centenary of the commemoration of the outbreak of the conflict.
The Commemorative Plaque Scheme is designed to celebrate the life and achievements of significant historic figures, through the erection of a plaque on the home where they lived, or the building that was particularly synonymous with their achievements.
Members of the public were asked to submit nominations then an independent panel of experts selected the final 11, which includes, amongst others: the ‘father of nature conservation’ John Muir; Mary Lily-Walker, who did much to help the plight of disadvantaged women in Dundee; and the ‘father of modern sociology’ Adam Ferguson.
The Wilfred Owen plaque was unveiled by Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop at a ceremony at Tynecastle High School this morning.
Unveiling the plaque Ms Hyslop said: “In this year when we commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War, it is natural that our focus returns to that period. As one of the finest poets of that era, Wilfred Owen’s contribution to our understanding of the horrors of war cannot be overstated, and his work is almost as relevant now as it was when it was written, nearly a century ago.
“Owen was only one man but arguably no single voice spoke for as many people as his. The unflinching portrayal of the visceral realities of combat contained in his poetry sent a powerful warning about the dreadful physical and mental toll of conflict, which millions of fellow soldiers must have empathised with, but were unable to express with the same eloquence.
Ms Hylsop added: “I hope this plaque will serve as a permanent reminder for pupils who pass through these corridors in the years to come, of the sacrifice of millions of men, women and children during that conflict.”
Head teacher of Tynecastle High School, Tom Rae said: “We’re delighted at having the school’s unique connection with the most widely recognised war poet affirmed by Historic Scotland. Owen’s link with Tynecastle is something the students are very proud of and brings something extra to lessons when his poems are studied. Next month a group of staff and students will take part in a history field trip to the battlefields. They will be visiting Tyne Cot cemetery where each student will place a poppy on the grave of an unknown soldier of their choice and later in the week take part in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres.”
Other recipients of the Commemorative Plaque Scheme
- DR HENRY FAULDS – Pioneer of fingerprint collection and identification techniques.
- JOHN MUIR - Widely recognised as the father of nature conservation.
- SIR PATRICK GEDDES - Born in Ballater, Geddes was a well-travelled botanist, sociologist, geographer and pioneering town planner.
- SIR HUGH MUNRO – Original member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, whom the standard term for Scottish Mountains of over 3,000ft was named after.
- ALEXANDER WILSON - He was poet, artist, scientist and social commentator, and is known as the “Father of American Ornithology”.
- ALEXANDER KELLAS - British physiologist who made pioneering contributions to the exploration of Everest and to the early physiology of extreme altitudes.
- MARY LILLY WALKER - Did much for the plight of under-privileged women and children in Dundee during late 19th and early 20th centuries.
- JOHN RAE - The first European to discover the final navigable link in the Northwest Passage, the much coveted 19th Century sea route in the Arctic joining the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.
- WILLIAM MURRAY – Famous mountaineer and author of two, now classic, climbing books while a POW during WW2.
Notes for editors:
- ADAM FERGUSON - Adam Ferguson was, along with his more well-known contemporaries, Adam Smith and David Hume, one of the pre-eminent Eighteenth-century Scottish literati.
- Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament.
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