Lost copies of magazine by war poet found 100 years on

The 'lost' copies of Wilfred Owen's magazine, Hydra. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
The 'lost' copies of Wilfred Owen's magazine, Hydra. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
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copies of a magazine edited by poet Wilfred Owen while he recovered from shell-shock in the Capital have been found nearly 100 years after they were printed.

The Hydra: the magazine of Craiglockhart War Hospital was produced by patients at the military hospital during the First World War – including Owen and fellow war poet Siegfried Sassoon.

The publication contained routine notices, gripes about hospital conditions and most famously provided an outlet for their poetry.

Over time, the original magazines were lost, leading to an appeal by war memorabilia experts at the university’s Craiglockart Campus.

Staff were stunned when relatives of another former patient – who succeeded Owen as Hydra editor following his return to duty – revealed they had three editions and gifted them to Napier University. They will now go on display in the War Poets Collection exhibition later this year.

Librarian Catherine Walker, who had devoted much of her career to curating and maintaining the exhibition, said they could not have been returned at a better time.

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

“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 1 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 be sent back to the Front when they recovered.

“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.”

Then a hydrotherapy centre, the site was requisitioned by the War Office as a hospital for First World War officers suffering from neurasthenia, or shell-shock, bringing together the two great poets in the summer of 1917. Critics say this meeting was responsible for some of the finest war poetry ever written.

It is believed no other collection in Scotland holds 
copies of two of the three donated Hydras – numbers four and five of the new series.

Meanwhile, the hunt for edition number six in the series goes on, with no trace in Scotland or the rest of the UK.

James Boyle, one of the leading public figures in the British arts world and the 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 six dated July 7, 1917 goes on.”

kate.pickles@edinburghnews.com