Unique violin to mark rail disaster centenary

Thoren Ferguson, pictured with Steve Burnett, plays the Owen violin by the sycamore tree the violin was created from at Craiglockhart
Thoren Ferguson, pictured with Steve Burnett, plays the Owen violin by the sycamore tree the violin was created from at Craiglockhart
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A VIOLIN made to mark 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War will strike a poignant note at the centenary of the worst rail disaster in British history.

The instrument has been made from a tree growing in the grounds of Craiglockhart War Hospital – now home to Edinburgh Napier University’s Business School – which helped shell-shocked officers, including Wilfred Owen and fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon.

It will give resonance to an event in Dreghorn Woods in the Pentland Hills on Saturday, May 23, to mark the Quintinshill rail disaster, which claimed the lives of 226 people, many of them soldiers from the 1/7th (Leith) Battalion of the Royal Scots heading for Gallipoli.

Thoren Ferguson of the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra, who composed the lament, will begin to play as the Princess Royal plants a rowan tree to complete a special grove in Scotland’s First World War Centenary Wood dedicated to the Leith soldiers who died in the Dumfriesshire rail crash on May 22, 1915. The other trees were planted by pupils from Leith Academy, each sapling representing a life lost.

The 28-year-old musician from Portobello described his three-minute piece, written especially for the occasion, as “mournful and very reflective”.

He added: “It is a beautiful instrument and is incredible to play. It feels like it is bursting with tunes and it is amazing to think that it was made from a tree that sits in the grounds of Craiglockhart hospital where Owen and Sassoon first met.”

The traditional Scottish piece, entitled The Lads of Quintinshill, will be in the slow airs style.

Steve Burnett, of Burnett Violins in Haymarket, crafted the instrument last year from a sycamore branch from a tree in the grounds of the former war hospital.

He said he felt “privileged” for his Wilfred Owen Violin to be included in the event, adding: “I think it’s a great honour.

“The violin has been involved in events marking the centenary of the First World War and will come into its own in 1917, the centenary of when Owen came to Edinburgh.”

The instrument has been used by the Royal Shakespeare Company and has also been endorsed as an “envoy of peace and reconciliation” by musician, conductor and Unicef goodwill ambassador Maxim Vengerov, one of the world’s finest violinists.

The instrument contains a copy of a poem by Wilfred Owen entitled Written in a Wood, composed four years before the outbreak of war.