New violin tribute to Craiglockhart war poets

Siegfried Sassoon violin joins Wilfred Owen violin to mark 100 years since both men met

Date posted

7 August 2017


Last updated

19 March 2020

A violin has been created from the branch of a tree in honour of one of the leading poets of the First World War.Two Scottish guys wearing kilts and playing the violin outside

The ‘Siegfried Sassoon violin’ was made three years after an earlier one dedicated to Wilfred Owen – and the instruments will be played together in public for the first time in the Edinburgh building where the celebrated writers first met 100 years ago.

Owen had been sent to the Scottish capital to recover from shell shock in June 1917 after serving on the front line in France. While at Craiglockhart War Hospital, he met fellow patient and poet Sassoon and produced some of his greatest poetry under the older man’s mentorship.

Researchers agree their first meeting took place between August 15 and 19 1917, and the centenary of this momentous literary event is being marked by a week of celebrations and commemorations.

Instrument maker Steve Burnett created the Wilfred Owen violin from the branch of a sycamore tree standing in the grounds of the Craiglockhart building, now part of Edinburgh Napier University, to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War in 2014. Owen and Sassoon would have walked in the grounds of the hospital a century ago and known many of the trees still to be found there.

Burnett adopted a method of using green wood to make the instrument, taking the wood in winter before the sap started to rise, which he believes was used on occasion in Renaissance Italy.

Watch the violins in action

Now he has gone back to the same branch of the same tree to create a Siegfried Sassoon violin, in honour of the writer of A Soldier’s Declaration. The OwenScottish guys in kilts and holding violins in front of a building and Sassoon instruments will be played in duet at Craiglockhart on August 15 at a Royal Society of Edinburgh lecture by Neil McLennan, author of a forthcoming book about Owen’s time in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh-based Mr Burnett said: “The Sassoon violin was made in a more traditional way, using seasoned wood, but like the Owen violin it was created as a symbol of peace and reconciliation through the power of music and it will be played as a tribute to two great poets and a lost generation.

“The Wilfred Owen violin has travelled widely over the last three years, being played in schools and at First World War commemoration events. It has also been played at a Royal Shakespeare Company production in Stratford and at a service to mark the Quintinshill rail disaster. Now we have the Sassoon violin too, it will be great to hear them being played in duet at events.”

The Wilfred Owen’s Edinburgh 1917-2017 programme of events will also include the premiere of a new Jackie Kay poem about Owen at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (16th), a talk with music played on the violins at the City Art Centre (17th), a screening of Craiglockhart film Regeneration at Edinburgh Filmhouse (17th) and readings of Owen and Sassoon’s poetry, diaries and letters at the Craiglockhart campus (18th).

The Sassoon and Owen violins will be heard by a UK-wide audience for the first time in BBC Radio 4’s World War One: The Cultural Front at 10.30am on Saturday August 19.

Catherine Walker, curator of the Craiglockhart-based War Poets Collection, which offers an insight into war through the words and memories of officers, medical staff and relatives, said: “Both Owen and Sassoon loved and appreciated music, so the two violins are a wonderful and fitting tribute.”

Learn more about Wilfred Owen's Edinburgh 1917-2017