In 1917 Sassoon decided to make a stand against the conduct of the war. One of the reasons for his violent anti-war feeling was the death of his friend David Cuthbert Thomas, who appears as "Dick Tiltwood" in the Sherston trilogy. Sassoon would spend years trying to overcome his grief.

In August 1916, Sassoon found himself at Somerville College, Oxford, which was used as a hospital for convalescing officers. Sassoon was suffering with gastric fever. At the end of a spell of convalescent leave, Sassoon declined to return to duty; instead, encouraged by pacifist friends such as Bertrand Russell and Lady Ottoline Morrell, he sent a letter to his commanding officer entitled “Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration”. Forwarded to the press and read out in the House of Commons on 30th July by a sympathetic Member of Parliament, Hastings Lees-Smith, the letter received very mixed reviews! Even his good friend Robert Graves was shocked and disagreed with the whole idea. Sassoon himself was very unsure of the action he had taken and worried about it a great deal, particularly regarding what the men of his battalion still fighting at the front would say. Nevertheless, there was no going back once the letter had been sent.

Rather than court-martial Sassoon for cowardice, which would have proved difficult with Sassoon already having been awarded the Military Cross for bravery, the Under-Secretary of State for War, Ian Macpherson, not to be outwitted, decided to send Sassoon to Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh, where he was officially treated for neurasthenia ("shell shock"). The authorities could then show that they understood Sassoon’s protest was the result of a severe nervous condition brought about by his terrible experiences in the trenches, and rather than court martial him, they would take care of him and give him the best possible treatment for this obvious ‘mental illness’.

At Craiglockhart Sassoon was very fortunate to find himself being treated by the eminent neurologist and psychiatrist W. H. R. Rivers, with whom he remained a close friend until Rivers’ untimely death in June 1922. Rivers soon deduced that Sassoon was not suffering from shell shock and knew about his protest. However, as he had been sent to him to be treated, that is what he would do.

Sassoon was allowed to do basically what he liked at Craiglockhart but still had to attend sessions with Rivers. For Rivers, there was a considerable dilemma involved in "curing" his patients simply in order that they could be sent back to the Western Front to die. He did not wish to "break" his patients, but at the same time he knew that it was their duty to return to the front and his duty to send them.

Following his appointment at Craiglockhart War Hospital, Rivers published the results of his experimental treatment of patients in The Lancet, "On the Repression of War Experience", and began to record interesting cases in his book Conflict and Dream, which was published in 1923.

Before that, in 1920, he published ”Instinct And The Unconscious” giving the substance of lectures he delivered in the Psychological Laboratory in Cambridge in the summer of 1919. The book also included appendices in which were published occasional papers written as a result of clinical experience gained during the war. The aim of the book was to put into a biological setting the system of psycho-therapy which came to be generally adopted in Great Britain in the treatment of psycho-neurosis of war. Among the subjects included were ‘Instinct and Suppression’, ‘The Repression of War Experience’, ‘War-Neurosis and Military Training’, ‘Wind-up’ and ‘Psychology and the War’. All of this was the result of his work at Craiglockhart.

In July 1917, before being sent to Craiglockhart, Sassoon wrote a poem about a man sitting at home unable to put the horrors of the war out of his mind. He retrospectively entitled this poem ‘Repression of War Experience’. He had learned a lot from his talks with W. H. R. Rivers.

Instinct And The Unconscious (and) Conflict and Dream - By W H R Rivers

Two Books

Two Books

Title Page

Title Page

Instinct And The Unconscious - A Contribution to A Biological Theory Of The Psycho-Neurosis - By W H R Rivers M.D., D.Sc, L.L.D., F.R.S. Published in 1920 (this copy a second edition published in 1922), by Cambridge University Press.

Conflict and Dream - The International Library of Psychology, Philosophy and Scientific Method, by W H R Rivers M.D., D.Sc, L.L.D., F.R.S. Published in 1923 by Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co Ltd.

Two very important books relating to the treatment of ‘Shell Shock’ (war-neurosis), at Craiglockhart Military Hospital by Doctor W H R Rivers. Rivers treated Sassoon while he was at the hospital and he features as ‘Patient B’ in Conflict and Dream.

Conflict and Dream

I have seen it stated several times that Sassoon features in Conflict and Dream as ‘Patient B’. However, I have never seen the exact nature of his inclusion described anywhere, which leads me to assume the original statement of one bare fact has never been checked by those repeating it, and that includes me. This has led me to search for the original source and being the ardent collector of any book relating to Sassoon, nothing but the first printing of the book would suffice, despite it having been reprinted in modern times.

I succeeded in obtaining a copy of this book recently (above), and have read it. I have to say I found it fascinating and Rivers has taught me a great deal about dreams. Sassoon features quite late in the book and on almost reaching the end without coming across Patient B, I began to think that he was a myth perpetuated by people who had never read the book. But there he is in the final chapter, Chapter X, Symbolism In Dreams, The “Pacifist” Dream (beginning at the bottom of page 166 to be exact).

Rivers is describing a dream, the nature of which is not important to this story, in which Sassoon makes a brief appearance. What does make it interesting are the snatches of information Rivers records about Sassoon at Craiglockhart that are incidental and do not relate to the dream. Firstly, he says Patient B had been to see him on the evening preceding the dream and they had talked about Germany. Rivers had described his experiences in that country as a student before the war when his interests had been largely physiological. In his own words Rivers goes on to explain his understanding of the reason for Sassoon’s presence at the war hospital:

    “B, the patient who had been my fellow-guest at lunch, with whom I had had the conversation in the evening, was not suffering from any form of psycho-neurosis but was in the hospital on account of his adoption of a pacifist attitude while on leave from active service. During the afternoon I finished reading Under Fire, the translation of Barbusse’s Sur le Feu, and during the evening I had looked through the English Review for the month, which dealt with problems of peace and war…My general reading at this time was leading me towards a belief that the economic position of Germany was creating a situation which made peace by negotiation possible, and one article in the English Review had put this point of view in so striking a way that I had found myself in a frame of mind more favourable to peace by negotiation than I had ever known before. I had read this journal, as well as Barbusse’s book, on the recommendation of ‘B’, partly in order to help me understand his position.”

Rivers goes on to discuss the nature of his interaction with ‘B’ in the dream which is interesting in itself, but not so relevant to their real-life relationship which I have discussed here. It is fascinating to see the effect the patient was having on the doctor.

Craiglockhart War Hospital, Slateford

Craiglockhart War Hospital

Craiglockhart Message

Craiglockhart War Hospital, Slateford - This is a real photographic postcard showing the Hospital in Edinburgh where Siegfried Sassoon was sent during the period of his protest and where he met Wilfred Owen. This postcard is postmarked 4th January 1918, a period after which Sassoon and Owen had left the hospital. However, I have not come across a postcard which calls this building a war hospital, most refer to its pre-war use as a Hydro, or spa. The message, dated 3.1.18, is from a lady called Beatrice (who still refers to it as a hydro), to an acquaintance in Paisley. Beatrice had just been out for a walk on “a lovely, clear day”.

The Hydra - The Magazine of Craiglockhart War Hospital - New Series No.1. Slateford, Midlothian, Edinburgh: H & J Pillans, printers, November 1917. 24 pages, pictorial wrappers, illustrations and photographs.

The Hydra

Edited by M. Salmond, this is a striking, and extremely rare example of the in-house periodical published by and for the patients at the Craiglockhart War Hospital for Officers, which was established in 1916 for the treatment of British officers suffering from shell-shock. Among the hospital’s patients were, most famously, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, who were under the treatment of Dr. William Rivers and Captain A. J. Brock.

This issue coincides with the month of Owen’s release from the hospital after being judged fit for light regimental duties - he eventually returned to the front in August 1918 and was killed in action on 4th November, a year following the appearance of this issue. Owen is mentioned twice in the text of this issue, once in the context of activities of the Debating Society, and again, for a talk he gave to the Field Club: “ interesting paper on the classification of soils, soil air, soil water, root absorption and fertility was given by Mr. Owen on 1st October...”

Sassoon remained at Craiglockhart into December, and in this issue, printed for the first time, is his poem “Thrushes.” Keynes incorrectly records its first appearance as the following January in THE NATION (C64). Non-patients were also invited to contribute to the magazine, and we also find a poem by John Drinkwater “Reciprocity” and drawings by G. K. Chesterton “Profiteers.”

In his Editorial the Editor thanks a Mr. Berrington for the cover and club headings art. The first series consisted of 12 numbers (April - September 1917). This New Series concluded in July 1918, after nine issues. Issues of the Hydra are extremely scarce, three issues are recorded as being held at Columbia University, New York. The National Library of Scotland also holds an incomplete run of issues, although partially in photocopies. The Napier University, Edinburgh, and Bodleian Library, Oxford, both have some copies. This copy is a rare addition to those few existing.

Hydra Editorial
Hydra Thrushes

Left, Editorial page. Above, first publication of Siegfried Sassoon’s poem ‘Thrushes.’

Hydra Field Club

Left, Part of the Craiglockhart Field Club report containing details of a talk given by Wilfred Owen.

Adrian Berrington 1886 - 1923

I am indebted to David Whiting for the following information regarding his great uncle Adrian Berrington who provided the illustrations for the Hydra:

Professor Adrian Berrington, designed the Craiglockhart Hydra cover for the New series. He was a patient at Craiglockhart with Sassoon and Owen, and worked on the magazine with Owen when he was editor, providing illustrations and then the vignettes in the new magazine. Adrian was badly wounded twice on the Western Front, and ended up designing war cemeteries before being appointed as a professor of architecture in Toronto.

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