At one end of the ward I represent on Edinburgh Council is the Craiglockhart campus of Edinburgh Napier University, built originally in 1880. During the first world war it became a treatment centre for shell-shocked officers. Among them were Wilfrid Owen and Siegfried Sassoon who first met at Craiglockhart in 1917 and wrote some of their greatest poetry there.
Tragically, like so many others, Owen did not survive the war. His poetry made a huge impression on me as a teenager, among many millions, and is probably the definitive anti-war poetry. There is little space for sentimentality in his poems and little sense of what was happening in northern France as the “great war”. Just slaughter, mud, death and horror.
So the best way I can think to honour all those who lost lives in wars and the millions of non-combatants whose lives are damaged by war is to campaign against their repetition. It is why I marched with my baby son against the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and why I wear the white poppy in November. It is why I am a Green.
The meeting of Sassoon and Owen is commemorated in a small war poets collection within the university building which is well worth a visit. And now, thanks to Napier University and local Friends of Craiglockhart Woods, and the community council, there is a war poets trail, which links the collection with various other related landmarks: local history board, a WWII memorial and statue and a plaque on the golf course.
It is a fantastic area to explore by foot. It is hard to reconcile the birdsong in the woods and the sweeping views across Edinburgh from the hilltop with the terror of the trenches, but, in this year of the war centenary, I hope it renews our collective determination to resolve conflict without laying waste to so many young men and women.