Anthem for a doomed youth

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Guy Masterson will perform poetry and short stories from both sides of the trenches at Traquair tomorrow night (August 22), capturing the horror and humour of the Great War.

The actor’s Fringe show, Anthem For A Doomed Youth, mixes excerpts from Britain’s finest war poets, such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, with the words of German soldiers – Isaac Rosenburg and Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.

He said: “We rarely hear the experiences of our foes. How similar were they to ours?

“I wanted to investigate the entire poetic landscape from both sides of No-Mans’ Land.

“The experience of the Germans was exactly the same as the Allies: the poetry they wrote, beautifully translated, is identical. Both asked the same question: ‘Why?’ It was a mechanised war, using classical tactics, with humans reduced to cannon fodder.”

Masterson’s voice, reminiscent of his uncle Richard Burton, brings the emotions of the trenches vividly to life, in a rich, powerfully evocative experience.

He added: “There’s a lot of description of the horror: it gets quite visceral, but it’s lifted by humour. The arc of emotions gives us a broad picture of what the soldiers experienced.

“I hope it helps the audience realise what those guys went through, and leave with respect.”

The performance takes place at 7pm in Traquair House’s chapel.

The event’s hosts, the Maxwell Stuarts, like many Border families, also suffered heavily in the Great War: four great uncles of Catherine, the current Lady Laird, died in the war to end all wars.

On Saturday (August 23), she and her mother Flora, two generations of Lady Lairds, will tell their story, and how the family kept the house alive in the 20th century, at 2pm, at Beyond Borders’ International Festival of Literature and Thought.

The dead soldiers’ brother Frank, a bomb disposal engineer in the Second World War, began opening the 900-year-old hunting lodge to the public in the 1950s, and his legacy 
has been built on by Flora and her late husband Peter, and now their daughter Catherine and her husband Mark.

“The struggle is ongoing,” said Catherine, “to keep the house in good repair so it survives, and remains a family home, and a living, breathing attraction.

“What’s made Traquair is the history of the people living in it.”

The weekend festival’s programme and box office can be found at