|First World War||Second World War||The Cold War|
Siegfried Sassoon was born on 8th September 1886 at Weirleigh, near Paddock Wood in Kent. After Marlborough College he went to Clare College, Cambridge, but left without a degree. For the next eight years lived the life of a country gentleman. He spent his tie hunting, playing sports and writing poetry. Published privately, Sassoon's poetry made very little impact on the critics or the book buying public.
On the outbreak of the First World War Sassoon enlisted as a cavalry trooper in the Sussex Yeomanry. In May 1915 Sassoon became an officer in the Royal Fusiliers, and was posted to the Western Front in France. Considered to be recklessly brave, he soon obtained the nickname 'Mad Jack'. In June 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross for bringing a wounded man back to the British lines while under heavy fire. While in France he met the poetsRobert GravesandWilfred Owen.
After being wounded in April 1917, Sassoon was sent back to England. Sassoon had grown increasingly angry about the tactics being employed by the British Army and in July 1917 published a Soldier's Declaration, which announced that "I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it."
Sassoon's hostility to war was also reflected in his poetry. During the war Sassoon developed a harshly satirical style that he used to attack the incompetence and inhumanity of senior military officers. These poems caused great controversy when they were published in The Old Huntsman (1917) and Counter-Attack (1918).
Despite his public attacks on the way the war was being managed, Sassoon, like Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves, agreed to continue to fight. Sassoon was sent to Palestine and France before further injuries forced him to return to England.
Over the next thirty years Sassoon wrote three semi-autobiographical works, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man (1928), Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930) and Sherston's Progress (1936). This was followed by three volumes of autobiography, The Old Century (1938), The Weald of Youth (1942) and Siegfried's Journey (1945).
Siegfried Sassoon died on 1st September 1967.
(1) Siegfried Sassoon, Because We Are Going (1915)
Because we are going from our wonted places
To be task-ridden by one shattering Aim,
And terror hides in all our laughing faces
That had no will to die, no thirst for fame,
Hear our last word. In Hell we seek for Heaven;
The agony of wounds shall make us clean;
And the failures of our sloth shall be forgiven
When Silence holds the songs that might have been,
And what we served remains, superb, unshaken,
England, our June of blossom that shines above
Disastrous War; for whom we have forsaken
Ways that were rich and gleeful and filled with love.
Thus are we heroes; since we might not choose
To live where Honour gave us life to lose.
(2) Siegfried Sassoon described in his diary details of a patrol into No Man's Land that took place on 25th May 1916.
Twenty-seven men with faces blackened and shiny - with hatchets in their belts, bombs in pockets, knobkerries - waiting in a dug-out in the reserve line. At 10.30 they trudge up to Battalion H.Q. splashing through the mire and water in a chalk trench, while the rain comes steadily down. Then up to the front-line. In a few minutes they have gone over and disappeared into the rain and darkness.
I am sitting on the parapet listening for something to happen - five, ten, nearly fifteen minutes - not a sound - nor a shot fired - and only the usual flare-lights. Then one of the men comes crawling back; I follow him to our trench and he tells me that they can't get through. They are all going to throw a bomb and retire.
A minute or two later a rifle-shot rings out and almost simultaneously several bombs are thrown by both sides; there are blinding flashes and explosions, rifle-shots, the scurry of feet, curses and groans, and stumbling figures loom up and scramble over the parapet - some wounded. When I've counted sixteen in, I go forward to see how things are going. Other wounded men crawl in; I find one hit in the leg; he says O'Brien is somewhere down the crater badly wounded. They are still throwing bombs and firing at us: the sinister sound of clicking bolts seem to be very near; perhaps they have crawled out of their trench and are firing from behind the advanced wire.
At last I find O'Brien down a deep (about twenty-five feet) and precipitous crater. He is moaning and his right arm is either broken or almost shot off: he is also hit in the right leg. Another man is with him; he is hit in the right arm. I leave them there and get back to the trench for help, shortly afterwards Lance-Corporal Stubbs is brought in (he has had his foot blown off). I get a rope and two more men and go back to O'Brien, who is unconscious now. With great difficulty we get him half-way up the face of the crater; it is now after one o'clock and the sky is beginning to get lighter. I make one more journey to our trench for another strong man and to see to a stretcher being ready. We get him in, and it is found that he has died, as I had feared.
(3) Siegfried Sassoon, Glory of Women (1917)
You love us when we're heroes, home on leave,
Or wounded in a mentionable place.
You worship decorations; you believe
That chivalry redeems the war's disgrace.
You make us shells. You listen with delight,
By tales of dirt and danger fondly thrilled.
You crown our distant ardours while we fight,
And mourn our laurelled memories when we're killed.
You can't believe that British troops 'retire'
When hell's last horror breaks them, and they run,
Trampling the terrible corpses - blind with blood.
O German mother dreaming by the fire,
While you are knitting socks to send your son
His face is trodden deeper in the mud.
(4) Siegfried Sassoon, Suicide in the Trenches (1917)
I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.