Siegfried Sassoon: The hell where youth and laughter go

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Each year on the second Sunday in November, the Sunday closest to 11th November or Armistice Day, we remember and honour the achievements and sacrifices of those who fought in the two World Wars and later conflicts.

I was rewarded by an intense memory of men whose courage had shown me the power of the human spirit – that spirit which could withstand the utmost assault

Memoirs of An Infantry Officer, p247

Book cover for Memoirs of an Infantry Officer

Memoirs of an Infantry Officer – Printing Collection 821.912

Siegfried Sassoon, a solider during the First World War, is remembered as one of the great War Poets, known for his ferociously realistic yet compassionate writing. The title for this post is taken from his poem ‘Suicide in Trenches’ which bluntly describes the suicide of a young soldier and scolds the ‘smug-faced’ crowds who watch the troops march by, warning them to be glad they will not have to endure the same horrors.

Although Sassoon served with the Royal Welch Fusiliers and was given the nickname ‘Mad Jack’ for his brave but dangerous actions in battle, he also protested against what he viewed to be an unnecessary prolonging of the conflict by those in power.

 

Although the war has been described as the greatest event in history, it could be tedious and repetitional for an Ordinary Infantry Officer like myself.

‘Memoirs of An Infantry Officer’ p177

 Contemporary reaction to his poetry was divided, with some readers finding his vivid descriptions too extreme and unpatriotic:

Photograph of book spine

The War Poems – Finzi Book Room–Shelf 22D/33

…his rampant grief/Moaned, shouted, sobbed, and choked, while he was kneeling/ Half naked on the floor. In my belief/ Such men have lost all patriotic feeling.

‘Lamentations’ – The War Poems

However, Sassoon’s work endured; it captured at its heart, the truth of trench warfare and the sacrifices made by the soldiers of the Great War.   In 1951, Sassoon was appointed CBE and he received an honorary degree of DLitt at Oxford in 1965.

 

 

 

If you would like to know more about the WW1 materials held at UMASCS you’ll find a list of our archive records and library collections here.

 

Sources:

Sassoon, S. (1919) The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon. London: Heinemann

Sassoon, S ( 1931) Memoirs of An Infantry Officer. London: Faber and Faber

Rupert Hart-Davis, “Sassoon, Siegfried Loraine (1886–1967),” Jon Stallworthy in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman, October 2009, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/35953 (accessed November 5, 2015).

The Poetry Foundation – Siegfried Sassoon

BBC Historic Figures – Siegfried Sassoon

The word spreads about ‘Reading at War’… even Tony Blackburn’s talking about it!

The Reading Connections project aims to develop community engagement through the creation of digital resources, oral histories, exhibitions around the theme of ‘Reading at War’ and local Reading photography based on a partnership MERL and Reading Museum. Here, Reading at War Project Officer Phillipa Heath talks about the Memorial Book and local interest in it.

At this time of year many of us will reflect on those who have fought for their country and, in particular, on those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

As we approach Remembrance Day,  the local press have taken a keen interest in the Reading at War aspect of the Reading Connections project, part of which aims to highlight the stories of the 146 individuals who feature in Reading University College’s Memorial Bookall of whom tragically lost their lives in the First World War. We are delighted that the Reading Post and BBC Radio Berkshire have been keen to focus on some of these incredible stories.

During their visit, two reporters from The Reading Post met me and project volunteer Jeremy Jones and were shown the Memorial Book. They were introduced to some of the individuals who feature in it and explored the project’s designated flickr site. The flickr site is a fantastic resource as it not only allows people to view those individuals but it also contains, where known, further biographical details about them and their connections to Reading University College. These details are just the tip of the iceberg and, of course, we are appealing for anyone who has more information about, or photographs of, any of the individuals to get in touch.

Phillippa Heath, Tony Blackburn and Jeremy Jones at the BBC Radio Berkshire Studio

Although we were unable to take the Memorial Book with us for our BBC Radio Berkshire broadcast, it was still very much the main focus of our discussion.

There, Jeremy and I were interviewed as part of  Tony Blackburn’s show. Tony was incredibly enthusiastic and interested in the work we are carrying out. Not only was it a fantastic opportunity to promote the project, but it also brought to the fore the heart-wrenching stories of some of those students who gave so much.

If you missed the broadcast, it should be possible to ‘listen again’ at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01jryvj (the interview took place at 10.50 am on 07/11/13). All being well, the project will also feature in the Reading Post on 8 November, and a short edited video about the project will feature on their website. Our media coverage of the project will continue on Sunday, 10 November at 9 am when Guy Baxter, University Archivist, will also be interviewed on BBC Radio Berkshire about the Reading at War project.

Phillippa Heath

Reading at War Project Officer, Museum of English Rural Life