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.



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, (accessed November 5, 2015).

The Poetry Foundation – Siegfried Sassoon

BBC Historic Figures – Siegfried Sassoon

Delightful and Useful Verities: Rider’s British Merlin

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

The Rider’s British Merlin is a charming almanac featuring a variety of ‘delightful and useful’ information.  Important calendar dates; notes on the weather, phases of the moon and advice on farming and health are noted by month, while historical timelines and lists of members of the house of peers and house of commons feature as additional reference material.

UMASCS have a collection of Rider’s almanacs dating back to the early eighteenth century:

Shelf of copies of Rider's British Merlin

Rider’s British Merlin

The 1790 edition is depicted below; it has a beautiful red binding with metal clasps:

Rider's British Merlin, 1790. A red book with metal clasps.

Rider’s British Merlin, 1790

In early November 225 years ago, people were anticipating ‘Cold and frosty mornings and evenings’ and a bit of apple pruning on the farms…

Calendar page for November 1790

Calendar page for November 1790

…meanwhile the monthly health advice suggests partaking in ‘Good exercise, warm clothes and a wholesome diet,’ alternatively, you could just get some rest until March.

Calendar page for November 1790

Calendar page for November 1790

Interestingly, the blank pages between monthly dates and advice were meant for use as diary pages.  Although this copy is note free, the University of Glasgow’s Special Collections copy has been annotated by its owner, George Langton (1647-1727), a Lincolnshire landowner and businessman.

If you would like to know more about almanacs take a look at the exhibition UMASCS held earlier this year.

UMASCS also have a catalogue and handlist of almanacs held at the University of Reading that was produced as part of the UROP project.  It is held in our open access reference collections at call number 528.2-LIN.  There are several books on the topic, also available in the open access book reference collections:

  • Perkins, M. (1996) Visions of the future : almanacs, time, and cultural change, 1775-1870.  Oxford : Clarendon Press. [Call Number: 032.02-PER]
  • Capp, B.S. (1979) English almanacs, 1500-1800 : astrology and the popular press. London : Faber & Faber.  [Call Number: MARK LONGMAN LIBRARY–133.50941-CAP ]

1915-2015: The Great War remembered – Special Collections Service Seminar Series

An interesting a timely new seminar series offered by the Special Collections Service begins here tomorrow, 1-2 pm in our Conference Room.  This series of lunchtime seminars looks back at the events of 100 years ago, and the many ways in which we seek to preserve the memory of the First World War.  To book or for more information, please follow this link.

Trooper Potts

Trooper Potts memorial statue


Further details:

  • Tuesdays in November 2015
  • 1.00 – 2.00pm
  • Conference room, Museum of English Rural Life
  • Free admission
  • Places are limited. To book a place, email or call 0118 378 8660

Programmed talks:

Commemorating Gallipoli – The HMS M.33 Project

3 November HMS

M.33 is a unique survivor. Launched in May 1915 she is the sole remaining British veteran of that year’s bloody Gallipoli Campaign and the only British warship from the First World War that will be open to the public during the centenary year. In this seminar Dr Matthew Sheldon from the National Museum of the Royal Navy will introduce the story of this remarkable ship, and discuss the challenges of conserving it.

Trooper Potts VC: memories of Gallipoli

10 November

As we approach Armistice Day, we take a look at Reading’s most celebrated participant in the Great War, Fred Potts: October 2015 will see the unveiling of a memorial to him in the town, following a popular campaign. Brigadier Tony Verey QVRM TD DL and Captain Andrew French, Curators of the Berkshire Yeomanry Museum, will join Richard Bennett, Chairman of the Trooper Potts Memorial Trust to discuss Potts’s life and the experiences of his comrades at Gallipoli. They will also explain about the design and construction of the memorial and the educational work they have undertaken.

A University at War: some new discoveries

17 November

In 2013 the University of Reading began a project to find out more about the people behind the names on its war memorial and in its memorial book. This research, undertaken by volunteers, has already led to some fascinating and surprising discoveries. In this seminar archive volunteer Jeremy Jones will discuss what he has learnt, in conversation with University Archivist Guy Baxter.

For more information or to book please contact: