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
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:
…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, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/35953 (accessed November 5, 2015).
The Poetry Foundation – Siegfried Sassoon