Siegfried Sassoon went to school at Marlborough College before going on to Cambridge to read history. He left in 1907 without taking his degree. Sassoon took a commission with the Royal Welch Fusiliers in May 195 but ended the war in Craiglockhart War Hospital suffering, it is said, from shell shock.
In his 1928 autobiography, Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man, Sassoon saw the beginning of war as ‘a mounted infantry picnic in perfect weather.’ Describing his later years in the war this tone had changed to a
‘landscape grey and derelict’ over which ‘we seemed to be walking in a waste land where dead men had been left out in the rain after being killed for no apparent purpose.’
Siegfried Sassoon was perhaps the most innocent of the war poets. John Hildebidle has called Sassoon the “accidental hero.” Born into a wealthy Jewish family in 1886, Sassoon lived the pastoral life of a young squire: fox-hunting, playing cricket, golfing and writing romantic verses.
Being an innocent, Sassoon’s reaction to the realities of the war were all the more bitter and violent — both his reaction through his poetry and his reaction on the battlefield (where, after the death of fellow officer David Thomas and his brother Hamo at Gallipoli, Sassoon earned the nickname “Mad Jack” for his near-suicidal exploits against the German lines — in the early manifestation of his grief, when he still believed that the Germans were entirely to blame).
As Paul Fussell said: “now he unleashed a talent for irony and satire and contumely that had been sleeping all during his pastoral youth.” Sassoon also showed his innocence by going public with his protest against the war (as he grew to see that insensitive political leadership was the greater enemy than the Germans). Luckily, his friend and fellow poet Robert Graves convinced the review board that Sassoon was suffering from shell-shock and he was sent to the military hospital at Craiglockhart.
Siegfried Sassoon’s Poems
Resources for Siegfried Sassoon
Jon Stallworthy on the earlier and later poems of Sassoon – ‘The Redeemer’ and ‘Christ and the Soldier’