The poet and author Siegfried Sassoon was best known for his writing on the futility and horrors of war.
Born in Matfield, Kent, Sassoon enlisted in the military in the run up to World War One. His style of poetry altered dramatically as a result of the events of the conflict, and his meeting with Robert Graves, a fellow poet.
Initially a poet in the romantic vein, Sassoon’s experiences of the horrors of World War One saw his work become more grounded in gritty realism. His verse sang out the carnage of the battlefields in order to undermine government propaganda, which glamourised and simplified military life.
Suicide in the trenches
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.
After World War One Sassoon travelled, giving lectures and readings, avowing his new belief in pacifism and socialism. He can be seen on the Passenger Lists in 1920 travelling to the USA:
Sassoon’s other great contribution to the world of literature was his encouragement and championing of Wilfred Owen, who died in 1918 on active service. Owen’s reputation went on to outstrip that of Sassoon.
Owen’s death can be found in the World War One Soldiers Died records, part of the extensive military collection on findmypast.com:
*the sound of exploding shells