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Sunday, 9 June 2013

Lunch with 'Mad Jack'

Saturday, June 9th., Comarques, Thorpe-le-Soken.

Siegfried Sassoon lunched with me at the Reform yesterday. He expected some decoration for admittedly fine bombing work. Colonel had applied for it three times, but was finally told that as that particular push was a failure it could not be granted. Sassoon was uncertain about accepting a home billet if he got the offer of one. I advised him to accept it. He is evidently one of the reckless ones. He said his pals said he always gave the Germans every chance to pot him. He said he would like to go out once more and give them another chance to get him, and come home unscathed. He seemed jealous for the military reputation of poets. He said most of war was a tedious nuisance, but there were great moments and he would like them again.

Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) was born at Weirleigh, in Kent. After Marlborough College he went to Clare College, Cambridge, but left without a degree. For the next eight years lived the life of a country gentleman. He spent his time hunting, playing sports and writing poetry. Published privately, Sassoon's poetry made very little impact on the critics or the book buying public. On the outbreak of the First World War Sassoon enlisted as a cavalry trooper in the Sussex Yeomanry. In May 1915 he became an officer in the Royal Fusiliers, and was posted to the Western Front. Considered to be recklessly brave, he soon obtained the nickname 'Mad Jack'. In June 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross for bringing a wounded man back to the British lines while under heavy fire. After being wounded in April 1917, Sassoon was sent back to England. He had grown increasingly angry about the tactics being employed by the British Army and in July 1917 published a Soldier's Declaration, which announced that "I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it." Sassoon's hostility to war was also reflected in his poetry; he developed a harshly satirical style that he used to attack the incompetence and inhumanity of senior military officers. Despite his public attacks on the way the war was being managed, Sassoon, like Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves, agreed to continue to fight. Sassoon was sent to Palestine and France before further injuries forced him to return to England. Over the next thirty years Sassoon wrote three semi-autobiographical works, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man(1928), Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930) and Sherston's Progress (1936). 

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