The poet and writer, Siegfried Sassoon, is perhaps best known for the poetry that he wrote during the First World War. Although he was a published poet before the outbreak of war, the conflict is seen by many as a catalyst for the creation of his best work.
In April 1917 Sassoon was injured at the front and sent back to England to recover. In a letter to his uncle, the sculptor Sir Hamo Thornycroft, Sassoon writes from the 4th London Hospital in Denmark Hill, South London. Describing himself as ‘very nearly your (late) nephew’ he writes about the injury which ‘missed my jugular by a fraction’ and life at the hospital. The horrors of war are clear from the poet’s description of the nightmares in which he sees corpses and remembers experiences ‘beyond anything I had been up against before’.
This letter is part of a collection of correspondence from Sassoon to his uncle, which includes vivid descriptions of life in the trenches and the eloquent statement that the poet made publicly against the war later in the same year. As a result of his protest Sassoon was sent to Craiglockhart hospital for shellshock where he met and encouraged the young poet, Wilfrid Owen. Sassoon eventually returned to fight in Palestine in 1918.
[Saulbrook Ward,] (when I see the corpses again; last week was beyond anything
4th London Hospl, I had been up against before. I should love to have the HardyDenmark Hill.
Tuesday. 24th. Letter. The book of poems will really be out next
week they say. Binders were slow.
Love from Sig.
My dear Uncle,
I was very nearly your (late) nephew, as the sniper only just missed failed to makeing a good job of it, & the bullet missed my jugular by a fraction of an inch, & the spinal column by not too much. But, as I wrote in the Head Sister’s album, (by request),
“Good luck to the hun
Who got out his gun
And dealt me a wound so auspicious;
May a flesh-hole like mine
Send him home from the Line,
And his Nurses be just as delicious” –
(An effort which aroused delighted simpers of female gratification).
“The Line” was the Hindenburg (not the “Siegfried”!) & we were trying to take Fontaine-lez-Croisilles, (7m. south of Arras). (which is still holding out, curse it).
This is Lotus-Land, with [Doris] & Mrs. [Gosse] & other sweet people drifting in of an afternoon laden with gifts - & the only bad thing a bad Gramophone, which grinds out excruciations of Little Grey homes in the West, etc. Mother is busy being messaged, & is not allowed to come up. I expect to be here another week or more. It has healed up all right in front, but not behind. I think another dose of the war will just about send me dotty. I get the horrors at night
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Focusing on works of fiction produced during the 1920s-30s, Professor Emeritus Modris Eksteins explores the role of literature as a means to confront and overcome the devastation of World War One.
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Professor Stephen Badsey reflects on how letters, parcels, and newspapers – although subject to censorship – kept family and friends in touch with soldiers serving in World War One.