Biography of Siegfried Sassoon

Siegfried Sassoon

Siegfried Sassoon was a poet best known for his First World War poetry.

When and Where was he Born?

8th September 1886, Brenchley, Kent, England. Christened Siegfried Louvaine Sassoon.

Family Background:

Siegfried Sassoon was the second of three sons of Alfred Sassoon who was from a family descended from oriental Jews and Theresa Thorneycroft from a family of artists.

Education:

Marlborough School. Clare College, Cambridge. (Studied law and history but left before he completed his degree).

Timeline of Siegfried Sassoon:

After leaving Cambridge University he lived the life of a country gentleman and filled his days engaging in sports and writing poetry. His verses were not noticed either by the critics or the book buying public.

1914: Sassoon joins up on the 2nd August two days before the Outbreak of the First World War as a cavalry trooper in the Sussex Yeomanry.

1915: Siegfried Sassoon becomes an officer in the Royal Fusiliers and was posted to the Western Front. He was christened “Mad Jack” by the other soldiers as they thought him recklessly brave. on 1st November his younger brother Hamo was buried at sea after being mortally wounded at Gallipoli.

1916: Second Lieutenant David Thomas (Dick Tiltwood of “Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man”) was killed whilst out with a wiring party on the Western front on 18th March. Sassoon was awarded the Military Cross for bringing back a wounded man to safety under heavy gunfire when his platoon was involved in a raid on the Kiel trench. During the first day of the Battle of the Somme he was held in reserve in support trenches opposite Fricourt. He was moved up to the front on July 4th. After being recommended for another decoration he was finally sent home in late July suffering from Trench fever. Whilst on a visit to London with Robert Ross he was introduced to Arnold Bennet and H.G. Wells. He reported back for duty at Liverpool in December.

1917: In February he returns to the front but is struck down by German Measles. In April once recovered he is wounded in the shoulder at the Second Battle of the Scarpe and sent back to England. Whilst recuperating he talks to several prominent pacifists including Bertrand Russell. He becomes outspoken about the way the British military establishment were running the war and published a “Soldier’s Declaration” which stated that the war was deliberately being prolonged. This hostility was also reflected in his poetry. His graphic and satirical style caused controversy when his first collection “The Old Huntsman” was published. He was so maddened by what was happening that he threw away his Military Cross. Robert Graves managed to help avoid Sassoon receiving a Court Martial and he is sent to Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh suffering from shell shock. Here he meets Wilfred Owen. In November he is again passed fit for duty once more and returns to the regimental depot.

1918: Sassoon is posted to Limerick in January. In February he is posted to Palestine but posted back to the Western Front in France in May to near Mercatel then on to St Floris. On 13th July 13 his old foolhardiness had returned and he attacks a German trench with no other support than a single Corporal. He is wounded in the head and invalided back to England. Publication of “Counter Attack” poems caused further controversy. Despite his attacks on authority he is sent back to the fronts in France and Palestine where further injuries force him to return to England for good. In the years following the war he writes three semi-autobiographical works and three volumes of autobiography. He spends a short period as literary critic of the Daily Herald newspaper but gradually goes back to being a country gentleman.

1919: He was officially on Sick Leave at the end of the war and was finally discharged in March. During this period Sassoon met many other men of letters including Thomas Hardy in Dorset, Walter de la Mare and T.E. Lawrence. He becomes Literary Editor of the Daily Herald for a short while. The next five years he spends mainly living in London but with extensive lecture tours of the United States and many parts of Europe.

1928: Sassoon begins work on his autobiography which ran to six volumes of semi-fictional prose.

1933: He marries Hester Gatty. (Divorced 1945)

1936: Birth of his son George.

1937: First publication of “The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston”, his autobiography.

1945: Sassoon was not called up for military service during the Second World War but lived peacefully at his home, Heytesbury House in Wiltshire where he was to remain until his death. He is divorced from his wife Hester.

1948: He writes a biography of George Meredith.

1956: He publishes “Sequences” a book of poetry which is spiritual in tone.

1957: Sassoon becomes a Roman Catholic.

When and Where Did he Die?

1st September 1967, Heytesbury, Wiltshire, England.

Age at Death:

81.

Written Works:

1917: “The Old Huntsman”.
1918: “Counter Attack”.
1919: “The War Poems”. “Picture Show”.
1926: “Satirical Poems”.
1928: “The Heart’s Journey”.
1930: “Memoirs of an Infantry Officer”.
1933: “The Road to Ruin”.
1935: “Vigils”.
1936: “Sherston’s Progress”.
1940: “Rhymed Ruminations”.
1947: “Collected Poems”
1956: “Sequences”.

Marriage:

1933 to Hester Gatty. (Divorced 1945)

Site of Grave:

St Andrews Church, Mells, Somerset, England.

Places of Interest:

LONDON:

The British Library.
The Imperial War Museum.

KENT:

Folkestone Museum and Sassoon Gallery, 2 Grace Hill Folkestone, CT20 1HD.