Blog readers with a subscription to the Times newspaper online site might like to read a recent article by Jack Malvern on the possible link between a sketch by Sassoon in one of his war journals and the poem Died of Wounds:
The journal to which the article refers (classmark MS Add. 9852/1/7) covers a period in mid 1916 when Sassoon was recovering from enteritis or ‘trench fever ’. It is among the items that will be on show as part of the ‘Dream Voices’ exhibition which opens this Wednesday, and will be displayed showing his observations of events on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
Telegram commanding Sassoon to report for duty found in the journal MS Add.9852/1/11
This terse telegram was sent to Sassoon on 12 July 1917 by his commanding officer in the wake of the publication of his ‘Soldiers Declaration’. Sassoon was deliberately overstaying sick leave permitted for recuperation from a bullet wound sustained at Arras. When Sassoon did indeed report to Litherland depot he fully expected, and in fact hoped for publicity’s sake, to be arrested and court-martialled. Instead he was directed to put up in the Exchange Hotel in nearby Liverpool to await further instruction. The government War Office, to whom the Army had referred the matter, were determined not to allow the statement to become a public cause. They, partially influenced by the intervention of various friends including Robert Graves, resolved the stand off by sending Sassoon to Craiglockhart Hospital near Edinburgh to recover from ”neurasthenia”or shell shock. At Craiglockhart Sassoon was to meet and nurture one Wilfred Owen.
The illustration in the banner at the head of this blog is a detail taken from a tag given to Siegfried Sassoon for his voyage from France to Southampton aboard the Aberdonian on 1-2 August 1916.
Sassoon had gone down with enteritis on 23 July, while his battalion was temporarily withdrawn from the front line of the Battle of the Somme. His case was severe enough to have him despatched to the 1st New Zealand Stationary Hospital in Amiens (the scene of his poem ‘Died of Wounds’), and from there to the No. 2 Red Cross Hospital in Rouen. In the Memoirs of an Infantry Officer Sassoon (in the character of his alter ego George Sherston) recorded how, at the Rouen hospital, a doctor had spotted his name in a list of officers recently awarded the Military Cross, and that this lucky chance had ‘wangled’ him his evacuation back to England — thereby saving him from the hazards of further involvement in the Somme campaign.
The tag was discovered folded in a pocket inside the cover of Sassoon’s diary for the period.