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Book Title: Memoirs of an Infantry Officer|
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 8.57 MB
v The author of the book: Siegfried Sassoon
Edition: Simon Publications
Date of issue: December 1st 1930
ISBN 13: 9781931313810
City - Country: No data
Read full description of the books Memoirs of an Infantry Officer:This is the second of Siegfried Sassoon’s trilogy of autobiographical war novels. It covers the period from 1915 to 1917; Sassoon’s time on the front line, the Battle of the Somme, his time recuperating from wounds, his protest about the war and ends with him being sent to Craiglockart, the psychiatric hospital for those with shellshock.
Sassoon continues to be self-deprecating and tries to capture his feelings throughout, which were often contradictory. Other characters pop up thinly disguised. David Cromlech is Robert Graves, who plays a significant role which Sassoon clearly has mixed feelings about. In real life Sassoon wrote to The Times denouncing the aims and conduct of the war. In the novel he does it slightly differently, but to similar effect. There was a period of time when Sassoon thought he was going to be court-martialled and shot and this was a serious possibility. He details his worries about whether he has done the right thing and whether his views are correct and how ambivalent he feels. This is a long way from the rather foolish young man of three years earlier who only really wanted to hunt and ride horses and had very little political thought in his head. He also describes throwing his Military Cross into a river; another thing that indicated how much he had changed. Cromlech (Graves) went to the military board that was hearing the case to persuade them that Sassoon was suffering from shellshock and needed help not punishment (without Sassoon’s knowledge). It isn’t clear from this book whether Sassoon believed he had shellshock; he may not have been sure himself. He was certainly having nightmares and he describes alternating feelings of despair and elation. His stay in hospital is described in the last of the trilogy.
Sassoon is very good at describing the ordinary life of a platoon, most of which was very boring and uncomfortable. The actual action was interspersed between these periods of boredom. Sassoon does not preach or bully he just tells the tale and explains how he underwent change. One example is his anger when he sees people in London eating at expensive restaurants and hotels and remembers what he and the troops have been eating for the last months.
Sassoon has been criticised by some reviewers for pulling his punches and not being as realistic as people like Graves and others. I wonder whether I was reading the same book. Here are a couple of examples;
“As I stepped over one of the Germans an impulse made me lift him up from the miserable ditch. Propped against the bank, his blond face was undisfigured, except by the mud which I wiped from his eyes and mouth with my coat sleeve. He'd evidently been killed while digging, for his tunic was knotted loosely about his shoulders. He didn't look to be more than 18. Hoisting him a little higher, I thought what a gentle face he had, and remembered that this was the first time I'd ever touched one of our enemies with my hands. Perhaps I had some dim sense of the futility which had put an end to this good-looking youth. Anyway I hadn't expected the battle of the Somme to be quite like this.”
And at the height of the Battle of the Somme
“I can remember a pair of hands (nationality unknown) which protruded from the soaked ashen soil like the roots of a tree turned upside down; one hand seemed to be pointing at the sky with an accusing gesture. Each time I passed that place the protest of those fingers became more expressive of an appeal to God in defiance of those who made the War. Who made the War? I laughed hysterically as the thought passed through my mud-stained mind. But I only laughed mentally, for my box of Stokes gun ammunition left me no breath to spare for an angry guffaw. And the dead were the dead; this was no time to be pitying them or asking silly questions about their outraged lives. Such sights must be taken for granted, I thought, as I gasped and slithered and stumbled with my disconsolate crew. Floating on the surface of the flooded trench was the mask of a human face which had detached itself from the skull.”
It speaks volumes that Sassoon ends the chapter there with no further comment and he clearly did go on to ask the “silly questions”.
For me this was better than the first in the trilogy as it deals with the contradictory feelings within one person at the front and what it took for him to make one of the most potent anti-war statements of the period, even though he wasn’t sure of himself and what he was doing. Again there is humour in the descriptions of the futility and I suspect that the writers of Blackadder had read this. One of the better war memoirs and I found Sassoon a good deal more engaging than Graves in “Goodbye to All That”.
Read information about the authorSiegfried Loraine Sassoon, CBE was born into a wealthy banking family, the middle of 3 brothers. His Anglican mother and Jewish father separated when he was five. He had little subsequent contact with ‘Pappy’, who died of TB 4 years later. He presented his mother with his first ‘volume’ at 11. Sassoon spent his youth hunting, cricketing, reading, and writing. He was home-schooled until the age of 14 because of ill health. At school he was academically mediocre and teased for being un-athletic, unusually old, and Jewish. He attended Clare College, Cambridge, but left without taking his degree. In 1911, Sassoon read ‘The Intermediate Sex’ by Edward Carpenter, a book about homosexuality which was a revelation for Sassoon. In 1913 he wrote ‘The Daffodil Murderer,’ a parody of a John Masefield poem and his only pre-war success. A patriotic man, he enlisted on 3rd August, the day before Britain entered the war, as a trooper in the Sussex Yeomanry. After a riding accident which put him out of action, in May 1915 he joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers as a second lieutenant. At the training depot he met David Thomas, with whom he fell in love.
In November Sassoon received word that his brother Hamo had died at Gallipoli. On 17th Nov he was shipped to France with David Thomas. He was assigned to C Company, First Battalion. It was here that he met Robert Graves, described in his diary as ‘a young poet in Third Battalion and very much disliked.’ He took part in working parties, but no combat. He later became transport officer and so managed to stay out of the front lines. After time on leave, on the 18th of May, 1916 he received word that David Thomas had died of a bullet to the throat. Both Graves and Sassoon were distraught, and in Siegfried’s case it inspired ‘the lust to kill.’ He abandoned transport duties and went out on patrols whenever possible, desperate to kill as many Germans as he could, earning him the nickname ‘Mad Jack.’ In April he was recommended for the Military Cross for his action in bringing in the dead and wounded after a raid. He received his medal on the day before the Somme. For the first days of the Somme, he was in reserve opposite Fricourt, watching the slaughter from a ridge. Fricourt was successfully taken, and on the 4th July the First Battalion moved up to the front line to attack Mametz Wood. It was here that he famously took a trench single handed. Unfortunately, Siegfried did nothing to consolidate the trench; he simply sat down and read a book, later returning to a berating from Graves. It was in 1917, convalescing in 'Blighty' from a wound, that he decided to make a stand against the war. Encouraged by pacifist friends, he ignored his orders to return to duty and issued a declaration against the war. The army refused to court martial him, sending him instead to Craiglockhart, an institution for soldiers driven mad by the war. Here he met and influenced Wilfred Owen. In 1918 he briefly returned to active service, in Palestine and then France again, but after being wounded by friendly fire he ended the war convalescing. He reached the rank of captain. After the war he made a predictably unhappy marriage and had a son, George. He continued to write, but will be remembered as a war poet.
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