Book description

Book info

eBook formatPaperback, (torrent)En
PublisherSimon Publications
File size6.9 Mb
Release date 01.12.1930
Pages count336
Book rating4.1 (664 votes)
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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”.

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