Who was Siegfried Sassoon?

Who was Siegfried Sassoon?

Friday, 11 July 2014

But who was he?

A look into the life of Siegfried Sassoon, the World War One poet who is also a key character in the forthcoming stage adaptation of Pat Barker's Regeneration. By Nicholas Rice. 


Siegfried Sassoon was born into a wealthy family in Matfield, Kent on 8 September 1886. His father belonged to a renowned merchant family of Iraqi Jewish descent and his mother was part of the artistic Thornycroft family. His parents separated when he was very young, which meant he had less contact with his father growing up.

Sassoon had a strong interest in poetry from an early age, spending many hours reading and writing poetry as a child. He studied Law and History at Cambridge University but left after a year without a degree. Although he had some of his work published, Sassoon lived a life of leisure for a number of years, hunting and playing cricket and writing poetry.


Sassoon enlisted in the Sussex Yeomanry in August 1914, a day after England had declared war on Germany. He received his commission into the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in May 1915, when he began writing poems based on his experiences and beliefs of the military. Many of these early poems have been interpreted as being more patriotic and positive than the later poems that he became famous for.

In the same year, Sassoon’s brother was killed in the Battle of Gallipoli. This loss made Sassoon more passionate and courageous in what many perceive as a quest for revenge in his brother’s honour. While serving on the frontline in 1916, Sassoon became well known for his bravery and was given the nickname 'Mad Jack' for his near-suicidal exploits.

He was decorated twice, receiving the Military Cross in June 1916 for helping bringing wounded men back to British trenches following a raid. Shortly after, Sassoon was sent to England to recover from fever. He returned to the front, but was shot between the shoulders in April 1917 and was sent home again.

“The fact is that five years ago I was, as near as possible, a different person to what I am tonight. I, as I am now, didn't exist at all. Will the same thing happen in the next five years? I hope so.”
Siegfried Sassoon


By this point, Sassoon had become angry and disillusioned with the war and he met with several prominent pacifists. His poetry reflected this changed perspective, openly criticising the conduct of his senior officers. In his ‘Declaration’, a letter sent to and published in The Times, these feelings were made public.

The Declaration could have seen him court-martialled. Instead, his friend, the poet Robert Graves, persuaded the authorities that Sassoon was suffering from shell-shock. At Craiglockart Hospital, where he was sent for treatment, Sassoon established a lasting friendship with his doctor, Rivers, and also met fellow poet Wilfred Owen.

He later returned to the frontline one final time, only to be invalided out of the war when he was shot in the head.

Sassoon had a number of homosexual affairs. He later married and had a son, although the marriage subsequently broke down.

He died on 1 September 1967.

In Regeneration, Siegfried Sassoon is played by Tim Delap. Regeneration opens at Royal & Derngate, Northampton, where it runs from 29 August to 20 September 2014. It then tours to York, Edinburgh, Bradford, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Richmond, Wolverhampton, Darlington and Blackpool where it concludes on 29 November.

Regeneration premiered on 2 September 2014 (previews from 29 August) at Royal & Derngate, Northampton, where it continues until 20 September 2014. It then tours to York, Edinburgh, Bradford, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Richmond, Wolverhampton, Darlington and Blackpool where it concludes on 29 November.