Tuesday, November 10, 2009

11.00hrs 11/11/1918


(Siegfried Sassoon's notebooks)

The Dug-out

Why do you lie with your legs ungainly huddled,
And one arm bent across your sullen, cold,
Exhausted face? It hurts my heart to watch you,
Deep-shadowed from the candle's guttering gold;
And you wonder why I shake you by the shoulder
Drowsy, you mumble and sigh and turn your head...
You are too young to fall asleep for ever;
And when you sleep you remind me of the dead.

Canada still commemorates Remembrance Day on the 11th of November, remembering the Armistice coming into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 thus ending The Great War.




For Remembrance day I noticed that the Cambridge University Library is acquiring Siegfried Sassoon's archive in order to preserve it and make it available. Sassoon was one of the best war poets to come out of World War One (along with Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke).

Despite serving as an infantry officer on the front lines and receiving the Military Cross, in 1917 he published "The Soldier's Declaration," speaking out against the futility of the war for himself and his fellow soldiers, stating: "I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it..." after which he refused to return to duty. Rather than being Court-Martialed, the army sent him to Craiglockhart Military Hospital in Scotland where he was treated by Psychiatrist W.H.R. Rivers. (The subject of Pat Barker's wonderful novel Regeneration). At Craiglockhart Sassoon also met Wilfred Owen with whom he formed a strong bond. Owen was to die just days before the Armistice on November 4th 1918, his genius cut tragically short. Sassoon eventually returned to the front where he was wounded in the head.




The Rear-Guard

(Hindenburg Line, April 1917.)

Groping along the tunnel, step by step,
He winked his prying torch with patching glare
From side to side, and sniffed the unwholesome air.

Tins, boxes, bottles, shapes too vague to know,
A mirror smashed, the mattress from a bed;
And he, exploring fifty feet below
The rosy gloom of battle overhead.

Tripping, he grabbed the wall; saw someone lie
Humped at his feet, half-hidden by a rug,
And stooped to give the sleeper's arm a tug.
"I'm looking for headquarters." No reply.
"God blast your neck!" (For days he'd had no sleep.)
"Get up and guide me through this stinking place."
Savage, he kicked a soft, unanswering heap,
And flashed his beam across the livid face
Terribly glaring up, whose eyes yet wore
Agony dying hard ten days before;
And fists of fingers clutched a blackening wound.

Alone he staggered on until he found
Dawn's ghost that filtered down a shafted stair
To the dazed, muttering creatures underground
Who hear the boom of shells in muffled sound.
At last, with sweat of horror in his hair,
He climbed through darkness to the twilight air,
Unloading hell behind him step by step.



2 comments:

Pillows for the People said...

your blog is lovely!!!
xo p

guillemette m said...

Dear Tim,

I just came accross your blog while looking for photographer Ian Wallace on the web. What a surprise ! Your blog is amazing, I love it. Please continue to study photography like you do. I myself, as a photographer, have a blog (http://teatiny.canalblog.com/) but it's in French.

My best to you,

guillemette