Read Memoirs of an Infantry Officer by Siegfried Sassoon Free Online
Book Title: Memoirs of an Infantry Officer|
The author of the book: Siegfried Sassoon
Edition: Simon Publications
Date of issue: December 1st 1930
ISBN 13: 9781931313810
City - Country: No data
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Reader ratings: 3.6
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 560 KB
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”I, single human being with my little stock of earthly experience in my head, was entering once again the veritable gloom and disaster of the thing called Armageddon. And I saw it then as I see it now---a dreadful place, a place of horror and desolation which no imagination could have invented. Also it was a place where a man of strong spirit might know himself utterly powerless against death and destruction, and yet stand up and defy gross darkness and stupefying shell-fire, discovering in himself the invincible resistance of an animal or an insect, and an endurance which he might, in after days, forget or disbelieve.”
At the end of Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, we left George Sherston in the trenches, and for the bulk of this book that is where he remains. He is losing friends and acquaintances at a rapid clip. As Siegfried Sassoon sifts through his memories, while preparing to write this trilogy of the “fictionalized” version of his war experiences, I can’t even imagine the number of ghosts he must have stirred up. Faces blurred by time, and memories muddled by just the infinite number of men who passed through the scope of his war experiences. He remembers the nonchalance portrayed by many of these young men that never quite reaches their eyes as they try to maintain a stiff upper lip in the face of complete unthinkable carnage.
”A gunner had just been along here with a German helmet in his hand. Said Fricourt is full of dead; he saw one officer lying across a smashed machine-gun with his head bashed in---’a fine looking chap,’ he said, with some emotion, which rather surprised me.”
I’ve read enough about war to have some understanding that there is no way for a soldier to know what particular experience will get to him or her. Lost comrades can pile up in your mind like carefully stacked firewood, without even a quiver of your lip, but then they see something that penetrates all those carefully erected defenses like a bolt from a crossbow, and emotions tumble out like blood from a wound. Is it because the German officer was handsome? Few of us like to see beauty destroyed. Is it because he reminds him of someone from home? Is it because he knows the German officer was killed by the British offensive? I’m sure the German did his level best to kill the British, but in the end, is the death of the enemy any different? Is the stain on yourself any less than the loss of your friends?
”The War’s all right as long as one doesn’t get killed or smashed up.” One can believe that when one is still naive, but as the war continues for these “survivors,” it becomes more and more difficult to live with being alive. Surviving the war is proving to be ever more difficult for Sherston. He has been lucky so far. He has won some medals by displaying fearlessness in front of the enemy, or one could say displaying suicidal tendencies. Death is a constant presence. ”And should I be sent for tomorrow? A sort of numb funkiness invaded me. I didn’t want to die---not before I’d finished reading The Return of the Native anyhow.” This made me laugh. As inappropriate as it is to find humor in a novel of horrors such as this, I couldn’t help thinking of my own theories of reading. I could call it the religion of books because a healthy dose of faith is necessary to believe.
It is actually a very simple belief. I have convinced myself that, as long as I am in the middle of reading a book, I can’t die, which would leave me extremely vulnerable whenever I finish a book except for, because I’m no dummy, I’m always in the middle of three different books. Hopefully, it will be many years before my theory is put to the test. I perfectly understand Sherston’s desire to finish reading Thomas Hardy. Departing with a book unfinished would create afterlife anxiety for me in whatever realm is beyond.
Sassoon is a gifted writer, and he provides these wonderful descriptions of moments that put the reader right there in the muck of the trenches with him.
”The distant gunfire had crashed and rumbled all night, muffled and terrific with immense flashes, like waves of some tumult of water rolling along the horizon. Now there came an interval of silence in which I heard a horse neigh, shrill and scared and lonely. Then the procession of the returning troops began. The campfires were burning low when the grinding jolting column lumbered back. The field guns came first, with nodding men sitting stiffly on weary horses, followed by wagons and limbers and field-kitchens. After this rumble came the infantry, shambling, limping, straggling and out of step. If anyone spoke it was only a muttered word, and the mounted officers rode as if asleep. Thus, with an almost spectral appearance, the lurching brown figures flitted past with slung rifles and heads bent forward under basin helmets. Moonlight and dawn began to mingle, and I could see the barley swaying indolently against the sky.”
”An Army of Ghosts.” Many of these very men would be dead in a matter of months.
An army of shopkeepers, miners, farmers, and young aristocrats. Was patriotism what kept them fighting?
Sherston is shot through the lung and allowed to convalesce back home. His doubts about the validity of the war have reached a new level of unsustainability. He contacts an anti-war newspaper reporter and puts together a manifesto against the war. Sassoon is a legitimate war hero, an officer, and someone well respected by those above him, so this is a particularly unexpected surprise for those “in charge” of the direction or, in Sassoon’s opinion, directionlessness of the war. One of his superiors makes a comment: “Once the common soldier became articulate the War couldn’t last a month.” To me this is a shocking assertion because he is admitting, why would this country of shopkeepers keep going over the trench wall into a hail of machine gun fire if they really had a good understanding of the futility of their own deaths?
There is another interesting comment by another of George’s superior officers: ”It was absolutely impossible, he asserted, for the War to end until it ended---well, until it ended as it ought to end.” Nonsensical on one hand, but perfectly honest on the other. He is as committed to the war ending “naturally” with a winner and a loser as Sassoon is for the war to end because it is absolute insanity to continue.
George Sherston/Siegfried Sassoon has stirred up a fine mess, and now I am off to book three, Sherston’s Progress, the final volume in the trilogy, to find out if this protest makes the proper waves or if it is squashed before it can gain enough momentum to make a difference.
”Shell-twisted and dismembered, the Germans maintained the violent attitudes in which they had died. The British had mostly been killed by bullets or bombs, so they looked more resigned. But I can remember a pair of hands (nationality unknown) which protruded from ths 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 the 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?”
Excellent question! Who made the War?
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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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