In fairness to Sassoon

In a previous post I accused Siegfried Sassoon of less than total veracity when his M.C. was discovered safe in a drawer, since he had described throwing it into the Mersey. Esther MacCallum-Stuart (who I’m delighted to see has emerged unscathed from the World of Warcraft, and has come back to WW1 blogging) linked to my post with the bold and brilliant title Siegfried Sassoon was a big fat liar.

I may have been unfair. He only claimed to have thrown the ribbon away. ( I assume that this was the ribbon given him by an army doctor, who when he heard that SS had been awarded the M.C. took the ribbon off his own chest for him.) He said nothing about the actual medal.

I think this episode sums up the contradictions of Sassoon. He made (and publicised) the gesture of throwing the medal away, while still keeping it precious and hidden in a drawer. He sincerely hated the war, but he couldn’t help being proud of the part he played. I don’t think he ever made much sense of the post-war world, and his life seems to have lurched from one crisis to the next. He needed that medal in the drawer, just as he needed to go on writing and rewriting his wartime experiences.

4 Comments

  1. Posted May 15, 2007 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    It’s interesting that I have in the past compared Sassoon to Muhammed Ali, who also claimed to have thrown his Olympic medal into a river after an encounter with several white racists. In a recent biography, the same thing happens – Ali confesses (maybe) to the biographer that it was the press who reported what he had done, rather than him actually throwing his medal away. It turns out that in 1996 he received a new one after carrying the Olympic torch (now stating that it ‘came up missing’). Of course, the intersection of rumour and myth (and did they both really encourage the idea anyway) is immensely appealing to me.

  2. Posted May 15, 2007 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    To me Sassoon has always been a very interesting character, whose approach to the war was far from clear. Though politically apposed to the war, I have always felt he harboured a fascination in the heroic and masculine nature of the conflict, together with a seeming unerring attraction to the significance that war gives to otherwise insignificant lives. I also suspect that this dichotomy of view is too complex for the rather traditional view, that developed in the inter war years, of Sassoon’s work being simply anti-war.

  3. Posted May 15, 2007 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Just out of curiosity, was the original claim made by Siegfried Sassoon directly or by his fictional alter-ego George Sherston?

  4. Posted May 15, 2007 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    I only know it in Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, but I think he actually did throw the ribbon away.


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