A Poem for Armistice Day
Jason’s post on what is properly called Armistice Day, and the end of the myth of the nobility of war make this pertinent.
Suicide in the Trenches
by Siegfried Sassoon
- I knew a simple soldier boy
- Who grinned at life in empty joy,
- Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
- And whistled early with the lark.
- In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
- With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
- He put a bullet through his brain.
- No one spoke of him again.
- You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
- Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
- Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
- The hell where youth and laughter go.
Sassoon served as a commissioned officer with the Royal Welch Fusilliers during the Great War alongside fellow poet Robert Graves. Amongst his wartime achievements was the single-handed capture of a German trench on the Hindenburg line, for which he was awarded the Military Cross. Sassoon became a pacifist, and upon the conclusion of his convalescence in the summer of 1917, he refused to return to war, penning a widely-published open letter, entitled “Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration,” to his commanding officer. The letter concluded:
“I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops and I can no longer be a party to prolonging these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust.
I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.
On behalf of those who are suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practised upon them; also I believe it may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share and which they have not enough imagination to realise.”