Siegfried Sassoon: Facts About the English Poet

Here are some facts about Siegfried Sassoon.

  • Siegfried Sassoon was born on 8th September 1886 in Matfield, Kent.
  • He went to school at The New Beacon Prepartory School (in Sevenoaks) and Marlborough College (he was a member of Cotton House). He went on to read History at Clare College, Cambridge.

  • Siegfried Sassoon had enough money to live on without having to earn a wage, and he left Cambridge without a degree. He spent his time writing poetry, hunting and playing cricket. He sometimes played cricket with Arthur Conan Doyle (the author of the Sherlock Holmes books).
  • Siegfried Sassoon joined the British Army as soon as it looked like World War 1 was imminent. He was attached to the Sussex Yeomanry, but broke his arm in a riding accident before he could leave England.

Siegfried Sassoon

  • After he recovered, Siegfried was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the 3rd Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and in November 1915 he was sent to France.
  • He met Robert Graves, a fellow poet, and they became good friends. Robert Graves had a massive influence on Siegfried Sassoon’s poetry. Sassoon’s war poetry reveals the ugly truths of trench warfare. This realism was in stark contrast to the Romantic poems he penned as a youth.
  • Siegfried Sassoon was an incredibly brave and effective soldier. He was nicknamed ‘Mad Jack’ by his men for his courage under fire.
  • On 27th July 1916 he received the Military Cross for gallantry.
  • In 1917, following the death of one his friends, David Cuthbert Thomas, Siegfried Sassoon refused to return to duty from convalescent leave.
  • He sent a letter (entitled Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration) to his commanding officer, the press and Parliament.
  • He was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital, Edinburgh, to be treated for shell shock.
  • At Craiglockhart, Siegfried Sassoon met Wilfred Owen, a fellow war poet. They formed a close relationship and Sassoon was instrumental in Wilfred Owen’s development as a poet.
  • Siegfried Sassoon returned to the front line in 1918, but was shot in the head by a British soldier who thought he was a German.
  • He returned to Britain to recover from his wound, and left the army in 1919.
  • In 1928 Siegfried Sassoon published a fictionalised autobiography called Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man. He followed this with Memoirs of an Infantry Man and Sherston’s Progress.
  • Siegfried Sassoon died on 1st Spetmeber 1967 at the age of 80. He is buried at St Andrew’s Church, Mells (Somerset).
  • In 1985, along with Wilfred Owen and other World War 1 poets, he was commemorated in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey.

Wilfred Owen: Facts About the World War 1 Poet

Here are some facts about Wilfred Owen.

  • Wilfred Owen was born on 18th March 1893 in Oswestry in Shropshire, England.
  • He went to school at the Birkenhead Institute and Shrewsbury Technical School.

  • As a child, his family moved around quite a lot. He lived in Shrewsbury and in several different homes in and around Tranmere.
  • He was a pupil-teacher at Wyle Cop School in Shrewsbury.
  • He wanted to attend the University of London, but he didn’t do well enough in the matriculation exam to earn a full scholarship. As a result, he couldn’t afford the fees and had to look at other options.
  • Wilfred Owen became an assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden, and he took some classes (in botany and Old English) at the University of Reading.
  • He moved to Bordeaux in France in 1913 and he worked as a tutor at the Berlitz School of Languages.
  • In France he met the poet, Laurent Tailhade.
  • Wilfred Owen enlisted on 21st October 1915, joining the Artists’ Rifles Officers’ Training Corp.
  • After seven months of training at Hare Hall Camp in Essex, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment.
  • Wilfred Owen left for the western front in France in January 1917.

Wilfred Owen

  • He experienced heavy fighting. On one occasion he was knocked unconscious when he fell into a shell hole, and he was once blown into the air by a trench mortar.
  • Wilfred Owen was diagnosed with shell shock and he was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh.
  • In hospital, Wilfred Owen met the poet Siegfried Sassoon. They became good friends and Sassoon, already an established poet, helped Owen to improve his poetry by drawing on his experience of life on the western front.
  •  In March 1918, Owen was posted to the Northern Command at Ripon. He continued to work on his poems and he celebrated his 25th birthday in Ripon.
  • In August 1918, Wilfred Owen returned to the front line in France. He was killed in combat on 4th November 1918 on the banks of the Sambre Canal. World War 1 would be over one week later.
  • He was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery in an attack on enemy near the village of Joncourt.
  •  Only five of Wilfred Owen’s poems were published before he died.
  • His most well-known poems include: Strange Meeting, Anthem for Doomed Youth, Futility, The Parable of the Old Man and the Young, and Dulce Et Decorum Est.
  • Throughout his short life, Wilfred Owen’s poetry underwent a transformation. His earliest poems were heavily influenced by the Romantic poets John Keats and Shelley. His later work, influenced by Siegfried Sassoon, combines these Romantic elements with a gritty realism drawn from his own experiences of World War 1. His poems reveal the true horrors of the life in the trenches of World War 1.
  • Wilfred Owen is buried in Ors Communal Cemetery.
  • In Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, Wilfred Owen is commemorated along with fifteen other World War 1 poets.
  • Wilfred Owen appears in Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy.

Facts About the Cenotaph

Here are some facts about the Centotaph.

  • The Cenotaph is a war memorial on Whitehall, in central London. It is a few minutes walk from many of London’s most famous sights including 10 Downing Street, Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament.

  • It was built after the end of World War I as a temporary memorial to those who died. The name comes from the Greek word for empty tomb or empty burial place.
  • The original cenotaph was made from wood and plaster and was designed to be temporary. However, the public left so many flowers at its base, the decision was made to make it a permanent memorial.
  • It was designed by the architect Edwin Lutyens, and built from Portland stone. The height is 11 metres and the carved wreaths at either end are 1.5 metres in diameter.
  • There are three carved stone wreaths on the Cenotaph, as well as two inscriptions reading ‘The Glorious Dead’. The dates of the First World War are inscribed in Roman numerals.

The Cenotaph

  • There are actually no right angles on the structure, although its sides appear to be perpendicular to the floor. In actual fact, the verticals would meet about 300 metres in the air, to symbolize the space between Earth and Heaven.
  • The Cenotaph and Whitehall were the scenes of celebrations in May, 1945 when World War II ended. The dates of the Second World War were added to the monument.
  • Routine maintenance and cleaning of the Cenotaph takes place every year. Major renovations took place in 2013, in time for the November Remembrance Day celebrations.
  • The national service of remembrance is held annually at the Cenotaph, every November on the Sunday closest to the 11th. King George V suggested the ceremony, which was first held in 1919.
  • An exact copy of the Cenotaph was built in London, Ontario, Canada in 1934. There are also Cenotaphs in Manchester, Hong Kong, Auckland, Southampton and Toronto.

World War I: Life in the Trenches

Here are some facts about life in the World War 1 trenches.

  • Trench warfare featured prominently in World War I. It was a method of fighting in which opposing armies dug trenches for protection and defence.
  • During World War I, there were an estimated 2,490 km of trenches throughout western Europe. Most trenches were about 3 metres deep and between 1 and 2 metres wide.

  • Life in the trenches was extremely hard, as well as dangerous. Most soldiers spent between a day and 2 weeks in a trench on the front line before being relieved.
  • Sanitary conditions in the trenches were poor and many soldiers suffered from gangrene and cholera. Often, dead bodies were simply left out in the open rather than buried.

World War 1 trenches

  • Trenches could quickly flood during heavy rain and one of the duties of the men was to drain water with a pump. Other duties included refilling sandbags and repairing the wooden flooring.
  • Rats, which could grow as large as cats, were a problem in the trenches. Frogs, spiders and lice were also pests that the soldiers had to battle daily.
  • One of the worst things about life in the trenches was the horrible smell. Many men did not bathe for weeks, and the trenches also smelled of rotting sandbags, cigarette smoke and poison gas.
  • It was difficult to sleep properly in the trenches because of the noise and uncomfortable surroundings. As a result, because men were tired and constantly in danger of falling asleep while on watch, the watch was kept to 2 hours.
  • The first trenches were primitive and were simply deep holes dug in the ground. Later trenches were more sophisticated and often had sleeping quarters, toilets and showers, and cooking facilities.
  • There were several cease fires or truces during World War I. Towards Christmas in 1914, the British and German soldiers came out of their trenches, stopped fighting, and even sung carols and exchanged gifts. This became known as the Christmas Truce.

What next? Find out more facts about World War 1 by visiting our resources page.

Battle of the Somme: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about the Battle of the Somme (World War 1).

  • The Battle of the Somme was one of the largest and most well-known battles of World War I. It lasted from 1st July to 18th November 1916 on the banks of the Somme River, in France.

  • It was also one of the bloodiest battles of the war, or of any war before or since. An estimated 1,000,000 men were killed or wounded, including about 485,000 British and French troops.
  • The intent of the British was to attack and take control of a 24 km stretch of the River Somme. Most historians today agree that the plan was not well thought out.
  • Before the battle started, the British fired over 1,700,000 shells at the German soldiers, although many did not explode, or missed the targets completely. The German soldiers also sheltered underground.

The Battle of the Somme

  • Almost 60,000 British soldiers were killed, wounded or taken prisoner on the first day of fighting. The Germans killed many officers, having been trained to recognize how they dressed.
  • Trench warfare was common during this time. The conditions in the trenches were cramped and uncomfortable and the drinking water was sometimes collected from holes made by enemy shells.
  • The Battle of the Somme saw several different weapons being used, including mines, poisonous gas and machine guns. Some larger machine guns needed 12 men to operate them.
  • Tanks were first used during the Battle of the Somme. The first tank, known as Little Willie, was not able to drive across the trenches and could only reach speeds of about 3 km per hour.
  • When the battle had ended in mid-November, the British and French soldiers had only advanced about 8km. The battle ended partly because heavy rains made fighting too difficult.
  • Today there are dozens of cemeteries and memorials in the area around the Somme, including a memorial to all the pipers who died. Farmers still dig up pieces of barbed wire, which they call the iron harvest.

Edith Cavell: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Edith Cavell.

  • Edith Cavell was born on 4th December 1865 in Swardeston, Norfolk.
  • She trained as a nurse and was made matron at a nursing school in Brussels.

  • In 1910 she founded the Belgium nursing journal L’infimiere.
  • Edith Cavell was visiting her family in Norfolk when World War 1 started. She returned to Brussels and discovered that the Red Cross was using her hospital.
  • By November 1914, German forces had occupied Belgium. Along with several others, Edith Cavell helped British and French soldiers, and French and Belgians of military age flee German-occupied Brussels.

Edith Cavell

  • She was arrested by the German military police on 3rd August 1915. She was found guilty of helping Allied soldiers escape to Britain, a country at war with Germany, and she was sentenced to death by firing squad.
  • On the night before her death, Edith Cavell said to the Reverend Stirling Gahan: Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.
  • On 12th October 1915 at 7:00 am Edith Cavell was executed by a German firing squad.
  • She was buried next to St Giles Prison in Brussels. When World War 1 was over, her body was taken to Westminster Abbey for a memorial service, and then to Life’s Green in the grounds of Norwich Cathedral, her final resting place.
  • Memorials to Edith Cavell can be found all over the world, in countries such as: England, France, Australia, Belgium and the United States.
  • In 1940, Adolf Hitler ordered the Edith Cavell memorial in Paris to be destroyed.
  • Many schools, streets and medical buildings have been named after Edith Cavell.

What next? Discover more facts about World War 1.

World War 1: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about World War 1

  • World War 1 began on July 28, 1914 and lasted until November 11, 1918. Differences in foreign policies were to blame, although the immediate cause was the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand. (Follow this link to learn more about how World War 1 started)

  • The two main sides were the Allies, which included France, Great Britain and Russia; and Germany and Austria-Hungary. In total, 30 countries were involved in the conflict. Italy, once part of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, fought on the side of the Allies.
  • King George V (Great Britain), Kaiser Wilhelm II (Germany) and Tsar Nicholas II (Russia) were cousins, and grandchildren of Queen Victoria.
  • Soldiers fought largely in trenches during the war, and thousands suffered from stress, known as shell-shock.  The British and French trenches were often squalid, whereas the German trenches were almost luxurious in comparison, with bunks and decent cooking facilities. (Click here to learn more about life in the trenches)
  • By the end of WW1, over 9 million soldiers had been killed, and another 21 million wounded. Over a million soldiers were killed in the infamous Battle of the Somme alone, including about 30,000 in just one day.
  • Around 11 percent of the population of France was killed or wounded during the war. About 116,000 Americans were killed, even though the US was only in the war for about 7 months.

World War 1

  • During World War 1, dogs were used to carry messages in capsules attached to their body. Dogs also carried and placed telegraph wires in important areas.
  • Pigeons were also used during the war. About 500,000 pigeons were regularly dropped into enemy lines by parachute, and then sent back with messages.
  • On Christmas Eve, 1914, both sides declared an unofficial truce and sang Christmas carols to each other. Football matches were played in no-man’s land (the area between the German and British) trenches, and German and British soldiers exchanged food and souvenirs. The ceasefire was known as the Christmas Truce. The following Christmas, sentries on both sides had orders to shoot any soldier who did this.
  • Cannons and artillery were often extremely loud. In 1917, the explosives used to destroy a bridge in France could be be heard over 130 miles away in London.
  • Many new weapons were invented or first used during World War 1. Big Bertha was one of the most famous; it was a 48 ton gun capable of firing a shell over 9 miles. It took 200 men several hours to assemble the gun.
  • Tanks were so called because of early attempts to disguise them as water tanks. They were also known as male and female tanks; male tanks had cannons and female tanks had machine guns.

What next? Discover more facts about World War 1, or check out these World War 1 resources and factfiles.

Remembrance Day: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Remembrance Day (also known as Armistice Day or Poppy Day).

What is Remembrance Day?

Remembrance Day is a memorial day which take place every year so that countries in the Commonwealth can remember members of the armed forces who have lost their lives serving their country.

When is Remembrance Day?

Remembrance Day is always 11th November (11/11). It was on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, that combat in World War 1 came to an end in 1918.

Remembrance Day has been observed since 1919.

Why do we wear poppies on Remembrance Day?

The poppy was one of the first flowers to bloom on the battlefields of Flanders during World War 1. Their bright red colour symbolised the blood shed during the horrific conflict, but also the hope of new life, and the poppy became the symbol of Remembrance Day.

The Remembrance Poppy has been used as a symbol since 1920. Today, poppies are worn on clothing in the days leading up to Remembrance Day, and poppy wreaths are placed on war memorials. This is why Remembrance Day is often known as Poppy Day.

In the UK, poppies can be bought from The Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal. The money raised goes to help veterans of the armed services.

Poppy Appeal

What is Remembrance Sunday?

Remembrance Sunday is always the second Sunday in November, the Sunday closest to Remembrance Day (Armistice Day). Many ceremonies are held across the UK to remember those who gave their lives during World War 1, World War 2 and later conflicts.

The National Service of Remembrance takes place on Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph (war memorial) at Whitehall, London. The Queen lays a wreath and other tributes are also placed. The event is televised.

A two minute silence is traditionally held at 11 o’clock on both Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday.

Why do we have Remembrance Day?

Remembrance Day is an opportunity to pay respect and honour to those who lost their lives serving their country. It also gives the public a chance to remember family and friends who lost their lives fighting in wars. Finally, it gives people a chance to consider the cost of war.

Why do some people wear white poppies or purple poppies?

White poppies are worn by pacifists (those people who oppose all conflict and war) as a way of promoting peace. Purple poppies are produced by a charity called Animal Aid and remind people that animals also lose their lives during wars.

What next? Learn more about the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red poppy installation at the Tower of London.