Sassoons lost medal found on Scottish island after 90 years


From The Scotsman:
WALKING near the Merseyside village of Formby in 1917, Siegfried Sassoon's rising frustration with the staggering loss of life in the First World War saw him shake his clenched fists at the sky.

"Feeling no better for that," the war hero and anti-war poet wrote in his Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, "I ripped the MC ribbon off my tunic and threw it into the mouth of the Mersey."

Sassoon won his Military Cross in 1916, for bringing wounded and dying soldiers to safety under 90 minutes of heavy fire after a raid on a German trench.

The torn feelings that saw him toss away the coveted decoration marked the change from the soldier nicknamed "Mad Jack" to the passionate critic of a conflict that claimed his brother and several close friends.

For decades, Sassoon's family and many others assumed it was the full MC medal he tossed in the Mersey.

But the medal has now emerged - from an attic chest in a family property on Mull where Sassoon's wife Hester lived. Rediscovered last summer, it will be auctioned at Christie's next month, and may fetch between £15,000 and £25,000.

"I had no idea it even existed. Like most people, I thought it had been thrown into the Mersey," said Robert Pulvertaft, 45, whose stepfather, George, was Sassoon's only son.

"I found it while clearing out the attic of the family property on Mull. Bizarrely, it was in a treasure chest, covered in cobwebs and long-dead insects. The ID tag was there too, along with the revolver in an old Jiffy bag and some poetry medals."

The revolver has been donated to the Imperial War Museum.

Soldiers in uniform would typically wear a small strip of ribbon, not the full MC. Sassoon actually wrote of his dramatic act: "Weighted with significance though this action was, it would have felt more conclusive had the ribbons been heavier. As it was, the poor little thing fell weakly on the water and floated away as though aware of its own futility."

The Mull home was one of two family estates. Sassoon died at the other, in England, in 1967, aged 80.

In 1917, Sassoon famously befriended his fellow war poet Wilfred Owen at the Craiglockhart military hospital in Edinburgh. He was sent there, ostensibly for shellshock, after he wrote A Soldier's Declaration, denouncing "political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed".

The Victorian building is now part of Napier University, which maintains the War Poets Collection.

"I'm delighted it's been found," said Catherine Walker, library manager at Napier. "We would love to have the medal to display. Even if it is bought by someone else, we'd love them to consider lending it."

Thomas Venning, a director of the book and manuscript department at Christie's auctioneers, said: "The fact it has turned up is a potent reminder of the interest in Sassoon, a brave soldier, one of the most prominent anti-war figures and also a poet.

"It's very closely connected to his Craiglockhart phase, when he stopped being a shell-shocked soldier and started being a protest figure. It's unique."

Sassoon is best known for his book Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, chronicling his journey as a young man from English country life to the horrors of war. He was in France as a second-lieutenant when he won the MC in May 1916.

In another exploit, he was so upset at witnessing a friend shot dead that he single-handedly charged and captured a German trench, then flopped down and read from a poetry book.

IN 1915, after his beloved brother Hamo was killed at Gallipoli, Siegfried Sassoon joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers in France, where he met fellow poet Robert Graves. They became friends and often discussed their work.

Two years later, as Sassoon spoke out publicly against the war, Graves helped have him treated for shellshock rather than face court martial.

The large Victorian building at Craiglockhart in Edinburgh was requisitioned as a military hospital for the treatment of shell-shocked officers. Graves, the future author of Goodbye to All That, was meant to escort Sassoon on the trip north, but missed the train.

Wilfred Owen arrived at Craiglockhart a month earlier, in June. In awe of Sassoon, a published poet, he asked him to sign several copies of The Old Huntsman.

They began to work together, with Owen composing his powerful poems Dulce et Decorum Est, and Anthem for Doomed Youth, while Sassoon was working on many of the poems that would appear in Counter-Attack.

After Sassoon returned to the front and was wounded, Owen saw it as his duty to take his place. He was killed a week before the war ended in November 1918.
A man much misunderstood, since his re-discovery in the anti-'Nam 60s.

He knew we had to defeat the Hun - everybody did. He believed we could do it. He began his protest poetry in 1917, when the whole of the BEF was chronically fatigued - he perhaps more than most, given the way he earned his nickname - and frustrated at the lack of progress on the Western Front, but determined to see it through (if you read enough first hand accounts, you will detect all these sentiments very clearly).

He chose - as an impetuous and articulate young man - to accuse the Generals of being "incompetent swine". I'm not sure how much attention he received then, in comparison to in the latter half of the 20thC.

The 100,000 who turned out to see off Earl Haig in 1927 suggest that many of his contemporaries held a quite different view.

Sadly, only 'the Sassoon protest poetry perspective' is allowed to pervade the school sylabus, and the almighty achievements of Haig's Army between march 1918 and the Armistice are more or less forgotten. :(
Indeed Stonker, indeed. Richard Holmes of blessed regard has stated that the "butchery" of the Somme Battles was a critical factor in the Allies eventual victory in 1918. Sassoon recovered some of his military ardour after his PTSD-induced "wobble" but obviously had learned from his experience that there were old subbies and bold subbies in an inf bn - but no old bold subbies.

As to the "many others" assuming Sassoon had flung his medal into the MC, he states quite clearly in every recounting of the incident that it was the ribbon only. (see p.230-231 Memoirs of an Infantry Officer for example)
Shame the chap didn't donate everything to the IWM rather than just the revolver. Let's hope they can buy it.
Cuddles said:
As to the "many others" assuming Sassoon had flung his medal into the MC, he states quite clearly in every recounting of the incident that it was the ribbon only. (see p.230-231 Memoirs of an Infantry Officer for example)
'Tis the same phenomenon as the 'forgotten vicotry' of 1918, but written in smaller font.

Why bother with the evidence, when there's a perfectly inaccurate myth to cling on to. :D

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