The Linnet's Wings The Sorrow - Page 82

The Linnet´s Wings By now he’d served at The Somme, seen men mown down, witnessed the carnage on both sides, lost his brother and a best friend to this war. We see him sometimes tread a fine line between prayer and blasphemy in To Any Dead Officer and again in Attack: O Christ when will it stop? O, Jesus make it stop! Siegfried Sassoon was a good soldier – rather reckless in fact. He was decorated for bravery. Yet Sassoon ended up questioning everything he had been brought up to believe in. This was slaughter on the grand scale, sanctioned by church and state, and he could not reconcile it, and it pained him. Being an officer he dared not speak of this. It would have demoralised the men and he cared deeply about the men. He expresses this frustration in the third stanza of Mystic as a Soldier: I walk the secret way With anger in my brain . That anger eventually burst forth when he published his very open protest in The Times newspaper July 1917 which was subsequently read out in parliament. “I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.” “I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong 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 insecurities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.” Sassoon was aware of the consequences of an officer issuing this statement. True, he had been encouraged in this by Bertrand Russell and the Bloomsbury set but he was not a pacifist and he was no coward. At this point he felt he could no longer be silent and for this he might face court martial and pay the ultimate penalty. His friend and fellow poet, Robert Graves intervened to save his skin, persuading the authorities that Sassoon was suffering from shell shock, and so he was sent to Craiglockhart Castle near Edinburgh for ‘treatment’ in the hope that, after a period of reflection, he might be persuaded to retract. He was not suffering from shell shock. However in that place he was surrounded by many men who were. Many suffered from severe speech impediments or mutism due to the condition. These were men who, through extreme trauma, had lost the ability to communicate or voice their distress. They literally had been silenced by horror. Their fears had been rendered wordless. It was ironic that Sassoon faced the stark choice, in this setting, to stand by his statement and take the consequences, or to affirm that he was suffering from a mental condition, censor himself and his protest, and return to active service, seemingly cured. It was made clear to him by psychiatrist Dr Rivers, whom he admired, that neither of these courses would be of benefit to the troops on whose behalf he’d lodged the protest. Either way he 82