A sketch by Siegfried Sassoon. (Photo Courtesy: Cambridge Digital Library)
Drawings, poetry and prose from the trenches narrating some of the most graphic and gruesome events of World War I by a British soldier have been put online by the University of Cambridge amidst events to mark 100 years of the global war.
Siegfried Sassoon, who fought in France with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was born on September 8, 1886 in Kent. His father was part of a Jewish merchant family, originally from Iran and India, and his mother was part of the artistic Thorneycroft family.
Sassoon was known for acts of bravery on the field, but later grew disillusioned with the conflict. He wrote eyewitness accounts from the field in his diaries, including drawings, some of whom still bear traces of mud from the Somme.
Cambridge University Library has digitised 23 of Sassoon’s journals and two of his wartime poetry notebooks. They are now available at the Cambridge Digital Library (http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/).
Until now, much of the archive has remained beyond the reach of both researchers and the public because of the documents’ poor physical condition. The digitisation of the Sassoon material includes draft copies of his ‘Soldier’s Declaration’ as well as poetry, prose and sketches.
Cambridge University Librarian Anne Jarvis said: “From his ‘Soldier’s Declaration’ to his eyewitness accounts of the first day of the battle on the Somme, the Sassoon archive is a collection of towering importance, not just to historians, but to anyone seeking to understand the horror, bravery and futility of the First World War as experienced by those on the front lines and in the trenches.” Sassoon wrote in a small and legible hand, frequently using his notebooks from both ends. The images of them are both powerful and evocative, showing mud from the trenches and spilled wax, presumably as he sat writing in his dug-out by candlelight.
The journals give a fascinating insight into daily life in the trenches, and are considered much more than a simple diary record.