Sportsman to Soldier

Parliamentary Recruiting Committee poster

Poster issued by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, c. 1915. Recruitment 5.

Thank goodness I am with our best battalion—the one that gets wiped out every few months.

Letter to Edward Dent, November 1915

If Sassoon’s life lacked clear objectives before 1914, a sense of purpose was forcibly imposed by the First World War. Sassoon enlisted as a trooper in the Sussex Yeomanry on 4 August, but later took a commission in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, an infantry regiment. Gazetted as a Second Lieutenant in May 1915, he attended the Officers’ School of Instruction in Cambridge, forming a loving friendship there with a fellow-officer, David Thomas.

Sassoon and Thomas reached the Western Front in November 1915. Sassoon was an ambitious soldier and brought the physical courage of steeple-chasing to the battlefield, finding excursions into no-man’s-land ‘exhilarating—just like starting for a race’, and being determined to ‘get a good name in the Battalion, for the sake of poetry & poets, whom I represent.’ Thomas’s death in March 1916 spurred Sassoon’s aggression: ‘since they shot Tommie I would gladly stick a bayonet into a German’. Nicknamed ‘Mad Jack’, he was awarded the Military Cross in June 1916.

A drawing from Sassoon’s diary in the summer of 1916

A drawing from Sassoon’s diary in the summer of 1916. From MS Add. 9852

Section from a letter from Sassoon to his mother

Section from a letter from Sassoon to his mother, 8 January 1916. MS Add. 9724/3/4.

Sassoon's journal entry

Sassoon's journal entry covering the raid of 25/26 May 1916. From MS Add. 9852.

Sassoon’s trench journal

A copy made in Sassoon’s trench journal of the Army’s official report of the raid of 25/26 May 1916. From MS Add. 9852.