Siegfried Sassoon was a leading poet of the First World War, known for his vivid depictions of life in the trenches and his criticism of the conflict. In 1918, he had already gained recognition for his poetry, with his first collection, The Old Huntsman and Other Poems, published in 1917. That year, Sassoon also made headlines for his Soldier’s Declaration, a public protest against the continuation of the war. Throughout his life, he maintained diaries that provide valuable insights into his wartime experiences, personal relationships, and literary career. These diaries also document his encounters with notable figures such as Robert Graves and Wilfred Owen, and his ongoing reflections on the war and its aftermath. He wrote the following diary entry in March of 1918 whilst stationed in Palestine, shortly after returning to duty and four months before being wounded by a shot to the head.
The Diary Entry
March 31 (Easter Sunday)
On the hills all afternoon with the Doctor. Clouds came down and blotted the landscape and we squatted in a vineyard and smoked our pipes by the blaze of a fire of dry olive-branches. In the cloudy weather after rain the clearness of the hills and glens shifted from shadow to gleams of watery light, and the skylines were clean-cut and delicate-edged. The hills looked green and the wet rocks were not so visible as usual—there was a look of Ireland about it.
And when we got home to camp I found a mail and a letter from Dorothea Conyers, the good soul, full of Limerick hunting, and hounds flying over the big green banks and grey walls.
And the news from remote France grows more ominous every day, though no one else seems to worry much.
I read War and Peace of an evening; a grand and consoling book—a huge vista of life and suffering humankind which makes the present troubles easier to endure, and the loneliness of death a little thing.
Our padré rather drunk to-night after all the Communion wine he’d blessed and been obliged to ‘finish up’. Consolations of religion!
Siegfried Sassoon’s diaries and notebooks are held at Cambridge University Library—and, thanks to those incredible archivists, all can be viewed online. There are books, too: in the 1980s his diaries were published in three volumes, now out of print but sometimes purchasable secondhand:
Diary entry dated 31 March 1918 © Siegfried Sassoon. Used by kind permission of the Estate of George Sassoon.