Sassoon manuscript unveiled in exhibition on anti-war protests
A handwritten poem by Siegfried Sassoon is to go on display for the first time as part of an exhibition on anti-war protest, the Imperial War Museums (IWM) have said.
The manuscript of one of Sassoon’s most famous war poems, The General, will be displayed at IWM London as part of the People Power: Fighting For Peace exhibition.
More than 300 exhibits, from paintings to posters, banners and music, stretching from the first world war to the present day, will explore anti-war protest and the creativity used to campaign against conflict, the IWM said.
The General was written in April 1917 from Sassoon’s hospital bed in London, where he was recovering from a shoulder wound inflicted while he was leading a bombing assault.
The manuscript in the exhibition is a later handwritten version dated 7 February 1919, and is angrier than the one published in his second collection, Counter-Attack and Other Poems, in 1918. In this version of the poem, which contrasts the common soldiers with the incompetent military leaders who sent them to their deaths, he changes the last line from “did for them” to “murdered them”.
Sassoon enlisted at the start of the first world war but became increasingly opposed to the conflict following his experiences of trench warfare.
He was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry for bringing back wounded and dying comrades during a raid on enemy trenches in 1916.
After recovering from his wound in 1917, he refused to return to duty. He wrote to his commanding officer, enclosing a statement claiming that “the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it”, which was later read out in parliament.
Rather than court martial a hero, the authorities sent Sassoon to Craiglockhart hospital near Edinburgh. He later returned to the front.
Other items going on display include a handwritten letter by the author AA Milne on struggling to reconcile his pacifism with the rise of Hitler. People Power: Fighting For Peace at IWM London runs from 23 March to 28 August
In the second version of the poem The General, Siegfried Sassoon changes the last line from ‘did for them’ to ‘murdered them’