As everyone is commemorating the start of World War One (“The Great War”, “The war to end all wars”) today, I thought I’d do my bit. The famous war poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote a poem “Atrocities”, one of the many he wrote concerning the first world war. When it was published in 1919, it was censored to hide any anti-war sentiment it might contain. It was republished in uncensored format in July 2014. You can hear actor Samuel West reading it here. And here’s the text.
You bragged how once in savage mood
Your men butchered some Saxon prisoners; that was good.
I trust you felt no pity as they stood
Patient and cowed and scared as prisoners should.
How did you kill them? speak now, don’t be shy,
You know I love to hear how Germans die
Downstairs in dug-outs, ‘Camerad!” they cry;
And squeal like stoats when bombs begin to fly.
I’m proud of you; perhaps you’ll feel as brave
Alone in no-man’s land when no one can shield you from the horror of the night.
There’s blood upon your hands
Now go out and fight.
I hope those Huns will haunt you with their screams
And make you gulp their blood in ghoulish dreams.
You’re great at murder; tell me, can you fight?