Imperial War Museum reveals new acquisition for 125th anniversary of Siegfried Sassoon's birth

By Culture24 Reporter | 08 September 2011
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a photo of a handwritten manuscript signed by Siegfried Sassoon
© IWM
The Imperial War Museum is today marking the 125th anniversary of the birth of one of the most famous First World War poets, Siegfried Sassoon, by unveiling its latest acquisition.

The autographed manuscript of Sassoon’s famous anti-war poem, The General, was recently bought at auction for £4,500 and has been added to the museum’s First World War collections.

Handwritten in black ink on a single piece of paper, the document is dated February 7 1919 and was copied by Sassoon very shortly after its publication in Counter-Attack and Other Poems in 1918.

The poem was originally penned during his convalescence in 1917 and, like many of his works, offers a succinct critique of the conduct of the war and the role played by generals in the slaughter of the Western Front.

“Good-morning; good-morning!” the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ‘em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
“He’s a cheery old card,” grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
But he did for them both his plan of attack.

A sepia portrait photo of Siegfried Sassoon in military uniform
Siegfried Sassoon in the uniform of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.© The Harry Ransom Center / The Siegfried Sassoon Literary Estate
The IWM’s manuscript reveals a slightly different version from the published poem, incorporating alternative wording (‘them’ instead of ‘em’ in line 3) and the final line beginning ‘But he did murdered them’). It is thought Sassoon wrote it from memory and presented it to a friend.

Anthony Richards, Head of Documents and Sound at the Imperial War Museum, hailed the acquisition as a "unique manuscript".

“We are thrilled to add it to the Imperial War Museum’s collections, allowing it to be accessed by the public for generations to come.

“The General’ is not only one of Siegfried Sassoon’s most significant poems, but it is commonly remembered as one of the most famous written works to originate from the First World War."

It joins the original manuscript and typescript drafts of Sassoon's autobiographical novel Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and a series of letters written during his service in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers from fellow soldiers and contemporaries who appear under fictionalised names in the Memoirs.

There are now plans to display the manuscript in the museum's new World War One galleries which will open in 2014 to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

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