Siegfried Sassoon & the Great War : the making of a war poet with Dennis Silk

Dennis Silk on one of the great First World War Poets, his friend, Siegfried Sassoon


The Ebenezer is delighted to welcome Dennis Silk CBE, for this illustrated lecture on Siegfried Sassoon, one of the greatest poets of the First World War. Introduced by a mutual friend, the writer Edmund Blunden, Dennis and Sassoon became and stayed fast friends, united by a love of literature and a mutual devotion to cricket. Up until the time of the Sassoon’s death in 1967, Dennis Silk made an extraordinary and unique series of recordings of the poet at his home in Wiltshire. Dennis Silk is the President of the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship. He has a deep and unmatched personal knowledge of the poet.

Siegfried Sassoon was a man of astonishing physical, moral and poetic courage. Enlisting before the declaration of war in 1914, he was known as Mad Jack by his fellow soldiers for his outstanding bravery and was decorated for taking machine gun nests single handed and rescuing fallen comrades under intense fire.

Sassoon was frequently wounded and became utterly convinced of the futility and stupidity of war. He pointed the finger at politicians, priests and the British High Command and lambasted them in an excoriating series of poems published as Counter Attack. And he was not afraid to speak out in prose either, despite the threat of court-marshal. His A Soldier’s Declaration_ : (“I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority....”, sent to The Times by Bertrand Russell, was read out in Parliament where Sassoon was accused of being a traitor.

The sanest man around, he was packed off (after the intervention of his great friend, Robert Graves to the Craiglockhart Asylum in Edinburgh, where he met and hugely influenced the young poet, Wilfred Owen. Their relationship and the themes they dealt with, the language that they used, continue to inspire and challenge contemporary writers like Pat Barker and Sebastian Faulks and resonate powerfully today – the potency of their argument still vividly alive in the face of our present many difficulties.


Dennis Silk CBE

Dennis has had a distinguished career as educator and sportsman. He was born in Eureka USA, the youngest son of a medical missionary. Educated at Christ’s Hospital he went to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge and was awarded blues in cricket, rugby and rugby fives. He played first class cricket for Somerset and toured with the MCC, serving as captain in New Zealand and Canada. He was President of the MCC and Chairman of the Test & County Cricket Board.

He has also been a Trustee of the Imperial War Museum and of the Bovington Tank Museum. He taught at Marlborough College and in 1968 became Warden (headmaster) of Radley College. In 1991 he retired with his family to Stoke St Gregory Somerset.

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'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 by his plan of attack.

2012Martin Keeley