1916 | Somme


Going over the top.

At dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun
In the wild purple of the glow’ring sun,
Smoldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud
The menacing scarred slope; and, one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.
The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed
With bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear,
Men jostle and climb to meet the bristling fire.
Lines of gray, muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!


Siegfried Sassoon

From Counter-Attack. Poet and novelist Sassoon’s near-suicidal heroism on the Western Front inspired his fellow soldiers to award him the nickname Mad Jack. In 1917, while recovering from being wounded by a sniper, Sassoon published a declaration against the war, prompting higher-ranking military authorities to place him in Craiglockhart War Hospital, where he befriended poet Wilfred Owen and wrote “Attack,” likely about the First Battle of the Somme. Owen died the following year; Sassoon died in 1967, at the age of eighty.