The Man Who Shot Siegfried Sassoon’. It is an historical novel set in the trenches of the Great War; but it is far from being a conventional war story. Indeed everything about Sassoon was larger than life. Among other things he was one of the greatest poets to come out of the Great War. He was a comrade of Robert Graves and the man who ‘discovered’ that other Great War poet, Wilfred Owen. Sassoon was known throughout the western front as ‘Mad Jack’ and as well as being awarded the newly created Military cross he is thought to have been nominated for a Victoria Cross.
Yet Sassoon caused one of the greatest upsets and mysteries of the Great War. Out of the blue he made a notorious “protest” against the way the war was being conducted and urged British troops to lay down their arms. This caused uproar in parliament but Sassoon had sufficient friends in high places to avoid being court-martialed. Instead he was simply classified as ‘shell shocked’ and sent to Craiglockhart, a military hospital in Scotland.
That’s when the dramatic repercussions set in without Sassoon being aware of what was happening. It also brought to a climax a romance he was having with Lady Ottoline Morrell, one of the leading pacifists of that time and the mistress of Bertrand Russell. But it was the men in his old platoon that suffered the most and one of them had good cause to seek revenge by shooting Sassoon.
Until now, all this has remained a mystery. Was the shooting of Sassoon and act of a patriotic soldier against a traitorous officer, or was it something personal? Either way, was it justified? And what was Sassoon’s attitude to the danger he knew he faced?
John Hollands sticks as far as possible to known facts but he also draws on new material about Sassoon’s military service. His novel opens with an unexpected meeting he had in 1961 with disabled veterans of Sassoon’s old company who knew exactly what had happened.
So where did it all end? All is revealed in ‘The Man Who Shot Siegfried Sassoon