Several years following the end of the First World War memoirs began to be published. Most were penned by writers who had fought in the war, others written by journalists and nurses. Three of the best memoirs were written by Edmund Blunden, Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon. Excerpts are available on line and hard copies can be obtained through library services.
Blunden, Edmund. Undertones of War (London: R. Cobden-Sanderson, 1928).
Graves, Robert. Good-bye to All That: An Autobiography (London: J. Cape, 1929). New edition published by Berghahn Books, 1995 includes a biographical essay and annotations.
Sassoon, Siegfried. Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1930).
The Importance of Relationships
As many of the poems in this module show, war can be a lonely and most predictably a life changing experience. Several writers found encouragement from one another. For example, the friendship of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, while the two were patients at Craiglockhart, was important to the literary development of the two. Both wrote for the hospital’s literary journal, The Hydra. Issues of the journal can be obtained through the web site: www.lib.byu.edu/~english/WWI/index.html.
Stephen MacDonald’s play Not about Heroes (London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1983) depicts the friendship between the two men. A more recent book, Regeneration by Pat Barker (New York: Plume, 1993) centers around the doctor-patient relationship between Siegfried Sassoon and his psychologist, W.H.R. Rivers.
Helen Thomas wrote a two-volume autobiography about her life with her husband, poet Edward Thomas. Thomas was killed in 1917 at the Battle of Arras. As it Was (London: W. Heinemann, 1926) and World Without End (London: Heinemann, 1931) addresses her husband’s struggle to become a poet.
The Death of a Son
One of England’s most famous writers, Rudyard Kipling, was convinced that the First World War would be short-lived. His belief was so strong that he urged his teenage son, John, to join the military. John was wounded in 1915 and two years later after being reported missing, was declared dead. In honor of his son Kipling wrote a history of The Irish Guards in the Great War (London: Macmillan and Company, Limited, 1923) and a short story, “The Gardner,” a moving tale about those who are left to mourn the dead. Another work, My Boy Jack by David Haig (London: Nick Hern Books, 1997) tells the story of John Kipling.