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How The First World War Shaped The Poetry Of Siegfried Sassoon

Born in 1886, Siegfried Sassoon studied history and law at Cambridge before enlisting in the ranks of the Sussex Yeomanry in August 1914. A poet of little note before the war, he became one of the best-known - and most controversial - poets and novelists to emerge from the First World War as a result of his increasingly anti-war stance.

Following his enlistment, in 1915 Sassoon was commissioned into the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Serving as a subaltern on the Western Front, he gained a formidable reputation. He was awarded the Military Cross in June 1916 and earned the nickname 'Mad Jack' for his daring exploits in action.

In April 1917 Sassoon was wounded and evacuated back to Britain. During his convalescence, his discontent with the course of the war became more pronounced. In July he issued a public declaration of his belief that the war was being deliberately prolonged by those who had the power to end it. Narrowly avoiding a military court martial through the intervention of his friend Robert Graves, the authorities decided that Sassoon's behaviour was a direct result of neurasthenia ('shell shock'). He was ordered to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, where he was placed under the psychiatric treatment of Dr William Rivers.

Sassoon released his collection of anti-war poems Counter-Attack to much critical and popular acclaim in 1918. Returning to active service, he continued to attack military complacency through his poetry. After the war, Sassoon found further success through his autobiographical writings. These helped shape the popular British view, still prevalent today, that the war was a senseless waste of life.