History Podcasts

Siegfried Sassoon

Siegfried Sassoon



We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Siegfried Sassoon, the second of the three sons of Alfred Ezra Sassoon (1861–1895) and his wife, Georgiana Thornycroft Sassoon (1853–1947), daughter of Thomas Thornycroft was born on 8th September 1886 at Weirleigh, near Brenchley in Kent.

Alfred Sassoon was a wealthy Jewish businessman but he died of tuberculosis when Siegfried was a child and he and his brothers were brought up by their mother and her talented family (both her parents were artists). Siegfried later recalled he had a lonely childhood: "As a consequence of my loneliness, I created in my childish day-dreams an ideal companion who became much more of a reality than such unfriendly boys as I encountered at Christmas parties".

Sassoon was educated at Marlborough College and Clare College. It was while he was at Cambridge University that he realised he was an homosexual and had a serious sexual relationship with a fellow student, David Cuthbert Thomas. He left without a degree and for the next eight years lived the life of a country gentleman. He spent his time hunting, playing sports and writing poetry. Published privately, Sassoon's poetry made very little impact on the critics or the book buying public.

On the outbreak of the First World War Sassoon enlisted as a cavalry trooper in the Sussex Yeomanry. In May 1915 Sassoon became an officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, and was posted to the Western Front in France. While in France he met the poet, Robert Graves, and the two men became close friends. In November 1915 Sassoon's younger brother Hamo Sassoon was killed in the Gallipoli Campaign. Four months later, his former boyfriend, David Cuthbert Thomas, was killed in France. These deaths inspired such poems as The Last Meeting and A Letter Home.

Considered to be recklessly brave, Siegfried Sassoon acquired the nickname "Mad Jack". In June 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross for bringing a wounded lance-corporal back to the British lines while under heavy fire. Later he was unsuccessfully recommended for the VC for capturing a German trench single-handedly. After being wounded in April 1917, Sassoon was sent back to England.

Sassoon had grown increasingly angry about the tactics being employed by the British Army and after a meeting with Bertrand Russell, John Murry Middleton and H. W. Massingham, he wrote Finished With War: A Soldier's Declaration, which announced that "I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that the war upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them and that had this been done the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation."

In July 1917 Sassoon arranged for a sympathetic Labour Party MP to read out the statement in the House of Commons. It was also published by Sylvia Pankhurst in her newspaper, The Woman's Dreadnought. Instead of the expected court martial, the under-secretary for war declared "A breach of discipline has been committed but no disciplinary action has been taken, since Second Lieutenant Sassoon has been reported by the medical board as not being responsible for his action, as he was suffering from nervous breakdown." Sassoon was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital, near Edinburgh. During his three months there he made two important friendships: the psychologist and anthropologist W. H. R. Rivers, and the young poet Wilfred Owen, whom he encouraged and helped, and worked with on the hospital's literary journal, The Hydra.

Sassoon suggested that Owen should write in a more direct, colloquial style. Over the next few months Owen wrote a series of poems, including Anthem for Doomed Youth, Disabled and Dulce et Decorum Est. Until he met Sassoon his few war poems had been patriotic and heroic. Under the influence of Sassoon his thoughts and style changed dramatically. During this time he wrote: "All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful". Jon Stallworthy has pointed out: "The older poet's advice and encouragement, showing the younger how to channel memories of battle - recurring in obsessive nightmares which were a symptom of shell-shock - into a poem such as Dulce et decorum est, complemented Dr Brock's ‘work-cure’. The final manuscript of Anthem for Doomed Youth carries suggestions (including that of the title) in Sassoon's handwriting. Owen's confidence grew, his health returned, and in October a medical board decided that he was fit for light duties."

Sassoon's hostility to war was also reflected in his poetry. During the First World War Sassoon developed a harshly satirical style that he used to attack the incompetence and inhumanity of senior military officers. These poems caused great controversy when they were published in The Old Huntsman (1917) and Counter-Attack (1918). Edgell Rickword, was one of those soldiers who read Sassoon's poems during the war. He later recalled how the poems came as a revelation of how war could be dealt with "in the vocabulary of war" and gave him "a start towards writing more colloquially, and not in a second-hand literary fashion".

Adam Hochschild, the author of To End All Wars (2011), has pointed out: "His protest soon dropped out of the newspapers. His time in the hospital produced no dividend for the peace movement, but an enormous one for English literature. A fellow patient was the 24-year-old aspiring writer Wilfred Owen, recovering from wounds and shell shock, to whom the older Sassoon offered crucial encouragement. Owen became the greatest poet of the war. The War Office had been extremely shrewd. After three months in the hospital whose services he did not need, Sassoon found himself increasingly restless. Finally he accepted a promotion to first lieutenant and returned to the front. He did so not because he had abandoned his former views, but because, as he put it in his diary when he was back with his regiment in France, I am only here to look after some men. It was a haunting reminder of the fierce power of group loyalty over that of political conviction-and all the more so because it came from someone who had not in the slightest changed, nor ever in his life would change, his belief that his country's supposed war aims were fraudulent."

Despite his public attacks on the way the war was being managed, Sassoon, like Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves, agreed to continue to fight. Sassoon was sent to Palestine. In May he rejoined his old battalion in France, and in July 1918 was wounded again, this time in the head. and France before further injuries forced him to return to England. Owen however was killed at Sambre–Oise Canal on 4th November 1918. A week later the Armistice was signed.

Sassoon became a socialist and in March 1919 George Lansbury appointed him as the literary editor of the left-wing The Daily Herald. During this period Sassoon recruited Edmund Blunden, David Garnett, Katherine Mansfield, Havelock Ellis, Virginia Woolf, Robert Graves, Edgell Rickword, Wyndham Lewis, Aldous Huxley, Roy Campbell, Lascelles Abercrombie and A. E. Coppard.

Sassoon's biographer, Rupert Hart-Davis has claimed: "All his life Sassoon kept copious diaries. Those for the years 1920–25 show him torn politically, the possessor of a private income with an uncomfortable socialist conscience; torn artistically, preferring eighteenth-century poetry to that of his modernist contemporaries, and longing - but unable - to write a Proustian masterpiece; and torn emotionally by a succession of disappointing homosexual relationships."

In the late 1920s Sassoon turned to writing prose. He wrote the semi-autobiographical books, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man (1928) and Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930). Although he had enjoyed a long-term relationship with the writer, Stephen Tennant, Sassoon married Hester Gatty on 18th December 1933. They settled at Heytesbury House, near Warminster in Wiltshire, where Sassoon spent the rest of his life. Their son, George Sassoon, was born in 1936.

Other books by Sassoon included Sherston's Progress (1936) and three volumes of autobiography, The Old Century (1938), The Weald of Youth (1942) and Siegfried's Journey (1945). In 1948 he published a critical biography of George Meredith, and all the time he was writing poetry, published in private or public editions, which culminated in the Collected Poems (1961).

According to Rupert Hart-Davis: "Sassoon was strikingly distinguished in appearance, his large bold features expressing the courage and sensitivity of his nature, and he retained his slimness and agility into old age, playing cricket well into his seventies. A dedicated artist, he hated publicity but craved the right sort of recognition. He was appointed CBE in 1951, and was pleased by the award of the queen's medal for poetry in 1957 and by his honorary degree of DLitt at Oxford in 1965, but he pretended that such honours were merely a nuisance. A natural recluse, he yet much enjoyed the company of chosen friends, many of them greatly his juniors, and was a witty and lively talker. He loved books, pictures, and music, and was a brilliant letter writer."

Siegfried Sassoon died at his Heytesbury home on 1st September 1967, and was buried in Mells Churchyard, Somerset.

Because we are going from our wonted places

To be task-ridden by one shattering Aim,

And terror hides in all our laughing faces

That had no will to die, no thirst for fame,

Hear our last word. In Hell we seek for Heaven;

The agony of wounds shall make us clean;

And the failures of our sloth shall be forgiven

When Silence holds the songs that might have been,

And what we served remains, superb, unshaken,

England, our June of blossom that shines above

Disastrous War; for whom we have forsaken

Ways that were rich and gleeful and filled with love.

Thus are we heroes; since we might not choose

To live where Honour gave us life to lose.

Twenty-seven men with faces blackened and shiny - with hatchets in their belts, bombs in pockets, knobkerries - waiting in a dug-out in the reserve line. At 10.30 they trudge up to Battalion H.Q. splashing through the mire and water in a chalk trench, while the rain comes steadily down. Then up to the front-line. In a few minutes they have gone over and disappeared into the rain and darkness.

I am sitting on the parapet listening for something to happen - five, ten, nearly fifteen minutes - not a sound - nor a shot fired - and only the usual flare-lights. Then one of the men comes crawling back; I follow him to our trench and he tells me that they can't get through. They are all going to throw a bomb and retire.

A minute or two later a rifle-shot rings out and almost simultaneously several bombs are thrown by both sides; there are blinding flashes and explosions, rifle-shots, the scurry of feet, curses and groans, and stumbling figures loom up and scramble over the parapet - some wounded. When I've counted sixteen in, I go forward to see how things are going. Other wounded men crawl in; I find one hit in the leg; he says O'Brien is somewhere down the crater badly wounded. They are still throwing bombs and firing at us: the sinister sound of clicking bolts seem to be very near; perhaps they have crawled out of their trench and are firing from behind the advanced wire.

At last I find O'Brien down a deep (about twenty-five feet) and precipitous crater. He is moaning and his right arm is either broken or almost shot off: he is also hit in the right leg. Another man is with him; he is hit in the right arm. I leave them there and get back to the trench for help, shortly afterwards Lance-Corporal Stubbs is brought in (he has had his foot blown off). I get a rope and two more men and go back to O'Brien, who is unconscious now. With great difficulty we get him half-way up the face of the crater; it is now after one o'clock and the sky is beginning to get lighter. I make one more journey to our trench for another strong man and to see to a stretcher being ready. We get him in, and it is found that he has died, as I had feared.

You love us when we're heroes, home on leave,

Or wounded in a mentionable place.

You worship decorations; you believe

That chivalry redeems the war's disgrace.

You make us shells. You listen with delight,

By tales of dirt and danger fondly thrilled.

You crown our distant ardours while we fight,

And mourn our laurelled memories when we're killed.

You can't believe that British troops 'retire'

When hell's last horror breaks them, and they run,

Trampling the terrible corpses - blind with blood.

O German mother dreaming by the fire,

While you are knitting socks to send your son

His face is trodden deeper in the mud.

I knew a simple soldier boy

Who grinned at life in empty joy,

Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,

And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,

With crumps and lice and lack of rum,

He put a bullet through his brain.

No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye

Who cheer when soldier lads march by,

Sneak home and pray you'll never know

The hell where youth and laughter go.

I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them and that had this been done the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practised upon them; also I believe it may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share and which they have not enough imagination to realise.

Far from being thrown in jail, Sassoon was ordered to wait in a hotel in Liverpool. While there, he angrily threw his Military Cross ribbon into the River Mersey-but with no audience, the gesture went unreported. Instead of the public stage he had hoped for, Sassoon was sent off to the comfortable surroundings of a rehabilitation hospital for shell-shocked officers in Scotland. His protest soon dropped out of the newspapers. Owen became the greatest poet of the war.

The War Office had been extremely shrewd. He did so not because he had abandoned his former views, but because, as he put it in his diary when he was back with his regiment in France, "I am only here to look after some men." It was a haunting reminder of the fierce power of group loyalty over that of political conviction-and all the more so because it came from someone who had not in the slightest changed, nor ever in his life would change, his belief that his country's supposed war aims were fraudulent.


Siegfried Sassoon

He was born in Matfield, Kent and educated at Marlborough College (a public school in Marlborough, Wiltshire) and at Clare College, Cambridge, where he read history from 1905 to 1907, but left without a degree.

He joined the army as an officer in the Sussex Yeomanry just before the start of the war in 1914, briefly met Rupert Brooke and made friends with Robert Graves. He distinguished himself by his exceptional courage in action and was awarded the Military Cross, but by 1917 he had become strongly opposed to the conduct of the war, and refused to return to the front from leave. Unusually he was not courtmartialled, but diagnosed with "neurasthenia" and send to Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh, where he met Wilfred Owen. Both men returned to active service.

In 1919 he became editor of the Daily Herald.

Sassoon had a succession of love affairs with men, including the landscape architectural and figure painter, draftsman and illustrator, Gabriel Atkin, [1] actor Ivor Novello Novello's former lover, the actor Glen Byam Shaw the German aristocrat Prince Philipp of Hesse the writer Beverley Nichols an effete aristocrat, the Hon Stephen Tennant. [2] Only the last of these made a permanent impression, though Shaw remained his close friend throughout his life. In September 1931, Sassoon rented and began to live at Fitz House, Teffont Magna, Wiltshire. [3] In December 1933, to many people's surprise, he married Hester Gatty, who was many years his junior this led to the birth of a child, something which he had long craved. However, the marriage broke down after World War II, Sassoon apparently unable to find a compromise between the solitude he enjoyed and the companionship he craved.

Separated from his wife in 1945, Sassoon lived in seclusion at Heytesbury in Wiltshire, although he maintained contact with a circle which included E M Forster and J R Ackerley.


Siegfried Sassoon Biography

Siegfried Sassoon was a celebrated First World War poet. He was decorated for bravery during action but became increasingly critical of the nature of war publishing a letter in the Times. He survived the conflict and continued a successful literary career.

Short Biography Siegfried Sassoon

Siegfried Sassoon was born 8 September in Matfield, Kent, UK. His father was a wealthy Jewish businessman and his mother, an Anglo-Catholic. He was educated at Marlborough College and then Clare College, Cambridge University – though he left without completing his degree. Between 1907 and the start of the war, he was able to live a comfortable life of writing, playing cricket and other sporting interests. His private income meant he didn’t have to get a job he nursed ambitions to be both play cricket for Kent and become a writer.

In 1913, he achieved moderate success with his book, The Daffodil Murderer a parody of Everlasting Mercy by John Masefield.

Siegfried Sassoon and the First World War

At the outbreak of war Siegfried, like many men of his generation, was full of patriotic fervour and enthusiastic about the war effort. He joined the army just before war was declared, but broke his arm badly, keeping him out of action until 1915.

In 1915, he was hit hard by the death of his brother in Gallipoli. In November 1915, he finally made his way to the front line in France. Here, he was shocked by the reality of trench warfare. The ugliness of war had a profound influence on his poetic outlook. He was also influenced by fellow poet Robert Graves. The work of Graves, combined with his own first-hand experiences about the horrors of war, encouraged him to write gritty, realistic poetry, emphasising the tragedy and futility of war.

Siegfried gained a reputation for fearless bravery in action. He frequently took on dangerous missions with scant regard for his own life his men felt tremendous confidence in his presence, inspired by his bravery and courage.

On one occasion, Siegfried single-handedly took a heavily defended German trench in the Hindenburg line, killing an estimated 50 Germans with hand grenades. However, his response on taking the German trench was to sit down and read a book of poetry rather than signalling for reinforcements.

When he went back, he didn’t even report the incident. His commander Colonel Stockwell raged at Sassoon for his failure to capitalise on the situation. Stockwell said to Sassoon, ‘I’d have got you a D.S.O. if only you’d shown more sense.’

This incident was typical of Sassoon’s gallantry, disdain for fear, but mixed motives about the war. It was said that his depression at the state of war, encouraged him to take almost suicidal risks, gaining him the nickname ‘Mad Jack’. He was later awarded the Military Cross for bravery in action.

After the death of his dear friend, David Cuthbert, and with the encouragement of anti-war intellectuals such as Bertrand Russell, Sassoon decided to take a public stand against the war. He wrote a letter to the Times, which was published he stated that the war was being unnecessarily prolonged by the decisions of generals and politicians who had scant regard for the lives of the men they were sending into battle.

“I am making this statement as an act of wilfull defiance of military authority, because I believe that the War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.” – S. Sassoon (link to letter)

The letter caused an outcry, in part because Sassoon was well known as a highly decorated soldier and poet. There was a danger of a court-martial however, to limit the damage the authorities, with the encouragement of his close friend Robert Graves, decided to invalid Sassoon for ‘shell shock’ and he was withdrawn from military service. Around this time, Sassoon threw the ribbon of his military cross into the river.

It was in hospital in Edinburgh that Sassoon became acquainted with fellow war poet, Wilfred Owen. They became very close, sharing a passion for war poetry and also a deep personal connection. Owen looked up to Sassoon as a mentor and guide Sassoon looked over Owen’s poetry and offered suggestions.

Despite the near court-martial, Sassoon returned to active service in 1918. This time he was shot in the head by ‘friendly fire’. However, he survived and spent the remainder of the war in England. Sassoon’s wound encouraged Owen, without the knowledge of Sassoon, to go back into front-line service – where Owen was killed shortly before the Armistice.

After the war, he retired from the army on health grounds. He was briefly involved in politics and the Labour movement. He was instrumental in publicising the work and poetry of Wilfred Owen and helped cement his reputation. He also had great success with a fictional autobiography – Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, (1928).

In this period he was also open about his homosexuality and had affairs with several men. However, in 1933, he married Hester Gatty, and the couple had one child. The marriage broke down after the Second World War, and Sassoon became increasingly fond of solitude. Towards the end of his life, he converted to Roman Catholicism and paid regular visits to the nuns of Stanbrook Abbey.

Selected Poems of Siegfried Sassoon

“Does it matter?–losing your legs?…
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When the others come in after football
To gobble their muffins and eggs.
Does it matter?–losing your sight?…
There’s such splendid work for the blind
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.
Do they matter?–those dreams from the pit?…
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people won’t say that you’re mad
For they’ll know that you’ve fought for your country,
And no one will worry a bit.”

— Siegfried Sassoon, The War Poems

“EVERYONE suddenly burst out singing
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields
on—on—and out of sight.
Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears and horror Drifted away … O, but Everyone
Was a bird and the song was wordless the singing will never be done.”

— Siegfried Sassoon, Collected Poems, 1908-1956

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Biography of Siegfried Sassoon”, Oxford, www.biographyonline.net. Published 13th Jan. 2010. Last updated 9 February 2018.

Siegfried Sassoon: Soldier, Poet, Lover, Friend

Related pages

Military figures – Famous military leaders and soldiers, including Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Ataturk, Erwin Rommel, Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower.

People of the First World War (1914 to 1918) The principal figures involved in the First World War from Germany, Britain, US and the rest of the world. Includes David Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson, the Kaiser and George Clemenceau.


Siegfried Sassoon: ‘A Soldier’s Declaration’

In July 1917 Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘A Soldier’s Declaration’ was published in a number of local UK newspapers, The Times, and was subsequently read out in Parliament. Sassoon wrote this letter to his Commanding Officer whilst recovering from injuries at Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh he received when serving as a Captain in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers on the Western Front in France. Whilst in hospital Sassoon met many pacifists including Bertrand Russell. He also met fellow poet and officer Wilfred Owen.

In the letter Sassoon claimed that the government was unnecessarily prolonging the war.

The let t er caused outrage in the upper classes, government, and newspapers. It said what many privately thought but were afraid to say in public. Sassoon was from a wealthy family and a decorated war hero, and as a serving officer and decorated war hero was the opposite from the image of a pacifist/conscientious objector that the media and government attempted to create.

Sassoon expected to be subject to a Court Martial, but aware of the publicity this would cause instead the War Office convened medical board and declared Sassoon medically unfit due to shell shock. While in Liverpool for the medical board Sassoon threw the ribbon from his Military Cross into the Mersey. The medical board’s conclusion managed to limit the negative publicity as Sassoon could be excused due to mental problems. In 1917 a person suffering from mental health issues was stigmatised and heavily discriminated against.

Although Sassoon returned to the front in 1918, he remained very much of the opinion that never again should such slaughter occur, and that jingoism had no place in a modern society.

Modern parallels to the actions of Sassoon are actions taken by members of Veterans for Peace UK. For example, SAS Trooper Ben Griffin refused to go back to the war in Iraq, informing his Commanding Officer that it was wrong to fight in an illegal war and that the tactics employed by the US special forces command he served under were fundamentally wrong.

Members of VFP UK discarded their medals, as Sassoon did, outside Downing Street in July 2015, rejecting the same jingoism that Sassoon rejected.

Sassoon’s declaration in full:

‘I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this War, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow-soldiers entered upon this War should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible for them to be changed without our knowledge, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolonging those sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust.

I am not protesting against the military conduct of the War, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practised on them. Also, I believe that it may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realise.’


Contents

Sassoon was born to Jewish parents in Hammersmith, West London, and lived nearby in Shepherd's Bush. [5] His mother, Betty (Bellin) (1900–1997), [6] [7] an Ashkenazi Jew, [8] was born in Aldgate, in the East End of London, in 1900. Although she was surrounded by grinding poverty, Sassoon writes that she nonetheless resolved to make the best of her life. [6] Her family had emigrated to England from Ukraine in the 1880s to escape the antisemitism and pogroms then prevalent. [6] His father, Jack Sassoon, a Sephardi Jew [8] was born in Thessaloniki, in the northern part of Greece. [6] They met in 1925 and married in 1927. They then moved to Shepherd's Bush, which contained a community of Greek Jews. [6] Sassoon had a younger brother, Ivor, who died from a heart attack at the age of 46. [9]

His father abandoned the family for another woman when Vidal was three years old. [6] With his mother now unable to support the family, they fell into poverty and were evicted, becoming suddenly homeless. [6] They were forced to move in with his mother's older sister. There, they shared a two-room tenement with his aunt and her three children. The tiny flat where the seven of them lived had no bathroom or inside toilet, forcing them to share the one outside landing toilet with three other families. He remembered often standing in line to use it in freezing weather. Their roof was also falling apart, which let rain pour through. "All we could see from our windows was the greyness of the tenement across the street," writes Sassoon. "There was ugliness all around." [6]

Due to poverty as a single parent, his mother eventually placed Sassoon and his younger brother in a Jewish orphanage, where they stayed for seven years, [10] until he was 11, when his mother remarried. [11] His mother was only allowed to visit them once a month and was never allowed to take them out.

Education Edit

He attended Essendine Road Primary School, a Christian school of about a thousand children. He was frequently taunted by classmates as a "Yid" or with chants of "All Jews have long noses." [6] One of his proudest days at the school was winning the 100-yard dash in an all-school contest. "The urge to win has never left me," he writes. [6]

However, he says that he was "a very bad student" with abysmal grades in most classes, except for mental arithmetic. After one session of mental arithmetic, his master said teasingly, "Sassoon, it is a pleasure to see that you have gaps of intelligence between bouts of ignorance." [6] He took a volunteer job as a choir boy for the local synagogue, which gave him one of the few chances to see his mother who would come on Saturdays. [6]

Sassoon and the other children at the school were evacuated after WWII began on 3 September 1939. He was eleven. "It's a date I'll never forget," he said. "Suddenly my brother and I and all our fellow orphans were on trains with hundreds of thousands of other kids, moving out of London." [6] He and his brother were taken to Holt, Wiltshire, a small village of a thousand people." [6]

First jobs Edit

After his return to London he left school at the age of 14 and worked as a messenger. The war was in full force with London still being bombed, which forced him to sleep in underground shelters. During work hours, he said "I got used to seeing bodies and blood, and hearing cries of agony" as he carried messages from central London to the docks. [6]

Upon the insistence of his mother, they tried to get him into a hairdressing apprenticeship his mother told him that her ambition was for him to become a professional hairdresser. [6] However, he saw himself becoming a football player, a sport he excelled at. "I could not imagine myself backcombing hair and winding up rollers for a living." [6] [11] [12]

When she took him to the hairdressing school of a well-known stylist, Adolph Cohen, they were disappointed immediately when they were told it was a two-year programme and would cost much more than they could afford. "My mother looked so terribly dejected," he said, as they left the salon. "I thought she might faint." [6] A few minutes later, Mr. Cohen called them back to the salon, then told him, "You seem to have very good manners, young man. Start Monday and forget the cost." His mother began to cry out of joy. [6]

Wartime activities Edit

At the age of 17, although he had been too young to serve in World War II, he became the youngest member of the 43 Group founded by Morris Beckman, a Jewish veterans' underground organisation which broke up fascist meetings in East London. [13] [14] The Daily Telegraph calls him an "anti-fascist warrior-hairdresser" whose aim was to prevent Sir Oswald Mosley's movement from spreading "messages of hatred" in the period following World War II. [13]

In 1948, at the age of 20, he joined the Palmach (which shortly afterwards was integrated into the Israeli Defence Forces) and fought in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, which began after Israel declared statehood. [14] [15] During an interview, he described the year he spent training with the Israelis as "the best year of my life," and recalled how he felt:

When you think of 2,000 years of being put down and suddenly you are a nation rising, it was a wonderful feeling. There were only 600,000 people defending the country against five armies, so everyone had something to do. [10]

Sassoon trained under Raymond Bessone, in his salon in Mayfair. [16] Sassoon opened his first salon in 1954 in London [17] singer-actress Georgia Brown, his friend and neighbour, claimed to be his first customer. [18]

Sassoon stated his intentions in designing new, more efficient, hair styles: "If I was going to be in hairdressing, I wanted to change things. I wanted to eliminate the superfluous and get down to the basic angles of cut and shape." [19] Sassoon's works include the geometric perm and the "Nancy Kwan" hairstyles. They were all modern and low-maintenance. The hairstyles created by Sassoon relied on dark, straight, and shiny hair cut into geometric yet organic shapes.

In 1964, Sassoon created a short, angular hairstyle cut on a horizontal plane that was the recreation of the classic "bob cut." His geometric haircuts seemed to be severely cut, but were entirely lacquer-free, relying on the natural shine of the hair for effect. Advertising and cosmetics executive Natalie Donay is credited with discovering Sassoon in London and bringing him to the United States, [20] where in 1965 he opened his first New York City salon, on Madison Avenue. [21]

In 1966, inspired by 1920s film star Clara Bow's close cropped hair, he created designs for Emanuel Ungaro. Director Roman Polanski brought him to Hollywood from London in 1968, at a cost of $5,000 (equivalent to $37,000 in 2020), to create a unique pixie cut for Mia Farrow, who was to star in Rosemary's Baby. [3]

In the early 1970s Sassoon made Los Angeles his home. [3] In 1971 he promoted his 30-year-old second-in-command, artistic director Roger Thompson, to director of the Sassoon salon, explaining jocularly that, "Twenty-five years of schlepping behind a barber chair are enough!" [22] John Paul DeJoria a friend of Sassoon co-founded Paul Mitchell Systems with Paul Mitchell, one of Sassoon's former students. Mitchell said that Sassoon was "the most famous hairstylist in the history of the world." [3]

Sassoon began his "Vidal Sassoon" line of hair-care products in 1973. [23] The actor Michael Caine, who when young and struggling "was roommates with Terence Stamp and Vidal Sassoon – he used to cut my hair, and he always had a lot of models around," [24] claimed to have inspired this, saying, "I told him that he must have something that is working for him while he slept. I told him he had to make shampoos and other hair-care products." [25] Whatever the inspiration, Sassoon's brand was applied to shampoos and conditioners sold worldwide, with a commercial campaign featuring the slogan "If you don't look good, we don't look good." [26] Former salon colleagues also bought Sassoon's salons and acquired the right to use his name, extending the brand in salons into the United Kingdom and the United States. [3]

The El Paso, Texas-based Helen of Troy Corporation began manufacturing and marketing Sassoon hair-care products in 1980. [27] In 1983, Richardson-Vicks purchased the Los Angeles-based Vidal Sassoon Inc. [28] as well as Sassoon's Santa Monica, California, hairdressing school the company had already bought his European businesses. [29] Sassoon's 1982 sales of hair products had topped $110 million, with 80 percent of revenues derived in the US. [28]

Two years later the company was bought by Procter & Gamble. Vidal, who remained a consultant through at least the mid-1990s, [29] sued in 2003 for breach of contract and fraud in federal court for allegedly neglecting the marketing of his brand name in favour of the company's other hair product lines, such as Pantene. [30]

He sold his business interests in the early 1980s to devote himself to philanthropy. By 2004, it was reported that Sassoon was no longer associated with the brand that bears his name. [3] He also had a short-lived television series called Your New Day with Vidal Sassoon, which aired in 1980.

Sassoon was twice a guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, on 27 June 1970 [31] and 9 October 2011, when he was also Resident Thinker on the Nowhereisland art project. [32] He was a mystery guest on What's My Line? in March 1967. [33]

Sassoon was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in the 2009 Birthday Honours. [34]


Siegfried Sassoon (1886 – 1967)

Siegfried Sassoon was the product of two very different cultures, his Jewish father’s family of merchant princes from Baghdad and his English mother’s Thornycroft farming ancestors, turned sculptors, painters and engineers. The second of three sons, he grew up in rural Kent, where his father abandoned the family before Siegfried was five, dying four years later. After a late entry into the school system Siegfried failed to complete his formal education at Cambridge, devoting himself instead over the next seven years to poetry, horses, cricket and golf. He was also coming to terms with his homosexuality, in an age which criminalized it.

When War was declared on 4 August 1914 Sassoon had already enlisted enthusiastically, first as a trooper in the Sussex Yeomanry, later transferring to the Royal Welch Fusiliers in May 1915. The death of his younger brother in the Dardanelles in November 1915, his departure for the Western Front and his meeting with Robert Graves in France were significant factors in his changing attitude towards the War. Initially a fervent patriot writing in the vein of Rupert Brooke (see ‘Absolution’ and ‘To My Brother’), by the time his first collection of war poems, ‘The Old Huntsman, was published in May 1917 his tone had become predominantly angry, his style largely satiric, establishing him in poems like ‘Blighters’, ‘The One-Legged Man’ and ‘They’ as one of the most influential and historically important poets of the First World War.

Despite his courageous, at times almost foolhardy, acts in the face of danger, which won him a Military Cross and the nickname ‘Mad Jack’, Sassoon’s opposition to the War hardened even further as he witnessed first the Battle of the Somme in July 1916, then the Battle of Arras in April 1917. It was while convalescing from a wound received in the latter and in close contact with Lady Ottoline Morrell and her pacifist circle that he made his famous anti-war protest, which was read out in Parliament in late July 1917 and published in The Times the following day.

Committed to a shell-shock hospital, Craiglockhart, in an attempt to silence him, Sassoon was brought into contact with Wilfred Owen, whose poetry was deeply affected by the encounter. He also met there the eminent psychiatrist Dr Rivers, who persuaded him to return to the fighting. After a few months in Palestine with the 25th Royal Welch Fusiliers, Sassoon arrived back in France in April 1918. Promoted to the rank of Captain, he commanded his Company until July 1918, when he was wounded in the head while holding the trenches in front of St Venant.

Sassoon’s return to England coincided with the publication of his second collection of war poems, Counter-Attack, which contained many of his most effective satires on the war-mongers, including ‘Base Details’, ‘Does It Matter?’, ‘The Glory of Women’ and ‘The General’:

‘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.

In this poem the anger is focused on those most directly responsible for the soldiers’ fate. The germ of this brief but highly effective satire seems to have come from an incident in Sassoon’s journey to Arras, when his regiment, the 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers, had passed their Corps Commander, Lt.-Gen. Maxse. In the poem the unsuspecting soldiers’ praise of their General’s bluff heartiness is contrasted starkly with the results of his incompetence, just as his speech is contrasted with the soldiers’ cheerful slang. The use of generic names – ‘Harry’ and ‘Jack’ – which both personalizes and depersonalizes them, and the General’s breezily repeated greeting, together with Harry’s ironic comment and the brutal ending, convey the situation far more vividly than a more discursive piece. The colloquial ‘did for them both’, which follows unexpectedly on what appears to be the concluding rhyming couplet, is all the more shocking for its euphemism. It is even more effective than Sassoon’s original ‘murdered them both’, to which several of his mentors had objected.

The War had really ended for Sassoon when he left France in July 1918, though technically he remained in the army on indefinite sick-leave until 11 March 1919, when the London Gazette announced his retirement. He later objected to being known mainly as a war-poet, but he was endlessly to recycle the material which had initially made his name. Less than a decade after the publication of Counter-Attack he would return to the War for a prose trilogy which was to consolidate his fame: Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man (1928), Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930) and Sherston’s Progress (1936). And when that was completed he returned to the same material for the third time in his three-volume autobiography, The Old Century (1938), The Weald of Youth (1942) and Siegfried’s Journey (1945). Significantly, a fourth volume, not based on his War experiences, was left unfinished. As though caught in a time warp, Sassoon seems to have had a compulsive need to re-live that particular part of his life in his work.
It might be argued that the War both made and unmade Sassoon. As a young man determined to be a poet but with no clear sense of direction, it had given him a subject as well as the experience and passion to turn that subject into memorable verse. And as a mature writer who appeared again to have lost a sense of direction, the War provided the way forward in his fictional and autobiographical prose trilogies. When that material was finally exhausted, however, so too was Sassoon’s creative impulse. A failed marriage and increasing loneliness, exacerbated by the departure of his only child, George, for school and university, led him eventually to the Roman Catholic Church. There, in his last decade, he found a new subject for his poetry and a tranquil end to his turbulent life.


Siegfried Sassoon

Siegfried Sassoon is best remembered for his angry and compassionate poems about World War I, which brought him public and critical acclaim. Avoiding the sentimentality and jingoism of many war poets, Sassoon wrote of the horror and brutality of trench warfare and contemptuously satirized generals, politicians, and churchmen for their incompetence and blind support of the war. He was also well known as a novelist and political commentator. In 1957 he was awarded the Queen&rsquos Medal for Poetry.

Born into a wealthy Jewish family, sometimes called the &ldquoRothschilds of the East&rdquo because the family fortune was made in India, Sassoon lived the leisurely life of a cultivated country gentleman before the World War I, pursuing his two major interests, poetry and fox hunting. His early work, which was privately printed in several slim volumes between 1906 and 1916, is considered minor and imitative, heavily influenced by John Masefield (of whose work The Daffodil Murderer is a parody).

Following the outbreak of the World War I, Sassoon served with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, seeing action in France in late 1915. He received a Military Cross for bringing back a wounded soldier during heavy fire. After being wounded in action, Sassoon wrote an open letter of protest to the war department, refusing to fight any more. &ldquoI believe that this War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it,&rdquo he wrote in the letter. At the urging of Bertrand Russell, the letter was read in the House of Commons. Sassoon expected to be court-martialed for his protest, but poet Robert Graves intervened on his behalf, arguing that Sassoon was suffering from shell-shock and needed medical treatment. In 1917, Sassoon was hospitalized.

Counter-Attack and Other Poems collects some of Sassoon&rsquos best war poems, all of which are &ldquoharshly realistic laments or satires,&rdquo writes Margaret B. McDowell in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. The later collection The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon included 64 poems of the war, most written while Sassoon was in hospital recovering from his injuries. Public reaction to Sassoon&rsquos poetry was fierce. Some readers complained that the poet displayed little patriotism, while others found his shockingly realistic depiction of war to be too extreme. Even pacifist friends complained about the violence and graphic detail in his work. But the British public bought the books because, in his best poems, Sassoon captured the feeling of trench warfare and the weariness of British soldiers for a war that seemed never to end. &ldquoThe dynamic quality of his war poems,&rdquo according to a critic for the Times Literary Supplement, &ldquowas due to the intensity of feeling which underlay their cynicism.&rdquo &ldquoIn the history of British poetry,&rdquo McDowell wrote, &ldquo[Sassoon] will be remembered primarily for some one hundred poems &hellip in which he protested the continuation of World War I.&rdquo

After the war, Sassoon became involved in Labour Party politics, lectured on pacifism, and continued to write. His most successful works of this period were his trilogy of autobiographical novels, The Memoirs of George Sherston. In these, he gave a thinly-fictionalized account, with little changed except names, of his wartime experiences, contrasting them with his nostalgic memories of country life before the war and recounting the growth of his pacifist feelings. Some have maintained that Sassoon&rsquos best work is his prose, particularly the first two Sherston novels. Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man was described by a critic for the Springfield Republican as &ldquoa novel of wholly fresh and delightful content,&rdquo and Robert Littrell of Bookman called it &ldquoa singular and a strangely beautiful book.&rdquo

That book&rsquos sequel was also well received. The New Statesman critic called Memoirs of an Infantry Officer &ldquoa document of intense and sensitive humanity.&rdquo In a review for the Times Literary Supplement, after Sassoon&rsquos death, one critic wrote: &ldquoHis one real masterpiece, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer &hellip is consistently fresh. His self scrutiny is candid, critical, and humourous. &hellip If Sassoon had written as well as this consistently, he would have been a figure of real stature. As it is, English literature has one great work from him almost by accident.&rdquo

Sassoon&rsquos critical biography of Victorian novelist and poet George Meredith found a similarly positive reception. In this volume, he recounted numerous anecdotes about Meredith, portraying him vividly as a person as well as an author: &ldquoThe reader lays the book down with the feeling that a great author has become one of his close neighbors,&rdquo wrote G.F. Whicher in the New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review. The critical portions of the book were also praised, though some found the writing careless. But the New Yorker critic noted Sassoon&rsquos &ldquofresh and lively literary criticism,&rdquo and the reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement declared that &ldquoMr. Sassoon gives us a poet&rsquos estimate, considered with intensity of insight, skilfully shaped as biography, and written with certainty of style.&rdquo

In 1957 Sassoon became a convert to Catholicism, though for some time before his conversion, his spiritual concerns had been the predominant subject of his writing. These later religious poems are usually considered markedly inferior to those written between 1917 and 1920. Yet Sequences (published shortly before his conversion) has been praised by some critics. Derek Stanford, in Books and Bookmen, claimed that &ldquothe poems in Sequences constitute some of the most impressive religious poetry of this century.&rdquo

Speaking of Sassoon&rsquos war poetry in a 1981 issue of the Spectator, P.J. Kavanagh claimed that &ldquotoday they ring as true as they ever did it is difficult to see how they could be better.&rdquo Looking back over Sassoon&rsquos long literary career, Peter Levi wrote in Poetry Review: &ldquoOne can experience in his poetry the slow, restless ripening of a very great talent its magnitude has not yet been recognised. &hellip He is one of the few poets of his generation we are really unable to do without.&rdquo

Sassoon died in 1967 from stomach cancer. His papers are held at University of Cambridge.


History & Lore of the Old World War

The most memorable poems of the First World War were, among other things, testaments to the catastrophic effects of war on the individual psyche. For all the shocking explicitness of their naturalism, they remained deeply subjective. In that sense, they were the literary correlatives of German Expressionist paintings: expressions of personal horror with a public purpose: to serve up slices of rank Flanders mud on the dinnerplates of the complacent bourgeoisie at home, between the carrots and choice cuts of beef. Such paintings and poems, nurtured by a suppressed festering rage, shook the homefront to the core.

So all-consuming was the day-to-day scrabble to survive in the bestial setting of the trenches that a broader, more objective perspective was out of the question. Unlike the greatest novels of the war, which did not appear until a decade after the fighting, the greatest war poems—by Sassoon, Owen, Rosenberg and Gurney, to name the most obvious—were written during the war itself. That they were written at all under such conditions, let alone with such originality and artistry by poets still in their youth, is little short of a miracle.

The Great War has been described as the burial ground of whatever vestiges remained of Romanticism, and the major poets of that war have been rightly credited with purging the language of its last romantic trappings. Yet, from the long vantage of a century, the poets themselves increasingly appear as Romantic figures in their own right: as individuals of obdurate defiance, refusing obliteration, emerging against all probability from the vast, inchoate backdrop of modern warfare. Whatever their services to the language of Modernism, the more permanent value of such poets lies in their irreducible individuality in the face of impersonal, all-consuming war—in their embodiment of the inextinguishable human spirit.

This paradigm, however, will not aid us toward an appreciation of John Allan Wyeth. Whatever anger or anguish his poems contain is so subdued as to be invisible, while his personality is constrained to the point of sublimation. He is in no sense a Romantic figure of defiance, or singular voice of anguish. What we find in Wyeth is an acute observer with the trained eye and ear of a intelligence officer who is also steeped in the arts and humanities. He is able to maintain a cooler, more objective perspective precisely because he is not in the thick of the fighting, and is never in the trenches. We do not go to Wyeth for memorable expressions of bitterness in the face of annihilation, but for perspective and precise detail, for subtlety and nuance. Such qualities, combined with a sophisticated mastery of form and technique, place Wyeth in a category all his own. They also go a long way toward explaining the eight decades of Wyeth’s neglect. Compared especially to Owen and Sassoon’s poetry of compressed outrage, Wyeth’s sonnets, for all their technical virtuosity, draw little attention to themselves. Even in their frank descriptions of destruction and death, they are coolly accurate and detached. There is irony, to be sure, and a good bit of humor in the overheard exchanges between enlisted men, but Wyeth’s sonnets, even at their bleakest, never grab the reader by the throat.

By the time of Wyeth’s appearance in 1928, the canon of war poetry was more or less fixed. It was profoundly tragic and profoundly moving, the bitter fruit of four interminable years in the trenches. By comparison, the poetry of Johnny-come-lately Americans, who had seen six months of fighting at most, with none of it in the trenches, was vapid. This view of the difference between British and American war poets was all but unshakeable, because it was very largely the truth. No newly-discovered book of war poems by an American, especially one written ten years after the war, was going to change it. Wyeth’s sonnets never got the attention they deserved because their timing was all wrong. The British poets had seen a longer, grimier and more horrific war than any of their American peers, and by 1928 they had effectively said all there was to say on the subject. By 1928, no one was listening.

It was different for the novelists, because novels take longer to germinate and mature, and the greatest novels of the war all came out at about this time. No one expected great novels during the war. They may not have expected great poetry either, but from Sassoon and Owen they got it all the same. The biographies of both poets enhanced the effect. Owen’s courage under fire, for which he would posthumously be awarded the Military Cross, and his death in action just days before the Armistice— Sassoon’s single-handed raid against an occupied trench, his very public condemnation of the war effort, and his subsequent confinement in a psychiatric hospital (where he and Owen first met), lifted both poets into legend. The poets who came after them could not hope to measure up. The poems of Sassoon and Owen redefined war literature so fundamentally that no work to follow could escape comparison. The very criteria for evaluating war literature had been reset, and by such criteria Wyeth’s poems merited only scant notice—which is exactly what they received.

The first important critic to take notice of Wyeth, Dana Gioia, concentrated on the modernist aspects of Wyeth’s technique. Whether Wyeth proves significant in the history of modernist poetics is yet to be determined, but none of the established war poets has any prominence as a modernist. The first generation of modernist poets were all older, and all on the homefront during the war. The war poets themselves were consumed by the war just as they were coming of age. None of them had the leisure to pursue the major aesthetic questions of the day, and those who survived the war evinced little interest in the abstract issues of modernism which had so preoccupied the previous generation of Eliot, Pound and Yeats, or the up-and-coming generation of Auden and his circle. The British war poets—who were all essentially Georgians—were concerned with simpler, more basic verities, and their poetry was therefore more conservative and traditional. They had aged beyond their years, or been broken entirely. They were concerned with recovery and restoration, with salvaging what they could of the world as it had been before the cataclysm. Having endured battles of flesh and blood at inconceivable cost, they left the abstract battles of aesthetics to others.

Wyeth, as an American, came late to the war, and—shielded by his position on the general staff—escaped the sort of damage suffered by so many of his British compatriots. Yet he was far from a mere desk jockey. As a courier delivering intelligence to front-line units, he came close enough to endure aerial bombardment and shellfire, and to have his eyes singed by gas. On one occasion, within range of machine gun and artillery fire, he led a group of casualties to a field station across broken country in the darkness. As division interpreter, intelligence officer and courier, Wyeth saw his share of the war at first hand, as well as behind the scenes, and comprehended it more acutely than most.

Wyeth was an astute witness. His descriptions of everything from the sound of gas shells hurtling overhead, to the reckless banter of enlisted men playing craps, to the drifting perfume of dead men in a ruined village, are as sparkling and precise as any in the literature of war, and are evidence of the profound impression such particulars made upon him.

Rats squeak and scrabble brusquely everywhere.
The night is almost blind . . . Something dispels
my stupor, wakes me with a squeamish thrill
to find my raincoat pocket eaten through.

My body swept throughout with a shattering spell
of fear—the fear that makes your heart like lead,
your gullet sicken and the bowels creep
and slide like live things in your abdomen.

Around the burnt plane, raking souvenirs,
a crowd, all raucous shouts and breathless smiles—
“Hey quit your shoving there.”

—“I seen the bastard, sure—he’s under guard—
sixteen—he’s nothing but a goddam kid!”

Guns blaze and slam. The stars burn fever bright.

A low white ridge ahead, and the crumpled sound

A snarling croon
wheels over us—quick glittering tracers fly
down a pale searchlight, and along the ground
bombs blast into smoky yellow shot with light.

The Archies break out in a brute uproar.
We wait at the cellar stairs to judge the raid.
Frantic machine guns stutter, brusque shells blaze
in the light-swept clouds where, ominously near,
a beast wheels in the apocalyptic sky
and plunges through a stack of blinding rays.

Too dark and late for any bugle call . . .
a wakeful horse along the picket line
stamps obstinately in the squashy loam.

Sleep ripped apart in the shrilling blast of a shell
jerking me back into life—Dawn, and a dead
bleak silence split by a shrieking smash—one then,
every minute! Men run along the corridor—

Like the narrator in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, which appeared a year after This Man’s Army, Wyeth has no faith in abstractions or generalities. He offers no felicitous homilies, no proverbial observations, and no conclusions. Whatever his truths, they are never trotted out on stage they are kept implicit in the meticulous detail of his descriptions.

— Reprinted from Before the Clangor of the Gun: The First World War Poetry of John Allan Wyeth (Monongahela Books, 2019), by BJ Omanson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Sassoon Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Sassoon ben Salih and his family, Iraqi Jews, were the chief treasurers to the pashas of Baghdad in the early 1800’s.

Their son David Sassoon fled from a new and unfriendly vali and came to Bombay in India in 1832 with his family. In Mumbai he built up a large international business concern, with various branches established in India, Burma, Malaya and east Asia. His wealth and munificence were proverbial and his business extended to China, where Sassoon House on the Bund in Shanghai became a noted landmark, and then to England.

The Sassoon interests in China devolved to Victor Sassoon who had come to Shanghai in 1923 after having been made lame in a plane accident during World War One. Yet he was a formidable businessman and soon became known as the king of real estate in Shanghai.

“Victor lived in a half-timbered hunting lodge and an apartment with a 360 degree view atop Sassoon House on the Bund. Noel Coward wrote Private Lives in forty eight hours while laid up with influenza for a weekend in Sassoon’s Cathay Hotel.”


Victor Sassoon remained in China (Sassoon Road in Hong Kong was named after him) until he sold out his interests in Shanghai in 1948 and moved to the Bahamas. His British interests revolved around his horse – racing stables near Newmarket .


England . David’s son Albert carried on his father’s work in Bombay. It was mainly through his contributions that a colossal statue of Edward, then Prince of Wales, was erected there. In 1872 he was knighted and in the following year the corporation of London conferred upon him the freedom of the city, he being the first Anglo-Indian to receive it. Albert’s son Edward became a British MP in 1899. The seat was then inherited by his son Philip from 1912 until his death in 1939.

Another son Sassoon David Sassoon had moved to London in 1858 and soon occupied a prominent position among the principal merchants of that city:

  • his line led to Alfred Sassoon, who was however disinherited for marrying outside of his faith, and to Siegfried Sassoon, the poet of the First World War.
  • and to his daughter Rachel who was also disowned for marrying outside her faith. Her husband was Frederick Beer, the wealthy financier. In her will she left a generous legacy to her nephew Siegfried, enabling him to purchase his home at Haytesbury House in Wiltshire.

Then there was the line from David Sassoon, a Jewish manuscript
collector, whose son Solomon and grandsons Isaac and David were noted rabbis.

Outside of this Sassoon family, there were a few other Sasson and Sassoon families living in England. Nathan Sassoon, of Greek Jewish origin, deserted a family that included Vidal Sassoon who was to become the famous hairdresser of the 1960’s.

America. Brooklyn has been a home for Syrian/Iraqi Jews and that is where many Sassons are to be found. The best-known is Steve Sasson who, while working for Eastman Kodak, invented the digital camera.

Sassoon Miscellany

David Sassoon and the Opium Trade. David Sassoon was 40 years old when he came to Bombay in 1832. Initially he operated as a middleman for the British East India Company, using his contacts in the Middle East. In 1842 the British signed the Treaty of Nanking with the Chinese Emperor, opening up the Chinese market for trade in opium. David Sassoon sent his sons to open offices in Canton, Shanghai and Hong Kong to profit from the trade.

A sort of three-way flow emerged. The Sassoons would export Indian yarn and opium to China then from China, they would export tea and silk to Britain and from Britain they exported textile goods into India. The opium was grown in the Malwa region. The Sassoons acted as bankers to finance the Malwa opium crop, making advances to an already established group of dealers in Malwa opium. In effect, they purchased the crop before it was even planted.

The chief cause of David Sassoon’s success was probably the use he made of his sons. Although David spoke no English, his sons learnt the language and adopted Western modes of clothing as well. David Sassoon died in Bombay in 1864. Six of his eight sons eventually left the city and there were soon few Sassoons remaining in Bombay.

David Sassoon, Manuscript Collector. Albert Sassoon was surprised one day when his 34 year old single half-brother Solomon Sassoon, expressed his interest in marrying Albert’s granddaughter, Pircha (Flora) Gabbai. Albert loved the idea. The shidduch was arranged and the couple had three children, their middle child, a son David being born to them in 1880.

Young David astonished his parents one day when at eight years old he traded his toy kite with a young boy for a rare printed book containing an Arabic translation of the Book of Ruth that was written for Baghdadi Jews who lived in India. That trade was to be the first item in his life-long pursuit of collecting Jewish books and manuscripts. His interest in collecting Seforim may have helped soften the pain of losing his father at the tender age of fourteen.

Instead of being educated at Eton like his Sassoon cousins, David was sent to a yeshiva in North London. Although he had learned to use a rifle as a cadet, his poor health saved him from ever going to battle. Instead the British Navy hired him to translate Hebrew and Arabic documents and decode messages intercepted in the Middle East.

David developed into quite a Talmid Chochom and decided to devote his life to collecting Seforim. He explained in his Ohel David, a two volume catalogue of his Seforim that he printed in 1931, that he assembled a huge library because he wanted to observe the Mitzvah of writing or acquiring a Sefer Torah by extending the mitzvah to include all religious literature. He would travel extensively to Yemen, Germany, Italy, Syria, China and the Himalayas seeking manuscripts and old Seforim.

By the time David Sassoon passed away in 1942 he had amassed about 1,300 items in his library. Sadly the collection was dispersed sold at a number of Sotheby auctions, beginning with one in Zurich in 1975.

Siegfried Sassoon. The old Sephardic surname Sassoon was shared by two Englishmen who had little in common other than their good looks, their military valor, their love of sport, their glory in separate spheres, and their longevity.

The elder Sassoon, Siegfried, was one of the leading poets and most searing critics of the First World War, in which he served as an officer, lost a brother (at Gallipoli) and a friend of the heart (Wilfred Owen), and won a Military Cross.

He was born in 1886 into a dynasty of immensely rich merchant bankers, originally Iraqi Jews. But his father, Alfred, was disinherited for marrying an Anglo-Catholic—Theresa Thornycroft, a scion of prominent sculptors and herself an artist of note. Siegfried, named after Wagner’s hero, was educated at Cambridge served as the literary editor of a socialist newspaper where he employed E.M. Forster among other luminaries and published several acclaimed works of autobiographical fiction in addition to the satiric poetry that he felt was misunderstood.

After a paternal aunt, Rachel Beer, the editor of the Sunday Times, left him a fortune he lived the life of a British gentleman on his estate in Wiltshire—foxhunting, golfing, and playing cricket into his seventies.

Siegfried had many affairs with men and a late marriage that produced his only son. He converted to Catholicism shortly before his death, just shy of eighty-one, in 1967. His name is inscribed on a tablet in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Vidal Sassoon. The younger Sassoon, Vidal, who revolutionized the art of haircutting and died of leukemia at eighty-four, was the son of Jewish immigrants—a Greek father, Nathan, and a Ukrainian mother, Betty. He grew up in London tenements and spent part of his scrappy childhood in a Jewish orphanage. After Nathan Sassoon abandoned his family, Betty was too poor to raise her sons. By the time she remarried and was able to make them a home, Vidal was eleven.

As a schoolboy during the Second World War, Vidal was evacuated to the Wiltshire countryside not far from Siegfried’s estate. It is tempting to imagine them crossing paths there, though it is doubtful that they ever did.

Vidal’s formal education ended at fourteen in 1942 when he apprenticed himself to a ladies’ hairdresser in a working-class neighborhood, though in his spare time he studied elocution to erase his Cockney accent. Hairdressing was his mother’s idea she had somehow intuited his talent for it. At seventeen, he joined a militant Jewish underground group that broke up rallies staged by the thuggish followers of Oswald Mosley, the British fascist, earning an epithet from the Telegraph: “the anti-fascist warrior-hairdresser.”

He married four times and had four children. He opened his first London salon in 1954 and by the 1960’s was a pop-culture celebrity who literally defined fashion’s cutting edge. His radical approach to styling hair made the cotton candy beehives of the early 1960’s seem as quaint as the coiffures of Marie Antoinette.

Vidal Sassoon’s technique was influenced, he said, by Bauhaus architecture, but also, more obviously, by the practical allure of new “wash and wear” clothing and the lean geometry of the era’s couture. Obituaries hailed him as a “feminist,” and in a sense, he was one. He liberated women from a certain form of degradation: their time-consuming primping with rollers and teasing, and their generic, yearbook-photo cuteness.

His signature hairstyle, The Five-Point Cut, was a silken helmet “sculpted” or “carved” to the contours of each client’s cranium, and based on a close study of her bone structure. In 1968, Roman Polanski hired Sassoon—for the outrageous sum of five thousand dollars—to give Mia Farrow her famous pixie cut for Rosemary’s Baby. The pixie cut that launched a million copies, however, was Jean Seberg’s, in Godard’s Breathless, from 1960.

Both Sassoons stayed fit into old age. Vidal also turned to autobiography and earned a fortune (greater, probably, than Siegfried’s) marketing his hair-care products. He made a dashing appearance in television commercials for them, delivering a catchy slogan: “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good.” It wasn’t poetry, but, as his fellow idealist and survivor wrote, “Soldiers are dreamers.” It was a fitting epithet for them both.

Steve Sasson and the Digital Camera. Born in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, Steve Sasson grew up with a keen interest in electronics. As a child he designed and built radio receivers, stereo amplifiers and transmitters in his basement with salvaged electronic components from discarded televisions and radios.

He joined Eastman Kodak Co. in 1973 as an electrical engineer working in an applied research laboratory in the Apparatus Division. Sasson was given a broad assignment to build a camera using solid-state imagers, a new type of electronic sensor known as a charge coupled device which could capture optical information.

Sasson went about constructing the digital circuitry from scratch, using oscilloscope measurements as a guide. For the rest of the camera, he made use of what was available to him at the time: an analog-to-digital converter from Motorola, a movie-camera photographic lens made by Kodak, and tiny CCD chips introduced in 1973 by Fairchild Semiconductor.

The original prototype weighed eight pounds and about the size of a toaster. With a resolution of 0.01 megapixel, it recorded black and white digital images to a magnetic cassette tape. With this prototype model, Sasson took the first image in December of 1975 taking 23 seconds to capture it and forever changing the way the world takes photos.

Sassoon Names
  • David Sassoon was the founder in Bombay in the 1830’s of the Sassoon business empire in Asia.
  • Siegfried Sassoon was one of the leading poets of the First World War.
  • Vidal Sassoon was the famous hairdresser of the 1960’s.
  • Steve Sasson pioneered the digital camera in 1975.
Sassoon Numbers Today
Sassoon and Like Jewish Surnames

The Jews were banned from England in 1290 and did not return there until the 1650’s, sometimes in the form of Portuguese traders. They were to make their mark as merchants and financers in London and many families prospered. There was another larger Jewish influx in the late 1800’s.

In America the early settlement of Sephardic Jews was in Charleston, South Carolina. In the 19th century Ashkenazi Jews started to arrive from Germany. Later came a larger immigration from a wider Jewish diaspora. Between 1880 and 1910 it is estimated that around two million Yiddish-speaking Jews, escaping discrimination and pogroms, arrived from the Russian empire and other parts of Eastern Europe.

Some Jewish surnames reflect ancient Biblical names, such as Cohen and Levy. Some have come from early place-names where Jews resided, such as Dreyfus (from Trier), Halpern (from Heilbronn) and Shapiro (from Speyer). Many more surnames came about when Ashkenazi Jews were compelled by Governments to adopt them in the early 1800’s. The names chosen at that time were often ornamental ones – Bernstein or Goldberg or Rosenthal for example. Then the name could change on arrival in America at Ellis Island. And finally anti-Semitism perceived could cause further changes to conceal Jewishness.

Here are the stories of some of the Jewish surnames that you can check out here.


Tag: Siegfried Sassoon

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was working as a private English tutor in Bordeaux, when the “Great War” broke out in 1914.

At first in no hurry to sign up, he even considered joining the French Army before returning home to England, to enlist in the Artists Rifles Training Corps, in October 1915.

Originally formed in 1859, the Artists Rifles was a British special forces regiment, raised in London and comprised of painters, musicians, actors and architects, and symbolized by the heads of the Roman gods Mars and Minerva.

It must have felt a natural place. Wilfred Owen was a poet, a talent first discovered about ten years earlier, at age ten or eleven.

Owen was commissioned Second Lieutenant after six-months training, and posted with the Manchester Regiment of line infantry. An application to the Royal Flying Corps was rejected in 1916 and he was shipped to France, joining the 2nd Manchester regiment near Beaumont Hamel, on the river Somme.

He was contemptuous of his men at first, considering them to be louts and barbarians. He wrote home to his mother Susan in 1917, describing his company as “expressionless lumps”. The war would soon beat that out of him.

Owen was close with his mother, his letters home telling a tale of mud and frostbite, of fifty hours spent under heavy bombardment, sheltered only by a muddy, flooded out dugout, of falling through shell-shattered earth into a cellar below, earning him a trip to the hospital. It would not be his last.

Owen was caught in an explosion during the bitter battle of St. Quentin, blown off of his feet and into a hole, there to spend days fading in and out of consciousness amidst the shattered remains of a fellow officer.

After this experience, soldiers reported him behaving strangely. Owen was diagnosed as suffering from neurasthenia or shell shock, what we now understand to be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, for treatment.

There, Dr. Arthur Brock encouraged Owen to work hard on his poetry, to overcome his shell shock. There he met another patient, the soldier and poet, Siegfried Sassoon. The chance meeting would elevate Wilfred Owen to one of the great war poets, of his generation.

Owen’s work was qualitatively different before this time, vaguely self important but never self pitying. Never a pacifist – he held those people to ridicule – Owen’s nightmares now brought forth a brutal honesty and a deep compassion for the burdens of the ordinary soldier. Tales of trench life: of gas, lice, mud and death, of Hell and returning to earth, steeped in contempt for the patriotic sentimentality of non-combatants and the slurs of cowardice, so lightly dispensed by the women of the “White Feather” movement.

Anthem for Doomed Youth, is a classic of the period:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them no prayers nor bells
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Owen continued to write through his period of convalescence, his fame as author and poet growing through the late months of 1917 and into March of the following year. Supporters requested non-combat postings on his behalf, but such requests were turned down. It’s unlikely he would have accepted them, anyway. His letters reveal a deep sense of obligation, an intention to return to the front to be part of and to tell the story of the common man, thrust by his government into uncommon conditions.

Wilfred Owen well understood his special talent. He wanted a return to front line combat, made all the more urgent when Sassoon was once again wounded, and removed from the front.

He was back in France by September 1918, capturing a German machine gun position on the 29th, for which he would be awarded the Military Cross. Posthumously.

On October 31, Owen wrote home to his mother, from the cellar of the Forrester’s house, at Ors. It was to be the last such note she would ever receive, “Of this I am certain: you could not be surrounded by a band of friends half so fine as surround me here.

The forty-four mile Sambre-Oise Canal flows through the Meuse river basin, a network of 38 locks directing the water’s flow and connecting the Netherlands and Belgium with the central waterways of France. Forces of the 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex forced the canal on November 4, in coordination with elements of the 2nd Manchester Regiment and the Lancashire Fusiliers. British forces were to cross surrounding fields lined with high hedges, then to cross the canal by portable foot bridges, or climbing across the lock gates, themselves.

The battle of the Sambre–Oise Canal was one of the last Allied victories of the Great War, and not without cost. Lock houses on the opposite side formed strong points for German defensive fire, from small arms and machine guns.

Wilfred Owen was at the head such a raiding party, when the bullets from the German machine gun tore into his body. He died a week nearly to the hour, from the armistice which would end the war. He was twenty-five.

The church bells of Shrewsbury rang out in celebration that day in 1918, as Owen’s parents Tom and Susan, received the telegram. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

“Deeply regret to inform you, that…”

“Dulce et Decorum Est”

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame all blind
Drunk with fatigue deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.