Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

100 Years Ago: Siegfried Sassoon Receives the Military Cross

Sassoon in 1915
Sassoon and his regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, arrived on the Somme in early 1916 and were assigned to trenches running through a small wood south of Fricourt village named Bois Français. The German trench opposite was labelled the Kiel Trench on maps. His unit took casualties from the start, a friend, Lt. Thomas, was killed. A major raid on the Kiel Trench was planned for 25 May. Sassoon wanted to lead it, but, having just returned from a school assignment, he saw the command the 37-man mission given to another officer, Lt. Stansfield. Sassoon was in command of an evacuating party that lay out some 20 yards beyond the British trenches and whose job was to cover the return of the raiders.

The raid was a failure. While trying to negotiate the German barbed wire, the alarm was raised and the British party became involved in a bombing fight in which several of the raiders became casualties, in particular, the advance scout for the raid, Corporal O’Brien, who had previously served under Sassoon.

Sassoon then went out into No Man's Land and met Lt. Stansfield, wounded but being assisted back to the British lines by two of the raiding party. Sassoon then discovered that O’Brien was lying badly wounded at the bottom of a deep crater. After returning to the British trenches, he came back with some helpers and managed to get a rope round the wounded corporal, who, with the aid of a stretcher bearer and others, was brought to safety. O'Brien, however, later died. For this exploit Sassoon was awarded the Military Cross.

Location of the 25 May Action

The award was presented to Sassoon by the battalion Medical Officer, 100 years ago on this date, just two days before the battle of the Somme began. On 1 July, his unit was in reserve but would soon be sent into action for the assault on Mametz Wood.

Sassoon's citation reads:

2nd Lt. Siegfried Lorraine [sic] Sassoon, 3rd (attd. 1st) Bn., R. W. Fus.
For conspicuous gallantry during a raid on the enemy's trenches. He remained for 1½ hours under rifle and bomb fire collecting and bringing in our wounded. Owing to his courage and determination all the killed and wounded were brought in.

Sources  Sassoon on the Somme and Wikipedia

1 comment:

  1. Sassoon was a very good soldier and officer. Despite his later fame of refusing to return to the front.