A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: ‘The bomb had given him its full explosion’

A diary entry by Siegfried Sassoon conveys the texture of his traumatic experiences in the trenches

Sitting on the fire step in warm weather and sunshine about 10am with the lark above and the usual airmen. Can’t remember Thursday night’s show very clearly: it seems mostly rain and feeling chilled, and the flash of rifles in the gloom; and O’Brien’s shattered limp body propped up down that infernal bank – face ghastly in the light of a flare, clothes torn, hair matted over the forehead – nothing left of the old cheeriness and courage and delight in any excitement of Hun-chasing.

Trying to lift him up the side of the crater, the soft earth kept giving way under one’s feet: he was a heavy man too, fully 6ft high. But he was a dead man when at last we lowered him over the parapet on to a stretcher: and one of the stretcher bearers examined his wounds and felt for the life that wasn’t there, and then took off his round helmet with a sort of reverence – or it may have been only a chance gesture. I would have given a lot if he could have been alive, but it was a hopeless case – a bomb had given him his full explosion. But when I go out on patrols his ghost will surely be with me; he’ll catch his breath and grip his bomb just as he used to do.

© Siegfried Sassoon, reproduced by kind permission of the Estate of George Sassoon

Tomorrow: The Battle of Jutland

The '100 Moments' already published can be seen at: independent.co.uk/greatwar

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