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

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The Independent Online

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