Appalled by the slaughter on the trenches, Siegfried Sassoon wrote his Act of Willful Defiance as a statement that he was not going to return to arms. Sassoon had gained a reputation as a poet by the time he took this decision so if such an act gained mass publicity, especially as it was titled ‘Willful Defiance’, it would have been a major embarrassment to the army and government. Sassoon did, in fact, put himself in danger of being court-martialled and if found guilty could have faced severe punishment. His friend and fellow officer Rober Graves persuaded the military hierarchy that Sassoon was suffering from shell-shock and he was sent to recover in Scotland where he met Wilfred Owen who was recovering in the same hospital. It was here at Craiglockheart that Sassoon urged the unknown Owen to put his heart and soul into his poems.


“I am making this statement as an act of willful 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.

I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops and I can no longer be a party to prolonging 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 practiced 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 have enough imagination to realise.”


November 2007