Sassoon's lost medal found on Scottish island after 90 years

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WALKING near the Merseyside village of Formby in 1917, Siegfried Sassoon's rising frustration with the staggering loss of life in the First World War saw him shake his clenched fists at the sky.

"Feeling no better for that," the war hero and anti-war poet wrote in his Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, "I ripped the MC ribbon off my tunic and threw it into the mouth of the Mersey."

Sassoon won his Military Cross in 1916, for bringing wounded and dying soldiers to safety under 90 minutes of heavy fire after a raid on a German trench.

The torn feelings that saw him toss away the coveted decoration marked the change from the soldier nicknamed "Mad Jack" to the passionate critic of a conflict that claimed his brother and several close friends.

For decades, Sassoon's family and many others assumed it was the full MC medal he tossed in the Mersey.

But the medal has now emerged - from an attic chest in a family property on Mull where Sassoon's wife Hester lived. Rediscovered last summer, it will be auctioned at Christie's next month, and may fetch between 15,000 and 25,000.

"I had no idea it even existed. Like most people, I thought it had been thrown into the Mersey," said Robert Pulvertaft, 45, whose stepfather, George, was Sassoon's only son.

"I found it while clearing out the attic of the family property on Mull. Bizarrely, it was in a treasure chest, covered in cobwebs and long-dead insects. The ID tag was there too, along with the revolver in an old Jiffy bag and some poetry medals."

The revolver has been donated to the Imperial War Museum.

Soldiers in uniform would typically wear a small strip of ribbon, not the full MC. Sassoon actually wrote of his dramatic act: "Weighted with significance though this action was, it would have felt more conclusive had the ribbons been heavier. As it was, the poor little thing fell weakly on the water and floated away as though aware of its own futility."

The Mull home was one of two family estates. Sassoon died at the other, in England, in 1967, aged 80.

In 1917, Sassoon famously befriended his fellow war poet Wilfred Owen at the Craiglockhart military hospital in Edinburgh. He was sent there, ostensibly for shellshock, after he wrote A Soldier's Declaration, denouncing "political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed".

The Victorian building is now part of Napier University, which maintains the War Poets Collection.

"I'm delighted it's been found," said Catherine Walker, library manager at Napier. "We would love to have the medal to display. Even if it is bought by someone else, we'd love them to consider lending it."

Thomas Venning, a director of the book and manuscript department at Christie's auctioneers, said: "The fact it has turned up is a potent reminder of the interest in Sassoon, a brave soldier, one of the most prominent anti-war figures and also a poet.

"It's very closely connected to his Craiglockhart phase, when he stopped being a shell-shocked soldier and started being a protest figure. It's unique."

Sassoon is best known for his book Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, chronicling his journey as a young man from English country life to the horrors of war. He was in France as a second-lieutenant when he won the MC in May 1916.

In another exploit, he was so upset at witnessing a friend shot dead that he single-handedly charged and captured a German trench, then flopped down and read from a poetry book.

POETS IN ARMS

IN 1915, after his beloved brother Hamo was killed at Gallipoli, Siegfried Sassoon joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers in France, where he met fellow poet Robert Graves. They became friends and often discussed their work.

Two years later, as Sassoon spoke out publicly against the war, Graves helped have him treated for shellshock rather than face court martial.

The large Victorian building at Craiglockhart in Edinburgh was requisitioned as a military hospital for the treatment of shell-shocked officers. Graves, the future author of Goodbye to All That, was meant to escort Sassoon on the trip north, but missed the train.

Wilfred Owen arrived at Craiglockhart a month earlier, in June. In awe of Sassoon, a published poet, he asked him to sign several copies of The Old Huntsman.

They began to work together, with Owen composing his powerful poems Dulce et Decorum Est, and Anthem for Doomed Youth, while Sassoon was working on many of the poems that would appear in Counter-Attack.

After Sassoon returned to the front and was wounded, Owen saw it as his duty to take his place. He was killed a week before the war ended in November 1918.

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