Whenever the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship holds an event - such as the one on Saturday last, jointly hosted with the Wilfred Owen Association - I inevitably get comments from new members about what a "friendly" occasion it is. I do like to think of the SSF as a community, and one that has fostered individual friendships among its members as well as the pleasure of seeing familiar faces at events. One of our members has a theory that the warmth and friendliness of the SSF is a direct result of Sassoon himself being a more likeable person than certain other writers. I'm not sure I subscribe to that, but I like the theory. It's rare to find anyone with a bad word to say for him; even A E Housman, who was unhappy about what he felt was Sassoon's over-representation in an anthology of the early 1930s (as Peter Parker told us on Saturday), doesn't actually say that he disliked Sassoon, or indeed his poetry.
Communities come in many different shapes and sizes. Usually they have something to do with geographical location, as does the small community that looks after St Bride's Church in Llansantffraed, which Sassoon himself visited in 1924. The church is effectively separated from its natural congregation by a busy main road, with not even an underpass or a footbridge to assist them in getting there. The group that keeps the church functioning and ensures that the grave of Henry Vaughan is cared for consists partly of local people and partly of supporters from all over the country - in fact, from all around the world. The Friends of Llansantffraed Church was formed in 2015 and has helped to arrange the hosting of additional events at the church, such as concerts and special visits. Mervyn Bramley is one of the most energetic people I know, and was as usual on hand at Sunday's Henry Vaughan memorial service to welcome visitors like myself and Phil Carradice, this year's SSF representatives.
The Friends are now gearing up for the 400th anniversary of Vaughan's birth in 1621, and it would be wonderful if Sassoonites could be part of the anniversary celebrations. Vaughan's poetry meant a great deal to Sassoon, and was an important factor in his spiritual development. At the service, the choir of Abergavenny Priory mingled with enthusiasts from as far away as the United States, while members of the congregation served tea and cakes after the service. Phil was even reunited with an old school friend!
To return to the subject of our SSF community, Saturday afternoon's event in the somewhat "snug" basement room at the Poetry Cafe in London was the usual mix of laughter, conversation and learning, with Peter Parker's wonderful talk on Housman ably followed up by Robert John Fanshawe, who filled us in on the events of the Battle of the Sambre, where Wilfred Owen was killed. Little has been said and written about this incident which, though flawed in its execution, was actually a major factor in bringing about the end of the war. Robert, like a number of our members, speaks from personal experience of the armed forces.
Someone made the point on Saturday that Sassoon himself sometimes wasn't very sociable, particularly at Craiglockhart. This is true, of course, and we must remember his somewhat solitary upbringing, not even going to school until he was in his teens, not to mention his determination to separate himself from the residents of "Dottyville" - Owen and Rivers excepted. I get the impression when reading his work that the strongest sense of community he ever felt was among his fellow officers and men in the trenches, even though many of them may have been very different from him in terms of interests and family background. In later life, he was a valued member of the Heytesbury community even after he stopped participating in cricket and other local events, but perhaps he would have seen himself more as a member of a community of the mind, since he never stopped corresponding or receiving visits from friends like Edmund Blunden and Dennis Silk. And there is no question about whether the SSF is a community in the truest sense of the word.