Did your British Army Ancestor serve with Siegfried Sassoon?

Posted on: 1, July, 2020
Siegfried Sassoon, 4th Army School, Flixecourt, Somme; May 1916

This photo of Siegfried Sassoon and fellow officers was acquired by British Army Ancestors last year. What it shows is British army officers photographed at the end of a month-long training course at the Fourth Army School at Flixécourt on the Somme in 1916. The photo dates to May 1916 and within six weeks seven of these men would be dead. First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon attended the course and wrote about it in Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and in his journal. He was a second lieutenant when this photo was taken and he is seated cross-legged on the ground, third from the right.

The Fourth Army was formed in France on the 5 February 1916 under the command of Henry Rawlinson and on the 1st July 1916, eleven Fourth Army Divisions attacked German positions along the Albert-Bapaume Road. These officers were all being trained for the forthcoming Somme offensive and six of these men would be killed in action on the opening day of the battle – 1st July 1916.

Today, on the 104th anniversary of that terrible day, I am delighted to make the names of these brave officers public.

About the army school at Flixécourt

In Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, Sasson writes, “I have said that spring arrived late in 1916… we came back to Morlancourt after Easter[1] and on the same evening a message from the Orderly Room instructed me to proceed to the Fourth Army School next morning for a month’s refresher course… each battalion in our brigade was sending two officers…” Sassoon’s journal entry for Good Friday, 21st April reads, “… To-morrow I’m off for a month at the army School…”

The photo is of historic significance. Although the photo has been seen before, the identities of Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘classmates’ have not been known before now. Now, for the first time, you will be able to see if your First World War ancestor attended a training course with Siegfried Sassoon. It was after attending this course, and in particular a lecture on how to use the bayonet in combat, that Sassoon wrote his famous poem, The Kiss.

The men in the photo

The detail below gives the men’s names, the unit they were serving with and the brigade and division in which those units served. One of these men, Captain de Pledge, would be dead within a fortnight and seven more would be dead by the end of July. Six were killed on the 1st July 1916, the worst day in the history of the British Army.

Back row, left to right:

Middle row:

Front row:

Those who died

Like Sassoon, Marcus Goodall attended Marlborough College and Sassoon refers to him in Memoirs of an Infantry Officer as ‘Allgood’. In his journal for the 20th May 1916, Sassoon writes, “My last day at the 4th Army School… After lunch I went into Abbeville with Goodall. My expedition with him to Amiens was a success and this was equally delightful. He is a very excellent companion and Marlborough talk always bridges the gaps.” Below this,  “[MHG was killed on July 22nd 1916]”[2]

Captain Gerald Mahon Glover MC, 2nd Manchester Regiment, was the last man to die. A career soldier he was killed in action in Mesopotamia during an Arab revolt on the 20th July 1920 and is commemorated on the Basra Memorial in Iraq.

Also in the same class as Sassoon, but not present when the photo was taken, were the following four officers:

Please do leave a comment on this post if your ancestor was one of the men in this historic photograph.

[1] Good Friday was 21st April 1916; Easter Monday, the date of the Easter Rising in Ireland, the 24th April 1916.

[2] In Memoirs of an Infantry officer, Siegfried Sassoon writes, “Allgood was quiet, thoughtful and fond of watching birds. Allgood never grumbled about the war, for he was a gentle soul, willing to take his share in it, though obviously unsuited to homicide. But there was an expression of veiled melancholy on his face, as if he were inwardly warned that he would never see his home in Wiltshire again. A couple of months afterwards I saw his name in one of the long lists of killed, and it seemed to me that I had expected it.”


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