I loved my A-level English class. A really great group, I have fantastic memories of discussion in a room that I probably remember as smaller than it really was, and the way my teacher made everything both absolutely clear and made me think at the same time! One of the novels we read was Pat Barker’s Regeneration, which was wonderful. The story of Dr Rivers, who worked at a mental hospital called Craiglockhart during WWI, and treated during his time there patients including Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen – it was where the two met.
I found the breadth of masculine relationships in the novel fascinating, and have returned to the novel repeatedly, including studying at university and reading it many times since. I love the way that Rivers interacts with Sassoon and with another patient, Prior, and the way Sassoon mentors Owen – sometimes rather brutally!
Sassoon’s deep conflict about the war comes through in this poem, I think. He does, in Regeneration, try to reconcile the government’s instructions and his patriotism with the unrelenting horrors of war and the massacres he witnesses on a daily basis. In this poem, the bitterness is evident as he blames everyone at home for their insistence on triumph, seemingly at any cost and ignoring the price being paid across the water. Then, he twists again by addressing German mothers: he’s deeply resentful of both sides of this conflict, and sympathetic towards soldiers in both trenches.
Glory of Women
You love us when we’re heroes, home on leave,
Or wounded in a mentionable place.
You worship decorations; you believe
That chivalry redeems the war’s disgrace.
You make us shells. You listen with delight,
By tales of dirt and danger fondly thrilled.
You crown our distant ardours while we fight,
And mourn our laurelled memories when we’re killed.
You can’t believe that British troops ‘retire’
When hell’s last horror breaks them, and they run,
Trampling the terrible corpses–blind with blood.
O German mother dreaming by the fire,
While you are knitting socks to send your son
His face is trodden deeper in the mud.