James Gray MP on nostalgia, justifying war, & patriotism
This article is from the May 2013 issue of Total Politics
Siegfried Sassoon’s The Flower-Show Match and Other Pieces is a lovely little collection of his essays, reflecting his journey from romantically patriotic support for the war in 1914 to his horror at the foolish realities of the trenches. His unsentimental nostalgia for the Old England of his youth shines throughout it.
Essays entitled The Tent on the Lawn and Sherston’s First Day Hunting jostle with The Raid and In Reserve. Yet Sassoon ends the collection with Edingthorpe Revisited and Sunday Morning Visitors, as if in justification.
Sassoon chose the name Sherston, a village in the heart of my constituency, for the autobiographical central character of his trilogy, Memoirs of a Foxhunting Man, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and Sherston’s Progress. His love of the countryside, especially Wiltshire, endears him to me, as does his juxtaposition of the horrors of trench warfare with the peace of tea in the vicarage garden. We fight today to preserve all that’s good about England, yet does that justify the bodies carried through Royal Wootton Bassett only a few miles from Sassoon’s home? Statesmen today wrestle with that as much as they did then.