He is traveling to Dover, where a boat will take him, through the warring sea and on to France. Sassoon is still tired, weary from the trip from Palestine back to the lush fields of England. Oh the irony, less lush more mud and rubble and a missing population. Though, it was a relief to leave the heat sand and endless marching behind. Sassoon inwardly cringed at the endless bureaucracy that occupied his time in Palestine, it was a relief that more men were needed on the front lines, he had felt stagnant. Like a piece of furniture put in storage, he thought bitterly; appeasement through a pay rise and nothing to do.
Hours later, after having boarded the small passenger ship Sassoon found himself on the observation deck looking over the water. There are guns attached to the stern, and extra deterrent perhaps, not that they’d do much if they were actually attacked. A wave of pessimism floods Sassoons memory.
‘you seem to have very powerful anti-war neurosis’ Rivers had said ‘you realise, don’t you, that it’s my duty to…to try and change that?’
Sassoon sighed, anti-war indeed. As much as he had said that he wanted to return to the fight, now that it had actually happened he felt a little different about the whole matter, but he had resigned himself to it and that was that I suppose. The boat shuddered and the engines gunned furiously, in all his musings the trip had gone by faster than expected and they were docking already. The boat had been mostly empty of civilians but he could see now the big group of people waiting to be taken back to Britain, and they hoped, away from the carnage. They all looked slightly worse for wear; there are many children, many more than could belong to all the adults. War orphans perhaps, was Sassoon’s bland thought. He had seen too much destruction for this to make an impact on him, though it suddenly reminded him of Owens keen face and the poem he had published in the Hydra, the memory stayed with him as he walked towards the waiting taxis.
‘What minute bells for these who die so fast?//only the monstrous/solemn anger of our guns.’
The discussion that had followed (monstrous or solemn) had certainly had reflections and slivers of the truths of war and the simple fact that he remembered the conversation even now said something to him. He wondered were Owen was now, communications hadn’t exactly been plentiful and he felt disconnected with his previous life in England.
Despite being mid-July, a biting wind blows and jerks him out of his reverie. The weak sunlight does little to ease the sting.
‘fitting weather’ Sassoon mumbles, half to himself; a nearby Private looks perplexed with the remark; seeing this and feeling morbid, he adds;
‘Soldiers are citizens of death's grey land, Drawing no dividend from time's to-morrows’ the soldier is baffled and hurries on.
‘what a time to be alive’ he mutters to himself as the whistle blows and his men hurry on. The day comes to a close, the dark turning orange then pink then mauve, darkness falling. No, not quite. There are fires burning in the distance lighting up the smoky sky with a dusky glow. If it were a picture, he thought, it would look quite picturesque. A nearby explosion snatches his attention back, screams rend the air, he asks a passing brother what the damage is;
He gasps, ‘Two dead Sir, three injured.’ A haunted look. ‘Jamesons legs are, are…’ still out of breath the man hurries on as more and more shells begin to fall. Bullets are whistling, shrapnel cuts the earth, flesh, anything in its way. More men screaming. A gap in the clouds shows the stars shining. Life goes on.