(From SSF Blogspot - Deborah Fisher)
The venue, Wrexham Museum, is very convenient and well-appointed. As luck would have it, they were putting on an exhibition about local breweries in the courtyard outside, which led to several members of the committee spending most of their lunch break sampling alcoholic beverages – including the famous Wrexham Lager, first brewed in 1881 by German immigrants, discontinued in 2000, and now available again as a result of the construction of a new factory in 2011. The drink was popular enough to be stocked on board HMS Titanic in 1912. Sad to say, during the First World War, the brewery’s German head brewer was interned as an enemy alien, and sales were adversely affected by anti-German prejudice. I can’t help wondering whether Siegfried, with his German name, ever tried it. The RWF was an incubator for a number of well-known First World War poets and writers, including Sassoon, Robert Graves, David Jones and Hedd Wyn. You can read more about the regiment and its literary heritage in Phil Carradice’s blog post on the subject here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/wales/entries/3d274d6c-ddc8-3c3c-a7a0-273879f69180
Additional light was thrown on “that astonishing infantry” (to quote Napier’s History of the Peninsular War) by Jonathan Hicks’s account of the Welsh at Mametz Wood, an action in which Siegfried Sassoon was directly involved. Jonathan’s gripping illustrated talk had the audience on the edge of its collective seat, particularly when he produced a few impressive props. Charles Mundye, President of the Robert Graves Society, followed up with an account of the friendship formed between Graves and Sassoon when they met as junior officers in the RWF and how they briefly collaborated on Graves’ proposed collection entitled The Patchwork Flag, which was never published although some of the constituent poems were. I subsequently came across Charles's podcast about Graves on the web, which is well worth listening to: http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/your-lips-my-life-hung-robert-graves-and-war Graves undoubtedly influenced Sassoon in his poetic direction and helped him find his true “voice”, but he has never been popular with Sassoonites. The two men fell out as a result of the publication of Graves’ war memoir Goodbye to All That in 1929; things were never the same between them after that, and Graves is regarded by some as an insensitive egotist as well as an unreliable witness.
When curator Karen Murdoch brought out her boxes of Sassoon-related papers after the tea break, however, conference delegates were able to view and handle historic documents, including letters by Graves himself, J C Dunn and Edmund Blunden, as well as officers’ handbooks issued to Sassoon, in some of which he had doodled, drawn sketches, or written additional comments in pencil. No one minded that he'd had no emotional attachment to these books; the mere fact that they had been carried around in his pockets seemed to bring us closer to him. After-dinner entertainment has become a tradition in recent years, and this year we were lucky to have as a guest another Oxford academic, the distinguished poet and writer Patrick McGuinness, who kindly read to us from his collection Other People’s Countries. Lowering the tone somewhat, this year’s “producer”, our Vice-Chair Christian Major, rehearsed a small group of gentlemen in an extract from Goodbye to All That, featuring Bev Steele as the hapless Private 99 Davies, caught red-handed causing a “public nuisance” while off-duty in Wrexham. Colonel Major dealt out justice with assistance from Sgt-Major Gray, Sergeant Timmins/Clinch and Corporal Jones/Lampard, as well as prisoner’s escort Adrian Wells, and the result was laughter.
In the spring of 2000, Jane Middlebrook (now Jane Rossiter-Smith) organised a 'Sassoon Day' at Marlborough College.
The speakers at the event were Dominic Hibberd, Jean Moorcroft Wilson and Dennis Silk. It was a very well-attended event, and delegates were invited to register their interest in joining a prospective 'Siegfried Sassoon Society'.
Two of the delegates were Michele Fry, then webmaster of 'CounterAttack' website, and Deborah Fisher, a recent convert to Sassoon's work.
At the start or 2001, Michele and Deborah took Jane's mailing list and began work on the task of recruiting enough people to build the nucleus of a new literary society.
The inaugural AGM of the 'Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship' (as it was decided to name the society, in order to avoid too many S's) was held after an event at Malvern Festival in 2001.