Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship


Cabmbridge University has first option to purchase Sassoon archive

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The Fellowship will seek to take an active role in the campaign launched by Cambridge University on Thursday 25th June 2009 - to buy an important collection of personal papers belonging to Siegfried Sassoon.

 With admirable prescience this year’s annual conference took place on September 12th at Lucy Cavendish College Cambridge, highlighting Sassoon’s Cambridge experiences and connections. The progress of the campaign was discussed extensively at the conference.

 The archive of manuscripts includes a draft copy of the 1917 "A Soldier's Declaration," in which Sassoon argued that World War One was being "deliberately prolonged" by those in power. 

Sotheby's, which is handling the private sale of the archives, called them "unquestionably the most valuable collection of Sassoon's papers ever to be offered for sale." 

Cambridge University has valued the archive, comprising seven boxes of material, at 1.25 million. It includes Sassoon's journals, pocket notebooks compiled on the Western Front, poetry books, photographs and love letters to his wife Hester.  The papers also include 34 volumes of journals dated 1920-1959, many unpublished, documenting Sassoon's post-war life including his affair with aristocrat Stephen Tennant. 

Led by Max Egremont, Sassoon Fellowship patron and official biographer, the campaign also has the backing of Birdsong author Sebastian Faulks, former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion and military historian Professor Richard Holmes. 

Lord Egremont said: "As well as being one of the most famous of all British war poets, Sassoon was a distinguished autobiographical writer. For most of his life he kept copious journals.

"A successful fundraising campaign would create the most important gathering of Sassoon papers anywhere in the world. The alternatives - which might include the breaking up of the archive and its dispersal - could represent a disaster for the British archival heritage. I appeal to those who care about the preservation of this extraordinary archive to support the University Library's campaign."


 Your committee will be updating this website on the progress of the campaign and best way to support it. Donations towards the campaign can be made by cheque, payable to 'The University of Cambridge' and sent to Cambridge University Library (Sassoon Appeal), West Road, Cambridge, England, CB3 9DR.

Update Wednesday, 4 November 2009


The campaign to save the papers of World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon for the nation has been bolstered by a grant of 550,000.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund's award to Cambridge University puts it closer to raising the 1.25m needed to permanently secure the collection.

The Cambridge University campaign to purchase Sassoon's papers from his family is led by his official biographer Max Egremont.

The grant will leave the fund with 110,000 still to raise.

Mr Egremont said: "If the rest of the money can be raised, the papers will soon be available to the public.

"The response to the appeal has been heartening in these difficult times and shows Sassoon's popularity and importance as a writer."

Not everyone agrees that the purchase of the papers for Cambridge University would be "a good thing".  Writing in The Times on Friday 26 June, Professor John Sutherland argued that "America treats our heritage better than we do", and felt that there were better uses to which the money could be put.

See our President's reply to Dr Sutherland

Well-known figures have flocked to support the campaign.
Sebastian Faulks
Author, Honorary Fellow, Emmanuel College Cambridge

First-hand accounts of the First World War, in whatever documentary shape, are essential to those of us who have tried to recreate those experiences in words. When the raw material is the work of a writer of Siegfried Sassoon’s stature, it becomes doubly valuable. This magnificent collection of Siegfried Sassoon’s papers includes not only his diaries and poems of 1914-18, but also writing that sheds light on the subsequent life and work of a man who was haunted by the memory of war. Cambridge University Library already boasts an impressive collection of Sassoon material, and with the successful acquisition of the remaining papers it would become the world’s pre-eminent archival resource on this important writer. I warmly commend the University Library’s planned purchase, which would enable Cambridge to open up an exceptional source of material to scholars of British literary and military history.

Professor Richard Holmes
Historian, Cranfield University

It is hard to overemphasise Siegfried Sassoon's impact on the historiography of the First World War. Even those historians who, like myself, argue that it is unwise to attribute universality to poets' views of the war, can scarcely avoid putting Sassoon in the very first rank of the war's interpreters. He is a figure of towering importance, and there are moments when his eye is so penetrating that his accounts are primary sources of first-rank historical importance. But part of the historian's problem with Sassoon is assessing the degree to which the liveliness and unselfconsciousness of earlier material becomes transmuted as Sassoon worked on successive drafts to produce what another poet would have called 'emotion recollected in tranquillity.' These papers seem to me to offer us a unique insight into the way Sassoon constructed his narrative, and to enable us to go back to those earlier flashes of blinding clarity which tell us so much about this terrible war. I warmly support Cambridge University Library's bid to secure this hugely important archive.

Sir Andrew Motion

Poet Laureate 1999–2009

Sassoon is one of the most important twentieth-century writers – in respect of his literary achievement, and because he lived through and reported on one of the most significant events in our national story. The archive of his work which has now become available for Cambridge to buy has tremendous significance for everyone who cares about poetry, everyone who cares about autobiography, and everyone who cares about history. It gives a large and very moving panorama of a world which is fast disappearing but which lives eternally in our consciousness. The appeal which seeks to raise funds to secure it in Cambridge, where there is already a significant collection of material by Sassoon, deserves the most generous and widespread support. This archive is nothing less than a part of our national identity.


Professor Jay Winter

Historian, Yale University

The diaries, letters and manuscripts of Siegfried Sassoon open a unique window onto the world of the Great War, and the impossibility of those who survived it to say goodbye to all that. These materials are of unsurpassed value, for that large and still growing population of scholars and laymen for whom the 1914–18 conflict remains the iconic catastrophe of the twentieth century and beyond. Alongside other materials already in the University Library archives, these documents will be a war memorial in their own right and a priceless resource for generations to come.


Dr Peter Mandler

Historian, University of Cambridge

Siegfried Sassoon is not only an iconic but truly a mythic figure of a war now receded from living memory. This makes it all the more important to preserve an archive which shows him in all his humanity and complexity – the person, not the myth. It's not easy to learn from history and we shall never learn from it unless we can draw together the widest possible range of relevant sources. Putting these papers alongside the closely related holdings of a great research library such as Cambridge University's will accomplish a genuine public service.