How Warminster war poet’s cricket thrived

Siegfried Sassoon

Robert Pulvertaft, step-grandson of poet Siegfried Sassoon, at home in Heytesbury Wood. The Lee Enfield rifle on the wall was presented by Sassoon to his son. Photo: Glenn Phillips (491

First published in Warminster
Last updated
by , Senior reporter for Trowbridge

A new programme on war poet Siegfried Sassoon tells how he sharpened his skills at his beloved game of cricket by throwing grenades in the trenches.

Countryfile at 7pm on BBC1 on Sunday will, as part of a series of programmes marking the centenary of the First World War, will look at the legacy of Sassoon, as well as his former home at Heytesbury House, near Warminster, and his passion for playing cricket with Heytesbury Cricket Club.

Presenter Helen Skelton interviewed Sassoon’s step-grandson Robert Pulvertaft – whose mother married Sassoon’s only son George in the early 1980s – at his home in Woodside, Heytesbury Wood. The 52-year-old, who inherited Woodside after George died in 2006, said the show looks at Sassoon’s time in Heytesbury up until his death in 1967, focusing specifically on his passion for cricket.

Mr Pulvertaft said: “The centenary year has seen a considerable rekindled interest in Siegfried and the BBC got hold of me as they were doing something on Wiltshire and wanted to do something on him.

“The programme is about Siegfried’s time in Heytesbury and his passion for cricket, something that he played into his 80s. It shows the contrast between his iconic status as a war poet and the activities of his later life.

“He was known for his almost suicidal bravery during the war and was nicknamed Mad Jack for the way he would scatter German soldiers by throwing Mills grenades at the trenches, which assisted his throwing ability when he played cricket.

“What the programme does is look at how Siegfried settled into a peaceful existence and I feel there is almost a duty to talk about his legacy, due to the reignited interest caused by the centenary.”

As well as speaking to Mr Pulvertaft, BBC Countryfile interviewed Sassoon’s close friend and international cricketer Dennis Silk, who was introduced to the poet in the early 1950s.

Mr Pulvertaft, who now hires out Heytesbury Wood for events, added: “It was an excellent experience and it was a good way of bringing everyone together.

“We are now planning a cricket match in the summer to mark the centenary.”

For more information about Heytesbury Wood, visit www.heytesburywood.co.uk

From war hero to pacifist -

*Siegfried Sassoon was an English poet, writer and soldier and became one of the leading poets of the First World War.
* He was born on September 8, 1886, in Kent and died one week before his 81st birthday in Heytesbury in September 1967. He is buried in Somerset.
* In May 1915, Sassoon was commissioned into the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and went to France, where his bravery resulted in him being awarded the Military Cross.
* He eventually grew disillusioned with the war and sent a letter of
defiance to his commanding officer that almost resulted in him being court martialled in 1917.
* Friend and fellow poet Robert Graves convinced the authorities
that Sassoon had shell-shock, and he
was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital for treatment – where he met fellow war poet Wilfred Owen.
* Sassoon had a number of homosexual affairs, but in 1933 surprised many of his friends by marrying Hester Gatty and moving to Heytesbury House. They had a son, George,
but the marriage broke down after World War Two.

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