Category: Dream Voices

The Bishop’s Stortford High School visits ‘Dream Voices’

By , November 26, 2010 8:37 am

A ‘guest post’ by Emily Dourish, the Library’s Joint Exhibitions Officer

Visitors from The Bishop's Stortford High School with the exhibition curator

Visitors from The Bishop's Stortford High School with the exhibition curator

Wednesday saw a successful event in the Library’s inaugural exhibition schools liaison programme. The Library is keen to engage with local schools and the Sassoon exhibition seemed a perfect place to begin this new initiative, as his life and work are studied as part of English Literature, History and Citizenship curricula.

As part of their A2 module on World War I literature, a group of Year 13 pupils from The Bishop’s Stortford High School made the journey to Cambridge to see the exhibition and prepare some work on selected poems displayed within it. They arrived with a good background knowledge, having spent the term reading Pat Barker’s novel Regeneration and Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, and a selection of his poems, but were fascinated to see the ‘genuine article’ in the exhibition cases.

Comparing notes

Comparing notes

After a guided tour of the exhibition by the curator, they split into pairs, studying the exhibition materials to gain contextual information about the poems they had been assigned, before giving a new reading to the rest of the group along with an explanation of what they had discovered in the display. Several said they gained a whole new understanding of their poems by seeing, for example, Sassoon’s diary entries written around the time of the composition of Died of Wounds.

Under discussion

Under discussion

Overall the visit was considered a great success, both by the teachers with the group but more importantly by the students themselves who felt they had seen more of the man himself than their previous reading had been able to offer. They rounded off their trip by braving the elements on a walk to Grantchester, fuelled by the prospect not just of a visit to the Rupert Brooke Museum, but of course also of scones and tea.

‘Bombshells and Bedbugs’ hands-on event

By , October 29, 2010 11:20 am

Blog readers, especially those with older children looking for a half-term activity, may be interested to know of event taking place in the Library tomorrow:

Saturday 30 October 2010, 11.00–12.30


Bombshells and Bedbugs

What was life like for a soldier in the Great War? Find out in this interactive workshop led by Robina Hodgson of the Imperial War Museum. Using a historical collection of uniforms, weapons, personal belongings and artwork from the IWM, Robina will describe the day-to-day life of conscript soldiers and officers in the trenches during the Great War. There will be the opportunity to handle artefacts such as uniforms and gas masks, and participants will be encouraged to think about how people record their experiences in letters, diaries and poetry, linking this to the ‘Dream Voices’ exhibition.

For children of 12 years and upwards, with accompanying adults.

Admission free, but pre-booking essential: telephone 01223 766766 from Monday 6 September.

This event is part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas:

Cups, costumes and a candelabrum

By , September 21, 2010 2:56 pm

Being an archivist, I naturally tend to think that the most effective way of understanding the life of a literary or historical figure will usually be through the documentary record. All the same, there’s no denying the fascination which can attach to objects closely associated with the person in question.

From time to time such artefacts do find their way into archives: it has been reported that the Humanities Research Center in Austin, Texas, preserves the pair of bed-socks in which the novelist Compton Mackenzie died, and here in the U.L. we keep the composer Sir Arthur Bliss’s Companion of Honour badge along with his papers. In October, a collection of items associated with Siegfried Sassoon will be offered for sale by the Salisbury auctioneers Woolley and Wallis ( Although these objects fall outside the Library’s collecting policy, there are interesting links with documents on display in the ‘Dream Voices’ exhibition.

The second display case in the exhibition contains a notebook kept by Sassoon (MS Add. 9852/3/2) titled ‘Details of point-to-point races –1911–12–13–14–’. Sassoon turned to point-to-point racing in 1911, riding his newly-acquired horse Cockbird. The description in the Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man of George Sherston carrying off the Colonel’s Cup in the Ringwell Heavy Weight Race is based on Sassoon’s experience competing for the Southdown Heavy Weight Cup in April 1911, and the notebook is opened to show the account of this race. Compared with the fictionalised version, it gives a sparse factual record, noting that the event took place at Cooksbridge, was open to subscribers of fifteen guineas to the Southdown Foxhounds, and attracted ten entries. ‘Won easily’ was Sassoon’s laconic statement of the result.

 The Salisbury sale will include the Southdown Heavy Weight Cup itself, inscribed with the names of the winning horse and rider.

Southdown Heavy Weight Cup, 1911.

Southdown Heavy Weight Cup, 1911. Image: Woolley and Wallis.

The inscription confirms what has to be surmised from the notebook, that the ‘b.g.’ given after Cockbird’s name stands for ‘bay gelding’. The 1911 Southdown was Sassoon’s first victory, in his third point-to-point, and he was sufficiently proud of the performance to have photographs taken of himself posing with Cockbird and the Cup, examples of which are reproduced in the biographies. Sassoon and Cockbird went on to win several more races, including the Atherstone Hunt Point to Point in March 1914, the trophy for which is also in the sale.

Atherstone Hunt Point to Point Cup, 1914.

Atherstone Hunt Point to Point Cup, 1914. Image: Woolley and Wallis.

Perhaps the documents in the exhibition with the greatest associative power are the diaries and journals kept by Sassoon on active service: the small pocket notebooks he carried with him in France and Palestine. The Salisbury sale will include Sassoon’s Royal Welch Fusiliers service dress jacket, with Military Cross ribbon and Sassoon’s name inscribed on an inside label.

Sassoon's service dress jacket.

Sassoon's service dress jacket. Image: Woolley and Wallis.

Label inside Sassoon's service dress jacket.

Label inside Sassoon's service dress jacket. Image: Woolley and Wallis.

The sleeves show Sassoon’s rank as captain, and therefore in its current state the jacket cannot be earlier than 1918, but although there is no proof one way or another, it is easy to imagine one or more of the notebooks on display in the exhibition having at one time nestled in one of its breast pockets.

The sale, which will also include hunting costumes, and a candelabrum mentioned in one of Sassoon’s post-war poems, takes place on Wednesday 27 October.

Sassoon and death

By , September 1, 2010 3:45 pm

As a brief nod to the anniversary of Sassoon’s demise (he died at home in Heytesbury on 1 September 1967) I should like to draw your attention to three resources that throw light on how Sassoon thought about death at two very different points in his life.

In July 1916 Sassoon was involved in the bloody battle of the Somme and fully expected to die. An item in the new accession shows an extraordinary sketch of monument he wanted erected to him on Market Hill, Cambridge. There is an image of the sketch on the exhibtion webpages at:

Sassoon, of course, survived the war. His demise was a slow one; a decline in his health was noticeable from the age of 74 and he died from stomach cancer just before what would have been his 81st birthday. Sassoon had converted to Roman Catholicism as a direct result of a correspondence with Revd Mother Margaret Mary McFarlin and his faith brought him much comfort in his final years. A brief catalogue to the correspondence can be viewed at:

The importance of Catholicism in the last years of Sassoon’s life is also demonstrated by an item from the Cambridge University Library’s Keynes collection. It is a collection of four poems composed in 1962 and 1964 entitled Ave, Atque Vale (Hail and farewell). The poems were produced posthumously as a small, fine pamphlet by the Stanbrook Abbey Press. The catalogue record is at:

The sketch and copy of Ave, Atque Vale may currently be viewed by anyone who is able to visit the free Dream Voices exhibition (open until 23 December 2010).
The letters can be consulted by anyone with a Cambridge University Library reader’s card validated for the Manuscripts Reading Room. Information on how to apply for reader status is online on the Library’s Admissions pages.

Sassoon and schools

By , August 10, 2010 5:18 pm

A ‘guest post’ by Hannah Haines of the Library’s Entrance Hall staff.

The 'Dream Voices' teaching resource in the Exhibition Centre

The 'Dream Voices' teaching resource in the Exhibition Centre

The history and literature of the Great War has been a topic on the GCSE syllabus for many years, and from the outset of planning the ‘Dream Voices’ exhibition, we were aware of the potential for involving local schools in the Sassoon project. Making the subject of conflict accessible to the 13–16 age group presents challenges, but by inviting pupils to engage with original historical sources, we hope to show how archival research can inspire lively insights into material they may have only seen printed in textbooks.

In order to maximise the appeal of an exhibition visit to teachers, we have put together a resource pack that highlights particular items from the collection and suggests discussion points to tie the visit to the curriculum requirements. We identified key themes that would be relevant to studies in English Literature, History and Citizenship, such as depictions of trench warfare, Sassoon’s anti-War protest of 1917, and the concepts of patriotism and remembrance. Although the process of writing the pack began before the exhibition was assembled, some of Sassoon’s best-known works presented themselves as suitable source material. There was an amount of adjustment to be done once the CD of exhibition images arrived (my first, excited, viewing of the archive!) – for instance, Sassoon’s sketch of a memorial statue to be erected in Cambridge adds a great visual element to discussions of how people can be encouraged to remember and commemorate war.

These packs have been dispatched to a number of teachers, and we hope that the result will be a number of small group visits in the Michaelmas Term that will take in the exhibition and suggested follow-up activities.

Sassoon panel discussion

By , July 28, 2010 2:01 pm

A recording of the Sassoon panel discussion in Cambridge on 20 July, with Jon Stallworthy, Max Egremont, Santanu Das and Tim Kendall, has now been made available via the University’s Streaming Media Service: <>.

Audio slideshow

By , July 21, 2010 3:26 pm

The BBC news website has an audio slideshow based on ‘Dream Voices’, produced by Paul Kerley, who’s put together an interesting mixture of images, music and poetry. It’s at

‘Dream Voices’ now open

By , July 21, 2010 11:49 am

The 'Dream Voices' opening reception

The Library’s exhibition, ‘Dream Voices: Siegfried Sassoon, Memory and War’, opened to the public at 9.00 this morning. The supporting web pages are now visible at

Our celebration opening event yesterday afternoon went off well. About a hundred people attended a panel discussion in Robinson College, chaired by Jon Stallworthy. Max Egremont spoke on Sassoon’s life and continuing significance as a writer, Santanu Das explored Sassoon’s responses in verse and prose to the death of his friend David Thomas in 1916, and Tim Kendall spoke about ‘The Kiss’, the poem inspired by Major Campbell’s belligerent lecture on ‘The Spirit of the Bayonet’ (Sassoon’s notes taken at the lecture are on display in the exhibition). We’re planning to put a link to a recording of this event on the blog shortly.

Then it was back to the Exhibition Centre for the opening reception itself. Alison Richard, the University’s Vice-Chancellor, spoke about the importance Cambridge attached to securing the Sassoon Archive, and of the strong sense we had formed during last year’s fundraising campaign that there was a widespread appreciation in the country of the importance of Sassoon both as a writer and as a representative of the First World War generation. Max Egremont thanked the contributors to the fundraising effort, and underlined the general feeling that the Archive had found its proper home in the University Library, before declaring ‘Dream Voices’ officially open. We hope that as many people as possible will come and visit over the next five months.

All in place

By , July 20, 2010 8:59 am

The cleaning fluid used to give the glass of the Exhibition Centre display cases a last polish has a very distinctive smell – maybe it’s a detergent marketing team’s idea of ‘Pine’. Whatever it’s supposed to remind me of, I always find it evocative: it tells me the job of mounting the exhibition is more or less complete.

The fortnights during which we change our displays bring together the work of many of the colleagues who contribute to the exhibitions programme. The conservators, who have appraised every item to make sure it can be safely exhibited and spent weeks making cradles and backing-boards, now oversee the placement of the manuscripts, books and pictures in the cases. Once everything is in position we make final decisions on the shape of the caption labels, and the conservators print them onto heavy paper, cut them to size and back them onto board for a professional finish.

While this is going on, Imaging Services mount the wall panels. The panels – a metre by a metre and a half – describe the themes of the display and provide additional visual interest in the form of images of poems, drawings or diary entries that aren’t on show in the display cases themselves. The panels are printed here in the Library, but designed by an external design consultancy which has also worked on various other aspects of the ‘Dream Voices’ project, such as posters, banners and guides. There are four panels surrounding the pillar in the Exhibition Centre, and the Library’s joiners have fixed up a new system of frames for mounting these, which look very smart.

Our I.T. experts have prepared a full set of web pages to complement the exhibition, and these will go live at later today. Meanwhile, my colleague as Joint Exhibitions Officer has been busy working on the distribution of print publicity and the production of large-type texts of the exhibition.

At the end of last week, just on schedule, we made the final adjustments to the position of the exhibits and captions: tiny nudgings and touchings, eighths and sixteenths of inches, until everything looks as straight and perpendicular as the uneven edges of elderly volumes and documents will allow. It’s only when exhibits and captions are brought together in the cases that we can see where shadows will fall, and we improvise with stands and mounts to avoid having shady patches in the wrong places. Yesterday morning the electrician refocused the spotlights on the wall panels, and the conservators have taken measurements of the light levels in the cases to ensure against damage to the paper,  inks and pigments of the documents. The case lids have been closed for the last time, putting an air-tight seal between the exhibits and the outside environment. It’s now safe to squirt the cleaning fluid.

The smell of success? Our visitors will be the judges of that.

Died of Wounds

By , July 19, 2010 11:29 am

Blog readers with a subscription to the Times newspaper online site might like to read a recent article by Jack Malvern on the possible link between a sketch by Sassoon in one of his war journals and the poem Died of Wounds:

The journal to which the article refers (classmark MS Add. 9852/1/7) covers a period in mid 1916 when Sassoon was recovering from enteritis or ‘trench fever ‘. It is among the items that will be on show as part of the ‘Dream Voices’ exhibition which opens this Wednesday, and will be displayed showing his observations of events on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.