I remem­ber his hat was held togeth­er with safe­ty pins,” says Sis­ter Jes­si­ca Gat­ty. “And his move­ments were rather jerky. His dri­ving was most errat­ic – if you went out in the car with him, it was per­fect­ly pos­si­ble to end up in a corn­field.” These are Sis­ter Jessica’s mem­o­ries of Siegfried Sas­soon , the war poet with whom she had an intense friend­ship in the last decade of his life. She describes their rela­tion­ship as “spir­i­tu­al”. A new opera about Sas­soon has shed new light on this lit­tle-known episode of his life, a rela­tion­ship that caused skir­mish­es in his fam­i­ly but trans­formed every­thing for the young woman involved, who was more than 50 years his junior. Sil­ver Birch, being per­formed at Gars­ing­ton Opera in Buck­ing­hamshire this week­end, draws on the tes­ti­mo­ny of Sis­ter Jes­si­ca, who was Sassoon’s niece and god­daugh­ter. Jes­si­ca Duchen, the libret­tist, says talk­ing to Sis­ter Jes­si­ca helped draw out the poet’s per­son­al­i­ty. “She helped me under­stand his life and moti­va­tions. It was won­der­ful to meet some­one who had been so immea­sur­ably influ­enced by him.” Sas­soon served on the west­ern front from 1914 – 16 and was dec­o­rat­ed for brav­ery but grew increas­ing­ly hor­ri­fied by the real­i­ties of […]