My uncle Siegfried: Sister Jessica Gatty on her life-changing friendship with the great war poet

“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 […]

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