Of the Great White War and Base Details

In ‘Of the Great White War’ (Thomas Burke) and ‘Base Details’ (Siegfried Sassoon), what views do the poets express about the way old men treat young men in wartime? How do the poets’ words help you to share these views?

In ‘Base Details’ (‘BD’) by Siegfried Sassoon(1886- 1967), the young soldier speaking assumes the position of a scarlet Major, mocking their attitudes to war and their ignorance of the young lives wasted.

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In ‘Of the Great White War’ (‘GWW’) by Thomas Burke (1887- 1945) the speaker observes the role reversal between the old, who become young, and the young, who become old. This happens because the young have gone to war whilst the old are enjoying their second youth.

In ‘BD’ Siegfried Sassoon was a soldier who fought in the war so would have a negative but real perspective of the war. Both are anti- war poems, undermining the propaganda that was used to persuade young men to recruit.

‘GWW’ is free verse whereas ‘BD’ is in regular verse. It is an iambic pentameter because it has ten lines and ten beats in each line. it is about white men being civilised. It is pure throughout the poem. The poem tells both sides of the young and old. The observer is detached and reflective as well as distant. It is propaganda because it is trying to say it is a young man’s duty to fight in battle.

The scarlet Majors are presented as ignorant and unfeeling towards the young men they send to the front line: ‘Yes, we’ve lost heavily…..scrap.’ The euphemisms, ‘lost heavily’ and ‘scrap’ show the Major’s detachment from the reality of war. He likens war to a game.